Several years ago, Transit Mix Concrete & Materials Co. had delivered 200 yards of concrete to a project in Kingsport, Tenn. A few days after the job had been completed, a problem arose. To keep the customer happy, the sales representative spent the better part of a day analyzing and reconciling the problem.

Today, thanks to the producer's investment in integrated technology and wireless communications, that same problem could be solved in minutes.

“Information is everything,” says Ernie Walker, chairman and CEO of the Johnson City, Tenn.-based producer. “The more information I can give my people in the field, the better and quicker they can deal with things. And quicker is cheaper.” Walker's acceptance of technology has made Transit Mix more productive—and more competitive.

The Kingsport job is representative of how the producer can work smarter today with new tools. After the pour, which took place on a hot summer day on hot, red clay sub-base, shrinkage cracks began to form. The contractor called the dispatch office to complain. Then, the dispatcher called the sales rep in Bristol, Tenn., who then drove 20-plus miles to the site.

With a quick look at the concrete's surface, he realized the problem. Sensing a tough discussion, the rep knew he needed data support before answering the contractor. So, he drove 20-plus miles to the Johnson City central-dispatch office to get the delivery details of water additions and time of loading and unloading.

He created a printout of the results and drove back to Kingsport to show the contractor what had happened. The reports showed that the foreman had added too much water, which caused too much shrinkage; the heat accelerated the process. The contractor, seeing the data, understood.

Today, things would be different. First, dispatchers would probably be more aware of the problems occurring on the day of the pour. Transit has equipped its fleet with GPS technology.

The system allows the dispatcher and sales rep to track the exact status of any order in the field. If the pour was going too slowly, the dispatcher could adjust delivery to reduce waiting time and potential concrete temperature gain. Some GPS systems even alert the dispatcher of excessive jobsite water additions as they happen and send a warning to the producer's quality control department.

When the complaint follows the pour, the Transit Mix's rep would still drive to the site. But once there, he would access the current job data from a mobile-analytics program on his personal digital assistant (PDA).

A special software program allows the rep to call up reports from the central-dispatch office, giving him data to analyze the problem. The wireless technology saves the roundtrip of more than 40 miles, talking with dispatch, and printing reports.