While all the fuss about the “dramatic” ebb in the residential market may be news to many less experienced managers, Mike Barras has seen it all before. For almost a quarter of a century, Barras has had a personal and up close view of the ups and downs of the concrete market in Austin, Texas. With experience comes wisdom. And with wisdom, action.
For the last few years, Texas' capital city has been a rising star in home building starts and commercial projects. It was a trend that would be hard to sustain. Barras has noticed a slight cooling off of activity, but he believes that compared to some really deep downturns, times are still good. “Instead of running at about 90 mph, our market is running at about 65,” he says.
Given his knowledge, it's not surprising that Barras, operations manager for Texas Concrete Materials (TCM), has prepared for any slowdown in Austin's hot concrete market. He says it's important to operate at full efficiency no matter the level of sales. That's why for the last few years, he's been focused on incorporating technology to streamline his concrete delivery operations. And it's been an investment of time and talent that has already paid off.
TCM's investment in the FleetDirector system has paid consistent dividends since it was first installed in 1999 and 2000. Tangible results include reduced fuel consumption and labor costs, more loads per day per driver, and detailed operational reports to improve overall efficiency.
Online on time
To deliver ready-mixed concrete profitably, communications between dispatchers, drivers, and customers are crucial, says Barras. Along with time constraints of a perishable product comes the need to balance customer orders with available trucks.
Barras' challenge was to incorporate a communications system with which he could marshal his 50-truck fleet with the precision of a military drill team commander. And like most military operations, activity takes place over a wide area. In Barras' case, his staff needs to coordinate activity between three plants that are located on two sites on opposite sides of the city. Along with distance, he must also contend with a wide business mix. “We provide high-quality products to everyone, including high-performance bridge decks to residential driveways,” said Barras.
Barras wanted to select a system that would not only lessen his dependence on radio communications, but also integrate his real-time operations with his Jonel batching system.
After a good deal of research, Barras opted for the FleetDirector vehicle tracking and fleet management system provided by Teletrac of Los Angeles.
The vehicle location system's versatility has had a major impact on coordinating business. That's because the system integrates a real-time, enhanced global positioning system (GPS) vehicle tracking function with an onboard data recorder, wireless, real-time, and two-way, in-cab communications terminals. All vehicle location and status information, as well as fleet management reports, are delivered via the Internet.
“Before FleetDirector, we used two-way radios,” says Barras. “The status and location of each truck was only as accurate as the driver's input. There was constant chatter between dispatchers trying to confirm or get updates on locations and the status of each truck.” Some of the constant inquiries were, was he at the jobsite? Had he started to pour? Was he heading back? How much longer would he be?