“Controlled chaos” is how Seth Thompson, vice president of Wellons Construction, a turnkey site contractor based in Dunn, N.C., describes a typical day. At any given time, about 100 employees—13 pipe and grading crews—are deployed on projects spread across a 200-mile region. Keeping all those people and machines working productively is no small task.
The key, says Thompson, is a team of four great superintendents and a fleet equipped with Cat® Connect Technology & Services that improve earthmoving equipment productivity.
Like many contractors, Wellons Construction took a hit when the economy collapsed in 2008. But they fought back, and in a bold move aimed at differentiating themselves from competition, they invested in a range of connectivity technologies. Today that investment is paying off.
“The entire grading fleet is equipped with Cat Grade Technology,” says Thompson. “We’re looking at 30 to 50 percent growth because of it.”
Every large piece of equipment has also been outfitted with Cat Connect Asset Tracking services, powered by Cat Link Technology, according to Thompson. “It makes us much more streamlined than we’ve ever been.”
Nicholas Pope is one of the superintendents Thompson relies on. He’s seen firsthand how Cat Grade can improve earthmoving equipment productivity.
“Things progress a lot quicker,” he explains. “We spend a lot less time grading, checking, regrading. With the GPS, it’s one time in, one time out. You hit the ground, you go through, it’s completed. If we didn’t have it, we’d always be running behind. But we’re actually ahead of schedule.”
Pope says the technology also affects costs and safety.
“It cuts down on the number of man-hours and equipment-hours it takes to get a final, finished product. And from a safety standpoint, it’s always good to have fewer people on the ground checking grade.”
Site foreman Andrew Matthew says automated grading is essential in today’s competitive environment.
“You have to have it. You really do. We just moved close to 200,000 yards of dirt on this project with no stakes, just GPS equipment. It’s made us so much more competitive.”
While the grading equipment is working at top efficiency, the rest of the Wellons Construction fleet is also performing at a high level with help from Cat Link Technology. All units, regardless of brand, are equipped with Product Link™, an onboard system that tracks critical location, performance and health data while the machine works. The data can be viewed and analyzed anytime, anywhere, with any device, using a web interface called VisionLink®.
Thanks to VisionLink, one person can monitor the entire fleet from a single location. That job belongs to Thomas Watson who spends his days in a “war room,” tracking every asset—where it is, whether it’s working or idle, how many hours it’s logged, how much fuel it’s using, when its maintenance is due, and if it’s generating any fault codes that might indicate a problem.
“It’s a great tool, all around,” Watson says. “It makes me a lot more efficient at what I do.”
And what he does is ensure the fleet is always ready to work productively.
“Downtime is the ultimate killer for us,” says Thompson. “Everything’s so fast and furious these days that a day missed costs us a lot.”
VisionLink reduces downtime says Pope, because if Watson sees something going wrong, he alerts the team and “we can immediately get another machine out or a mechanic on site, which cuts down on lost production dramatically.”
Watson is quick to cite other ways VisionLink maximizes uptime.
“With the fuel and location information, we can be sure we’re sending the fuel and lube trucks to the right place at the right time. The fault code data helps us know which parts and tools the field techs need to take to their jobs. And we can plan maintenance and service at times that don’t interfere with production.”
Wellons’ Cat dealer, Gregory Poole Equipment Co., plays a complementary role in the drive to reduce downtime.
“Their shop is pretty self-sufficient,” explains Gregory Poole Territory Sales Manager Paul Calton. “It’s like their techs are the family doctors and ours are the heart surgeons. They do what they’re capable of doing, but when things go above and beyond that, we’re here to support them.”
Wellons Construction’s investment in technology and services is paying off in other ways—like theft deterrence.
“We have a move alert built into our phones,” explains Watson, “so if a piece of equipment starts moving in the middle of the night, it will let us know.”
He’s also been asked to provide VisionLink reports for equipment acquisition decisions.
“If they’re thinking about purchasing a new machine, I can go in and look at utilization. How many hours did we use this particular machine last year or over this time period? What did it actually do? That information’s all there.”
Seth Thompson sums up the impact of Cat Connect Technology and Services on earthmoving equipment productivity.
“We’ve completely streamlined our entire operation. Anything we want to know at any time is at our fingertips. We can do things so much more accurately, quicker, with less downtime. And that keeps the crews rolling, making money.”