How producers are leveraging tech to their advantage (Part 1)

By |  March 29, 2023

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The following discussion, which was edited for brevity and clarity, took place during a panel discussion about technology advancements in the aggregate industry at the South Carolina Aggregates Association’s Workshop & Exhibition. The panel involved two equipment manufacturers (Caterpillar’s Joey Pickett and Xylem’s Ken Albaugh) and two equipment dealers (K&R Group’s Vikki Bartlett and Industrial Supply Solutions’ Jeromy Davis). P&Q managing editor Jack Kopanski moderated the discussion. Read Part 2 of this discussion here.

Jack Kopanski (Pit & Quarry): What does automation mean or look like to each of you?

Joey Pickett (Caterpillar): In our industries, there are three distinct verticals: safety, productivity and maintenance. If there’s no maintenance, there’s no production. So [to us, automation is about] how we use all the tools and resources available to us to be smarter and [increase] efficiencies at our workplace.

Ken Albaugh (Xylem): For us, it’s [about] efficiency. We’ve got dedicated people who are working with solutions inside of mines every day – just trying to figure out how that little nugget of information can be used in the most efficient way to make that operation more efficient.

Vikki Bartlett (K&R Group): In our industry, our technology has come a long way from 30 years ago to [now] where you get information on your phone. That’s what you need. We’ve gotten to the point where we can notify you when you’re outside of your prime running capacity and things of that nature.

Jeromy Davis (Industrial Supply Solutions): For us, it’s [about] optimizing maintenance practices. You can look at a trend analysis and get the historical data to see what individual pieces of equipment are doing. You can optimize maintenance. You can get the most out of your workforce [and make sure] people [are] doing the right jobs.

Says Xylem’s Ken Albaugh (center): “Equipment is going to get smarter, but it’s back to the people using the data and the people with their hands on the controls.” Photo: Allen Knight, Four Twenty One Media

Says Xylem’s Ken Albaugh (center): “Equipment is going to get smarter, but it’s back to the people using the data and the people with their hands on the controls.” Photo: Allen Knight, Four Twenty One Media

Jack Kopanski (Pit & Quarry): Is there a point where utilizing many different technologies can become too much?

Joey Pickett (Caterpillar): One of the big requests is real-time data. Once you provide that real-time data down to the second of what the asset is doing, [the reaction is]: ‘Holy smokes, is near-real-time data fast enough? Is telling me what I need to know sufficient?’ It’s about understanding the operational needs at each specific site and delivering that specifically.

Jeromy Davis (Industrial Supply Solutions): I think it’s very site specific. You must have an individual assigned to certain asset groups to monitor. The individuals must be trained on what they’re looking at because you’re getting all this data. And if you’re not sure what you’re seeing, then you can’t utilize it.

Ken Albaugh (Xylem): The analysis of the data is the critical part now and trying to find out exactly who’s doing what, when, where and talking to that individual site. You can just over-alarm to where people start not paying attention to the alarm. So, finding that right balance of when something can be interacted with before it becomes a catastrophic failure is a really critical thing.

Vikki Bartlett (K&R Group): We’ve run into the same thing where you have all this data, but do you have the personnel to look at the data and take care of those issues before they become an issue? We’ve talked about do we hire somebody that we can hire out to our customers to look at this data, because people are shorthanded. You have all that information, but if you don’t have somebody to analyze it, then it’s really a moot point.

Jack Kopanski (Pit & Quarry): What are some ways you as businesses and individuals have tried to find a technology balance, or tried to make management as smooth as possible?

Ken Albaugh (Xylem): Data is the new IP. It’s having the data and the historical knowledge of products and processes – that’s what people are looking for. They’re not looking for somebody to send them another email. They’re looking for somebody who can provide them that intelligence and the analysis behind the data.

Jeromy Davis (Industrial Supply Solutions): We try to focus on making sure you’re monitoring the right assets. Every plant has a lot of conveyors. If you try to monitor every bearing [and] every gearbox, it’s going to be overwhelming. We try to look at what’s critical [and] what’s going to give them the best bang for their buck.

Joey Pickett (Caterpillar): You have some customers who just want that little piece of information. Then you get some customers who have a remote plant with a plant manager who’s a jack of all trades and needs that full support. We can custom tailor that from a maintenance aspect to where we have true subject matter experts with 20-plus years of experience – the experience of troubleshooting that specific issue on that machine and providing real-world support for that plant manager. We’re taking an eight-hour repair on your primary pit loader and turning it into a three-hour repair by putting a little bit of focus on that. That is tons of money saved.

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