Taking tech the next step

By |  February 22, 2019
Trimble’s Loadrite Payload Management for excavators is an example of technology that’s designed to enhance productivity and efficiency. Photo courtesy of Trimble

Trimble’s Loadrite Payload Management for excavators is an example of technology that’s designed to enhance productivity and efficiency. Photo courtesy of Trimble

Kevin Vonesh spent nearly 18 years at LafargeHolcim before transitioning to the equipment supply side of the construction materials industry last summer.

Vonesh last served LafargeHolcim as U.S. head of infrastructure, leading new growth and innovation for large aggregate, asphalt, cement, concrete and construction projects. One thing that sticks with Vonesh about construction materials firms is how little tech they use compared to other industries.

“The interesting thing was the lack of industrial tech in the construction materials space,” says Vonesh, who joined Trimble in July 2018 as worldwide strategic account sales manager. “There’s a gap on where some companies are going.”

The opportunity for aggregate producers to modernize is there, though. From production efficiency to safety, technologies are there for operations to make improvements. But successfully implementing new tech, particularly in larger construction materials firms, can be a challenge.

“For me, I knew what we used with Trimble in certain aspects of the business,” Vonesh says. “But the key is realizing what you don’t even know. When you get to larger companies, it gets complex – especially on a global perspective.”

For example, effectively communicating opportunities down to plant managers or quarry operators is problematic. Some companies are so large that the opportunities get lost in the day-to-day grind, Vonesh says.

“Who carries the message from the top down?” he asks. “If you get to the guys in the middle, they may not even relay that message down to the regional managers. So it becomes how you make that connection.”

Ideas from surprising places

One way Trimble educates plant managers and others on the front lines of aggregate operations is through its Dimensions event. Trimble hosted its latest rendition of Dimensions in November, bringing thousands of customers in a variety of trades to Las Vegas to learn about new tech and see it in action.

Attendees hear success stories, both from their aggregate industry peers but also from those in other industries whose workflows are arranged similarly.

“We have a strong presence in agricultural and civil construction,” says Simon Rush, global marketing communications manager at Trimble. “Because we are co-located, the customer is able to have a look at what Trimble is doing in crop harvesting, in soil compaction, in a number of construction activities and see that it’s not that big of a jump from these other industries to what they’re trying to achieve within their quarry.”

The conference is not limited to U.S. attendees. According to Rush, the conference is a global gathering that affords U.S. aggregate producers the chance to see how their most forward-thinking peers around the world approach operations. More than 4,800 people from about 100 countries registered for the latest conference.

“A big part of it is hearing international examples of how quarries manage fleets and think about their operations using the tools Trimble provides to make significant improvements,” Rush says.

Real opportunities

An aggregate producer’s location, for example, is often irrelevant when it comes to effective tech, Rush says. For if a French producer is effectively utilizing load-out tech over the pond and if a New Zealand producer is effectively monitoring a mobile crushing operation in some far-off place, then what’s to stop a North American producer from doing the same?

“In many cases, we are also connecting the workflow from the construction site,” Rush says. “We hosted some unique opportunities where we brought together the construction materials providers and their customers. Construction companies are talking about what they need from sand and gravel suppliers.”

Trimble’s Dimensions illustrates how there are common pain points between vendors and customers, regardless of the industry.

“Loadrite 360 is creating a more seamless workflow in ticketing systems so the customer gets what he paid for,” says Rush, discussing a Trimble quarry solution that targets improvements in loadout through performance metric tracking, job data automation and real-time 360-degree job visibility. “We’re providing clarity on both sides. For customers doing major construction projects to be successful, they have to have their finger on the pulse of what’s leaving the quarry in real time. If they’re behind, they want to know it. They can’t claim back time.”

Indeed, if a workday ultimately goes by the wayside, a construction firm cannot get it back. But if the firm knows the morning of, for example, that it does not have enough trucks on the road, then it can make a change.

“We have some customers who have a real-time feed on what’s happening on the loader just because they want to maintain a really lean stockpile on the site,” Rush says.

Improving one efficiency can lead to other improvements, Vonesh adds.

“The other part is safety,” he says. “There are fewer trucks on the road because you’re loading out right, managing the schedule correctly and creating fewer hazards. There are a lot of benefits.”

Rush agrees, detailing how tech offers an opportunity for producers to better compete.

“If you provide better customer service, then you’re more likely to win contracts,” he says. “On the flip side, some contractors say if you can’t provide me visibility – accurate data – then I won’t work with you.”

Deeper thinking

In some cases, aggregate producers are already utilizing modern software and automation. They just aren’t getting the full capabilities out of them.

“A lot of the larger or multi-site operations have Trimble tech,” Rush says.“Most of them will have Loadrite loader scales but maybe they’re not aware of how they can get more out of the hardware.”

Vonesh sees this, as well.

“We have some customers who traditionally had a belt scale, and now they want to take it to another level [for] different downtimes and other things,” he says. “Initially, some may be afraid of the technology that comes in. But once they get used to it they realize it’s pretty cool. They start asking more questions, and it helps us design other things around that.”

Technology is also an opportunity to attract the next generation of talent to the aggregate industry.

“The older workforce is reliant on the touch and feel of how they’ve done things for years,” Vonesh says. “When you lose that aging workforce, you lose that touchy-feely stuff. So we’re taking the sensory component and putting that into a diagnostic flow, telling it what eight tons in a bucket is rather than a guy knowing from repetition over the years.”

New tech presents opportunities to make jobsites safer, too.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is equip operators with tools they need to be more aware of situations and prevent them before they happen,” Rush says. “We have been working on haul trucks recently and making them part of the connected quarry process – not only preventing overloading and underloading, but breaking down the haul process to note any inefficiencies.”

Hauling safety can be enhanced, for instance, by alerting drivers of speeding zones. Producers can map these areas out across a quarry where potentially unsafe events might occur.

“You can have an intelligent conversation with your fleet to understand not only why speeding is inefficient but how it can be a safety hazard,” Rush says. “If we can prevent bunching and queuing, it can prevent traffic issues. But it’s also including other features like warnings – riding on a bank, a tipping hazard – to provide alerts before they happen.”

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