Streamline Field Service to Compete Better
BY Del Williams
To gain a competitive edge and save costs on some construction projects, contractors who own, operate, and service their own fleets reduce downtime, labor, and operational costs by using custom lube skids and trailers to service their equipment in the field.
“With custom trailers, on a spread of six to eight pieces of equipment, we save about $500 per shift,” Jeff Vivian said. He’s the operations and maintenance coordinator at Independence Excavating, a Midwest construction company offering site development, heavy industrial, construction, aggregate crushing, demolition and environmental solutions.
“On a million dollar project, we save at least $30,000,” he said. “That can be the edge we need to win a competitive bid, make a profit, or meet tight deadlines without extra workshifts or overtime.”
Many contractors may not realize how much traditional refueling and servicing of equipment in the field is eating into their profit margins. Yet the downtime reduces productivity, and unproductive operation accelerates equipment wear.
“We used to place a temporary fuel tank at smaller construction sites and have operators track their machines to it to refuel each evening,” Vivian said.“But we lost at least a half hour of production waiting to refuel, burned more fuel, and put extra wear on our undercarriages.”
The traditional field service model of hauling a variety of containers of grease, hydraulic fluid, oil and other lubricants that must be lifted in and out of trucks and then poured or pumped by hand is no longer adequate. It’s not only an inefficient way to complete such work, but also increases the risk of spills, injury to technicians, and even the potential to accidentally ignite the highly flammable products.
Faster Service Equals More Uptime
An alternative for contractors is to invest in properly designed lube skids mounted on trucks, or lube trailers. These can be used to dispense lubricants, such as oil and grease, as well as recover used oil. Some trailers can also safely dispense fuel. Although standard skids and trailers exist in the market, some manufacturers offer custom options designed to satisfy every field requirement.
To enhance safety, equipment uptime, and productivity, Independence Excavating has worked with Valley Industries of Hastings, Nebraska, a provider of custom and standard lube skids, trailers, and trucks, to customize LubeMate trailers for many years.
The contractor uses the custom trailers to dispense mainly fuel, grease and diesel exhaust fluid. Operators also use oils and fluids kept in trailer storage to top off fluid levels of equipment in the field as needed.
“Our production crew no longer waits to refuel their heavy equipment at night,” Vivian said. “Instead, one man pulls a custom Valley trailer up to each machine, and refuels and services it as needed. This eliminates at least half an hour of production downtime per machine each day.”
According to Vivian, a number of features on the custom trailers have helped to improve Independence Excavating’s production efficiency.
“Electric start air compressors on the trailers make them easy to start, trailer lights run off the compressor simplify night refueling, and a sight gauge allows the operator to see fuel level at a glance so he is not caught short,” Vivian said. “Custom folding ‘gull wing’ doors also protect product in transit and storage, yet open completely onsite for easier product access.”
Vivian shared a specific example from a recent Pittsburgh project.
“We were redeveloping a huge downtown parking facility, and our equipment was stretched six to seven city blocks through a parking lot that stayed open,” Vivian said. “It would have been a nightmare to refuel our equipment without the custom trailer. On a job like that, a trailer can pay for itself within three months.”
Auto Truck Group, a leading work truck upfitter in North America that specializes in the design, manufacture and installation of truck equipment for a range of customers and industries, also finds significant value in custom skids.
“With Valley’s custom LubeMate skids, contractors can select just what they need in terms of tank number and size for clean or waste oil, grease, anti-freeze, water, or washer fluid,” Shawn Crawford, an account manager at Auto Truck Group said. “By choosing options for pump, reel, hose, meter, and dispenser as well as layout, cabinet, drip pan, and containment they can further optimize field service.”
According to Crawford, for instance, a small new home contractor servicing a Bobcat mini-excavator may only need a 30-gallon clean oil tank, a 28-gallon waste oil tank, and one pump and one reel. A mid-sized highway contractor using backhoes and rollers, however, might need four 60-gallon tanks for digitally metered, clean oil, four reels, and a 200-gallon waste oil tank.
“The skids can be flexibly customized almost like putting together Legos,” Crawford said.
According to Crawford, customizing design can enhance maintenance safety and efficiency, and lower equipment service cost.
“With the custom skids and trailers, contractors can locate the tanks, spring retract reels and equipment so workers can safely, efficiently dispense oil and fluids while standing on the ground,” Crawford said. “This eliminates the slip-fall workers comp hazards related to climbing on or off a truck or moving heavy barrels to retrieve product.”
One lube service area that can be time consuming and labor intensive is recovering used oil, as the process cannot contaminate the job site and is monitored by the EPA. While typical used oil evacuation can be slow and messy, “no spill” quick couplers today can attach directly to the heavy equipment’s engine for fast oil evacuation directly from the oil pan.
“Instead of draining or dumping used oil into a pan or bucket, the quick couplers are a neater option that avoids spill-related clean-up issues,” Crawford said.
For more efficient lube servicing of equipment in cold climates, where oil viscosity thickens, custom pumps and heaters can be helpful. For instance, while a 3:1 pump may be fine in typical climates, a 5:1 pump may be necessary in colder regions, and a 10:1 pump may be needed for heavier oil, such as gear oil.
“In northern regions, where oils can run like molasses in winter, custom pumps and heaters are almost mandatory,” Crawford said.
For contractors requiring custom lube or fuel service, fast response and delivery can be vital to meet construction project deadlines.
“When a contractor needed a custom skid for a technician in training, Valley got us the skid to mount on his truck within a month, so it was waiting for him when he finished training,” Crawford said. “Contractors looking to work more profitably need such customization.”
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California. For more information, contact Valley Industries, LLC, Hastings, Nebraska, at (800) 400-0124 or visit www.valley-industries.com.