Eurovia Atlantic Coast Implements Apex
Northeast Paving is a division of Eurovia Atlantic Coast LLC, headquartered in Virginia. The division operates 14 stationary asphalt plants, several portable plants and 12 quarries, and runs between 15 and 20 paving crews (two in Pennsylvania, three in Massachusetts, one in New Hampshire, and nine in Maine).
In 2022, the division decided to invest in Apex, a quarry and plant automation software from Command Alkon, Birmingham, Alabama. The division had been using Command Alkon’s Libra platform to automate load out and ticketing, when it decided to invest in a more robust solution that integrated with other technology the division had deployed and offered additional features into which the company could grow.
“Load out and printing tickets were the only functions we were using our old solution for,” said Division Vice President Brad Regner, adding that the data was then uploaded to Eurovia’s internal enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for billing. “We needed a solution that could perform that basic function, while bringing more value through integration with some of our other platforms.”
Eurovia Atlantic Coast has also recently implemented a carbon tracking software. “One of our goals as a company is reducing our carbon footprint. We’ve set some lofty goals for ourselves. Now, we need to track them as we strive to meet them,” Regner said. The software has already been rolled out at some Eurovia U.S. locations, and the company plans to have achieved full implementation by 2024. “The software will give us real time data on energy consumption at our asphalt plants. The ability to track and analyze that data is going to help us through that carbon reduction process.”
Apex for Northeast Paving
Apex offers a number of site automation features, from automatic truck recognition, video verification of scale loading, driver kiosks and display, remote print enclosures and antitheft modules to wireless loader systems and more. The platform also aims to be a central data source for sales, dispatch and back office staff to ensure an accurate flow of information and streamlined invoicing and billing.
“Apex’s biggest benefit is simply integrating all that functionality into one place,” Regner said. Before integrating Apex at all its plants and quarries ahead of the start of the 2023 season, its staff was using one platform to send a quote, manually entering that information into its plant automation platform when the customer picked up the mix, then loading that information into its ERP platform to make sure everything matched up. “Being able to integrate multiple steps into one platform saves us a lot of manual entry. From the time we send a quote to a customer, that’s already in Apex. When we get an order from a customer or from our own crews, it’s already in Apex.”
According to Regner, Apex has saved the division a significant amount of time and effort. “Now, when we have a customer come in, we have all the necessary information already loaded,” he said. “We’re not having to call people to figure out what job this is for, what the price was, etc.”
The system has also led to a reduction in errors that may arise from manual data entry. “When you bill a customer incorrectly, someone has to go into the system, credit that invoice, create a new one,” Regner said. “And it’s a hassle for our team and a hassle for our customer. The ability to eliminate those errors has been a huge benefit.”
Regner has also appreciated the ability to integrate Apex with Eurovia’s third-party truck tracking software. “That flexibility is one thing I really liked about Command Alkon,” he said. “They were willing to share that data to our logistics software provider and work through that with them so we didn’t have any gaps on that front. Having all that data being shared across multiple platforms in real time is an unbelievable advantage and brings so much value compared to what we had been doing before.”
Eurovia can also use Apex to glean data from all its plants for more informed decision-making. “Before, our data was housed on a bunch of individual servers in various places, based on the geographic locations of all our plants,” Regner said. “With Apex, all that data is available on the cloud. It’s simpler to access, simpler to import that data into our ERP, simpler to do all the things we need to do to bill our customers.”
Regner also appreciates the ease with which it’s possible to access the right data in a variety of ways. “Now, all our data is available to us instantaneously and we can filter and sort it in a number of ways to better understand what we’re doing and what we need to do,” he said. For example, if Regner wants to see how many tons have left a certain plant on any given day, he can. If he wants to see tonnage for the entire division over the course of a week, he can do that, too. “With just a couple of clicks, we can parse the data in many different ways to have a better look at our operations, make decisions and manage our business from a higher level.”
Another major selling point of the Apex solution was that it was compatible with 95% of the division’s existing plant automation hardware. “We’d been using e-ticketing and silo cameras with our previous automation platform at some of our locations and the hardware we had to replace was minimal,” Regner said. However, when the division implemented Apex, they expanded e-ticketing to all its plants and quarries.
According to Regner, the implementation process from the end of the procurement stage to Apex going live at the division’s first plant was three or four months. “From there, we worked through implementation at the rest of our 14 asphalt plants and 12 quarry sites,” he said. “The Command Alkon team did a fabulous job guiding us through that process. We were ahead of schedule pretty much the entire time.”
A key component of the implementation process was the testing phase. “Having a robust testing phase in a non-live environment is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in all my years of implementing new technology,” Regner said. “We’ve rolled out new technology [without that] quite a few times in the past and it hasn’t gone nearly as well.”
The testing period gave Northeast Paving’s employees the chance to experience the technology firsthand and troubleshoot potential issues before they could arise in a live environment where issues could be costly. “Ample testing is critical,” Regner said. “It gave our team the ability to see what this system can really do, ensure it’s giving us the results we thought we’d get and troubleshoot anything that isn’t working properly before we go live.”
Regner recommends getting a broad variety of employees involved in the testing phase. “Having people from different levels and functions of your company test the software makes all the difference,” he said. “Get the plant operator into that testing environment. Get someone from accounts receivable in there. Get someone in there that might have a very different perspective from an IT person. Let them kick the tires, play around, ask questions.”
“Getting people involved also lets you push the limits of the platform,” Regner said. “I wouldn’t say they’ll try to break it, but they’ll definitely try to do things you never anticipated.”
Despite the launch of an entirely new system, Regner said he hasn’t received much feedback from customers. “Most of our customers didn’t even know we did it,” Regner said. “That shows just how well the transition went. We saw minimal to no disruption in our billing process and the ticketing process to our customers, which is key because we wanted it to be seamless.”
Doing so also offers the ancillary benefit of reducing resistance to change. “When a new technology gets rolled out wrong and ends up making employees’ lives harder, even temporarily, it seems like they retain those negative feelings about it even after it starts to work correctly,” Regner said. “When you let people be a part of the change, it creates buy-in and makes the process a lot simpler.”
Even during the testing phase, Regner received positive feedback on the system from employees with many different job functions. “They shared their thoughts on the dashboard, which reports they found most useful and how the platform helped them do their job more effectively,” he said. “Even in the testing phase, people saw that they could use the platform to make their jobs easier.”
Not only does this approach change the attitudes of the employees that participated in the testing phase, but it can also improve the opinions of other employees. “When a plant operator who wasn’t involved in the testing process starts using the system, they know they can call one of their fellow plant operators,” Regner said. Not only for help, but also for an unbiased opinion on the new system. “When that operator says how great the system is, that’s way more valuable than me saying that from my office.”
When it came time to roll Apex out in a live environment, Regner didn’t need to think twice about which plant they’d try first: the Springdale Plant in Pennsylvania. “[Springdale] is our most complex because we sell to a lot of different customers and also use that plant to supply our own crews,” Regner said. “And we sell a lot of different products [at that plant], including products outside of what goes through the hot mix plant and just come across the scale. I figured if Apex could work at that plant, all our other plants and quarries would be easy by comparison.”
From there, the division rolled Apex out across the 14 asphalt plants and 12 quarries within its region, completing the full implementation in time for a successful 2023 season start up and a streamlined paving season.
From Base to Bolt-Ons & Beyond
In the future, Northeast Paving plans to implement additional solutions within the Command Alkon portfolio. When deciding which features were most important from the beginning, Regner said the process was a back-and-forth with Command Alkon. “They were very flexible with what we wanted to do,” Regner said. “We wanted to start off with an upgrade to the base functionality of what we had before. We didn’t want to overwhelm our teams with too many changes at once. When they’re familiar with the Apex software, it’ll be much easier to bolt on additional features in the future.”
Two of the features Regner already has his eye on are Command Alkon’s dispatch module and credit card processing feature. “[Credit card processing] is one of the first things we’re going to investigate once we’ve got the basics down,” Regner said. “It would be nice to integrate credit card processing into the platform rather than having to do a separate transaction elsewhere and then put it into the platform.”
The ability to add features as the division is ready was a chief benefit of the Apex solution. “We liked that Apex wasn’t all or nothing,” Regner said. “We were able to pick the things we wanted from an automation perspective while retaining the flexibility to add more features as we go forward. This way, we aren’t stuck with something we can’t upgrade in the future. Apex is something that can grow with us.”