Tag Archive for 'productivity'

Precision Pays

How Green Oasis Irrigation is Mini-Trenching Its Way to Success

Every day we benefit greatly from the precision achieved when professionals use tools designed specifically for their jobs. Surgery, for instance, would be far more risky and leave less than ideal results if surgeons did not have some of the sharpest scalpels in the world that allow them to work with extreme precision. Installing landscape irrigation lines is a similar endeavor, albeit less life threatening. When it’s done with the best tools around it can deliver extremely precise and high-quality results, saving customers and contractors from headaches and labor costs. 

Operators walk behind the Kwik-Trench while pushing forward. This is not only easier than larger trenchers that operate by pulling the unit backward, but also safer.

Bill Waltz is no surgeon, but he and his crew at Green Oasis Irrigation in Tomball, Texas, know firsthand that using the right tools for the job can have a huge impact on success. Waltz owns Green Oasis, and he and his crew install and service sprinkler systems in southeast Texas. The task involves digging trenches as narrow as 1 inch, as deep as 8 inches and, in some cases, hundreds of feet long for placing irrigation lines. When Waltz first started the business, it wasn’t always as easy as it sounds. 

“One of my good friends and I were looking to keep ourselves busy one summer while we were home from college. When I saw a few guys installing a sprinkler system at the house across the street, I knew that was the ticket to passing time while earning some money,” Waltz said. 

After some research and trips to the hardware store for supplies, Waltz and his partner were in business and ready for their first project – installing irrigation lines at Waltz’s childhood home where his parents still reside. After that first successful install, he and his partner hit the pavement, posting fliers to drum up business. Their efforts proved successful, but as the number of projects grew, their faith in their methods diminished. 

“We started out using trenching shovels, which certainly got the job done, but our bodies paid the price,” he said. “They also didn’t leave the type of results we wanted to give our customers.”

Better Trenching Technology

Trenching by hand is not only a laborious process, but time intensive as well. In addition, the process greatly disturbs the soil, so customers had to wait as long as two months before their yards were back to normal. 

The Kwik-Trench deposits soil on one side of the trench, which makes backfilling easy and fast, allowing the area to heal quickly.
 

“The longer soil and grass is left out of the trench, the more it dries out and the longer it takes for that area to heal once material is put back,” Waltz said. “If that’s our only option, that’s one thing, but we knew there had to be a better way.” 

A visit to the local rental shop proved them right. 

There it was: the 2.5- foot by 5-foot piece of equipment that, at the time, Waltz had no idea would have such a hand in shaping his business. It was a Little Beaver Kwik-Trench mini-trencher – a gas powered machine that slices through soil, leaving trenches as narrow as 1 inch and as deep as 12 inches. 

“Up until then our only power trenching options were large models that would have destroyed lawns. They were overkill for what we needed,” Waltz said. 

He also added that many customers hear the word “trencher” and envision the lawns they work so hard to maintain turning into a dirt-filled warzone.

“That image isn’t too far from reality if you use larger trenchers. We knew we had to have clean, narrow trenches that could minimize cleanup time and deliver better results for our customers. The mini-trencher was our best option.” 

Over the next few years, as the business got off the ground, Green Oasis rented the mini-trencher for nearly every irrigation project. The unit cut trenches as quickly as 30 feet per minute and its carbide tipped blades rotated as fast as 800 rpm, delivering clean and precise results. 

The team of two quickly realized that what started as a way for quick cash on college breaks, had developed into a thriving business opportunity. As soon as they had the funds, they purchased the Kwik-Trench.

The Sharpest Tool in the Shed

And the rest, as they say, is history. That was nearly 28 years ago and since then Waltz’s partner has gone his own way while Green Oasis has grown to 10 installers and two mini-trenchers working year round to service customers. He also continues to get rave reviews.

“The mini-trenchers have really made our business stand out amongst the competition,” Waltz said. “I’ve had customers arrive home and think we hadn’t completed the job because the yard looked undisturbed. Clients have also been pleased with how fast their yards are back to normal.” 

The Kwik-Trench deposits soil on one side of the trench, which makes backfilling easy and fast, allowing the area to heal quickly. The subsequent customer satisfaction helps fill much of Green Oasis’ business, which primarily comes from referrals.

The compact size of the Kwik-Trench allows operators to trench in tight spaces and close to buildings. 

But clients aren’t the only ones pleased with Waltz’s approach to digging trenches. His employees are also happy. 

“I’ve had some of my guys say if they had to dig by hand they wouldn’t be working for me,” Waltz said. “Ergonomics is starting to play a big role in employee satisfaction, and rightfully so, we’re not young forever.”

Operators walk behind the unit while pushing forward, which is not only easier than larger trenchers that operate by pulling the unit backward, but it’s also safer. Green Oasis’ mini-trenchers are also relatively lightweight and easy to maneuver. 

More Productivity Means More Projects

In addition to safety and ergonomics, the units have also boosted profits for Green Oasis. 

With the help of Little Beaver’s Kwik-Trench, crews can turn what would otherwise be a two-day project into a six- to eight

“It’s simple; because we can cut trenches faster, we can complete projects more quickly, which means we can take on more than what can be achieved with hand digging,” Waltz said. 

He noted one of the largest projects his crew has completed with the mini-trenchers included installing irrigation lines on a 3-acre property outside of Tomball. 

“It took us four days to complete the job – one of the longest projects we’ve worked on. But if we had hand dug the trenches it would have taken us almost two weeks,” he said. 

That efficiency continues to pay even on the day-to-day projects, turning what could be two-day projects into six- to eight-hour jobs.  

Not only has efficiency played a role in the company’s success, but having quick and timely parts support has also helped Green Oasis stay on top of profits. 

“We bill per project rather than hourly so if we had to wait for parts to arrive it could really eat into our profits,” Waltz said. Fortunately he has been able to call Little Beaver and get what he needed within a few days. 

“I’m not sure why some contractors still choose to hand dig their trenches, but for us it’s a no-brainer,” Waltz said. 

Having the right tools for the job is smart. Just like the surgeon with his instruments, a contractor with his mini-trencher is poised to operate with extreme precision to deliver fast, high-quality results. And it’s all in the name of saving. Whether it’s rescuing clients from an unsightly yard or saving a contractor time, hassle and labor costs, the right tools pay. 

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor, Western Builder

Gypsum Solutions

Selecting a Pump to Maximize Productivity and Profitability in Gypsum Applications

By Tripp Farrell, President, Blastcrete Equipment, LLC

New construction is on the rise across the country – especially for multi-family residential units, where completions are at record numbers and show little evidence of slowing down into 2020. These projects create an ideal environment for contractors looking to break into or grow their business in high-flow material markets with gypsum floor underlayment, grouting, cellular concrete, plaster and stucco applications. 

Recent advancements in rotor-stator technology led to the introduction of an adjustable rotor-stator pump with inline pressure gauge to the gypsum mixer/pump market. This innovation allows contractors to adjust flow to meet a project’s unique requirements, resulting in less wear and tear on pump components

However, success in this field requires an investment in specialized equipment – a limiting factor for many bottom-line-conscious contractors. While there is no way to offset equipment costs altogether, recent innovations in gypsum mixer/pumps have made these units more affordable, user-friendly and versatile than previous options. With the right equipment, contractors can see quick ROI and increased efficiency.

Here are several key factors to consider when selecting a gypsum mixer/pump to maximize productivity and profitability.

Pump Type

The type of pump is perhaps the most important feature to consider when investing in a gypsum mixer/pump. For contractors considering lower output gypsum applications such as radiant heat, smaller and more economical peristaltic/squeeze pumps can be used successfully. However, squeeze pumps will surge, which results in a light interruption in material flow. Minimal surging can lead to splatter on drywall, resulting in unnecessary cleanup. The squeeze pump has a maximum 450 psi line pressure which limits pumping distance to around 300 feet.  

Rotor-stator pumps, on the other hand, provide continuous flow, eliminating surges and increasing productivity. These pumps can generate up to 600 psi of pumping pressure – about 30 percent more than squeeze pumps – for pumping distances in excess of 150 feet vertically and 500 feet horizontally. 

Gypsum mixer/pumps that can be charged directly with a specially designed skid steer bucket not only saves time and energy; they allow contractors to set up sand and gypsum stockpiles in a separate location when space is at a premium. 
 

Recent advancements in rotor-stator technology led to the introduction of an adjustable rotor-stator pump with inline pressure gauge to the gypsum mixer/pump market. This innovation allows contractors to adjust flow to meet a project’s unique requirements. Tightening the rotor-stator results in maximum pumping distances, which is ideal for high-rise and long-distance jobs. When the job requires shorter pumping distances – between 200 and 300 feet – contractors simply loosen Gypsum mixer/pumps that can be charged directly with a specially designed skid steer bucket not only saves time and energy; they allow contractors to set up sand and gypsum stockpiles in a separate location when space is at a premium.  rotor-stator. This flexibility results in optimum pumping pressure for the application. 

Adjusting the pump to fit the application specifications results in less wear and tear on the rotor-stator since these are the primary wear parts on this style of pump. Monitoring and adjusting the line pressure helps contractor double or even triple the life of these components. To further minimize lifetime maintenance costs and unnecessary downtime, some OEMs design their adjustable rotor-stator pumps with easy access to mechanical seals. This user-friendly design allows operators to perform mechanical seal maintenance without dismantling the rotor and stator, drastically reducing labor expenses and saving hours of unnecessary downtime. 

Price Point

No product selection discussion would be complete without touching on price. Cost is an important factor in determining the value a piece of equipment brings to a business and whether it’s worth pursuing. In the past, a limited selection of gypsum mixer/pump models meant contractors looking to invest in gypsum equipment might be stuck with a higher price tag and unnecessary features for their operation. 

The type of pump is perhaps the most important feature to consider when investing in a gypsum mixer/pump. Rotor-stator pumps provide continuous flow, eliminating surges and increasing productivity.
 

A lack of specialized gypsum equipment options also led some contractors to purchase units designed for more general cementitious applications – a situation that came with its own host of problems. However, as the gypsum industry continues to develop, more economical mixer/pump options with simpler and more user-friendly designs are filling the gap, offering contractors the ability to select equipment based on their needs without overinvesting.

Prices for a new gypsum mixer/pump can range from $45,000 to well over $125,000. Comparing apples to apples in terms of capacity and output, contractors will find minimal difference between most gypsum machines. The industry average is 12-cubic-foot mixers and pumping speeds well over 100 bags of gypsum per hour. 

Differences arise with a closer inspection of the spec sheets. Contractors looking to not pay for more than they need should contact manufacturers to walk through what features are necessary for their specific operation. For example, engine size can play a huge part in price differentiation. Gypsum mixer/pumps range in size from 3,350 pounds with a 32-horsepower engine to nearly 10,000 pounds with a 100-horsepower engine. 

Exactly how much horsepower is necessary will depend on the target applications, so discussing options with OEM experts is important for making the most practical and economical decision. While gypsum mixer/pumps are not totally customizable, partnering with certain OEMs allows for a more personalized result, often with a significant cost savings over standard models. 

Simplified Design

The saying “less is more” often applies to gypsum mixer/pumps. In addition to reducing the initial cost, selecting a reliable gypsum mixer/pump that does the basics and does them well often results in a user-friendly unit that’s easy to operate, maintain, and keep clean.

Hydraulic spiral mixers offer a benefit over paddle mixers since they can operate at higher speeds without splashing or throwing material out of the mixer. This mixer also limits possible maintenance issues and unnecessary downtime by minimizing moving parts.

To make the most of an equipment investment, the machine needs to have high utilization. For contractors looking to operate at multiple jobsites with multiple crews, selecting a gypsum mixer/pump with the essential components and no frills equates to less training, less downtime and less stress. Machines with a simple, intuitive design are easy to operate with minimal training. This opens up the door for maximum productivity since contractors can train several crew members and still deliver quality results.

Fewer moving parts also means less mess and less maintenance. A unit’s mixer is a good example of this. Most units feature either a paddle type mixer or a hydraulic spiral mixer. Both work quickly, mixing a full load in about two minutes. However, hydraulic spiral mixers offer a benefit over paddle mixers since they can operate at higher speeds without splashing or throwing material out of the mixer. This leads to increased productivity since crews are not spending unnecessary time cleaning. 

Additionally, the paddle style mixers used in gypsum equipment usually have two mixer shafts, which doubles the moving parts. Compare this to a single planetary gearbox driving the spiral mixer. With features like spiral mixers, new gypsum mixer/pumps limit possible maintenance issues and unnecessary downtime by minimizing moving parts.

These time-savings aren’t limited to major maintenance. Proper cleaning is vital for any concrete pump, including gypsum equipment. The less there is to clean, the faster this process will be. Look for a model with easily accessible wear parts to make daily cleaning as efficient as possible. Some manufactures have gone a step further to simplify maintenance by engineering a removable mixer and pump kit that simply detaches from the machine for the ease of cleaning and scheduled maintenance.

Maneuverability

Transportability is another key consideration when selecting the right mixer/pump combination. The larger and more remote the contractor’s service area, the more vital this becomes. Units featuring robust trailers for long-distance travel and a lighter footprint provide a more practical solution for extended service areas. For maximum maneuverability, look for a unit with a dual axle high-speed towing trailer and tubular steel frame to enable safe travel on highways. 

Onsite maneuverability is another area to keep in mind. Once the equipment has arrived, its placement and use can be quite the logistical challenge – especially on crowded jobsites. A gypsum pump with a smaller footprint can increase overall productivity. The charging process for different machines is a good example of this. Some models include a skip hoist to charge the mixer. The hoist is filled with sand and gypsum either by hand or with a skid steer bucket. When full, it rises and dumps into the mixer. 

This system requires sand and gypsum material to be stored near the pump and ample space for the hoist to maneuver, limiting where contractors can set it up. Gypsum pumps without the skip hoist eliminate the additional step and can be charged directly with a specially designed skid steer bucket. This not only saves time and energy; it allows contractors to set up sand and gypsum stockpiles in a separate location when space is at a premium. 

Customer Service

As with many equipment decisions, brand is an important factor to consider when selecting a gypsum mixer/pump. The right machine will ultimately be the one with the ideal combination of features and price, but the service and support behind that unit can’t be discounted. Partnering with a manufacturer that has a reputation for robust, high quality machines means operators can expect fewer breakdowns over its lifetime. Plus, when parts and service are required, knowing the team behind the brand is available 24/7 can be a huge relief. From fast delivery of parts to expert troubleshooting, dedicated OEMs help their customers increase efficiency.    

Making the Right Selection

The surest route to success in any business starts with investing in the best equipment to get the job done quickly and efficiently. Recent advances are making it easier and more economical for first-time and veteran gypsum contractors to take this step, but there are still many factors to consider. From design to durability, selecting a gypsum mixer/pump for maximum productivity and profitability must begin with the contractor’s unique needs. 

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor,
Western Builder

Workflow Verification Technology

By Jeff Winke

 A Scanning Robotic Total Station Combines Two Functions for Increased Productivity

In the 1950s, Ace Books began publishing Ace Doubles, which were two separate novels combined in a single volume. For example, a reader could read “Secret Agent of Terra” which ends at about the middle of the book. The reader could then close the book; do a head-to-toe flip of the volume; and there would be the cover of the second book, “The Rim of Space.” The reader is happy because they get twice the value– two separate novels for the price of one. The two-novels-in-one book concept clearly provided great value to the avid reader.

That same kind of value proposition can also be seen in a new product for construction workflow verification. Available from Topcon Positioning Systems, Livermore, California, the GTL-1000 is a compact scanner integrated with a fully-featured robotic total station, offering a site manager a dual-function instrument designed to complete a layout and scan on a single set-up. The data can be processed, mapped, and provide construction verification.

“The key benefit that got me most excited by combining layout and laser scanning into one device is placing that device in the right person’s hands,” stated Taylor Cupp, Technologist with M. A. Mortenson Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “On our projects, that is the layout professional – now we can empower them to not only do layout, but also capture what is built for quality control. It’s very beneficial because the person that knows how they’ve set up the job in terms of control points and those kinds of things can be the one to do that capture and get it as accurate as possible with one device.”

Topcon describes it as a first in the industry that all workflow components are integrated and provides users with a live, “as built” model of projects, allowing the contractor to identify and rectify any discrepancies. 

“Our field engineering team has expressed interest in a product like the GTL-1000 for many years – a product that allows them to survey and scan within the same workflow and not have to spend time in the office registering scan data,” stated Paulina Acosta, Senior Applied Technology Specialist with Rogers-O’Brien Construction in Dallas, Texas. “Each point cloud is geo-located before you leave the field. This makes them feel confident that the point clouds will be correctly positioned to our 3-D models, without the need for visual alignment or the need to return to the field to acquire more data in order to make the registration work.”

Nick Salmons, Principal Laser Scanning Surveyor at Balfour Beatty Construction in London, United Kingdom, said, “The new Topcon robotic scanning solution will increase productivity on site by accelerating the construction process and identifying design challenges more efficiently than traditional methods.” 

Salmons also said it will benefit the industry as a whole by “reducing cost and program duration, for both clients and contractors alike.”

Ease of Use

The system is designed so the user can initiate a scan with the press of a single button. A full-dome 360-degree scan can be created in a few minutes, according to Ray Kerwin, Topcon Director of Global Product Planning. “More traditional systems and methods take considerably longer,” Kerwin said. “So, depending on the job site conditions, a contractor can get in and out quicker and thus minimizes safety concerns.” 

A benefit Acosta likes: “We liked the ability to take individual as-built points with the GTL-1000 after it completes a full scan. This is helpful when you are trying to ensure that you captured the center point of a sleeve or a structural connection. These points appear in the point cloud after they are processed and eliminate the time spent by our 3-D modelers trying to determine the positioning of specific items in a point cloud.”

The scanner is used in combination with ClearEdge3D Verity, a software tool designed to automate construction verification.

“The seamless integration of the unit and Verity creates a complete package that is perfect for construction verification using 3-D modelling techniques,” Kerwin stated. “The result is a system that offers full-dome scanning which can quickly capture duct work, columns, beams, girders, flaps, penetrations, and structural steel. It helps to improve quality assurance, providing clear visual indication of construction-quality heat maps to minimize the effects of mistakes before they become expensive problems.”

The system is designed to build upon proven prism tracking and accuracy that allows operators to establish points in most construction environments. The product includes on-board MAGNET Collage field software designed to process the data and offer real-time field-to-office connectivity. 

Increased Efficiency

A key productivity benefit of the scanning robotic total station is that the site engineer requires no additional training and does not need to rely on outside scanning services. The new system is designed to take what was previously a rather lengthy, specialty process and compresses all the steps, reducing the overall verification time. The infrastructure group Balfour Beatty originally tested the GTL-1000 in the field. 

“In our use and testing, we have found that the new robotic scanning solution will increase productivity on site by accelerating the construction process and identifying design challenges more efficiently than traditional methods,” Salmons said. “We are delighted to have collaborated with Topcon over the last 12 months to trial this new tool, which will significantly benefit the industry as a whole; reducing cost and program duration, for both clients and contractors alike.”

The benefits of the combined scanning robotic total station are also said to extend to subcontractors, who can share the verification data, meaning all parties are working from the same construction-quality heat maps. For example, the first electrical ducts and conduits can often cause problems, as alterations can often occur that go unnoticed. With Topcon’s new system, the speed at which everybody working on the job can understand mistakes means the effects can hopefully be minimized before they become expensive problems.As efficiency becomes increasingly important in the market, time cannot be wasted and mistakes cannot be tolerated. Clearly, the demand for quick construction verification is on the rise, which supports the need for new technologies that can 

This feature appeared in the December 2019 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor,
Western Builder

Embracing Efficiency

Three Ways to Improve Jobsite Productivity and Safety

3 Ways to Improve Jobsite Productivity and Safety

Technology is helping contractors gather data at the job site to make more informed decisions, improving productivity, safety, and the bottom line.

So which technologies are deemed some of the hottest on the job site now? Industry insiders point to drones, lasers, and wearables, to name a few.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) provided an overview through CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 online. Learn more at http://www.conexpoconagg.com/subscribe/.

1. Lasers and Digital Technologies Improve Quality, Reduce Waste

While both laser and digital tools have been available for some time, widespread availability and lower entrance price points are making their precision available to a growing number in the workforce.

“From laser levels and layout guides to laser measurers, new tools are coming on the market that are more precise and affordable,” says Russ Gardner of Calculated Industries.

“Now, measurements can be accurate to one-thousandth of an inch or a degree, helping improve quality and reduce material waste,” he added.

Equipping employees with such tools will help them build better and faster, and taking a systematic approach to the planned replacement of existing old technology with the new technology can be a cost-effective approach.

2. Drones Improve Speed, Precision

Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine – December 7, 2015: Commercial filming of building industry. New flying Chroma Blade drone, quadcopter with 4K CGO3 camera.

Drones are becoming more familiar on the job site. Construction is one of the industries that is anticipated to see the largest drone spending this year, according to International Data Corporation (IDC).

“Drones allow companies to survey the work site, improving the speed and precision of their projects,” says Ryan Liss of Explorer Software. “Drone usage allows quick

Hovering drone that takes pictures of city sights

and accurate inspections in areas that are difficult to see.”

Today, drones can be outfitted to mark global positioning system (GPS) locations or take an infrared picture of a concrete wall to examine possible defects. This allows construction companies to more accurately see projects, plan accordingly and quickly adjust as the project moves forward.

3. Wearables Improve Employee Safety

Wearable technology can increase both the safety and security of construction workers along with their efficiency.

This technology too is becoming more common on the job site, as price points begin to drop, and implementation and training become more affordable and faster.

Ryan Liss points to vests that can detect a worker’s temperature and cool them down when needed or a boot that detects when a worker slips and falls.

Another example: wearable technology with biometric systems that track heart rate to help companies prevent worker exhaustion.

As the scope of wearable technology rapidly increases, “companies will have to first identify what it is they want a technology to improve on the job site and then determine which technology is right for them,” Liss says.

Learn more about industry trends and technologies through the CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 initiative (https://www.conexpoconagg.com/subscribe/) of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).