Coronavirus has undoubtedly taken industries globally by surprise. However, as Kevin Garcia explains, well prepared teams in the aggregates industry, equipped with the right tools and precautions, can still succeed in this challenging, health-conscious environment.
Aggregate producers and contractors are facing unprecedented challenges, as is every other industry to a greater or lesser degree. But how we deal with adversity and find workable solutions will dictate a positive outcome in the future. Whereas we may have looked to the flexibility of our teams to help us through, we now have a range of new workflows enabled by technology to help us cope. Now is a great time to learn more about the options available and talk with technology partners about your unique challenges, your goals and how technology can work for you.
Managers can help restore calm, mitigate spread and equip staff with tools to look after themselves and others. After any immediate isolation or quarantine strategies, how can smart aggregates operations protect staff and customers, and reduce costs from their operations to weather the pandemic?
Take a breath
Every day, the news media confronts us with updates of the spread. It can seem overwhelming for managers and teams alike. Take a breath, pause and think through your response. As more time passes, we can understand the situation better, and a better understanding leads to more predictable outcomes.
Wait to make decisions on reducing your workforce. It was tough to find skilled operators before, and you often can’t just hire someone with no experience, especially if you expect a rebound. Before taking drastic measures of reducing staff, consider how to cut costs caused by waste and improve efficiency.
Take preventative measures
Embed good hygiene practices into your toolbox talks and walk-around inspections. The toolbox talk is a good time to discuss health and safety with your crew, including reminder advice to practise good hygiene, including frequent hand washing, covering your mouth with an arm during coughs and avoiding touching your face.
Regular maintenance of the machine is well understood, so leverage the walk-around inspection as a time to also disinfect the cab, especially when multiple operators share a machine.
The toolbox talk is a good time to remind workers to practise good hygiene.
Listen to fears, concerns
There is plenty of misinformation and confusion about the pandemic, so listen carefully to concerns to help identify staff anxiety. Laying out a strategy for how your team will respond to the pandemic is a good start but proving to your team you are supporting them with new tools is even better.
Emergency protocols within affected communities, such as government-mandated containment areas and mandatory sheltering in place, could trigger a variety of challenges. When public transportation shuts down or schools close, many employees find it difficult or impossible to show up for work. An employer who can maintain a flexible approach to production is more likely to retain staff. Consider how production targets are more important than hours at work. Can your operation use technology tools to allow operators to move between machines and still be productive?
Even your customers may ask for more flexibility in materials delivery. This may mean increasing your stockpiles to be ready for changes in demand. Make sure you equip your sales team with an accurate understanding of your product on the ground with real time stockpile management. Measurement tools like Loadrite loader scales and belt scales, for example, give you real time information about the amount of materials going into or taken out of the stockpile, and loader scales can also help ensure that every truck is loaded correctly.
Isolation at site
“Like many countries, Australia has been tasked with the difficult prospect of keeping core industry running, stipulating that quarries serve as a critical part of the construction industry,” said Dan Berry, the general manager of Loadrite dealership SmartTech Australia, which has offices across the country.
For sites where operators are working but exercising safe social distancing, technology can reduce the need for customer truck drivers to engage directly with loader operators, as job information can be transmitted directly from the scale house to the loader operator’s in-cab screen.
Just because staff have been asked to work at home doesn’t mean they can’t keep track of a shift’s production.
Reduced paper handling
Many operators will be isolated by the cab, and beyond regular cleaning of surfaces, technology can help to isolate them further. Electronic ticketing technology, for example, can email the loading ticket to the truck driver’s mobile phone or the office, just as a paper ticket does. By replacing the physical handover of a loading ticket, it reduces the need for proximity of any objects that may have the virus.
New load and haul monitoring systems have also replaced haul truck tally sheets. In fact, some newer systems require no haul truck operator interaction to track cycles, with remote reporting for anyone off-site.
“We have been working with key industry leaders to help drive change in the move to paperless docket solutions on jobsites and within the subcontractor ecosystems,” Berry said. “We feel this pandemic will be the catalyst for driving e-docket solutions into acknowledged market best practice to help prevent increased site risks of transmission via the removal of paper-based document hand-off hundreds of times per day to multiple sites.”
Electronic ticketing technology can now be sent to a truck driver’s mobile phone or the office, replacing a physical paper ticket.
Keeping skeleton crews safe
Loading trucks, feeding hoppers, moving stockpiles and the co-ordination and supervision of these tasks need to be done on-site. Some technology solutions not only monitor production but also track staff and machine movement. Through mobile smart devices, the on-site team leader can tell the team is working and safe.
Staying in touch from home
Many employers have asked staff who are able to work from home to stay away for the time being but that doesn’t mean they can’t keep track of that shift’s production. The new Trimble Insight, for example, is a real time, mobile-friendly dashboard of each machine as it feeds the processing plant, during crushing, and as material is loaded onto customer trucks. The dashboard keeps track of start time, delays and each machine’s productivity.
It seems likely that the construction sector will contract in the near-term future, so look for process improvement opportunities to reduce costs. Are there any pinch points or delays that can be solved?
Get more from your machine assets
In 2019, the lead times for mobile machines extended out by months and forced operators to look at a mixed fleet with different makes and models. However, this can make it difficult to collect all your production data in a single place. Using third party on-board scales on your loaders, excavators, haul trucks and conveyors collects productivity data that can be easily shared with teams for better decision-making.
A long game
The Australian economy may go into a recession, but generally construction activity lags the overall economy. This means that many contractors can expect more difficult circumstances next year.
By playing a long game, managers can endure the short-term and be ready for what 2021 will bring.
Producers that are sufficiently prepared can prosper even during difficult economic times. •
Kevin Garcia is the general manager of civil specialty solutions for Trimble’s Civil Engineering and Construction Division, which includes Trimble’s solutions for the aggregates industry.