The old saying “The devil is in the details” doesn’t deter Barriere Construction’s Ben Tucker, CEM, and Josh Munna, who run the company’s 140-piece fleet. They embrace the details and the data they mine, using it to make decisions from acquisition and disposal to operator coaching and maintenance.
All of Barriere’s equipment, whether owned or rented, has its own specific asset ID number, which allows the roadbuilding and paving company to track a host of information on each machine, including profitability.
2021 Fleet Masters
Barriere Construction is the large-fleet winner of the 2021 Fleet Masters Award. Small-fleet winner Superior Construction is profiled here. The awards are presented by Construction Equipment and the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) and are judged on categories such as finance, information management, policies, and controls.
“Each piece of equipment, be it owned or rented, is treated as a profit/loss,” says Tucker, director of equipment and facilities. “So, you’re tracking your cost, you’re tracking your revenue for each piece based off of rate, and what utilization you’re getting out of it. We do it to have an optimized fleet for Operations. We know what to buy, when to buy, and when not to buy, based off of utilization.”
Barriere reviews each asset monthly, which helps tell it when it’s time to replace equipment. New technology is an intangible that also enters into the decision.
“We have, over time, set targets based on life expectancy—based off of metered hours, age—and some of it is technology change, too,” Tucker says. “We pretty much have a standard that we follow to keep a balanced fleet.
“If we had, say, 10 small dozers, and we were looking at a replacement every four years or 4,000 hours, you’ll get a good trade value back in on it at that time,” Tucker says. “You won’t go in and spend a lot of money on undercarriage or major components where you don’t get value back when you’re done with it. We’re balancing our fleet, so we’re basically looking at replacing three every year.”
To Tucker and Barriere, a balanced and optimized fleet means having the proper amount and type of equipment with staggered ages while keeping utilization above 70 percent.
This acquisition and disposal strategy also helps optimize capital expenditures, according to Tucker. Barriere does a five-year outlook on capital based off of machine replacements and business needs.
“We may take away or add depending on the type of work we have,” Tucker says.
How machine technology aids fleet efficiency
“If you talked to me six or seven years ago about automatic grade control on dozers, we probably only had two or three,” Tucker says. “Now we don’t buy them without it. Every dozer is already lined up with everything on it and you’re getting optimum efficiencies. You see your work production increase by 30 percent and you get better quality, too. The yields are a lot closer.
“So you’re saving money in yields, and you’re saving money in production and in performance,” Tucker says. Barriere has started buying some excavators with grade-control systems as it has begun to see the benefits. It has found integrated systems advantageous because operators cannot knock off masts and sensors.
Barriere has GPS telematics technology on its equipment and even on 80 percent of the third-party truckers it uses. Mobile operations update every minute with geofencing to provide cycle-time analysis for continuous improvement. Such analysis can help the company find wasted truck movements, choke points, the right crew placement, and proper truck and equipment use during pipeline and excavation activities. It also uses OEM GPS systems such as Caterpillar’s VisionLink for fault monitoring, idle time, fuel burn, productivity, and 3D data transfer.
When it comes to mining the data, Tucker and Munna look at OEM feeds as well as an aggregation portal.
“We have VisionLink and we also use Fleet Watcher,” says Munna, Barriere’s Resource Operations Center manager. “We’ve incorporated Fleet Watcher into our third-party trucking and into our Operations center, and then there are Fleet Watcher units on our pavers, milling machines, and material transfer vehicles to help with load-cycle analysis on the trucks. It’s also app-based for the guys in the field so they can see where their equipment is. We have an AEMP feed from VisionLink to Fleet Watcher. That way Operations can see, and everything is right there in their hands.”
Onboard cameras provide safety boost
The company’s entire on-road fleet is equipped with onboard cameras that are driver-facing and forward-facing.
“We do it to protect us, the company, the driver, and the motoring public,” Munna says. “We can see if the public cuts in front of our guys, and we also get alerts for harsh braking, harsh acceleration, harsh turns, rolling stops, and distracted driving. We use it as a coaching tool. We’ll call that driver when we get the notification and we can say, ‘Hey, I saw you were texting on your phone; let’s put that away and think about what can happen.’”
Conversely, Barriere fields calls from the motoring public and engages its safety department to review incidents. “We can go back and see who was at fault,” Munna says. “Because that [truck] is a rolling billboard—they will identify Barriere construction.”
Tucker notes that there have been fewer incidents thanks to the coaching.
“Our company has a clean Compliance, Safety and Accountability for the first time in five years, and that is a direct reflection of the commitment to get better and become safer,” Tucker says. “That’s your biggest hazard and risk: on-road vehicles.”
Tucker thinks cameras would be a good idea in some off-road pieces of the fleet, as well.
“I’m thinking about putting it on our excavators,” he says. “Basically, if you put a forward-mounted camera inside the excavator cab—you being a project manager, superintendent, or foreman—you can go in sometimes to see exactly what’s going on. Also, if you have any incidents, it can capture them. That’s the dangerous area, working in the city with excavators. They have backup cameras on them, but a forward-facing camera would help you with doing cycle analysis studies, too.”
Tucker says there is less resistance to cameras within the company than one might think.
“With one driver, we were sitting there going through [the camera system], telling him it’s for you and us, and he says, ‘Gosh dang, I got me a new hat rack!’” Tucker says. “You’ll get a couple of them against it at the beginning, but since some of them have seen the value, word of mouth has gotten around among the truck drivers. When we installed the GPS in the third-party trucks, I thought it was ‘Oh no, here we go,’ but they liked it. They like that the company knows where they’re at and what they’re doing. It plays in their favor, too; it’s a two-way street.”
Munna says the human element is a must in operator and driver coaching, and everything else Barriere’s equipment department tries to accomplish.
“If you don’t have buy-in from Operations, it’s going to be a continuous battle,” Munna says. “They’re going to be fighting you on things, you’re going to be fighting them on things. Sit down with a couple managers and say, ‘Look, we all work for the same team. The same names are on our hard hats and shirts.’
“The foremen, superintendents, they’re looking at the equipment every day,” Munna says. “As much as we want to, we can’t be all those places at one time, so with the foremen and superintendents, they’re not only doing their audits, but they can call in and tell us what’s going on with the machines instead of neglecting it and letting it be.”
When Munna conducts training, he talks to team members about a domino effect when it comes to caring for assets.
“You can relate it to Covid,” he says. “They say that one person is going to stop the spread. Well, here it’s going to take that one person to stop the spread of that bad behavior. Clean the machine, go above and beyond, and be proactive. That way we can save money and time and get ahead of these issues.”
Barriere requires all its operators to do an inspection the first workday of the week, known as “Machine Monday.” Operators can do the inspection on their smartphone, mark the defects, give a description, and include pictures.
“It’s getting the field guys and the operators into the mindset that this is their piece of equipment,” Munna says. “If you’re on it every day, treat it as if it’s your own vehicle. You’re not going to leave your truck nasty on the inside, dirty on the outside. You change the oil, and you’re going to do the basics: cleaning, lubricating, inspecting. A lot of these guys are in that piece of equipment more than they’re in their vehicle. Take a little pride of ownership of it and then we can possibly on our end keep this a little longer because of that upkeep.”
“It’s teaching them the basics,” Tucker says. “‘If you do this and this, we’ll handle this. You take it daily, you grease it, you inspect it. [You do] the proper inspection, cleaning, and lubrication, and guess what? The parts will come.’”
Barriere says that compliance with the quality inspections has shown a significant increase. Five years ago, it was 75 percent; this year, it is at 91 percent.
“How do you know if the operator is doing a quality inspection or not?” Tucker asks. “The foreman has to do two inspections a month—his audits. He’s auditing a piece of equipment and that operator, whether he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. Then the next level is the superintendent, so he’s looking at the whole crew, the foreman and the operator. So you have a process in place to make sure things are staying uniform. It drives behavior: ‘If the boss is looking at it, I’m going to do it.’”
The company rewards crews that keep up with inspections and take good care of the iron. “When we buy new pieces, they will be the first crew that we look at, because this crew keeps this piece of machinery up, this operator is a great operator, he does everything that we ask,” Munna says. “So let’s give him the new piece of equipment.”
The inspection details that come from the operators, foremen, and superintendents are checked even further. Barriere’s software system automatically grades audits to show the condition of the machine and operator care. It was tracking at 75 percent foreman compliance and 72 percent superintendent compliance, and today the company is at 97 percent with foremen and 99 percent with our superintendents.
All inspections and audits are sent through the system to the equipment coordinator for that specific working group while noted defects are sent to the coordinator via text or email for immediate follow up. From there, the coordinators input the defect into the maintenance software to be scheduled for mechanic or crew repair.
Barriere’s goal is to automatically send a repair request to its computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).
“This process has significantly shortened our days to complete—corrective repairs by seven days and preventative maintenance by five days—which has allowed us to maintain a workorder emergency rate of below 2 percent for the past three years,” Tucker says.
“A new CMMS was put into place four years ago and were able to set up nested coding within equipment class which breaks repairs out by component, subcomponent, failure type, and corrective action taken,” Tucker says. “This has helped us maintain equipment reliability and extend fleet life while keeping maintenance cost low.”
Over the past five years, Tucker reports that maintenance cost as a percent of revenue has stayed within a 0.2 percent variance and maintenance cost as a percent of estimated replacement value has been within 1 percent.
The company made a decision 15 years ago to eliminate all of its maintenance facilities and outsource repairs and PMs. It relies on its dealer partners for the work.
“Back then, we did about $60 million worth of work and we had roughly 180 pieces of equipment; the average age of our fleet was probably around eight years,” Tucker says. “We got down to about 135, 140 pieces and the average age of the fleet now is four years old. If you do preventive maintenance and maintain the wear parts over a period of time, you should not have any major component failure.
“If you had your [own] shops, and your expenditures were $4 million, guess what? That’s $4 million of capital you can use,” Tucker says. “I find when you partner with a good dealer and you have certain pieces of equipment types you like and you use, they work with you and it becomes a good partnership. They’ll go above and beyond what it take to do the job.
“We now have a great working partnership with our local [Louisiana] Cat dealer where they have mechanics dedicated to our company that are regionally placed around the state to handle what’s requested in a timely manner,” Tucker says. “Our outsourced mechanics have access to our maintenance software with iPads and can see in real time what is scheduled for them and the equipment’s location.
Everyone has access to the same details and can drill down to find the information they need. The key to using data and details to help the team is treating it all the same way throughout your processes, Tucker says.
“The main thing is to be consistent at what you do,” Tucker says. “Follow your KPIs because they’ll lead you in the right direction. Also, always take a look at what’s costing you—remember the ‘80-20 Rule.’ Eighty percent of your problems are coming from 20 percent of those things out there. Which ones can you control, fix, get better at, or streamline?”