High-Tech Tools Aid Equipment Management

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

Experienced contractors agree that effective management of construction equipment fleets is a key to running a successful contracting business. Particularly as fleets grow larger and more diverse, good fleet management becomes increasingly important if owners are to track usage, proactively schedule maintenance, and correctly assign charges to various projects.

One company that is applying high-tech tools to this age-old problem is MCM, a multifaceted contracting company based in Miami, FL.

Launching A Construction Business In Cuba

The predecessor of today's MCM got its start in Cuba and was founded by Fernando Munilla Sr. For nearly two decades, from 1941 to 1960, Munilla was regarded as Cuba's premier builder and a pioneer in construction methodology. His company included three of the largest concrete plants in Cuba and built many of that nation's pre-cast and pre-stressed construction projects.

“Our father demanded quality in everything,” said Jorge Munilla, MCM president. “His insistence on quality earned him a reputation for excellence. As a result, his firm was selected for some of the most important and historical construction projects in Cuba.”

The first-generation company specialized in bridge and heavy structural work and spearheaded many major projects. Noteworthy accomplishments include the Jose Marti Monument in Havana, which is Cuba's tallest structure, and the Cuyagüateje River Bridge, which was the largest free span bridge in the Western Hemisphere when it was built in 1954. The company also constructed The Malecon, the seawall around Havana.

Then, in 1960, Fidel Castro confiscated the firm.

Building An American Construction Company

Four of the six Munilla brothers made it to the U.S. through the Pedro Pan Program just before the Bay of Pigs invasion and were placed in an orphanage in Ohio. The two youngest stayed with Maria, their mother, till safe passage was arranged. Fernando, the father, stayed behind, orchestrating covert operations. He was arrested three times and finally managed to escape by boat, bringing with him only his credentials, a few pictures of his projects, and a determination to reunite his family. He succeeded within a year, first moving to the Northwest, then finally settling in Miami where he resumed his career.

“That's when our education in construction really began,” noted Raul Munilla, MCM secretary-treasurer. “Some of us worked in construction during the day while attending high school at night. Not only did we learn the basics of the construction industry, but the principles of business ethics as well.”

Today's MCM Corp. was founded in Miami in November 1983. It is still based in Miami and has a west Florida office in Naples. The company's projects range from roads, bridges, airports, and other large civil projects to schools, retail facilities and large multifamily residential jobs. Jorge Munilla is president of the company. Juan Munilla, Fernando Munilla and Pedro Munilla are vice-presidents, and Raul Munilla is secretary-treasure as noted earlier.

Managing A Multifaceted Fleet

To handle the wide variety of projects that MCM Corp. constructs, the company maintains a diverse fleet of more than 100 pieces of construction equipment plus some 50 trucks. Managing that fleet is the job of MCM's Certified Equipment Manager Angel Sosa.

“Our fleet includes everything from small skid-steer loaders to 150-ton cranes,” Sosa says.

Tracking and managing such a fleet is no small task. To make it easier, MCM utilizes the LoJack and LoCate systems within the fleet.

Initially, MCM used the LoJack system to protect equipment from theft and help recover machines in the event one was stolen.

“Yes, it has helped,” Sosa says, adding that LoJack systems are installed in about 80 percent of the company's machines. The system has in fact led to the retrieval of a number of stolen machines over the years, he says.

Based on its experience with LoJack, MCM recently elected to install another LoJack project – the LoCate system, which tracks machine movement and also monitors machine utilization by satellite.

Using Technology To Track Equipment Usage

At the heart of the LoCate system is the idea of “geofencing,” which uses GPS technology to monitor and limit the activity of individual pieces of equipment. A fleet manager, says Sosa, can use the system to set boundaries within which a piece of equipment is authorized to operate.

“If a machine leaves that designated area, the system will automatically put out an alarm,” Sosa says. Alarm notifications are sent via e-mail to a designated list of recipients; in his company, he adds, 10 individuals receive e-mail notification whenever a machine exits the predefined geofenced area.

According to Sosa, the LoCate system has proven useful in several areas, including tracking machine usage. It gathers engine hours and usage data each day, and that information is used to plan preventive maintenance based on hours of usage. The stats are presented via user-defined reports on his computer, he says, adding that individual machine entries are highlighted in yellow or red when preventive maintenance is coming due.

Sosa adds that by providing precise information on machine location and usage, the system also simplifies the task of accurately charging machine usage to individual jobs.

Checking Out The System

Before adopting the LoCate system, Sosa explains, MCM tested it on a Kawasaki Mule. The Mule was chosen because the company's equipment management team knew that it would be a machine that would move around a lot.

Working with LoJack representatives Gary Wing and Andrew Newhall, Sosa says, MCM “put the system through an extensive evaluation” over a period of 90 days.

Currently, MCM has begun installing LoCate units across the company's fleet.

“We began by putting the system on smaller skid-steer loaders,” he says, “then moved on to backhoes and loaders. Now we're putting it on our excavators and cranesas well.”

On cranes too?

“We know that a 150-ton is not likely to walk away,” he explains, adding that it is used on the cranes for monitoring and tracking utilization.

“It takes the guesswork out of the process and aids billing too,” he says.

User Flexibility A Plus

According to Sosa, the system has proven easy to incorporate into the MCM operation. He notes that installation takes 30 to 45 minutes and is done in-house by MCM's own service techs.

“I believe we are one of the first companies to be trained to install the LoCate units ourselves,” he continues, adding that the company is adding the system to four to five machines each month.

Additionally, he notes, the LoCate system units can be moved from one machine to another if, for example, a machine is traded or sold.

“We just rename the system, using our equipment numbers to identify each machine,” Sosa says. “Our goal,” he adds, “is that our whole fleet will be covered.”