Most asphalt producers see adding trucks to their fleet as a sign of good times, that they're winning bids and hauling more material to job sites.
Not Jack Wheeler. The president of Wheeler Coatings in Austin, Texas, is in the second year of a five-year program to reduce the size of his company's fleet from 60 trucks to 45 — while continuing to haul as much as 700,000 tons to 800,000 tons of hot mix asphalt a year.
"This is a very competitive market," says Wheeler, who has an average of four crews working on a range of paving jobs within 30 miles of Austin. "You can win or lose a $40,000, 500-ton job over a $500 difference in the bids. Every aspect of your business has to help you get that contract."
That includes trucks. Two years ago, Wheeler analyzed how the company's tandem and tri-axle dump trucks contributed to its productivity, operating costs and ability to compete. The news was not good.
The tri-axle trucks are limited to 16 tons of payload on federal highways in order to comply with bridge laws enforced by the state of Texas. The federal bridge formula calculates gross weight limits according to the length of the vehicle, the number of axles it has and how they're spaced.
"We want to be able to take on any paving job in Austin, but our trucks were limited to 16 tons of material on the highway, making our transportation costs too high to compete," says Wheeler. Belly-dump and end-dump trailers can scale 24 tons of asphalt, but aren't practical for tight job sites where maneuverability and precise placements are important. A lot of Wheeler's work is in paving parking lots.
Wheeler Coatings started replacing its tandem and tri-axle dump trucks with seven-axle Super 18s, or Superdumps built onto International trucks. Rated at 80,000 pounds gross weight, Superdumps are straight trucks that can legally carry up to 28 tons of payload. Wheeler's Superdumps have a 20,000-pound-capacity set-forward steer axle, three 8,000-pound steerable pushers and 46,000-pound tandem drives. The key to the trucks' capacity, however, is the Strong Arm trailing axle.
Built by Strong Industries Inc., of Houston, Texas, the Strong Arm is a load-bearing liftable axle rated as high as 13,000 pounds. It trails 11 feet to 13 feet behind the rear tandem, stretching the outer bridge measurement — the distance between the truck's first and last axles — to maximize the legal gross weight under the bridge formula. When the truck is empty or ready to offload, the Strong Arm toggles up off the road surface on two hydraulic arms to clear the rear of the vehicle.
On an unusually balmy day in January, the Wheeler crew was busy paving a parking lot just north of San Marcos, a 22-mile trip one-way from their batch plant along Hwy. 183 on the east side of Austin. For this project, Wheeler is subcontracted to MST Builders, who is constructing a 100,000-square-foot plant expansion for CFAN Company, a manufacturer for the aeronautics industry. MST contracted Wheeler to place 1-1/2 inches of Type D asphalt over most of the general parking area and 2 inches on the loading dock side of the building. Even though there is a lot of handwork around curbing in this area of the parking lot and the crew got a late start due to the chilly morning temperature, they plan to install 1,200 tons of asphalt in one day.
"On this job, we're using 12 trucks, where if we were using smaller models, we'd have to use 18 or 19," explained Pat Wheeler, who is managing this crew. "That's six more trucks and six more drivers. It's also safer because you have fewer trucks on the job site."
"By doing as much work with less equipment, we save the cost of owning and operating those trucks — the labor, fuel, tires, insurance, the risk exposure — we're able to make more competitive bids and win business," said Jack Wheeler.
"Because these trucks deliver more mix, the paver doesn't have to stop and start as often," said Pat Wheeler. "With a smaller truck, the paver might not be able to complete one pass without having to stop and wait for one truck to pull out and the next one to pull in."
The Superdump bed has a unique elliptical-shaped floor and tapered, conical-shaped sidewalls that become wider toward the rear of the bed. This shape allows the payload to spread out and loosen up as it exits the bed, like it's being poured out of the large end of a funnel. As a result, the driver doesn't have to raise the hoist as high to get the load to break, and the material flows into the paving machine efficiently, quickly and in a controlled manner. The driver can flip a switch, close the tailgate and go pick up another load without having to face a messy and time-consuming cleanup job.
The design and shape of the Superdump bed, along with lightweight, high-tensile steel and aluminum materials, significantly lower the vehicle's tare weight. "The elliptical shape gives the bed structural support without the need for reinforcement, so you have a strong, stable, lightweight bed," says Brooks Strong, president of Strong Industries in Houston. "Whether you're hauling asphalt, aggregates, concrete products, or other materials, this bed helps you maximize payload, productivity and, of course, profit."