An encouraging trend emerging in fleet asset management is the fresh generation of owners and equipment managers, such Dan Weinkauf, who are emerging and bringing a more casual, matter-of-fact attitude about new technologies such as GPS-enabled equipment.
Weinkauf, president of Integrity Grading and Excavating in Schofield, Wisconsin, is a member of the Under 40 in Construction Equipment Class of 2022. He uses technology such as machine control without giving it a second thought, and like his peers in the under-40 demographic, he does not view computer technology through a “gee-whiz” lens.
GPS, drones, and digital imaging tools available to earthmoving contractors and fleet managers are all just part of a day’s work for managers such as Weinkauf.
Fleet managers of this generation are frequently supported by more senior members in their companies who fully understand the value and benefits of digital equipment data. Their own executive roles, however, often do not leave them much time to devote to the process of collecting and applying the torrent of information flowing from their fleet’s telematic-enabled equipment.
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Dan and his father, Allen, started Integrity Grading and Excavating in 2006 with 10 employees. Their first year brought in $4 million in business. Revenue has continued to grow even through the recessions, in part because the company is diversified with projects in site development, public works projects, airports, and road construction. Today Integrity has more than 100 employees with an equipment fleet of 75 units valued at $30 million. Annual revenue tops $50 million.
Weinkauf says that although his father is somewhat anti-computer, he was willing to make a significant investment in machine control systems for the company, one vehicle at a time. In fact, the senior Weinkauf was the first in Wisconsin to use Trimble technology for landfills, much to the relief of Dan, whose summer job at the time was pulling stakes on the projects. The younger Weinkauf took over as president in 2018.
The 37-year-old chose to go straight into business after attending college in Wausau, Wisconsin. As part of the generation that has grown up with computer technology, Weinkauf was quick to see the connection between digital GPS data and equipment operations. His first responsibility at Integrity was working on the GPS models.
“GPS and digital technology has expanded so much, so we use it now for vehicle tracking, machine control, and it helps keep our operators informed on what to build,” he says.
Technology fuels expansion
Kyle Beid, Integrity’s CFO, says Weinkauf’s focus on technology has resulted in better utilization of equipment and has allowed the company to open a second office in the rapidly expanding southern Wisconsin area near Madison.
“There is a large amount of private sector work there building subdivisions and large building excavations,” Beid says. “Madison is attracting a lot of young talent.”
Integrity is going after underground utility, sewer, and storm water projects in the area, all part of Wisconsin’s infrastructure plans for the next five years. “We want a piece of that pie,” says Beid.
Weinkauf says the project owners are not yet requiring the contractors to use machine control as part of their bids, but they are aware of the improved economics of using the technology.
“The bids are not demanding GPS capability, but it gives the job owners a better product with less surveying on the project,” he says.
Drone fly-over technology also provides a huge cost saving. “We can fly above the project to see the daily progress and get a better idea of how much material we’ll be able to move that day,” says Weinkauf. “It also makes data input much faster.”
Dealer as partner
Integrity initially used in-house support for their GPS, but Weinkauf says it makes more sense for them now to use their dealer’s support.
“They help us troubleshoot glitches and work with the software,” he says. “Since the GPS can measure to a tenth of an inch—and because our vehicles are driving over rocks—it is easy to get something knocked out of alignment. Our dealer has techs who will come out when we need them. Sometimes the fix is as simple as adding more shock absorber sensors.”
Weinkauf currently uses Topcon GPS systems and prefers to buy his equipment with the technology factory installed.
As with many contractors, Weinkauf deals with the skilled labor shortage. He understands that the people who work with him may or may not have his technology comfort level, so the company provides intensive training for its union operators.
“We are very clear on our goals and objectives,” he says. “It is a challenge every day, and we believe in providing our operators with the training they need.” Having the Madison office also allows Integrity’s talent the option to work in several areas.
“Innovation is our company’s core value,” says Weinkauf. “We are always looking for ways to be more efficient, both in our company and on our customer’s projects. When we see new systems and products, my team and I do the research and decide as a team if it is something that will benefit us.”
Weinkauf’s advice for contractors considering adding GPS capabilities to their fleets is to go in open minded.
“You’re going to spend some money, and expect to go through some growing pains,” he says. “It’s not like you’re going to buy new software and immediately be a better company. You have to put in the time to learn the software and technology.”
Admittedly, Weinkauf says his own company’s experience wasn’t always smooth. But, he says, “Once we saw what we could do with GPS, we didn’t want to go without it.”