Global Perspective, Local Success for David Bolderoff

July 26, 2016

It’s a long way from living in a shipping container in the jungles of Indonesia to working in an office in the hills of Los Angeles County, yet that’s the journey David Bolderoff, CEM, fleet manager, Solid Waste Management, Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, has taken.

Along the way, the 36-year-old native Australian has turned a wrench, managed workforces in excess of 200 people, right-sized fleets, implemented multiple ERP systems, and embraced technology.

This is another in a series of profiles highlighting some of our Under 40 in Construction Equipment Award winners. These young people, all under the age of 40 at the end of the year in which they were nominated, represent exciting potential for the industry. Nominate someone for the 2017 awards here.

Bolderoff’s first position was with a mining contractor in Perth, Australia, as an engineer in the fleet department. Although he had an engineering degree, he sought out technician-type work whenever and wherever he could.

“I took a hands-on approach to working on every aspect of equipment maintenance,” Bolderoff says, “just to get the kind of experience to really understand the equipment and the things I would be doing with it.”

But how did he end up in a metal box in the jungle?

“A mining project in Indonesia was a start-up, so they didn’t have a permanent camp at that time; we were basically living in a shipping container,” Bolderoff says.

“My office was a shipping container, our workshop was a bunch of shipping containers with a roof over them, and where we ate was a bunch of shipping containers converted into a meal hall,” he says.

“We worked a fly-in fly-out roster there, where you’d work six weeks, seven days a week, then you’d get two weeks off and an open-ended air ticket,” Bolderoff says. “And for two weeks, you could fly anywhere you wanted in the world. It was a ‘work hard, play hard’ type of deal.”

Arduous work, but rewarding. Indeed, Bolderoff seems like he wouldn’t trade his experiences for anything. “I had a good chance to travel with that contractor and work on different projects,” he says. “I also transferred to their corporate office and spent a considerable amount of time visiting sites and the various project managers and maintenance superintendents to understand and deal with their issues. I spent a lot of time creating equipment specifications, developing rental rates, and working on other engineering projects within the maintenance group.”

Along his journey Bolderoff has had an opportunity to interact with many different cultures, different types of operators and technicians, and equipment dealers in various countries. He learned a lot that he’s carried into his current position.

“One of the biggest things is that I dealt with so many equipment manufacturers and dealers out there that I’ve got a good benchmark for the level of service and support a fleet manager should reasonably expect,” Bolderoff says. “It has really helped me to deal with the local dealers here, know what is the best equipment to purchase, and what we should expect out of dealers on the back end in respect to parts availability and service and response times.

“And even within America, within California, you’ve got a lot of different cultures and perspectives that you’re working with on a daily basis, so you learn how to work with those different groups to make things happen in an organization.”

Bolderoff has also noticed differences in the workforce and work ethic.

“The funny thing is that in places like Indonesia, when I was in the middle of the Borneo jungle, sometimes it was easier to make things happen than it can be here in Los Angeles,” he says. “You’d think that in Los Angeles you’ve got every vendor at your fingertips, every resource, but with current issues like the aging technician workforce, lack of skilled labor entering the industry, traffic congestion, and DOT hours of service regulations, it can actually be quite difficult.

“Over there, you had people who were very willing. Sure, the skill level may be lower and you might have to spend additional resources on training them to do the tasks, but at least you had the people willing to work,” Bolderoff says. “Over here, the younger generation entering the workforce doesn’t necessarily want to get their hands dirty. It’s ‘What are you going to give me? I want more, I want more.’ Over there, with certain cultures, they’re excited to be part of a project and have a job. It’s interesting to see those different perspectives.”

For the Sanitation Districts of L.A. County, which doesn’t do waste collection but operates numerous landfills, Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), transfer stations, and wastewater treatment plants, Bolderoff is in charge of everything from cradle to grave for fleet assets.

“I oversee procurement and the specification side of things, obtaining fleet assets right through developing policy, setting rental rates, managing fuel and maintenance, and then disposal,” he says.

He’s also in charge of facility maintenance for the MRFs. Then there’s the transportation division, with 650 over-the-road trucks that take 4,000 tons of refuse per day from MRFs to landfills. The Sanitation Districts also own 500 pieces of heavy equipment, from wheel loaders at MRFs and dozers at landfills to smaller assets, such as trailers. The fleet’s estimated replacement value  is about $120 million, according to Bolderoff.

When he came aboard in 2008, he found a solid waste department in transition. “It was right when the economy was starting to tank, so we saw a significant reduction in tonnage at a number of facilities,” Bolderoff says. “There was less construction and demolition material coming into the landfills. What was 13,000 tons a day at Puente Hills (where Bolderoff is headquartered) dropped down to about 8,000 tons a day within a short timeframe.

“We had a lot of excess heavy equipment—each facility wanted their own spares—so we had a lot of underutilized assets, and even the idle time on assets being used was very high,” Bolderoff says. “I came in and made a push to right-size the fleet for the current level of operations. We reduced our fleet size by at least 40 percent, and we took the best of the assets and moved them around.”

Bolderoff also sold a lot of equipment in the first two years in the job, changing the way the county looked at equipment disposal by utilizing multiple strategies. “We were able to get very high returns using a number of auction companies, and we also did some RFP-type things, requesting sealed bids. We got really good responses from that; a lot of people like ex-county machines, figuring maybe they were well maintained and weren’t abused like some contractor machines,” he says. “And when we closed the landfill portion of Puente Hills, we got Ritchie Bros. to do an on-site auction. We had a great turnout and sold $3 million of surplus equipment.”

Telematics-wise, Bolderoff is well entrenched and looking to do more.

“We’re remotely managing fuel tank levels in equipment to optimize service intervals. Fuel use is important to us because in some of our MRFs we run two or three shifts a day,” he says. “Some equipment is running 20 to 22 hours a day with heavy engine loads, and as such they have to be fueled and serviced multiple times. So we ask our maintenance leads to monitor equipment utilization and fuel tank levels to ensure we are optimizing our shop and field maintenance resources.

“We are also working to eventually build that link between the various OEM telematics software such as  [Caterpillar’s] VisionLink and our ERP system, so that could potentially feed hours and other information directly into our ERP,” Bolderoff says. “Our maintenance guys who are actively involved in the OEM telematics applications and our ERP system tend to get frustrated if they have to duplicate tasks in two different software applcations.”

Bolderoff says the next step forward in telematics would involve getting Operations more actively involved and accountable for meeting KPIs in areas such as fuel burn, idle time, equipment health, and potential safety breaches. “I really think the next bang for the buck [in telematics] will be it making us drive business decisions within our organization. This will require us to link the operator to each piece of equipment.”

He also wants data to have more influence in keep-or-replace decisions, and procuring equipment that better fits the job. “More and more decisions are being driven by fuel burn rather than engine hours. If we know a good fuel burn on a machine is this much for the application, and we’re using this much, what production are we getting out of it?” Bolderoff says. “Do we need to size up or size down on machines to be more cost effective? If we have all that information at our fingertips now, when we go to replace a machine, we’re not just replacing it with a like machine, we’re replacing it with the right machine. I think that’s been my push since I started here—what makes sense? Let’s not just do what we did for the last hundred years.”

Change seems to be a constant in Bolderoff’s universe. His tenure going forward will feature more experimentation, because it’s in his DNA and encouraged in his role. “I’ve always been supported by my upper-level management to bring these new ideas and be willing to change, and not just accept the status quo,” he says.

“At the moment, I see my role as very interesting. I’m not one of those managers who likes everything set up for me to just do a babysitting role. I want to implement new processes and ideas. I think with increased use of telematics, emissions upgrades, use of alternative fuels, and the push toward electric vehicles and equipment [the fleet has been evaluating a Caterpillar D7E in a landfill application and has electric vehicles], I see a lot of exciting things happening in the industry over the next few years.”