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Get more from your existing fleet

Efficiency is closely tied to productivity. 

But 90% of infrastructure projects around the world are either late or over budget. Source. The McKinsey report states that what’s needed is a productivity revolution: a massive transformation in the way the industry utilizes technology and standardizes mass-production. If construction can adopt new operational strategies, there’s a lot to be gained. Just by catching up to the global average for productivity growth, the industry could grow by an estimated $1.6 trillion and add 2% to the global economy. (Source)

Some contractors are afraid to invest in advanced technology because they’re concerned that if construction demand drops, they’ll have difficulty scaling down operations to align. As a result, they tend to invest in human labor over construction tech tools, but in a time of low unemployment this is nearly impossible. According to the McKinsey report, construction is the least digitized industry in the world (in the U.S., it’s second to last). (Source)

Definition

Effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with cost (as in energy, time, and money) Source

Efficiency is a constant challenge for owners, contractors and stakeholders. Losing efficiency means losing money, pushing back critical milestones and potentially losing future business. Fortunately, new tools are available to improve efficiency at the job site. These technology-enabled workflows can help you get the most from your team and equipment.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) defined

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a measure of utilization (facilities, time and material) compared to its full potential, during the periods when it is scheduled to run. It identifies the percentage of construction time that is truly productive. Source

OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality

By measuring OEE and its causes, contractors can gain insights of how to systematically improve their operations. OEE is an effective metric for benchmarking progress, identifying losses, and improving the equipment productivity. The best way for reliable OEE monitoring is to automatically collect all data directly from the machines.

How can a contractor control efficiency?

Wages create the biggest gap between gross and net profit, but labor availability and costs are set by the market. Material costs are set by the market. Energy is the second highest cost of a heavy equipment operation, but contractors have limited ability to negotiate prices. 

Reducing fuel costs has the potential to narrow the margin between gross and net profit to a greater degree than any other heavy equipment operating variable. A heavy equipment operation owner can cut costs by either improving operator efficiency or increasing a machine’s fuel savings.

Operator Efficiency

Fleet managers typically gauge the difference between an expert operator and a poor operator by productivity per hour or per shift. This productivity could be defined by material moved, miles covered, or trench length over a given amount of time.

Improving operator efficiency may mean breaking bad habits, increasing the performance of an operator or both. Poor operating techniques are responsible for much of wasted fuel on a job site. While fuel saving devices and technologies can overcome some of the deficiencies of less skilled operators, to maximize the potential of fuel-saving technologies, operators must understand how to operate a machine efficiently to perform the task required. Modern construction technology can help to achieve this by empowering the operator with the insights to do the job better.

Operator performance is the most significant contributor to heavy equipment fuel waste. But rather than monitoring idling time or fuel burn by aggressive acceleration, contractors have the ability to influence fuel consumption by reducing rework.

Being efficient with fuel is money that goes directly to the bottom line. If an inefficient operator uses 4 more gallons per day to produce the same amount of work as another — one uses 16 gallons of fuel a day and the other uses 20, — and diesel fuel costs $5 per gallon, that is a loss of $20.

It is not uncommon for one operator to be 25% more efficient than another. If one operator prefers a longer but unencumbered route and is willing to travel twice as far for the sake of ease of operation, fuel use is doubled. If the same operator spends twice the time idling — leaving the engine of a loader running while waiting for the arrival of a truck, for example — this means more wasted fuel. If the inefficient operator increases engine speed to maximum rpm for every load, more wasted fuel.

Generally, inefficient operators are far less productive than quality operators. If there are multiple operators in a company operating equipment that inefficiently, the losses multiply, cutting directly into profits. By monitoring the overall output of a project, it’s easy to identify operator performance.

Machine efficiency

Machine control is capable of controlling implement and attachment elevation, the most difficult aspect of operating heavy equipment. The grade of a bucket, blade, attachment, or implement determines the efficiency at which a machine operates. For example, if a bulldozer operator grading a pad drops the blade below the necessary grade, the mistake requires considerable work to repair. The operator must backfill the area below grade, then compact the area, all of which uses fuel. The waste mistakes on a job site can be considerable.

Machine control reduces wasted machine movement thereby increasing fuel savings. Fuel savings equate to net profit for heavy equipment company owners.

Machine control technology achieves two benefits for heavy equipment operators and owners. Accurate monitoring and efficient operation. Both ends are a means of increasing fuel efficiency and creating a more sustainable project.

In 2019, Trimble facilitated a productivity study to compare the performance of operators of varying skills using conventional vs. machine-controlled excavators. The productivity study showed significant improvement in operator efficiency when using machine control.

The study shows that while a novice operator does not have the experience to handle a machine with the same skill as an experienced operator, machine control can significantly improve their ability to get jobs done faster and more accurately. On average, novice operators were almost 50% faster with machine control than conventional methods. On average, novice operators were able to complete the job in 1/3 the time of conventional practices while staying well within required error tolerance. Expert operators, on average, completed the project 40% faster than conventional methods.

Monitoring project efficiency

Tracking a machine gives managers the capacity to monitor the movements of a machine both in real time and over the course of the last several hours, days, weeks, months, or years. By monitoring the movement of a machine, it is possible to evaluate the paths taken by a machine and the amount of time spent at idle. Machine GNSS tracking can even provide information about engine speed over a course of time. Understanding what a machine does on a daily basis allows company owners to help operators improve technique and decision-making.

Unplanned downtime

Unplanned downtime rates in the range of 20–30 percent are not uncommon in the construction industry. By its nature unplanned downtime is unpredictable, but by creating visibility of downtime, for all stakeholders, more informed decisions can be made to mitigate the problem. Fleet managers can redeploy operators elsewhere, supervisors have real-time awareness of production rates so they can make economic decisions around the use of additional rental equipment,

Answering questions

For fleet managers to provide operational excellence they should be able to measure the productivity, and utilization of their fleet. In most cases, they may be able to answer based on what the plan was at the start of the phase, but many can’t immediately access real-time visibility and, as a result, can’t effectively manage their fleets. This may lead to inefficiency, rework or overspending on rental equipment.

Benchmarking

When a fleet manager builds a history of fleet performance data and uses jobsite connectivity to access real-time fleet performance, they can create internal benchmarks and encourage the team to beat their personal best each day. While they may choose to instead compare performance with industry benchmarks, this can create an unfair comparison, as it ignores specific jobsite challenges such as weather, material density and machine age, but also discourages the team from meeting unattainable goals. By creating a culture of personal improvement, every individual on site takes responsibility for their own actions, and also the performance of the team. Managers can encourage this culture by providing the technology tools to empower operators. 

Environmental efficiency

Contractors have taken a number of positive steps toward improving environmental efficiency of their fleets, including upgrading to tier 4 technology, and monitoring idling. But they can still have a significant influence by ensuring that the work performed is exactly as specified and no more.

One bulldozer engine can produce as much particulate matter as over 500 cars. (source[SR1] ) so every hour that each dozer is going beyond the work needed or reworking material, this activity is avoidable overwork.

Who is responsible for efficiency?

Traditionally the responsibility would lie with management

  • C-Suite: CFO, CEO, COO
  • Quality Assurance, Quality Engineer, Quality Control Engineer, Quality Specialist
  • Fleet Manager / Fleet Director / Fleet Supervisor

 But an effective tool is to democratize the data, with visibility available to operators.

Communication efficiency

Communication is necessary for efficient operations. Casual communication passed along a chain of command often gets distorted and may lead to issues and mistakes. In some cases, information that needs to be passed on simply gets lost and never makes it to the right person for action.

In construction, data from the field and back office are often disconnected. If jobsite supervisors don’t have access to all project data, such as mass haul progress, work remaining, estimated phase completion dates and other details, they either have to rely on their own experience or go to every site.

Project managers rely on lagging productivity data to make their decisions, which is inefficient and causes loss of productivity. Complex job sites with more requirements and job specs cause project managers to spend more time planning, gathering, and compiling information to understand and answer how that project is progressing. All of this productivity lag and project complexity lead to problems in scheduling and completing jobs on time.

Technology to actually track and understand what is happening at a jobsite gives companies a technology advantage, helping them stay competitive and actually work towards increasing their job productivity. They feel more engaged and empowered to do the work they were hired to do. The power of real-time data and transparency across the job makes invoicing easier, ensures work is documented and visible, and ultimately can lead to contractors getting paid more quickly.

Rework efficiency

Whenever construction work has to be done twice, it wastes time and money.

The average cost of rework as a percentage of the entire project cost for all construction types is five percent. Depending on the market conditions and construction type, that five percent may represent one project’s whole profit margin. Source. One of the solutions to effectively solve this issue is accurate and constant communication or access to project data.

Rework can also become a vicious downward cycle. If a project is going over schedule because of rework, project managers can be tempted to lower the quality of the work or accelerate the project by getting their team to work overtime. When team members are asked to work longer hours across a project phase, they’re more fatigued and, therefore, more prone to make mistakes that will inevitably lead to more rework. When project managers sacrifice quality in order to meet deadlines, rework is required to fix out-of-spec work.

Robin McDonald, CCM, LEED G.A. explains the 5 areas of construction management that cause rework (Source):

  • Human Resource Capability
  • Unclear guidelines given to team
  • Too much overtime work
  • Workers with insufficient skill levels
  • Not enough worker supervision
  • Leadership and Communications
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of safety protocols
  • Ineffective management/leadership
  • Material and Equipment Supply
  • Problems with construction plans
  • Late input from a designer
  • Unrealistic schedule
  • Engineering and Reviews
  • Late design changes
  • Changes in project scope
  • Errors in design
  • Poor document storage and control
  • Construction Planning and Scheduling
  • Materials delivered late
  • Work not completed to specifications
  • Construction materials not to project requirements

If change orders aren’t communicated throughout the operation, there will be delays in coordinating and resourcing the added work, and unnecessary work may be completed by progressing in the background. Crews will then have to backtrack and re-do work they’ve already completed. Miscommunication and inaccurate data onsite contribute to $31 billion wasted on rework. (Source). ConstructionPros estimate that on average employees spend 90-minutes per day “looking for stuff” (Source).

One of the most efficient forms of communication is exception reporting. This means that the only time a report is communicated is when something is out of spec. It means that the manager or person responsible doesn’t need to read a lot of reports and can quickly identify the issue for immediate remedy.  Software tools can quickly identify if a machine is not where it should be, as a dot on a geofence map. Or it can show that the production rate is dropping below target on a RAG chart. <Insert image>.

Timing is important. Any time lost can never be reclaimed, so any communication not in real-time represents a time waste. Any of the processes that cause delays in communication can be improved. Modern sites have replaced data transfer via USB sticks with Connected Construction workflows that connect via the Internet. 

Choose the right format: With so many ways to communicate, choosing the right format to share information is crucial. Sometimes all you need is a quick phone call or face-to-face conversation, and other situations call for a paper trail. Handwritten communications with only one physical copy are usually an ineffective way to communicate as they can easily get lost on the way to their intended target. 

Waiting for surveyors

It’s common to hear of interruptions to the project flow, while waiting for third party services like surveyors to get to the site. But increasingly contractors that incorporate grade control into workflows don’t need surveyors as often or only require verification of results.

Quote: "We had two surveyors on site during peak construction, but usually have just one — and that's largely due to the use of GNSS-enabled equipment." Jeff Buckley, PreFab/BIM program manager, Aldridge Electric (Source)

"The operators, many of them first time users of grade control, really like the technology because they can see what they're going to be digging and what it's going to look like, and the machine keeps them positioned accurately. They don't need a surveyor every time they put a bucket down. We have one excavator without grade control, and nobody wants to use it." Devin White, BIM coordinator, Aldridge Electric (Source)

3D models are used to represent the exact locations of structures, duct banks and utilities, so that the machine operators knew exactly what they needed to do at all times. "This made our excavator operators more efficient and reduced rework while reducing emissions and fuel. (Source)

"With how fast everything has gone, there is no way we could have worked as fast and accurately without the technology as we have with it. We probably would have had to quadruple the manpower to get the project done in the given timeline," he said. (Source)

Technology as an enabler of efficiency

Today’s construction equipment technology is packed with features that assist your operators in doing their job more efficiently. Trimble is an industry leader with innovative technology designed for civil contractor workflows.

If you’re used to traditional low-tech workflows, it can be hard to believe that these or similar features come standard with these tools. It might also be intimidating to think about the time you’ll need to spend training crew members on how to use new tools or adjust your processes. Keep in mind that systems like these are designed to be easy to learn and intuitive to use, and they’ll increase your efficiency more than you might think.

Trimble technology has options for machine guidance through to 3D machine control automation that makes the work of operators easier. The benefits of connected construction technology can help whether you are getting started as a small contractor or a large, established company. The goal behind construction technology is to give your crew, the right tools, for the right insights at the right time to make the right decisions.

Some examples:

  • Grading: Keeping grade consistent can be one of the most challenging tasks in any construction application, and even experienced operators need to put all their skill into the job. Grade control helps operators of all levels build a consistent and high-quality surface. The system can measure the position and slope of the blade and compares that to design data for fine grading on complex design surfaces, or cross-slope control systems improve fine grading work for road maintenance, ditches and slope work.
  • Compacting: Compaction control enables your operators to determine when the level of compaction matches specifications and removes the elements of guesswork and intuition. The system reduces the number of passes necessary to complete the project and keeps track of them so operators can focus on the job rather than counting passes.
  • Improve efficiency and productivity, while minimizing waste and expense throughout the life of the project with Trimble solutions for earthworks. Create a 3D constructible model, use it to plan the most cost-effective schedule, and then use the same model to track project progress.
  • Monitor and report progress. Intelligently combining construction information from across the project allows for advanced, near real-time reporting for progress payments. As-built progress can be monitored as the machines move dirt, and QA reporting and stakeout results can be generated. By combining both survey and machine data, contractors get the best overall picture of the current state of the project. In addition, soil compaction operations can be monitored to ensure compaction requirements are being met. Any errors are quickly picked up and corrected before creating more rework.

Expected results/benefits

Trimble tools can:

  • Reduce rework and improve accuracy
  • Increase trenching efficiency
  • Improve grading
  • Improve fuel consumption
  • Improve material consumption
  • Reduce staking and grade-checking
  • Reduce labor costs and headcount

How to prepare/first steps

  • Perform an ad-hoc analysis of inefficiency
  • Own the problem – don’t always blame operators, but identify that the process itself may be creating waste
  • Empower operators with the tools they need to get the job done
  • Build a culture of personal improvement
  • Democratize the data – let your team see their own performance in the context or operational goals
  • Learn from the best – visit heavyindustry.trimble.com to see examples.