Maintaining Momentum At Ajax Paving

Read the article in NAPA Quarterly - Spring 2024, 2023

Data-led Preventive Maintenance for Equipment, Roads can Change the Industry

April, 2024  -  By Ty Johnson, Managing Editor

As fleet manager, Dan Maitland is tasked with maintaining Ajax Paving of Florida’s $34 million of equipment.

Among the thousands of components that make up the 600-strong fleet, he knows that one failure can set back any number of projects, but Maitland doesn’t fret as much about surprises now that he and his team are putting data to work through B2W Maintain.
The results: a 120 percent increase in average mean time between failures, half as much unplanned maintenance, and a 41 percent reduction in emergency work orders.

Maitland has been at Ajax for eight years and said while the company had computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) capabilities when he arrived, there has been considerable momentum since he began advocating for its widespread usage in scheduling equipment repairs through B2W Maintain.

"I kind of really pushed it to the limit. Our shop equipment division uses B2W probably better than any other department," he said. "We use it as our primary work order system and mechanic scheduling system – timecards, approvals, reporting. We use it for inventory, for parts. We’re primarily a paving contractor, but we do have a mixed fleet of all kinds of equipment that we use B2W on for tracking maintenance."

Automated work orders at set intervals mean each piece of equipment has regular check-ups once it has logged a certain number of hours. For asphalt pavers, that interval is every 125 hours – twice as often as the 250-hour interval suggested by equipment manufacturers. (The Ajax fleet includes both Caterpillar and Roadtec equipment.) Once B2W generates an inspection request, the maintenance scheduler creates a work order for it.

"We rank our work orders with the priorities of urgency," Maitland explained. "So number one is like an emergency: Stop what you’re doing, we got to get to it right now. Priority two means we’ve got to have it done within seven days. Priority three means we have to have it done within 30 days."

Maitland said the automated requests are typically priority three, but B2W Maintain goes a step further, notifying the scheduler of any other work orders that can be tackled at the same time. "When you create a work order B2W does a good job of showing you if there are any other current work orders open with that machine," he said. "If there is something broken that we also need to address in the meantime you can see how you can lump some things together and be a little bit more efficient.

"Why not do it at the same time, right? It would be horrible if you just wasted two people’s days to go address something that could have been done at the same time."

Being proactive with repairs has allowed Ajax to shave 11 percent off of its direct repair costs while keeping more equipment running longer and reducing emergency repairs.

Maitland said Ajax was able to work with B2W to create custom dashboards that provided easy access to the data and key performance indicators his employees rely on most, although he admitted some of the benefits don’t necessarily show up on the screen.

"Some of this stuff is hard to really quantify because at the end of the day, how do you prove that your life just feels better? It’s kind of like our asphalt crews’ maintenance. There’s nothing but bad news so if things aren’t breaking down, you almost don’t even notice it. But you pretty damn sure notice it when they do break down."

Another benefit comes during Ajax of Florida’s laughingly short winter shutdown, which can be as short as just two weeks. In 2023, Maitland said the shutdown lasted about four days.

"It used to be like this grandiose ‘Oh man, we’re bringing everything to the yard, and we’re just going to get all this stuff done.’ Well they have turned into a thing of the past. Now we just do this stuff throughout the year because we do a better job keeping track of things and preventing them before they break down. Their shutdowns are not what they used to be.

"It used to be the busiest time for the maintenance department, well, now it’s almost the slower time because nobody’s calling us. I mean, it’s actually a chill week now. And I think that’s a benefit of having a better program. That’s something you can’t predict."

Gauging maintenance efficacy can feel a bit like evaluating a football team’s success based solely on the offensive line: When it’s smooth sailing, you barely notice, but when there is a problem, it’s obvious where the breakdown is.

"No news is good news in our line of work," Maitland said. "It’s hard to pinpoint a project where nothing broke down because we just did our job."
Establishing metrics to measure maintenance proved easier once the data on equipment repairs leveled out.

"Your priority one work orders eventually plateau. You hope to eventually hit a baseline," he said. "It’s not efficient if you have a lot of priority one work orders because that means you’re being reactive and not proactive."

MAINTAINING INFRASTRUCTURE

Data is making a similar difference for municipalities, like the City of Raleigh, N.C., which is seeking a plateau in work orders for pavement repairs since deploying the Trimble AgileAssets pavement management system.

Trimble, the industrial technology company which acquired B2W Software in 2022, is aiming to transform the way the world works using data, to connect the digital and physical worlds, as Magdy Mikhail explained.

As Trimble’s senior manager of industry-connected workflows, Mikhail oversees how road owners, especially in the public sector, can better track when repair or maintenance activities are needed.

One case study that centered on the North Carolina capital showed how the city went from using spreadsheets and subjective decision making to a proactive preventive maintenance program.

Today, data analytics in the pavement management system allow the city to save money while preserving its pavements instead of spending undue resources on costly repairs.

"If you spend $1 on preservation," Mikhail said, citing additional studies, "that will save you $5 or $6 in rehabilitation or reconstruction several years down the road. The City of Raleigh was able to save millions of dollars by implementing pavement preservation, proactive approaches, and moving away from the ‘worst-first’ approach."

Mikhail said the reconstruction of roads can be costly, both in terms of taxpayer dollars and environmental impact.

"Preservation can be done quicker and cheaper, and this way you’re also extending the life of the pavement," he said.

Mikhail said asset management solutions allow agencies to apply the right treatment, at the right time, at the right location (since it can take into account other factors, like traffic) to recommend a work plan based on which roads need work.
Using the asset management system has allowed Raleigh to abandon its approach where the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

"When I’m doing pavement condition surveys, I’m not just waiting until I start getting complaints from the public," Mikhail said. "When we notice slight deterioration of the roadway, we can address it by applying some preservation activities or maintenance instead of waiting until the road crumbles and we have to reconstruct."

Using Trimble’s AgileAssets solution, city infrastructure managers divided Raleigh’s $700 million valued pavement system – the city’s most valuable infrastructure asset – into 2-meter sections that were evaluated for crack density.

Mikhail explained that building a proactive approach to preventive maintenance and taking additional steps toward preservation on what would otherwise be routine mill and fill projects allows the city to budget infrastructure dollars toward repairing the roadways that need more intense repairs.

"Over the long run, as you start spending less because you’re spending on preservation; that frees up money," he said. "When you do more preservation, at some point it will allow you to fix the roads that need reconstruction."

With enough data gathering, Mikhail says artificial intelligence (AI) can step in and really make an impact by automating even more steps and eventually bridging the gap between generations of workers.

"As agencies collect more data and continue to monitor the roadways, AI will be helping to determine how the road is going to rate and how it is going to perform with time. AI will also be able to help agencies decide between types of treatments," he said. "The knowledge and experience of the engineers in these local agencies and departments of transportation that are retiring – we can capture this knowledge and use AI to help young engineers and the upcoming generations to benefit from the experience of the previous generations."


THINKING AHEAD

Paul McKeon channeled his paving experience into his own software company in 1993, which spawned Bid2Win, among other applications in the civil solutions space, which were unified into a single platform in 2013: B2W Software.

Now integrated with Trimble, the suite of data-driven applications represents part of a technological revolution that Kevin Garcia, general manager of Trimble’s civil specialty solutions, says has the potential to change the construction industry in a way not seen since the invention of the diesel engine.

"We stopped using horses and we started using diesel engines, but since then we’ve pretty much done it the same way," Garcia said, adding that the rush of capital toward construction in this age of data shows how lucrative the industry has become for investors from Silicon Valley. Garcia said technology can help to fill many gaps in the workforce where construction companies are having to do more with less. Those are the types of multi-point solutions Trimble likes finding for their clients.

"We like solving hard problems. We think of our interactions with our contractors as partnerships. It’s not a long-term solution to just offer a single-point solution," he said. "The approach is how do we get the most value out of the data as it flows through."
Garcia said having data-driven benchmarks from asphalt, cradle to grave, can help with quality assurance on the backend by tracking everything from mix temperature at the plant to where it is placed.

Garcia said much of what is achievable today was hard to imagine a decade ago.
"You would have thought there’s no way I can get all that from a field unless I’ve got a form with really detailed job logs, writing everything down as he’s doing it," he said. "And now it can be collected digitally and sent back to a cloud environment."

Garcia said showcasing more of the technology deployed in the industry is one way Trimble aims to entice more workers into the construction sector.

"There’s a finite number of paving contractors. There’s a finite number of pavers; a finite number of employees," he said. "We can leverage technology and make the construction world attractive again. It will always be a dirty boots industry, but there’s ways to attract new talent."

Garcia said the major shifts in an industry don’t tend to happen all at once, but that the momentum is shifting.

"These are not oftentimes big, earth-shattering revolutions in technology: It’s just taking simple things and applying them to the construction industry that maybe have been used in other industries for a long time. The fact that the industry is going really fast now in terms of technology adoption is making it exciting and interesting to a new generation of workforce.”

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