...up to 600 greasing points, automating greasing is a huge timesaver. “We’ve found that it extends the service life of the bearings and bushings, like threefold,” Pirtle adds.
As many project owners across the country are placing tougher restrictions on contractors to restrict idling their engines, Traylor is now installing 5-kW generators on its cranes. They operate the cranes’ heating and air-conditioning systems—also modern amenities not found on older rigs—with the additional benefits of saving fuel and engine life.
Of all the various retrofits, Pirtle is most proud of the catwalks, ladders and other touch points that help operators and mechanics access the equipment in a safer way. “It took us a good while to figure out a way for these operators to access parts of the crane,” he says. “As an industry and as an organization, we require the operator to inspect the wire rope on a daily basis. Well, there is no way to have him inspect it without having full fall protection, putting him at risk.”
One solution is what Traylor calls the “stairway to heaven”—a fabricated, steel stepladder with handrails that take the operator to the crane’s gantry, which cants backward about 20 ft over the rear counterweight to support the main boom. “We install this on all of our lattice-boom crawler cranes,” Pirtle says.
With the crane-rebuild program well developed, Traylor Bros. is expanding rebuilds to other machines. Some may ask, why all this trouble when you can buy a new one? While new, 200-ton crawler cranes cost about $1.5 million, Traylor can rebuild vintage rigs and add valuable upgrades for $500,000. That may sound like a lot considering they cost $800,000 when new, but Pirtle expects to get up to another 30,000 hours, more than 20 years. “We are finding that some of the newer cranes maybe get 15,000,” he says.
Production is another factor. According to Pirtle and many other heavy civil contractors, newer crawler cranes are not up to some tough ground-engaging tasks that mechanical cranes can perform, such as drilling caissons. New controls and hydraulic drive systems are more sensitive, booms are lighter and frames are not as stiff because there are fewer mechanical gears to match up. There also are thinner safety factors. But new cranes come with advantages, such as being easier transport and having safety lockouts. That is why Traylor is investing in both old and new.
As part of the Traylors’ plan, Pirtle is implementing a sophisticated quality-control program that allows his team of some 40 gearheads to judge which manufacturers produce the best machines. The result has given Traylor deep visibility into the industry’s supply chain. It started out as an internal audit: “Several years ago, we realized that we had a problem with our equipment,” says Pirtle. “It was not showing up at the jobsites at the level of quality we expected.”
In most cases, Traylor works on large projects as a joint-venture partner with other contractors, such as Kiewit or Massman. As Pirtle is Traylor fleet administrator, it is in his best interest to provide machines that will not let the project team down. “We want to treat our operational units more as customers rather than taking them for granted,” Chris Traylor says. However, once the machines are sold to the joint ventures, the projects are held accountable for the upkeep. The not-for-profit equipment shop will eventually buy the machines back and then inspect, repair and resell them to the next project.
Tracking these internal transactions gives Traylor perspective, says Vorster. “Thad has become very good at measuring the quality of a machine at the time it crosses the organizational boundary from this joint venture to that joint venture,” says Vorster, who, like Pirtle, is a member of Association of Construction Equipment Managers, a small, 40-person group of the nation’s top equipment experts.
Vorster likens the Traylor way to the plight of the dairy farmer: They raise cows and they sell milk. The customer does not care about the health of the cow as long as the milk is fresh. Likewise, some contractors’ equipment departments rent out their machines to internal projects but remain in charge of upkeep—so they are constantly fighting for resources. Traylor, on the other hand, sells the entire machine to the project, and later, when the project is done, buys it back. “Thad is the veterinarian who makes sure that these cows are healthy at the time they are moved to another farm,” Vorster says.
As Traylor’s equipment “doctor,” Pirtle developed a standard checklist for each piece of equipment. Cranes...