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Artic Cranes Power Utility Contractor Over Competitors

Wed May 10, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Jennifer Oredson



When contractors need to get something done, they’re going to figure out a way to do it regardless of whether they have the perfect equipment.

So most contractors aren’t a stranger to the idea of using a piece of equipment on tasks for which it isn’t meant. But these same contractors usually recognize that they’re often pressing their luck.

Utility Lines Construction Services was one such company. It wasn’t until its crews noticed a huge productivity leak that it decided to add articulating cranes to its equipment lineup.

“Before we bought our knucklebooms, we were doing our heavy lifting with backhoes and our productivity definitely suffered,” said Rick Chrissley, field supervisor of Utility Lines.

From Backhoes to Cranes

Utility Lines, based in Buford, GA, is a subsidiary of Asplundh Construction. Utility Lines specializes in installing underground and overhead power lines and does directional drilling for power companies in Georgia. The company — with 350 employees and 106 crews in Georgia alone — did its heavy lifting with backhoes, which were technically supposed to be doing the digging.

“Moving our reels of wires and transformers with backhoes was terribly inefficient,” Chrissley said. “Those backhoes are meant for digging, and so when we used to move our heavy items around with them, they’d have to stop what they were doing and we lost productivity.”

Also, depending on the size of the transformers, Chrissley said the backhoes were unable to handle the payload. So it didn’t take a stroke of brilliance to notice they were experiencing too much downtime, and that’s when Utility Lines decided to purchase some articulating cranes for the heavy lifting duties.

“Now we can move payload with the cranes, and the backhoes can keep digging, which is what they’re supposed to be doing,” Chrissley said.

As soon as Utility Lines started using articulating cranes, the company saw productivity skyrocket. However, productivity wasn’t as good as it could be. It was, of course, much better than in the backhoe days, but Utility Lines started out using a brand of articulating cranes that continually let them down.

“As soon as the cranes we used to have got a little bit of age on them, they started to lose reliability. I was back to losing production, and I was letting customers down,” Chrissley said. “With the old cranes, we’d go out on the job one day and be able to place a transformer, and then we’d go out the next day and try to place a transformer of the same weight, and the crane wouldn’t be able to do it. They would lose capacity.”

Finding the Right Crane

Chrissley had used Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. (IMT) articulating cranes at his previous employer, and as soon as he saw the problems Utility Lines was having, he approached his boss about giving IMT cranes a try. They put their heads together to talk about their productivity problems and the various solutions available, and they decided that switching to IMT knucklebooms would be their best bet.

Within the past year, Utility Lines has upped its fleet of IMT articulating cranes to approximately 10 of the 11/76 Series, and Chrissley said he’s been consistently pleased with the IMT cranes’ performance, durability and reliability.

“So far with the IMT cranes, I haven’t lost production or time, and I’ve been able to handle the task at hand without fail,” he said.

The field supervisor said he remembers one time in particular when the IMT cranes saved the day, so to speak.

“We were in a situation one time where we had sent the other crane out there to set a transformer for us, and it just couldn’t do the job,” Chrissley said. “We had a deadline to meet, and we were facing the idea of missing the deadline because the crane couldn’t lift weight that it was supposed to be able to lift.”

Utility Lines had just gotten its first IMT crane, so the crew called the home office and had the new crane brought out to the job site.

“The IMT crane enabled us to meet the deadline with the power company,” Chrissley said. “We were lucky that the new crane came in when it did because we probably would have had to go out and rent a crane if we didn’t have the IMT crane.”

Utility Lines has certainly made the articulating crane purchase worthwhile. Chrissley said all of the cranes are out in the field working eight hours a day.

“We’re getting use out of them, that’s for sure, because they’re out there being used all day, every day,” he said.

When utility construction companies use cranes, they typically pick articulating cranes over telescopic cranes because of the ability to transport payload from Point A to Point B and because great reach isn’t typically a requirement on these jobs. Articulating cranes can transport the load because the crane folds up tightly and stores in a “figure four” position, leaving a lot of room in the truck bed to haul materials. This isn’t possible with telescopic cranes, which are stored over the truck bed, leaving little room for payload. However, not all utility construction companies use articulating cranes, giving companies such as Utility Lines a distinct advantage.

“We have a lot of competition, and using IMT articulating cranes has given us a direct advantage over our competitors,” Chrissley said. “Some of them don’t even use cranes, so that allows us to shine better and be a more complete contractor for our customers. They’ve made us self-sufficient.”