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Brannan Sand & Gravel Company Readying the Fleet in Colo.

Mon August 31, 2009 - West Edition
Dawn Buzynski

The 120-day deadline is fast approaching for states to spend stimulus funds authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. State portions of the $27 billion for highway infrastructure repair range from $122 million for Delaware to $2.6 billion to the biggest winner, California.

With Colorado’s share at $330 million, and approximately 60 road projects already on the docket, Brannan Sand & Gravel Company is preparing for a busy summer. Even with the current recession crippling the construction industry, it’s been business as usual for Brannan, and it spent the winter getting its fleet of Volvo and Blaw-Knox pavers ready for the season.

Brannan Sand & Gravel Company, headquartered in Denver, began as a gravel supplier in 1906 and entered the asphalt business in 1943. Today, Brannan owns three asphalt plants and maintains an asphalt fleet consisting of eight Volvo and Blaw-Knox tracked pavers and 20 Volvo asphalt compactors. According to Brannan Division Manager Chuck Irsik, the company made the commitment to continue with non-emergency maintenance to ensure the entire fleet was ready for all the road work coming its way.

Asphalt paving equipment, more specifically pavers, requires significant maintenance and parts replacements every year. This type of maintenance is commonly referred to as a winter rebuild since it is performed during the winter months in most states.

Fleet managers are constantly analyzing the age of their equipment and maintaining the precarious balance of new equipment costs and depreciation versus the operating costs of older equipment. Of the eight pavers in Brannan’s fleet, only two are less than two years old.

It’s ideal to have a balanced fleet with some older and some newer machines. No matter the age of a machine, asphalt pavers need to have major parts and components replaced at anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 hours of service.

According to Irsik, there are many factors that determine when a paver needs to be rebuilt. Seven of Brannan’s eight pavers are rebuilt each winter, but many considerations determine the depth of the rebuild.

“We look at hours a machine is in use along with the tonnage of asphalt that a machine handles in a season,” explained Irsik. “The amount of material and the mix design are better measurements for the types of repairs that are needed.”

Cost of Rebuild Tied to Job Profits

Now more than in previous years, profits on paving jobs are extremely tight and any downtime on a job can eliminate all profits. Irsik said Brannan won’t compromise on fleet maintenance even during tough economic times.

“When you’re hauling 40 trucks of mix to a paving job, you can easily lose thousands of dollars per hour if a machine goes down,” he said. “A catastrophic failure in the hydraulic system, where you have to flush the machine of any contaminants, could take a machine down for four or five days.”

Most of Brannan’s winter rebuilds are done by in-house service technicians; however, Brannan also partners with its dealer, Faris Machinery, to perform more extensive rebuilds. The past two winters, Faris performed rebuilds on Brannan’s two Volvo PF6110 pavers. The Volvo PF6110 tracked machines are a part of the Volvo PF6000 Series of asphalt pavers featuring newer technology and an intricate undercarriage. Irsik had Faris rebuild both PF6110s because they have more expertise with the newer technology, and they can accommodate these newer machines.

Faris Machinery Company is a leading provider of Volvo paving equipment in Colorado. Faris Machinery’s success is attributed to skilled professionals who focus on long-term partnerships with customers. Faris Machinery Shop Manager Larry Case explained that the nuts and bolts of pavers have not changed much over the years; however, the newer technology poses a challenge even to seasoned service technicians.

“The newer pavers such as the Volvo PF6110 are a bigger challenge to today’s technicians due to the computerization and integrated electronics,” explained Case. “Technicians need to be dedicated to advance with the technology. It’s definitely not about turning wrenches anymore.”

Rebuilding the Fleet

A winter rebuild on a paver is pretty much as it sounds, rebuilding the machine back to factory specifications.

“When we rebuild a paver, we basically take the unit back to the standards of a new machine,” explained Case. “We test and adjust the hydraulic pumps and electrical systems to make sure they meet factory performance settings, and we replace all wear parts to carry the machine through another year.”

Wear parts on a paver are considered anything that touches the asphalt material. This would include the auger/conveyor system, hopper, and floor and screed plates. In addition to parts replacement, Faris conducts a full inspection of the machine and a test run to identify all issues. A hydraulic system evaluation also is considered very important.

“We test all hydraulic circuits, pumps and motors. If they are weak, we will adjust them back to factory pressure. If this doesn’t work, then most likely parts need to be replaced and this is added to the rebuild list,” said Case.

The powertrains on tracked pavers are complex and take additional time to rebuild. According to Case, a tracked paver, with a complex tandem bogie system and take-up wheel, can take approximately 60 percent more time to rebuild than wheeled pavers; however, tracked pavers tend to be more popular because they are flexible in various paving situations. A full rebuild can take around 300 hours and cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, varying from year to year.

Pavers are not alone in the winter maintenance program, and rebuilds on asphalt compactors are not as involved as asphalt pavers. According to Irsik, each compactor has an annual maintenance protocol based on hours in use.

“We follow strict manufacturer recommendations in regards to hydraulic pump and motor replacement,” said Irsik. “During the winter we will do hydraulic component testing and check pressure flow. We also go back through work orders to see if there are any trends with repairs. Generally if we find a problem with one unit, we will check the other units.”

Mix Designs Affect

Pavers Differently

Generally wear on a paver will follow a specific pattern based on geographical location and varying types of asphalt materials used. Different types of aggregates will have a direct effect on how quickly wear parts will need to be replaced.

“There is something called ’wait time’ on a paving job,” said Irsik. “You can have the same hours on two machines, but one will run maybe 30 percent more material through it than the other.”

Irsik explained that its highway work has the least wait time because it is performed at night and more asphalt can be placed per hour due to factors such as less traffic and plant priority. For instance, 1,900 tons (1,723 t) of asphalt will run through his Volvo PF6110, used specifically for heavy highway paving, in a nine-hour shift, whereas his other machines may run only 1,500 tons (1,361 t) in nine hours. That makes a significant difference on when to replace wear parts.

Types of aggregate and a contractor’s geographical location should be a leading indicator to judge necessary repairs on pavers, according to Flemming Knudsen, paving specialist for Volvo Construction Equipment’s customer support team. Because many contractors in warmer climates pave all year, it’s important to monitor wear parts closely instead of going by hours in use.

“Unless a paver operates in extreme conditions, wear parts will last about 1,000 hours, but it’s also dependent on regional location and type of asphalt material used,” Knudsen explained.

There is more rock and less binder in many mix designs, which causes more wear, he said. A seasoned contractor familiar with aggregate and mix designs will eventually determine how many hours wear parts will last on a paver. Until you establish that history, Knudsen suggested monitoring wear parts at the 500-hour mark.

Personnel, Training

Knudsen and his team conduct training seminars for Volvo road machinery at Volvo’s training facility in Shippensburg, Pa., specifically for customer and dealer service technicians. Separate courses cover hydraulic and electrical systems on pavers, mechanical systems on screeds and mechanics on large asphalt compactors.

“We take a machine, break it down by system and discuss the machine in great detail,” said Knudsen.

Knudsen said classes focus on troubleshooting and maintenance best practices. The goal is to teach attendees how to get a machine up and running as quickly as possible. He said training is imperative for service technicians in the field to stay abreast of newer technology. Knudsen admitted there is a significant learning curve with the hydraulic and electrical systems on the new Volvo PF6000 Series pavers because of the technology. He said it’s crucial to teach attendees how to read the schematics on those systems in order to maintain and troubleshoot problems.

“If you can’t read the schematics, you’re in a world of hurt,” he said.

Training not only happens in the Volvo classroom, but also in the field every day. Irsik said Brannan’s training comes from the partnership between his company, Faris Machinery and Volvo.

“Everyone on our crews knows everyone from Faris and also our Volvo representative,” said Irsik. “They are welcome on any of our jobs. That is the strength of the Volvo and Brannan partnership, with training and building a solid relationship.”

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