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Komatsu Steers TX’s Longhorn

Mon May 06, 2002 - West Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

“When moving large amounts of earth like we do,” said Jack Parker, vice president of Longhorn Excavators Inc., Sugar Land, TX, “time is of the essence.”

He would know. He’s been doing it for more than 40 years.

Parker got his start in heavy construction and earthmoving with his father in 1961. Eight years ago he reciprocated and did for his sons what his father had done for him. In 1994 Parker’s sons, Greg, Mike and John, joined him in a new business venture. Today, the fourth-generation Parkers work the Texas landscape as Longhorn Excavators Inc.

“My Dad was a contractor, his dad was a contractor, I am a contractor and my three sons are contractors,” Parker said. “When we started Longhorn, we made sure to keep the traditions started years ago by our family. I learned from my father that hard work and dedication to getting things done right are keys to success. I passed those beliefs on to my sons and we make certain our jobs are done right, and always on time, if not ahead of schedule.”

In addition to large earthmoving, sewer and retention pond projects, Longhorn wanted to increase its earthmoving repertoire. In 1998, it began constructing golf courses and the business thrived, although golf course construction can be tedious work that requires long hours both for Longhorn employees and the equipment they operate.

Around the time Longhorn began submitting bids for its foray into golf courses, it also began looking into equipment to meet the demands of such large projects. What the company found was Komatsu’s PC400LC-6 excavators, and in late 2001, Komatsu HM400-1A articulated trucks.

“The first time we ran a PC400LC-6 excavator we were amazed at the speed at which our operator completed a cycle,” Parker recalled. “We were sold on the machine pretty quickly.”

Komatsu’s PC400LC excavators have been a staple in the company’s excavator fleet for 15 years, and through changes and updates the Dash-6 model, according to Parker, “is the most productive excavator, by far, in its class.”

With the PC400LC-6 excavators, Longhorn operators began realizing productivity increases of nearly 15-percent over machines they’d used previously.

By the end of 2001, Longhorn Excavators Inc. had 14 PC400LC-6 excavators in its fleet. The 99,000-lb. (44,905 kg), 306-hp (228 kW) excavators are outfitted with 5.25-cu.-yd. (4 cu m) buckets — larger than the standard bucket size for an excavator in this class, but Longhorn’s needs demanded the larger bucket.

“We have fantastic operators in our excavators,” Parker said. “I like to say they are the best I’ve ever seen. They are able to heap the 5.25-cu.-yd. bucket and fully load a 40-ton truck in six to eight passes. In under a minute. That’s what I mean by the best I have seen.”

The good fortune Longhorn experienced with the PC400LC-6 excavators on the golf course projects prompted Parker to look at other areas where they could make a good fit.

“The quick-cycle times we were realizing on the golf course projects begged the question, ’why are we not putting these machines on other jobs’,” Parker said. “It was just a matter of time before we had PC400LC-6s digging retention ponds, sewer trenches and basements for large developments.”

Since incorporating the PC400LC-6s into its fleet, Parker has found that he can expect the machines to work as hard as his operators push them. “There are days when an operator will work 14 hours,” he said. “We know that our PC400s can take that kind of punishment though. They are tough machines.”

Up-Time All the Time

“We put an average of 2,500 hours on an excavator in a year,” Parker said. “We rely on those machines to stay up as much as possible. If one piece goes down it affects the entire operation and for a company like ours — one that prides itself on coming in ahead of schedule — down time is unacceptable.”

Parker also understands that to keep his machines healthy, routine maintenance is crucial.

“We have never even had to change a cylinder on the PC400LC-6 excavators,” he said. “Routine maintenance at scheduled intervals is all we do to keep them running. The machines do the rest.”

Komatsu excavators feature the company’s HydrauMind technology. Essentially, the right amount of hydraulic fluid is sent to the right part of the excavator when it is needed. This feature allows an operator to remain productive no matter what material he is excavating and in what conditions.

“One site in which many of the features of the Komatsu excavator really played a part is a large subdivision in Houston TX,” Parker recalled. “We had to move 200,000-cu. yd. of dirt in 78 days. By having our best operator sitting in a PC400LC-6, we were able to complete that job in less than half the time we bid.”

For this particular project, Longhorn first had to clear and burn 80 acres (32 ha) of forest. Once that was complete, he brought in a Komatsu PC400LC and three articulated trucks to move the dirt.

The job called for the removal of 200,000 yds. (182,880 m) of dirt in a 70-day window. He said it’s a $1,000 bonus for every day under the target date, but a $1,000 penalty for any day late, so the ability to move dirt quickly is essential.

In the first five days of the job, crews were able to move 35,000 yds. (32,000 m), and are probably moving 6,000 to 7,000 yds. (5,486 to 6,400 m) per day. Due to the skill of the PC400LC-6 operator and the machine’s ease-of-use, the trucks are running on a four-minute cycle on a 1,000-ft. (305 m) run.

In approximately four months, the customer wants to put in the underground utilities and begin building homes. To complete the project, Parker said is has to grade each lot and complete the retention pond.

In addition to its PC400LC-6 excavators, Longhorn needed articulated trucks to help move the massive amount of dirt generated at the site. Parker called his local distributor, Waukesha-Pearce Industries (WPI), and inquired about Komatsu’s new HM400-1A articulated truck.

Introduced in 2001, the HM400-1A is a 40-ton (36 t) truck designed by Komatsu from the ground up. Longhorn’s interest in the new truck prompted a test to be done by Komatsu and WPI in conjunction with Longhorn.

“Komatsu and WPI brought the trucks in and let us run them against competitive model trucks,” Parker said. “The results of those on-site tests were a 15-percent increase in production. Since we took three of them, we have noticed an increase of 20-percent over what we were using previously.”

Komatsu’s HM400-1A articulated truck was designed through extensive research by engineers from different Komatsu product lines. The company partnered members of its wheel loader, excavator and rigid truck product teams and asked them to develop the company’s move into the articulated truck market. The culmination of their work is an articulated truck product family that includes the HM400, HM350, HM300 and HM250.

“By using Komatsu’s 40-ton HM400-1A, I have significantly increased my productivity,” Parker said. “I mean, if I was running the little Tinker Toys that everybody else runs, I’d be doing just what they did and I’d need more time, and that won’t win me bids.”

Longhorn’s efficiencies can be found within the heart of Komatsu’s 40-ton (36 t) HM400-1. Powered by a 430-hp (320 kW) engine, and weighing 147,000 lb. (66,678 kg), Parker said the HM400 can go anywhere that he can send a 30- or 25-ton (28 or 22 t) truck. As a result, he’s witnessed the huge increases in production on jobs.

“It doesn’t take a mathematician to look at the amount of dirt we’re able to move per day, and the speed that we’re able to move it,” said Parker. “When you go back and put it on paper, it’s about a $12,000 difference in bottom line each month per truck. It’s just unbelievable.”

According to Parker, when they’ve gotten into some really wet conditions, other 40-ton (36 t) trucks can’t go where he can send a Komatsu. They get bogged down, and stuck in the mud. He maintains that a lot of other models bog down empty, while the HM400 takes more and more buckets of dirt. The Komatsu machine has an enhanced payload-to-weight ratio — more than 55 percent of the total weight is payload rather than dead weight.

“Aside from any upgrades or kits Komatsu has provided, we haven’t had any downtime with the HM400-1s,” said Parker. “If our operators had the opportunity to pick their own truck, they’d take Komatsu. I have a feeling these trucks will hold up as well as they look like they will.”

The Family Grows

In early 2002, Longhorn took delivery of another PC400LC-6, three additional HM400-1A articulated trucks and two new Komatsu motorgraders. Longhorn operates nearly 60 pieces of Komatsu equipment at any given time on numerous projects and the trend toward growing that fleet continues.

“Komatsu makes a great product across the board,” Parker said. “With it we are able to complete projects far ahead of schedule. That makes us more profitable and, in the end, that is the bottom line.”

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