A Komatsu PC360LCi-11 iMC excavator operator for Miller’s Construction cuts a slope directly to grade and places the material into the bed of a Komatsu HM300 articulated truck.
Third-generation employees Mike and Matt Miller have helped their family's business, Miller's Construction Company LLC, weather many storms over the past three decades. The brothers grew up learning the business inside and out.
"Our grandfather, Coy Miller Jr., founded the company in 1950," said Mike. "He worked together with our dad, Waymon, and they built houses and laid sewer and water lines. When our grandfather's health deteriorated in the ‘80s, our dad took over the company. Although Dad's now retired, he remains an active part of the business.
"We've been growing since 1985," said Mike. "We were residential- and commercial-based primarily, but as times have changed and technology has improved, we've transitioned to more commercial and industrial work. Those projects can range from the restaurant you're having lunch at to the gas station down the road or the school your kids go to."
Based out of Anderson, S.C., Miller's Construction primarily partners with repeat customers across upstate South Carolina.
"We've worked with a lot of the same customers since I joined the company a little over 35 years ago," said Mike. "We're around 50 employees currently, but depending on the season, we can more than double that number. One of the main reasons for our growth is that our customers trust that we will do the job right the first time."
GPS Technology Transforms Production
According to Matt, the Great Recession forced the company to work smarter.
"Before the economic downturn, we were up over 120 employees," said Matt. "To survive, we had to find ways to work more efficiently than our competition. In about 2016, we started using GPS technology."
"It was challenging at first to justify spending extra money for the equipment because it was completely new to us, and we were unfamiliar with its capabilities," said Mike. "As we've moved forward and learned, it has become clear that GPS technology is the future of the industry. We're at the point now where most of our equipment utilizes technology."
Today, Miller's Construction has five Komatsu intelligent Machine Control (iMC) machines: a PC360LCi-11 excavator, two D51PXi-24 dozers and two D61PXi-24 dozers. The company's fleet also includes PC138USLC, PC210LC, PC290LC and PC360LC excavators; four HM300 articulated trucks; and a WA270 wheel loader. Mike notes that the iMC equipment helps the company save time and money throughout the lifespan of a job.
"If you're not running an intelligent machine then you're paying a surveyor to go out and do all of the work the machine does for you," said Mike. "One of the most effective areas we're able to utilize the iMC machines is creating water retention ponds. Almost every job requires one, and they're always uniquely designed with strict tolerances. We can use the 360 to contour a slope and cut a pond to grade without over- or under-diggings. We use the 61s for mass earthmoving and getting within a couple tenths of grade. We use the 51 to dress up behind the 61s and take a job to final grade. The 51 is just as good as a motorgrader, and I say that as a longtime motorgrader operator. Together, the iMC machines can bring a pond to grade on the first try.
"We're wrapping up on 30 months at a school job site, and the ponds that we built at the beginning of the project are still exactly where they need to be," said Mike. "We're so confident and comfortable with the process that we were able to hydroseed and net the pond ahead of schedule."
The Komatsu iMC equipment is also helping Miller's Construction combat its newest challenge: a labor shortage.
"A lot of our older operators have either retired or are nearing retirement, and there aren't many young kids with experience to replace them," said Matt. "With the iMC machines, I can take someone without any operating experience, put them on a dozer, and they can grade as well as the retiring operator within a couple weeks."
Finding Solutions, Not Excuses
Linder Industrial Machinery Company and sales representative Tyler Halbert work closely with Mike and Matt to help Miller's Construction find the right machines for its jobs. Mike notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, dealer support has been key to the company's success.
"COVID has created lots of supply chain problems where it's challenging to find parts," said Mike. "Linder and Tyler didn't make any excuses — they found solutions to keep us running.
"Product support is important to any organization, and Linder's support of our company beats anybody else out there," said Matt. "We know that we can call our sales rep and he will answer the phone or get back to us quickly. I've called him at 8 at night, and he always responds."
Miller's Construction relies on Linder's technicians to service its Komatsu Tier IV equipment through Komatsu Care, a factory-scheduled maintenance program for three years or 2,000 hours.
"The technicians notify us when a machine is due for maintenance and plan service around our schedule," said Mike. "That means we keep our machines in great condition and allow our mechanics to focus on other equipment.
"We're not the largest grading contractor in the area, but Linder treats us the same as somebody three times our size," said Mike. "Linder bends over backwards to provide the support we need, and I couldn't ask for anything more than what they offer."
Matt's son, Brady, is currently a junior project manager at Miller's Construction. Brady has wanted to work for the family business since he was a kid.
"I've seen how hard my dad and uncle work and feel like I owe it to them to keep growing the company," said Brady. "I have a brother that's nine years younger than me, and I hope he takes an interest in the business so that we can have the similar experience to my father and uncle working together. As I become more involved with the decision-making process, I see us moving towards more turnkey jobs and continuing to implement technology into everything we do."
"I hope to live to be my dad's age so that I can see where Brady takes the business," said Mike. "He has the ideas, resources and drive to grow the company. I'm excited to see where we go over the next couple of decades."
(Reprinted with permission from Construction Publications Inc. (CPI)-Linder Link Magazine.)
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