Villager Construction Inc., Fairport, N.Y., swears by its fleet of 16 Wirtgen mills. But in the same breath company supervisors say that it’s Villager’s people that make the difference in the company’s success.
And when you combine a high-performance staff with a productive cold milling machines, the result is a prosperous, motivated road building company that is making waves from the Deep South to New England.
In early June, using four Wirtgen W 2100s, Villager was cold milling and paving lanes of I-490 in Rochester, N.Y., a total of about 200,000 sq. yd. (167,225 sq m) of asphalt counting both directions.
On the evening that Villager was visited, the firm was milling 3 mi. (4.8 km) of two main lanes — about 80,000 sq. yd. (66,890 sq m) — on a Friday night, and paving the milled surface the same night. In addition to the four W 2100s, among the units of its paving train was a Hamm HD O90V Oscillation roller.
The DOT requires paving soon after milling, but in this instance — with the contractor working evenings from Friday at 6 p.m. to Monday at 6 a.m. — Villager was allowed to maintain traffic on milled lanes, so long as it was all paved by Monday morning. Villager would return to the project location the next weekend and mill-and-fill the lanes in the opposite direction.
The four W 2100s were milling 1.25 in. (3.2 cm) in echelon, and Villager would return with 1.25 in. of 0.125 cm NMAS Superpave.
“Two of the mills we are using here are brand new, and the other two are less than a year old,” said Craig Smith, operations superintendent of Villager. “So we have four machines here that are relatively new.”
The operations would transpire under 150 light plants that had been set up along the 3-mi. length of the project, typically spaced 150 ft. (45.7 m) apart.
“That’s typical of New York State DOT; they’re very safety-conscious when it comes to night work.”
Settling on the Wirtgen W 2100
Villager is a relative newcomer to Wirtgen mills, having bought its first in 2003.
After having used various makes of cold mills for five years, Villager settled on the Wirtgen platform, and specifically, the model W 2100. The firm has 12 W 2100s, in addition to a W 600 DC for cutting 2-ft. (0.6 m) widths, with Rumbler III attachment for cutting rumble strips in conjunction with its paving projects; and three W 1200s, predecessor to the new W 120 F.
“We pay our people very good wages, wherever we are in the country,” Smith said. “If we don’t perform, we are not going to be there. We must be on top of our game all the time, and the way to do that is with better employees and better equipment. We’ve figured out how to do it. It’s a matter of working hard, paying well, and having good equipment. And the Wirtgens allow us to do that.
“With the W 2100s, the horsepower-to-feet [drum width] ratio is great, with the 700-horsepower engine matched with the 2,200-millimeter drum,” Smith said. “It gives us great production. Other mills don’t even come up to the standard.”
The quality of surface remaining from a cold milling is critical to the ultimate smoothness of the repaved surface, and Smith feels the Wirtgens are useful there.
“The resulting surface is far superior to most of the other milling machine brands we tried,” Smith said. “The pattern is superior and the grade controls are one of the most compelling things about the machines. Nobody has a grade control/depth slope that these Wirtgen mills do. We can put a 30-foot averaging ski, just like a paver, on each side of the machine to control each side of the drum separately. We are ecstatic about the grade system, and now it’s even easier with the new [Level-Pro] system on the W 120 F and newer mills.”
But operating costs figure into the equation as well, Smith said.
“We bought a new W 2100 and a same-size category competing machine the same year, 2003, within weeks of each other,” he said. “At the end of the first year we did a cost comparison. It cost us approximately $50,000 less to maintain the Wirtgen that year than it did Brand X, in terms of fuel, parts and wear-and-tear. The first night we did the side-by-side comparison we burned about 225 gallons of fuel with Brand X — I remember the number vividly — while the Wirtgen burned less than 175 gallons It was a huge difference then, and in today’s world, every day it’s a lot of money.”
“We’ve bought 16 Wirtgens in less than five years,” Smith said. “We don’t ever see going back.
“Our company is very strong on quality and performance,” Smith said. “We don’t keep our mills a long time beyond a certain point, because it’s important to us, as a subcontractor, not to fail. We have seen so many times where subs have started out with a milling machine or paver, and it breaks down again and again. We feel that our breakdowns on a job are nonexistent, and we will go to any extent to bring one in as quickly as possible if one is needed. But because of our maintenance, and Wirtgen’s quality, our dependability is better than any other contractor I’ve ever met.”
Decade of Cold Milling
While Villager has owned Wirtgen mills since 2003, it has been in the milling business for a full decade, since 1998.
“We were very pleased with our first W 2100,” said Todd Hartman, operations manager, milling division, of Villager. “It was more cost efficient by far to run than the brand we had. We monitored expenses very closely, and we found that the existing machine used five more gallons of fuel per hour than the 2100.
“The conveyor belts lasted longer, and the rollers are stronger,” Hartman said. “Now we have 12 2100s, three 1200s and a W 600 with rumble strip attachment. We got rid of our other brand models but we still have our first W 2100, with 6,500 hours, and we plan to run it out to about 8,000 hours. Not that it won’t go longer, but we have a commitment that when we buy something, we know how long we’re going to keep it, and when we’re going to sell it. That it’s still a useful machine, but not a front-line machine.”
In the meantime, Villager puts about 1,700 hours each year on its W 2100s. In 2007 the firm milled over 25 million sq. yd. (20,903,184 sq m) of asphalt.
“That’s a significant number of hours,” Hartman said. But Villager is a wide-ranging firm, with operations in the nine states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Vermont, so there is much work to be had for the machines.
For example, while its four W 2100s were working on I-490, another was milling and trimming base course for the Georgia DOT for the widening of I-95 north of Brunswick, Ga., in the state’s southeastern corner. There a single 2100 was doing all cold milling 28-in. (71 cm) in three passes to subgrade, for two prime contractors, for 44 mi. (71 km) of Interstate; then “boxing-out” the total of 176 lane mi. (283 km) of subgrade 28 to 32-ft. (8.5 to 9.8 m) wide.
In the parlance boxing-out refers to trimming of base course to correct slope using a milling machine instead of an excavator, dozer and grader. One machine — the W 2100 — replaces multiple machines, dramatically reducing diesel fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.
“We are able to box-out far more in a day than they can put back in stone,” Hartman said. “We have to pace ourselves so we don’t get too far ahead of the stone operation. What I like about the W 2100 is that we can do anything with it. It’s not too big, or too small, but has more horsepower per foot of drum than any other machine on the market. It’s ideal for all the uses we have, from city streets, to Interstate milling, to deep box-outs like we are doing in Georgia.”
“Probably the best decision we ever made was switching to the Wirtgens,” Hartman said. “Without a doubt, when you look back in time, and see how we have grown into the size and volume we are today, with the quality we have, I believe in my heart it’s because of Wirtgen. The flexibility and serviceability of these machines, with the right horsepower, cut and drum configuration, is unmatched. And they are very predictable regarding service times. Because we have so many 2100s we can predict when we will have to do, for example, an undercarriage. And we’ve never had to replace a drum or a cutter housing. We’ve replaced cutting tools but not the drums themselves. We’ve never replaced a planetary drive. With all of the models of the the old brand we had, we wound up putting new drums on them after three years.”
While the 2100s always will need a weight permit, their folding conveyors means the low-boys will not need an escort. In some parts of New York State it will save Villager $100 an hour in escort car charges.
“We projected the difference between the old machines we were using, which did not have the folding conveyor, and we found that they were costing us $16,000 per year in escort fees, because we always are on the move,” Hartman said. “Those are fees we don’t have to pay with the 2100s.”
The 2100s are versatile for big highway projects like I-490 in Rochester, but also for city streets, Hartman said.
“We do a ton of city streets with the same machines,” he said. “We do milling, chipping [milling around structures like manholes] and sweeping, and giving the customer 100 percent. We like to give the contractor the whole package, so all he has to do is tack coat and pave. By offering such worry-free service we find the contractors like using us.”
Sometimes the equipment is utilized on a 24-hour basis, with 2100s being used for night milling, then day work on city streets, then back on the Interstate at night.
“If you just pay attention to the machines, and what their needs are, they will perform for you,” Hartman said. “Our product support man, Ted Strang, is brilliant, and brings to us a huge product knowledge base following his work at Monroe Tractor, our Wirtgen distributor.”
Top-Flight Work Force
Neither Hartman nor Smith attribute all or even most of Villager’s performance to Wirtgen machines, though; instead, they place most of the credit on its motivated work force, which works at high speed, independently solving problems and keeping the project going as though it were their personal responsibility, not that of a big corporation.
“We pay very well,” Hartman said. “When you pay well, you can demand more. We will go through a lot of people to find the right people. And we will not accept mediocre, because that’s the path to failure. If we can’t ’Villager-ize’ an employee after a time — that is, bring him up to speed to the kind of professionalism that we want — then we have to get rid of him. And the better our employees are, the more work we find, and the more able we are to bring new, better employees into the company. We find we are on an upward spiral in finding good, motivated individuals we treat fairly; the more we find, the better we do.”
The result is a depth of resources at Villager that enables it to tackle many jobs and do them faster and smarter. The I-490 job at Rochester originally was slated for 24 nights, but instead was being done in two weekends.
“Instead of 24 nights of lane closures, we’re inconveniencing them for just two weekends,” Hartman said. “There are 192 employees at Villager; for them to come out for a 3-mile lane closure, set up 150 light plants, umpteen arrow boards, mill it, clean it, tack it and pave it, and still know that we will be done by Saturday night on this side, is an outstanding accomplishment. There are very few companies that can pull that off. But we can with our employees and our Wirtgens.”
This story was reprinted with permission from Wirtgen Technology, Spring/Summer 2008.
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