In the Mix

Van GrootelThere are technology tools to manage ready-mix fleets. 

By Jeffery Van Grootel

In the world of ready-mix concrete – where the material a driver transports turns to solid and becomes unusable within three hours – timing is crucial. Project managers depend on getting the materials they need exactly when they need it, and at the right consistency. To ensure a quality pour, the material’s journey from the batching plant to the jobsite must include the proper rotation of the mixer drum, and the correct ratio of water versus cementitious material. 

Working on large jobs that require fleets of ready-mix trucks demands constant communication between the concrete truck operators, dispatch and the batching plant. If a project requires 50 loads of ready-mix concrete, the dispatcher must closely coordinate the arrival and departure of each truck, where even a minute of idle time can cost thousands of dollars. 

This precise transportation and logistics management continues to be a thorn in the side of ready-mix operators. The good news is that significant advancements in monitoring and communication technology can improve ready-mix fleet management, making organizations that invest in new technology more efficient, more competitive and less wasteful.  

One of the worst scenarios for a ready-mix driver is to arrive at a jobsite or be in transit and have a malfunction with the drum rotation or the inability to ensure the correct water cement ratio in the mix. Wasted materials and squandered time equal lost profits and ruined reputations. However, technology solutions that monitor both drum rotation and water add enable ready-mix fleets to not only improve how they monitor the quality and consistency of their ready-mix product, but will also streamline equipment troubleshooting and maintenance.

Changing Roles

Once a ready-mix driver arrives at the jobsite, the job changes from that of a driver to that of a worker on a construction site, where he or she is responsible first for the quality and then for pouring out the load of concrete. Ready-mix concrete materials were once fairly straightforward, requiring standard water add protocols. Ready-mix operators would make manual water adjustments to concrete mixtures by guessing, which is certainly not the most accurate way of measuring. 

Now, we see a wide range of uses for ready-mix concrete, from architectural decorative concrete to insulated concrete and everything in between. To add additional complexity to the situation, different concrete products require specific water add ratios, making management of large fleets challenging and nearly impossible for ready-mix operators to estimate water adjustments. 

Water add meters allow ready-mix operations to set predetermined water add requirements based on the different concrete materials. The meters are designed to accurately measure and control the amount of water added to specific concrete mixes. Having real-time water add information for each delivery gives ready-mix operations peace of mind that material quality is maintained and customers will be satisfied with the final product. 

As with most industries, human error presents the greatest number of challenges and inaccuracies. Construction jobsites are no exception. Errors on jobsites are inevitable, but one of the driving forces behind increased technology within the ready-mix industry is to enhance monitoring and automation to minimize human error. 

Drum rotation sensors provide another layer of automation to increase ready-mix quality control during transit. From the time the materials leave the batching plant to the point of pour and beyond, concrete products must meet specifications for strength, temperature, slump, air content and unit weight. 

While ready-mix fleets are in transit to jobsites, continuous clockwise drum rotation is necessary to eliminate material segmentation and hardening, and to keep materials in the drum until operators are ready to reverse the rotation and pour materials into a desired cast. 

Drum rotation sensors are designed to measure speed, direction and rotation count of the mixer drum to determine when “begin load” and “begin pour” status occurs. Speed and drum direction are important to the quality of the final concrete product. 

Large ready-mix concrete projects require multiple fleets to deliver product consecutively and on time to complete large concrete projects. 

Drum rotation sensors allow dispatchers at the plant to monitor when the pour begins to queue up the next fleet of ready-mix vehicles for timely delivery. The drum rotation sensors improve the product quality and project management. 

Not only do these tools provide visibility into how concrete producers do business, they are also designed to be tough enough to withstand the demanding conditions in which these fleets operate. Ready-mix concrete companies that have implemented monitoring technologies can expect to see reduced delivery cycle times and increased efficiencies. The ready-mix concrete industry is competitive, and intelligent business decisions that decrease operational costs and increase fleet efficiency will provide the competitive edge necessary to sustain and grow operations. 

Jeff Van GrootelJeffery Van Grootel is the director of product management for Trimble Construction Logistics. He is responsible for setting the product vision for Trimble Construction Logistics, developing solutions that increase efficiencies and safety for fleets in the bulk materials industry. He has more than 25 years of experience working in or serving the construction materials industry. He can be reached at jeff_vangrootel@trimble.com.

 

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