Construction is about to enter a phase where data is king and adopting the newest technology is the only way to survive. Denver-based Brannan Sand and Gravel Co. is moving into this new world with a project for Trimble, a Sunnyvale, Calif., developer of GPS equipment and software sold worldwide. Like general contractor JE Dunn Construction and other subcontractors on the job, Brannan is using Trimble technology to streamline operations and improve collaboration across the entire project.

J.W. Brannan began helping build Colorado’s Front Range in 1906. In 1943, he added asphalt to support the post-World War II building boom. Another division, Brannan Construction, focuses on pipeline construction including tunneling. Today, Brannan Ready Mix services highway, foundation, and high-strength projects from three plants in the Denver area.

One such project is a building at Trimble’s Westminster, Colo., location, for which the ready-mix producer expects to deliver approximately 3,900 cubic yards by the end of 2018.

Collaboration Optimizes Delivery

Brannan’s been a Trimble customer since 2010, when it bought automated status-updating that reports programmable events such as “leave plant,” “arrive at job site,” “pour begin,” “pour end,” “leave job site,” “water added,” and “return to plant.” The company installed the necessary sensors on 40 ready-mix trucks for $2,250 (roughly the same price it would be today). The sensors are required to take full advantage of TrimFleet, a software suite that analyzes data the sensors gather to monitor the entire ready-mix cycle. By December 2017, Brannan had installed TrimFleet on 50 mixers and 20 leaser trucks via a tablet-based app called Mobile VIA (for “visual information access”) so they can be seen by and report into Brannan’s Trimble system.

Trimble’s mission is to integrate all the software and information flow across the concrete construction process. TrimFleet addresses the unique challenges of a supplier that has just 90 minutes to make and deliver a key project component.

For example, terrain around the City of Westminster is unpredictable. When drilling 100 feet down for the foundation, the drill will at some point hit hard bedrock – but no one knows exactly when that will happen. TrimFleet TrimView modules, which provide messaging capabilities to and from trucks and dispatch as well as reporting and mapping, enable Brannan to communicate with the general contractor and the concrete contractor’s crews to determine when to send ready-mix trucks to the jobsite.

“The project is only 13 miles from two of our plants, but even a minor accident can be devastating for delivery timing,” says Dispatch Manager Jacob Lampert. “We know which mixers may be impacted and where they are in real time. We can send individual or group messages to help them avoid trouble areas without tying up our radio system and involving our entire fleet.”

Brannan pays for Active Navigation, a TrimView option charged per truck per month based on CoPilot Truck, a product developed by Trimble company ALK Technologies Inc. It’s like Google maps but with metadata on bridge heights, weight restrictions, and curve sharpness so drivers get the most efficient voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. Estimated arrival time automatically updates based on route and traffic conditions, saving time and money by not wasting fuel or adding unnecessary drive time. The latest TrimView release (desktop application used by non-drivers) includes the cloud-based ALK mapping (mobile CoPilot Truck in the truck).

Data Provides Proof of Performance

With the accompanying office software and a geo-fence around the jobsite, Brannan and the general contractor monitor all trucks as they enter and exit the jobsite. A geo-fence is a virtual boundary that triggers a response whenever a mobile device enters or leaves the area. Brannan also automatically tracks ignition on/off times, departure and arrival times at the plant and jobsite, when a pour starts, and washout time. Brannan is using drum-rotation sensors to track speed, direction, and rotation count. A water-add meter measures amount of water added before and during the pour to help validate concrete quality.

Brannan has so much information it can track performance of a concrete contractor’s crews, which can affect ready-mix price in the event of longer onsite wait time.

“TrimFleet modules and telematics sensors provide continuous insight from every possible angle,” says Lampert. “All this information allows us to document exactly when and where trucks are in case there’s a dispute over timing or questions arise around delivery. It removes any doubt and shows we’re delivering what we promised.”

Tweaking Processes Improves Profitability

On the administrative side, Sales Manager Mike Yale and his team use the software to create reports about delivery cycles. This gives dispatchers and managers accurate information when it comes to tracking key performance indicators (KPIs). This helps Brannan team members make sure they’re hitting cubic-yards-per-hour and truck utilization targets. By collecting accurate data about the Trimble project, they can ensure they have enough mixers to meet on-job time and placement rate while not having so many trucks waiting to discharge they risk material quality and rejected loads.

Every one of these insights improves efficiency, which is critical to success in a tight-margin business like ready-mixed concrete.

“That 90-minute window for placing concrete is critical, as is pour rate,” says Yale. “As we move into slab placement, dispatchers will be able to schedule trucks according to the general contractor’s project plan. We’ll have time stamps that prove when mixers show up and pour times. By knowing exactly where each truck is, we can adjust on the fly during placement to make sure we don’t have too many trucks sitting on the jobsite or at the plant. We depend on this software every day, and it’s probably our most important tool because it gives us real-time information about our operations.”