Last month we focused on Miles Sand & Gravel’s efforts to improve driver productivity by using tablets. The mobile device serves as a single source of data: time tracking, truck status, location, and even fuel usage. We’re revisiting the Puyallup, Wash.-based producer whose chief operations officer, Mike Schuh, plans to apply the same concept to ready-mix and aggregate operations.

“We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do to make life easier with wireless technology,” he says. His approach is straightforward: identify areas in which time-consuming processes diminish productivity. Schuh is primarily focused on eliminating extensive paperwork associated with safety and environmental compliance.

As a whole, the concrete industry takes environmental and safety concerns very seriously. Producers not only want to demonstrate this commitment, but to do it in the most economical way possible. Properly done, wireless technology provides this opportunity while maintaining quality and accuracy.

The first step is converting existing data into a digital format, so it can become widely accessible via tablets and mobile devices. “The digitizing is not overly daunting because our processes are already in place,” says Schuh. “It’s just a matter of capturing the critical information and choosing software that replaces – and ideally exceeds – the manual setup we have now.”

Process more data, less paper

Safety and plant managers have a lot to gain by going digital. On a regular basis, plant employees attend mandatory safety meetings with a set agenda. The safety manager distributes topics to plant managers in advance, who then collect attendees’ signatures and submit the documentation back to the safety manager. All safety meeting minutes are collected and the information is entered into a spreadsheet. The meeting minutes are then filed to maintain company-wide safety compliance records.

If any questions arise, the safety manager references the spreadsheet data, checks it against the file, and shares information as needed. This entire process would be accelerated by using tablets to electronically capture, store, and distribute essential data. “Our safety manager’s time in the field is much more valuable than time spent collecting & compiling paperwork,” says Schuh.

Having easily-accessible, accurate data is even more critical when investigating an incident. If a driver has an accident, Miles is responsible for all relevant documentation: the driver’s incident report, footage from the truck’s dashboard camera, truck data (speed, location, etc.), and third-party reports.

“There is incredible potential to improve this very cumbersome, manual process with tablets - in terms of time savings and data management,” says Schuh. When data from many sources is captured wirelessly, it can also be shared and measured more easily. Producers can quickly view the number and types of incidents, measure driver performance and improvement, and respond to information requests.

Schuh sees similar potential with environmental compliance. Site supervisors could complete state-mandated inspections on a tablet and submit the results to a database for the environmental manager’s review. Having the information in the database will allow for quick access of information for comparison & evaluation. If necessary, the environmental manager could efficiently submit the data electronically to the Department of Ecology. This would save a significant amount of time for Miles’ site supervisors and environmental manager, who now complete the process manually.

Schuh’s philosophy: Once you go paperless, the possibilities are endless. His digital initiatives at Miles are limited only by the amount of resources the producer can allocate – a universal dilemma. On occasion, Miles relies on external IT support for specific projects, and participates in industry consortiums to develop new tech solutions. Although it may be difficult in the short-term, Schuh believes it’s worth the investment of time and effort to achieve the long-term payback new technology offers.