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Construction equipment: A clean sweep

Plant hire company Hewden is learning lessons from the retail sector in its efforts to provide the right levels of service for the modern construction sector.

Contractors working in London have seen increasingly stringent requirements placed on the way they work and the equipment they use. In 2008, Transport for London (TfL) introduced its Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which covers most of Greater London and penalises the heaviest polluting diesel vehicles. It operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year, so has a big impact on construction deliveries.

Since then, there has been a raft of other rules and regulations designed to make construction in London safer and more environmentally responsible.

Some - like the LEZ - are imposed by TfL, while others come at the request of specific clients or projects, such as the aim for all equipment used on Crossrail sites to meet the latest low emissions standards.

The upshot is that there are factors influencing the choice of plant and equipment in London that are different to those elsewhere in the UK - something plant hire firm Hewden has recognised. “We see London differently,” says the company’s marketing director Jeff Schofield. “It’s a country within a country.”

Hewden has supplied a lot of equipment to Crossrail projects, where there is a real push to cut carbon emissions from construction equipment, as well to improve the safety of its sites and of the journeys made to and from them to deliver materials and plant. Schofield says that Hewden’s relationship with Crossrail and its contractors led to a realisation that many of the demands being made by the project were equally relevant to other construction work in the capital.

“We see London differently. It’s a country within a country”

Jeff Schofield, Hewden

“We looked at what is it that the [London] mayor’s office want; what does TfL want; and what do the contractors want,” explains Schofield. As a result the company has launched Capital Core, a plant hire service specifically for London, based around a core fleet of 30 machines with specifications that meet the requirements of legislators and contractors in the city.

The main elements of Capital Core are that every machine in the fleet will be a maximum of two years old, so they all meet at least the Stage IIIA emissions standards; machines will always be available and can be delivered to site 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and they are all fitted with fire suppression systems, trackers, visual seat belt alerts and telematics, with proactive diagnostic alerts.

In addition, the vehicles delivering the machines to site will be no more than two years old and fitted with safety features designed to prevent cyclists being injured.

“I believe we’ve taken a sensible approach to create a standard specification for London,” explains Schofield.

The service also includes a promise that, any time Hewden delivers a machine later than the agreed time, it will donate £100 to a London charity that gives opportunities for young people to get into work. It has also committed to taking on two local unemployed people at its new hub depot in Tilbury.

Top 150 London projects

Hewden is initially targeting the service at contractors working on the top 150 projects in the capital, based on data from project leads firm Glenigan.

But the service is not aimed just at the main contractors; Hewden is keen to offer it to any contractor that is working on one of these contracts, says Schofield.

The Capital Core fleet is made up of machines identified as being hired most often in London: five different sizes of excavator, a backhoe loader, three sizes of dumper, two rollers, four different telehandlers and a variety of access platforms. It follows the development of a national core fleet, which was launched last year following extensive research into hiring patterns by Hewden as the firm emerged from recession.

“The recession was a tough few years for everybody, but as we came out of it we started to look at the business and to ask what is it that our customers are actually hiring from us. What is the core equipment,” explains Schofield.

This resulted in the discovery that just 30 machines accounted for the majority of hires throughout the UK - predominantly excavators, dumpers, telehandlers, platforms and booms - so Hewden reorganised the business to focus on making sure it had enough of these models available so that it could always supply a core fleet machine if it was requested.

“If you go to Tesco you expect them to have bread and cheese and milk. We know what our staple products are so we make sure we have two of every one of them in every depot every day”

Jeff Schofield, Hewden

“We came out with a very clear understanding of what our customers wanted from a product point of view,” says Schofield, “So we started looking at how can we put this into a proposition for them. They were telling us: ‘we want you to have one when we want it, we want you to deliver it on time, to respond quickly if it breaks down, collect it on time and give us an accurate invoice.”

With availability being the most important factor for customers, Hewden set about investing in new kit to bring this fleet of core machines up to a scale where it could guarantee availability anywhere in the country for a fixed delivery price of £75. “We know that when the phone rings it’s most likely going to be for one of those 30 machines,” Schofield says, “so the offer is that if it is ordered before 12pm on day one, they will receive it by 12pm on day two. Or if it is ordered between 12pm and 5pm on day one it will be there by 5pm on day two.

“Any time we’re late, the customer is credited £100 back.”

Since the core fleet service launched last year, Hewden has made around 55,000 deliveries and achieved an on time delivery rate of over 98%.

According to Schofield, the company has learnt a lot from the retail sector when it comes to logistics and customer service. “If you go to Tesco you expect them to have bread and cheese and milk,” he says. “We know what our staple products are - the 30 core fleet machines - so we make sure we have two of every one of them in every depot every day.”

Achieving that level of availability has involved a massive investment, as well as a big disposal of the equipment that was hardly ever being hired out.

Last year Hewden invested over £60M in new equipment and vehicles, opting for just a handful of manufacturers for the core machines.

Full lifecycle costs

“We’re looking at the full lifecycle costs of these products,” explains Schofield, who says the issues that influenced which manufacturers to choose included whether there was any impact on the hire rate - for example a premium for specific brands; reliability and level of service from the manufacturer; and the residual value of the machines when sold at auction.

Taking account of all these factors, Hewden opted to buy its core fleet excavators from JCB and Caterpillar, dumpers from Thwaites and access equipment from Genie and Skyjack.

“These ready lines are in place now, and people understand what the [core fleet] proposition is,” says Schofield.

“It really took off, and has helped us get back onto a good footing.” So much so, in fact, that the company has since launched core accommodation and core crane fleet services, again reducing the number of models on offer to those that are most frequently hired out.

In addition to the new equipment, Hewden has also invested in recruiting 30 new customer service advisors - many of whom are from outside the plant sector - and in IT to support the logistics of moving the equipment around.

All the delivery lorries are tracked, so the company knows what time a piece of equipment left the depot, where it is on the road, and what time the customer took delivery of it. Planning software also helps improve the efficiency of deliveries - maximising space on delivery wagons to save unnecessary journeys, for example.

“None of this is about our machines going faster or digging any deeper,” says Schofield. “It’s about service. Plant hire is changing and we want to be at forefront of that change.”

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