For one of the largest heavy construction firms in North Carolina, getting a handle on inventory control and standardizing maintenance procedures are the keys to future growth and competitiveness.
Since business growth is a long road where each new mile racks up business complexities, it’s common for companies to be unaware of culturally engrained inefficiencies that can make them less competitive. This is particularly true in the heavy construction industry, where greater success and divisional growth means unseen challenges.
Rolling stock maintenance and inventory control are two major examples of such challenges that can silently erode a company’s ability to compete effectively in an increasingly competitive business-bidding climate. These challenges pressed S.T. Wooten to transform its business through inventory and maintenance control processes and systems to make it more competitive and profitable.
Since 1952, S.T. Wooten has been a family-owned, North Carolina-based heavy construction firm that has grown into one of the largest and most reputable firms of its kind in the state. The company specializes in heavy highway construction, grading, utilities, site work, concrete construction, structures, asphalt paving, design-build and engineering, and commercial and residential construction.
S.T. Wooten has plant facilities for hot-, warm-, cold-mix asphalt, and ready-mix concrete to tackle projects ranging from massive to small civil and commercial infrastructure projects, which span across Central and Eastern North Carolina. In fact, the company boasts some 17 ready-mix concrete plants, 11 asphalt plants, six maintenance shops, seven commercial construction offices, and 855 employees across Central and Eastern, North Carolina.
While the company’s growth and profitability are hallmarks of quality in project management and execution, it had become increasingly isolated across its many divisions and offices. This had led to a company structure with a multitude of redundancies and lack of information and communication flow, which often made the company’s divisions seem like separate businesses. S.T. Wooten quickly realized that this made it difficult to lower operating costs in the increasingly competitive bidding landscape.
Due to the varied nature of the company’s business, the rolling stock includes nearly 100 different types of equipment—with an average of five or more of each type—from a variety of manufacturers. While the company saw the challenge of inventory control with so many pieces and their vast array of parts, standardization wherever possible has been the rule.
According to S.T. Wooten equipment division general manager, William Hammock, the resultant maintenance and inventory needs were at the center of the challenges to identifying and reigning in costs. “Our large diversification of equipment, divisions, and jobsites makes it challenging to have our finger on the pulse of every piece of equipment, as well as parts inventory and maintenance needs,” explains Hammock.
S.T. Wooten logistics manager, Kelly Webb, echoed this sentiment and the reasons for needing to get a better handle on inventory and maintenance/repair from a people, processes, and systems perspective.
“We’d grown into a company where there were no set maintenance and repair protocols to differentiate between emergency and maintenance calls with the rolling stock,” explains Webb. “This created an atmosphere where everything was seen as an emergency by operators, which in turn created a process of endless phone calls, maintenance crews in the field, unscheduled equipment downtime, and unregulated inventory control.”
Without a standardized identification of what constituted an emergency repair—plus, a lack of inventory control, charges for parts via PO and express shipment were driving up costs. “The reality is that we weren’t having challenges that we understood or recognized,” says Hammock. “Consequently, we didn’t have insight into how much that manner of conducting our maintenance operation was costing us, which put us at a disadvantage in understanding repair costs as well as the parts component.”
The company strongly suspected that a full assessment of business processes relating to inventory and maintenance was the ideal place to reduce operational costs. The results of a thorough search for a firm that could help S.T. Wooten in this endeavor led it to engage the services of TBR Strategies, a North Carolina Maintenance and Reliability Consulting firm with a successful track record in helping companies like S.T. Wooten. The consultancy would bring its customized Total Process Reliability (TPR) process to bear in tackling the problems.
With an initial focus on the equipment division, TBR began a Maintenance Effectiveness Assessment (MEA) of the entire company in late 2013. The MEA assessment revealed a lack of full awareness of the true costs of equipment repairs without a company-wide structure for inventory control and repair-level protocols. “We track and manage our operational costs, so we really understand current cost impacts and use this information to predict costs for future bids,” explains Hammock. “We needed to bring that same level of detail to tracking and understanding our maintenance cost.”
By January of 2014, S.T. Wooten had identified the need for an inventory control management system and process. This would dovetail into preventive maintenance (PM) protocols and a variety of other different initiatives. An internal steering council in partnership with TBR consultants completed an attack plan by the end of 2014’s first quarter. At this stage, the company put into place an internal inventory control management team headed by Webb.
S.T. Wooten created an internal TPR department, which consists of a manager and two coordinators. Over the course of the next 18 months, various staffers from throughout the company would fill the roles of TPR coordinators to ensure a wide variety of viewpoints in order to bring different perspectives to the process. “TPR requires total company involvement, including all divisions and departments, so that everyone is onboard and on the same page to ensure a smooth and effective process,” says Webb. ■
Check out Part 2 in the next issue of MCS as S.T. Wooten begins the process of changing the way inventory is handled, thus changing the culture of the company.
About the Author: E. Victor Brown is a freelance writer specializing in technology, data, and processes with an emphasis in healthcare, business, manufacturing, and industrial sectors. He can be reached at .
Modern Contractor Solutions – December 2015
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