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Small By Intent, Smart By Design

Small contractor uses Trimble technology to out maneuver the economy and competition

If Greg Haight, president of H&H Enterprises of Steamboat Springs, Colorado is correct, “in ten years you won’t hear any earthmoving contractor say ‘I’ve never needed technology before, why do I need it now?’ or ‘I’m not sure it’s worth the investment.’” Why? Haight believes those contractors won’t be around.

“In ten years, if you don’t have 3D GPS machine control technology, you’re not going be in business,” Haight states. “I don’t care how big you are, how established you are, you’re not going to be competitive without this technology.”

Haight’s company is inspiring if you’re a small company wanting to succeed in this tough economy and intimidating if you’re a large company believing your marketplace dominance is secure. Read on.

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“I started the company 30-plus years ago as a part-time job while studying engineering in college,” says Haight. “It grew into a full-time job and I started adding people and machines.” The company grew to about 10 employees and a small fleet of equipment. Currently H&H Enterprises has five employees, including Haight. Certainly, Haight’s interest in engineering has played a role in the company’s early adoption of technology—namely Trimble systems—and what it has done to ensure the company’s growth, even during an economic downturn.

“I’ve placed an emphasis on achieving quality results, which I believe I could better control by remaining small,” states Haight. “With so few of us on the payroll, we all have to be flexible and be good at a lot of tasks—all of us are equipment operators and can each run multiple pieces depending on what is needed on a project.” Clearly, there is no room for slackers in the company and everyone has to take complete ownership for the quality of the work performed.

“Everyone we have working at our place is pretty sharp, which has made it possible to adopt technology faster,” Haight says. “I research everything thoroughly—read the trade magazines, attend the shows, and pick the brain of my local Trimble dealer, Wagner Equipment.”

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The H&H Enterprises construction season in Steamboat runs from May through October. The company completes site prep on projects ranging from custom homes and gentleman ranches that when completed can be 15,000- to 20,000-square feet to large commercial projects with Xcel Energy Hayden Station, a coal-fired, steam-electric generating station located in Hayden, Colorado.

The Hayden Station project is a good example of how machine control technology has been instrumental to H&H Enterprises’ success. “If we did not have Trimble machine control, it’s unlikely that a small contractor like us could have competed to win this project,” Haight states. “It is a complex project involving roadwork and reshaping the bottom of a 28-acre settling pond. Due to new technologies in the power plant, this particular pond was not being used on a daily basis, so Xcel is required to follow regulated procedures to abandon it and return it to a natural meadow.” In the span of the pond, there’s five-feet of fall and a clay bottom that needed a six-inch topsoil lift before being seeded.

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“In our presentation to the power plant, we explained that we’d be more efficient surveying the site and creating the site-plan design using Trimble technology than by relying on a traditional survey crew,” states Haight. “Using technology, we were able to significantly cut the cost of the project.”

After winning the Xcel Energy Hayden Station project, Haight literally called his local Trimble dealer to place an order for a GPS base station, a rover, and two GCS900 Grade Control Systems for 3D machine control on his heavy equipment. And he asked for a crash, training course. “Remember I’ve been following this technology from its beginnings, so I was relatively comfortable that I knew what I needed.”

Haight continues, “As a smaller company, we have always tried to get machines and attachments that would cut down labor and increase productivity, while giving our customer a better product. We had grown from a transit to a laser, then from a single slope laser to a dual slope laser. So, when this project came along, it was the right timing and the right project to adopt Trimble 3D machine control—we knew it would benefit our customer and it would benefit us.”

Haight had bid on the Hayden Station project with assumptions. It was a gamble, but he assumed that they could learn the technology quickly and thoroughly enough to exploit its advantages. There was also the assumption that the technology would in fact do everything it claims to do. “Plus,” Haight states, “we want to be recouping our investment through higher efficiency, increased productivity, and lower production costs.” Smartly, Haight also knew that he could move his GCS900 systems from machine to machine, including any rental pieces he’d need to further economize his investment.

Did it work as planned? “Yes, it did,” Haight reports. “The Trimble technology has elevated our company to a higher level—we can confidently bid and win bigger and more complicated projects than we ever could.”

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According to Haight, his company has remained small by design. Embedded in their business approach is a philosophy of getting the most from their existing resources—both machines and people.

“From my business perspective, adopting productivity-enhancing technology makes sense,” Haight explains. “I’ve always looked for ways to save time and improve results. The Trimble technology does both. I remember when we first were looking at it and I was reading about 30 percent increases in productivity and I was thinking that there’s probably X amount of hype and we may not do that well. But we did.

“As an example, we completed an approximate 5,000-foot haul road with sub grade of 60- to 90-feet in most places and we needed to account for back slopes and so forth. From start to finish, when you think of what the Trimble systems allow us to do it’s quite incredible. Our crew can visualize what tasks they have and using the technology in the equipment they know at any given point where they are, what they need to do. That level of efficiency, that’s pretty hard to relay to somebody who isn’t familiar with the 3D process. It’s not just in that final grading. It’s not just in being able to grade without stakes. It’s the whole phase of being able to take the controller out and visualize what you have and getting in the machine and being able to drive the project and see where you have cuts and fills. It’s pretty phenomenal for an excavating company to have that technology. These are incredible tools.”

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For many companies, the transition to technology can be intimidating and a bit scary. “It amazes me to see some of these larger companies that aren’t embracing the technology,” says Haight. “Some are sitting there with lots of equipment trying to figure it out—‘How can I get into this? Is it even worth it? We’ve done this for 50 years this way. We don’t really need to change. We can’t save that much time. We’ve got a surveyor on staff’—and they aren’t willing to invest the time or look into the future.”

Haight continues, “In our case, we had a job already. We had a timeframe, a contract, and the job had to be done. It was, again, finding out the most efficient way to do the project, which made it easier for me to jump into the technology.”

With respect to the Xcel Energy Hayden Station pond project, H&H Enterprises finished the project on time, even though the scope of the project grew significantly. According to Haight, there was approximately 40 percent more subgrade than originally specified in the contract. “Because of the Trimble systems we completed a much larger project more accurately within the original timeframe—you can’t ask for more.”