Rock solid reliability is the key to getting and retaining delicate environmentally sensitive land preparation jobs, according to a young Victorian operator whose making it his specialty.
But, while Alistair Jones, owner of Environmental Vegetation Management (EVM), is growing his business by buying new machinery that meets ever stringent requirements, he’s also bucking the trend.
The star of his fleet is a 24-year-old, 20,000 hour Komatsu PC300-5 excavator equipped with a heavy-duty vertical mulching tool which he believes is unique in Australia.
“The only reason I keep using it is because I have absolute faith in its ability to keep working without lubricant or hydraulic oil spillage, which these days could disqualify me from any Tier One job,” Jones says.
Jones is one of a new-breed of civil contractors who has made it his quest to comply with the ever-increasing safety and environmental requirements of Australia’s Big Six Tier-One construction companies.
Environment Effects Studies have required contractors like EVM to become specialists in touching the ground lightly, working to tolerances which are effectively millimetre certain, and with a view to minimising the use of resources and controlling emissions.
Jones has recently taken delivery of a new Komatsu PC 270-8 excavator with fine touch hydraulic controls, to give his skilled operators the best opportunity to work in highly sensitive areas.
GPS guidance, applied in conjunction with specific tree maps produced for each job, ensure protection for environmentally and culturally sensitive sites.
Komatsu’s exclusive back to base KOMTRAX telemetry on the PC270-8 allows EVM to provide its customers with detailed emission tracking and fuel use data to support the environmental credentials of each of their projects.
EVM’s specialist skills have won it major contracts on sensitive assignments like the Ballarat Rail upgrade, and the $323 million Echuca-Moama bridge reconstruction, a project with especially stringent cultural and heritage preservation requirements.
EVM started when Jones, a third-generation farmer on his family’s specialist 850-hectare, sheep and wool property at Smeaton, north of Ballarat, the biggest Tukidale stud in the Southern Hemisphere, began sub-contracting with its machinery.
Tukidales are a hardy New Zealand sheep renowned for the use of their fleece in carpets and rugs.
Jones’s father and grandfather had created a labyrinth of pondage and dams on the property to drought proof it and simultaneously create an aqua farming opportunity, including a recreational trout farm which today embraces a 120-seat restaurant and four-star accommodation.
Both experiences equipped Jones with an understanding of sensitive land management, and an ability to seek and implement out of the box solutions.
An opportunity to work on the nearby seven km Buangor Bypass, part of Victoria’s $500million Western Highway upgrade, led him to a piece of equipment which had become partially redundant, a third hand Komatsu PC300-5 purpose-fitted with an American designed vertical mulching tool.
The 900kg head spinning metal teeth at 2000 rpm can progressively cut and mulch a tree from above down to a level 300mm below ground, in one single uninterrupted operation.
The mulcher is powered by a separate 300kW motor mounted to the rear of the PC300 in place of the machine’s counterweight.
Jones restored the PC300 with the assistance of Komatsu, and today it forms an integral part of EVM’s fleet of 15 machines run by a roster of 20 skilled operators, all put together in the last six years.
Used sparingly and within contemporary guidelines the mulcher provides great efficiency both in terms of human resource and necessary operating hours.
“The key to its continued use is its absolute reliability,” Jones says.
“It’s not possible to enter a Tier-One job without a careful inspection by the contractor of the mechanical condition of each machine. Even the hint of an oil leak can have the machine disqualified from the site. Komatsu, simply, makes the best excavator both in terms of reliability and strength.”
Jones and his team, in conjunction with Komatsu, continue to maintain the PC300-5 in order to meet those requirements.
“We tend to limit its use to 1,000 hours a year and we think we have another four to five years left in it,” Jones says.
“After that, we’ll consider our options.”
His attention has turned to his latest acquisition – the PC270-8.
“It’s a bit like when you get a new car. It’s quiet and smooth,” Jones says.
And in today’s increasingly demanding world of corporate environmental requirements, it will also help EVM achieve its growth plans.
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