Construction Blogs

Contractors’ Picks for the Top Products at The Utility Expo

From electric equipment to versatile attachments, there was no shortage of new and improved products at the 2021 Utility Expo. With more than 900 exhibitors and 32 acres of exhibit space, it can be easy to miss that game-changing innovation you never knew you needed. So, we hustled the show floor at the Louisville Convention Center and met with contractors to see what products caught their eye.

Here are contractors’ top products from the 2021 Utility Expo.

Volvo ECR25 Electric Mini ExcavatorJordanne Waldschmidt

Product: Volvo ECR25 Electric excavator

Recommended by: Brandon Adams, Full Tilt Grading 

Why: “The electric excavator was crazy fast. It had all the power you needed and never bogged down like a diesel would. You could track, dig and swing the boom at the same time, which for what we do is a must and hard to find in smaller equipment. The cost and battery life are going to be a downfall, but it has its place. I would definitely buy one if it had an 8-hour runtime.”

AMI Axxis Tiltrotator
AMI Axxis TiltrotatorAMI Attachments

Product: AMI Axxis Tiltrotator

Recommended by: Brad Campbell, Top Notch Excavating LLC

Why: “I went to the show to get a hands-on look at tiltrotators. While the engcon, Steelwrist and AMI Attachments tiltrotators were all great, I preferred the AMI Axxis. The Axxis doesn’t have any exposed tilt cylinders; therefore, it has a narrower profile. You could excavate a narrower trench, plus the cylinders aren’t sticking out to get damaged.”

John Deere 333G CTL with Dozer Blade
John Deere 333G CTL with Dozer BladeJordanne Waldschmidt

Product: John Deere 33G CTL with Dozer Blade and 3D Grade Control

Recommended by: Zack Ford, Countryside Landworks LLC

Why: “What I liked about the CTL with the dozer blade was how easy it was to run. There wasn’t much of a learning curve. It was simple to change your grade on the fly with the push of a button. I could see using this where a smaller dozer wouldn’t fit. With the ability to take off the blade and run other attachments, it allows for versatility and fewer machines sitting around that you need to find work for.”

Icom F3210D / F4210D Entry Level IDAS™ Trunking Portables VHF/UHF
Icom F3210D / F4210D Entry Level IDAS™ Trunking Portables VHF/UHFIcom America Inc.

Product: Icom Communications System

Recommended by: Ryan Goodfellow, Rock Structures Utility & Excavating 

Why: “We’re looking for something that we can use as a company to communicate as a group or individually. The Icom Communications System is a radio that uses the AT&T cellular network. I’m hoping that this will help us get on the same page for our daily needs.”

Felco Industries Wheel Compactor
Felco Industries Wheel CompactorFelco Industries

Product: Felco Industries Compaction Wheel

Recommended by: Brandon Johnson, Elite Earthworks

Why: “One of my favorite excavator attachments was the Felco compaction wheel. For a one-man show, this is a great investment. Not only can you do a better job at compacting material either in a ditch or backfill around a basement, but you can also get it done quickly or without the need for another person or machine.”

Mastadon Forestry Mulcher
Mastadon Forestry MulcherMastadon

Product: Mastadon M60 Forestry Mulcher

Recommended by: Davin Jones, Advanced Terrain Solutions

Why: “Mastadon is using some super cool technology in their tooth design and in the wireless technology for the mulcher. They have a mulcher model that can give the operator real-time data on oil temperature, pressure and gpm flow to let the operator know how the head and machine are performing. Plus, it’s a direct drive system so there is no belt to tune or periodically replace.”

Volvo CX01 autonomous single-drum asphalt compactor concept
Volvo CX01 autonomous single-drum asphalt compactor conceptVolvo Construction Equipment

Product: Volvo CX01 autonomous single-drum asphalt compactor concept

Recommended by: Corey Lockheart, WML Enterprises LLC

Why: “I went to The Utility Expo specifically to check out the technical advancements in the industry. The Volvo roller absolutely stood out. Automation and robots are becoming more and more common, and I can’t wait to integrate them into my business, especially in areas that are dangerous for humans.”

Construction Services

Contractors Get First Glimpse of Deere Electric 310 X-Tier Backhoe (Video)

Product details are still sketchy after all, it’s still a test machine  but John Deere used the Utility Expo to strut out its electric backhoe, the 310 X-tier E-Power, now in real-world testing with utility client National Grid.

“The battery electric technology on the 310 X-tier is one way we’re going to give leading-edge performance with innovative technology,” says Justin Steger, Deere solutions marketing manager. “It is geared toward customers that have stated carbon emissions-reduction goals.”

Throughout the spring and summer, National Grid used the machine to perform a variety of jobs, including trenching, loading, digging,  backfilling and using a breaker, says Brian Hennings, Deere product manager, speaking to Equipment World. Up next: cold-weather tests.

The “X-tier” identifies that it has a unique power train, says Hennings. “If we eventually do come out in the marketplace and things look very positive — the model would be offered as a 310 X.”

The placard next to the 310 X-tier at the Utility Expo said the machine represented an “early Phase 1 development in clean-energy solutions,” the same language Deere used in its January announcement that it was testing the machine. Deere will head into Phase 2 testing next year, Hennings says, and targeting energy consumption by specific components. “We want to offer at least an 8- to 10-hour composite runtime,” he says.

“We’re very early in this journey, and it’s going to take many iterations to meet customer expectations,” Hennings says, noting that even retaining the top 25 mph travel speed can consume a great deal of power. “It’s going to be more a matter of years instead of a matter of months.”

The 310 X-tier is positioned in direct comparison with the Deere 310L. Deere knows the electric unit will be compared with the runtime of the diesel unit, which has a 34-gallon tank and typically provides more than a day’s worth of work. One positive for the electric machine: it has an outside-machine decibel level of 75 while the 310L runs at 89 decibels. “It doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but it’s not as loud as my dishwasher,”  Steger says. 

Jordanne Waldschmidt, chief editor of Equipment World, caught up with Joe Dietz, the chief technology officer at excavation contractor Bob Dietz & Sons, New Paltz, New York, at the show. Dietz and his two brothers also serve as ambassadors for Deere, sharing their passion for the brand on social media. Here he gives his impressions after operating the 310X-tier for the first time:

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Hennings says utility companies, such as National Grid, along with municipalities working under emission mandates, are likely to be first adaptors of the 310 X-tier when it comes to market.

What we know now

John Deere

As mentioned, Deere compares the 310 X-tier with the diesel-powered 310L. It has a net peak power of 75 kilowatts (equivalent to 100 horsepower) at 1,600 rpm. The placard at the Utility Show posted 310 X-tier specs in line with those of the 310L:

14-foot 1-inch max dig depth.6,602-pound loader lifting capacity. 6,992-pound crowd cylinder digging force. 22.8 mph max travel speed.

One noticeable difference: the 310L has a listed operating weight of 14,669 pounds; for the 310 X-tier that gets bumped up to 16,119 pounds. 

But again, these are just Phase 1 specs. “There will likely be many changes in the specs before it’s available for sale,” Hennings says.

John Deere announced in January that it had partnered with energy company National Grid an electric, natural gas and clean energy company serving more than 20 million customers in the Northeast to pioneer the machine.

At the time, Jason Daly, Deere global director, production systems, technology and marketing, called the project “another stepping stone in our backhoe innovation journey.” Adds Hennings: “This is an exciting project for the Deere backhoe design team.”

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Construction Blogs

From Beaches to Bases, This N.C. Contractor Loves to Move Dirt

Two things you quickly learn about Matt Mitchell is that he loves Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, where he has lived all his life.

And he loves dirt.

“A grown man might be a grown man, but somewhere deep down he’s still got a little boy in him,” he says. “And they all like to play with little toys and dirt.”

“I love the challenges,” he adds, when explaining why he loves being a contractor. “I really like doing the things they say you can’t do, or can’t be done.”

That attitude has led his business, C.M. Mitchell Construction Company, to grow to more than 50 employees, 35 pieces of equipment and annual revenues of $10 million to $13 million. For that and more, Matt is one of Equipment World’s 2020 Contractor of the Year Award finalists.

Hard lessons

Matt learned about hard work, honesty and integrity from his father, a retired Marine who had been stationed at nearby Camp Lejeune. His father and mother ran a little country store and tackle shop on Vultures Landing.

“Son, your word is all you’ve got,” his dad would tell him.

He helped instill a strong work ethic in Matt.

“As a Marine, he taught us how to work, and he taught us what our backs are made for,” Matt recalls. “When I was growing up, it was all back-breaking work. He wasn’t taking any shortcuts.”

They would also dig the graves for local residents who passed away. It was a free service his father started, and Mitchell Construction continues it to this day.

As a teen, Matt worked for a family friend who owned a construction company. Matt would run a dozer and excavator and drive a dump truck. He worked for him for about 10 years. Then the owner had a heart attack and sold the business.

Matt bought a commercial fishing boat, but that new career lasted only about 10 weeks. “I was there one day fishing, and I just said, ‘I’m done with this. I’m going back in the dirt business. I’m going to do it myself.’”

That was in 1994. He used the money from selling the boat to buy a farm tractor and a trailer. His parents co-signed for a $25,000 loan. Matt used that money to buy a 1974 dump truck, a backhoe and a dozer.

His brother Mel drove the dump truck, and Matt moved dirt. They cleared lots, put in driveway culverts, whatever people needed done.

He did a lot of subcontracting work and landed his first big job at Camp Lejeune. During that job, he met Theresa who was working for the general contractor on the project. She helped him with the paperwork, and he told her if she ever decided to leave her job, he wanted her to come work for him.

“I don’t think you can afford me,” she told him.

But in time he won her over, and they’ve been keeping C.M. Mitchell growing ever since.

With her as chief financial officer and Matt running the construction business, they’ve landed many multimillion dollar projects over the years.

Landing big jobs

The company won its first job over $1 million by traveling to Virginia to meet with a large construction firm. The company was planning a complicated project involving a 100-square-foot amphibious boat ramp at Camp Lejuene. Matt convinced them he could handle the work.

“We were so excited,” recalls Theresa. “We had a $2 million job.”

With Matt running the construction operations and Theresa running the office, the couple have built a successful construction firm in Sneads Ferry, N.C.Equipment WorldThey began hiring more employees. Along with the boat ramp, the project involved building docks, ponds and a parking lot, as well as installing sewer and drainage lines.

The work was going well, but the finances ran into trouble. Mitchell wasn’t getting paid by the contractor on the project, and the company needed the money to pay off the project’s financing.

The contractor eventually paid the $800,000 he owed Mitchell. But the stress of trying to collect it had left Matt and Theresa rethinking their business. “One minute you’re up there, and the next minute you could lose your home if somebody doesn’t pay you,” says Theresa. The couple were also raising their three sons at the time.

After another episode in which they had to take a contractor to court to get paid, they decided to reorganize and trim down. “We’re going to stop going after the big work,” she says. “Let’s gain control of what we’re doing.”

They became more cautious about the contractors they subbed for. They landed work with large contractors, which brought them multiple projects. And they paid on time.

“We were able to pick and choose who we worked for,” Theresa says. “We could do some background on them and make sure that the people we were trying to be a subcontractor for were of good character.”

Then the September 11 terrorist attacks caused the local construction economy to tank. Mitchell was able make it through with projects on military bases. Government projects also got them through the Great Recession.

In 2011, the company had grown to 40 or so employees. And Matt decided to scale back to about 25 workers. He started turning some of his attention toward other ventures. He opened a restaurant and a boat store. He bought two shrimp boats. He bought and renovated boats and sold them. Then he spent about five years building his own boat – all while still running his construction firm.

“I don’t know why this was going on,” says Theresa. She calls it his “nostalgia tour.”

Matt just laughs.

“But one thing about my husband,” she adds. “He has no hobbies. Everything he does has to generate revenue.”

Ramping back up

Meanwhile, the construction firm was doing well, holding steady. And eventually, many of the side ventures drifted away.

“Our real passion that really drives us is here,” Theresa says, referring to Mitchell Construction.

C.M. Mitchell Construction beach renourishment
Dump trucks haul in sand and an excavator fills dump trucks on the beach to rebuild dunes in North Carolina eroded by Hurricane Florence.Equipment WorldTwo of their sons love construction work, and the couple want the company to be available for them.

The company has grown back to 50 employees. It updated its accounting software, switched to project management software and began using iPads on jobsites. They also increased pay and benefits to attract and keep good employees.

Along with the changes, the company has continued to benefit from Matt’s work ethic and quality standards.

“A lot of people really respect Matt,” Theresa says. “A lot of his employees respect him because he’s the type of guy who is out there in the ditch with them.”

The company also maintains a family atmosphere. Theresa cooks lunch each day at the office for employees. A number of the employees are actual family members.

Their oldest son, Mark, has worked with them since 2000 and recently branched out on his own to start a concrete business. Their youngest son, Matthew, is the company’s asphalt division supervisor. Matt’s two brothers and Theresa’s sisters also work for the company.

“We’ve always been a real tightknit family,” Matt says.

Moving dirt

One of Mitchell’s latest projects has been rebuilding the sand dunes on Surf City and North Topsail beaches, which had eroded during Hurricane Florence.

The projects involved hauling in and placing more than 200,000 cubic yards of sand. Mitchell dump trucks came and went hauling sand from miles away, while excavators and dozers moved like clockwork to build the dunes.

“I can move dirt, and I love moving dirt,” Matt says.

Surf City Town Clerk Stephanie Hobbs agrees.

“They’re a great company,” she says. “I would give them the highest rating you have. They show up in a timely manner and get the job done on time and on budget.”

Matt attributes his success to hard work and recommends the same for new contractors.

“You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to put your time in,” he says. “When everybody else is off having fun, you’ve got to go make a deal with somebody.”

CM Mitchell construction dune restoration
C.M. Mitchell Construction dozers rebuild dunes damaged by Hurricane Florence.Equipment World 

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Construction Blogs

Diesel Prices Jump as Crude Oil Hits Highest Price Since 2014

Increased demand amid the easing of the pandemic and OPEC+ supply limitations have caused the price of diesel to jump 10.5 cents in the past week. The average retail price of a gallon of on-highway diesel soared to $3.47 during the week of October 4, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. That’s $1.08 higher than just one year ago.

The nation’s most expensive diesel on average is in California at $4.369, while the least expensive diesel on average is $3.203 a gallon in the Gulf Coast. The Midwest region saw the nation’s highest one-week increase at 10.4 cents. The smallest one-week increase was 3.0 cents in California.

The Biden administration has urged OPEC+ to increase production and is considering releasing crude oil reserves to cool prices. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil hit its highest price since 2014 at $81.06 per barrel. Crude oil accounts for 49%t of the cost of a gallon of diesel.

Price increases this fall were also impacted by storm damage. Several refineries in Louisiana are still preparing to restart after flooding and power outages caused by Hurricane Ida. Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity and can process about 3.4 million barrels of crude oil per day, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Complete diesel price information is available on EIA’s website.

Diesel prices are up more than $1 per gallon compared to one year ago.U.S. Energy Information Administration

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