Schlouch Inc. Buries Traditional Backhoe Curbing Methods

Jan. 1, 2000
Gx Bug Web

Most site-preparation firms have found that traditional backhoe methods for installing residential curbing cut productivity and lengthen completion time. A leading Eastern Pennsylvania site specialist, Schlouch Inc. (SI) of Blandon, PA, has solved that problem thanks to a corporate culture that applauds open communication and a unique piece of equipment that really gets down to business.

Founded in 1983 by Barry Schlouch and his wife, Deb, in the basement of their home, SI has grown from a company with no equipment to one with more than 240 employees and 160 pieces of equipment. It specializes in earthwork, grading, utilities, blasting, curbing, paving, soil and erosion control, and complete site design. More importantly, it goes to great lengths to talk with and listen to its employees.

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“We have always encouraged our employees to communicate with each other, with company management, and with customers,” Barry Schlouch notes. “We support this philosophy with “Team Encounters”-small-group meetings that occur four days a month. The meetings have been very productive for everyone, and it was from one that the concept of how to improve our curbing installation was brought to the table.”

As Schlouch explains, the whole process for this innovation started with a special unit of the company called “Rapid Response.” “Our Rapid Response team specializes in smaller residential and commercial jobs that need to be bid and executed quickly. This group has its own dedicated equipment and operators and performs just as its name implies.

“Because much of our Rapid Response work is done in tight areas, we needed a powerful excavator that could work well without banging into things,” Schlouch continues. “We bought the first of two Komatsu PC128UU hydraulic excavators in 1998 from Walt Joachim III at Furnival Machinery Company in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.”

Using an excavator to lay curb was not new to SI. The company had used other excavators before but found them to be unwieldy and difficult. “Regular track excavators caused the operator to have to fight off to the left side the whole time,” says Steve Funk, SI site coordinator. “With the PC128UU’s offset boom, we do not have that problem.”

Schlouch liked the machine because it is the first excavator to feature a near-zero-degree tail-swing radius. This unique design feature enables the 84-hp, 28,665-lb. excavator to significantly minimize the work envelope and operate in extremely limited work settings that are either inaccessible or counterproductive to traditional machines. The machine’s assets proved to be a perfect fit for SI’s Rapid Response team, but as operators became more familiar with the excavator, they realized the possibility for the machine to solve a curbing problem.

“The offset capabilities of the excavator’s 25-foot boom are key to working in a small area and enhancing the excavator’s productivity,” Funk states. “The hydraulically controlled hinges on the boom and the bucket allow the excavator to dig nearly 2 feet outside and parallel to the tracks on the right and almost 7 inches to the left and parallel while the machine is facing straight ahead, with zero movement of other machine components. The hinges also can be controlled independently or simultaneously to keep the boom and bucket parallel, enabling the operator to dig straight, precise trenches within a limited workspace.”

A perfect opportunity to try the concept for laying curb was on a large residential site in Amity Township, PA, where SI has been working since 1996. Upon completion of the initial clearing phase, SI began Phase II-grading for roads-and from there installing sanitary, storm, and water piping. Now in Phase III of the operation-positioning 16,000 ft. of curb-the company, acting on the suggestion by a Rapid Response operator in a Team Encounter, began using the offset boom PC128UU in the operation.

“We noticed an immediate and substantial increase in production,” Funk says. “Traditional backhoe methods call for the operator to dig a little and then move the machine. With this excavator, the tedious process of lifting the outriggers and setting them back down every 2 feet is eliminated, and instead our operators move along as they need to.”

The PC128UU contains an electronic control system for the boom’s height setting, offset positioning, and both relative and absolute digging depths. This system not only makes for more efficient, precise work, but increases operator safety as well.

“It permits us to carry out the curb cutting, the lifting and setting of inlets, and the backfilling of the ditch after the concrete crew has come through and laid the curb,” Funk explains. “The backhoe method didn’t let us do that. In other words, if we use the backhoe, we have to have other machines available, and that is not always possible. Given the size of this job, waiting until another machine is available is not in our best interest, nor is it in the best interest of our customer.” SI is rid of that hassle.

SI also benefits from being able to incorporate the machine’s standard dozer blade into its curbing application. “The blade enables us to grade off an entire area, providing the curb machine with a smooth ride,” Funk says.

Don Swasing, operations manager at SI, has taken notice of the nearly tripled production numbers that the company has been witness to since using the PC128UU in its curbing applications. “It’s given us a great boost in production, and it proves the importance of never taking your eye off the need to try new ideas in this business,” he remarks.

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With the continued construction boom in eastern Pennsylvania, SI sees no let-up in using the excavator in curb applications. In addition to its two PC128UU, SI has two Komatsu PC300LC-6 hydraulic excavators and a PC270LC-6 on rental.

Schlouch considers the addition of the excavators a testimonial to the benefits of SI’s policy of open and honest communications and its productive work ethic. “We will continue to make every member of our team know we value them as individuals and welcome their ideas. We plan to continue to encourage open communications, entrepreneurship, creativity, and problem-solving throughout our organization. We think it is the right way to do business, and it certainly pays off for our customers.”