Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

In It For the Long Haul

This 53-year-old concrete drilling business is high maintenance when it comes to fleet. The result is a low incidence of breakdowns and vans that last up to 15 years.

November 2009, by - Also by this author

The jobs performed by Roughneck Concrete Drilling & Sawing Company require specialty equipment such as slab saws, core drilling machines and Bobcats. Two full-time and two part-time mechanics service the vans and equipment.

In Roughneck's line of work, you'd think Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" would be lurking around the corner with a camera.

The jobs performed by Roughneck Concrete Drilling & Sawing Company require specialty equipment such as slab saws, core drilling machines and Bobcats. The Chicago-based company handles large, tough concrete cutting and drilling jobs in buildings, public streets and highways and those involving major infrastructure such as O'Hare Airport, the Lincoln Park Zoo and Soldier Field.

To no one's surprise, Roughneck's fleet of 25 Ford E350 vans works a severe-duty cycle to get the work done. The fleet transports workers, equipment and trailers from the office to job sites, on average 60-mile routes a day. The company performs about 20 jobs at a time.

Through the years, the company has implemented maintenance procedures, vehicle upgrades and driver controls to reduce breakdowns and ensure the fleet's long life, says company President Karen Johnson. Even in this severe-duty environment, the vans are expected to run 12-15 years.

Steps to Prolong Life

A few years ago Johnson decided to switch from gas to diesel powerplants for longer engine life. (However, Ford is not producing a diesel engine for the next generation of E350.)

The vans tow generators and water tanks, and regularly run close to maximum payload with heavy equipment such as drills, saws, vacuums, extra motors and tools. Roughneck vans use a 4:10 gear ratio to ease the workload on the drivetrain. To accommodate the extra weight, Roughneck's in-house mechanics adjust the camber angle on the front end and install a heavier leaf spring in the rear. 

Not satisfied with commercial aftermarket or even OEM upfits, Roughneck designs, builds and installs its own shelving for the vans. The shelves are custom fit for every vehicle and are made of thick angle iron bolted into the van. The shelving regularly outlasts the life of the van and can be transferred to a new unit if necessary. A bulkhead is installed between the cab and the cargo area. The black rubber floor mat is replaced with diamond plate.

The company maintains two full-time and two part-time mechanics on staff. That may seem like overkill for a fleet of 25 vehicles, yet the foursome work not only on the vans but on the myriad pieces of construction equipment, from specialized drills, saws, Bobcats and trailers on down to the tool bits. One mechanic is trained in concrete cutting and is in the field as needed.

Roughneck has a fleet number and factory orders. The company has a longstanding relationship with Piemonte Automotive Group, a multi-franchise fleet dealer serving the Midwest.

Remarketing the vans is a bit of an afterthought. "When I'm done with them they're not worth much," Johnson admits. However, retired vans are valued for parts, and the company keeps a couple on hand for that reason. 

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