"We used a shot blaster and hand grinders before, but since we got a water blaster the state has fallen in love with it because it doesn't tear up the road," Willman says. Pennsylvania now specifies water-blasting for most jobs needing eradication.
Use of in-cab monitoring systems is another good example. Willman says they are the only line striper in the state that has a bead-and-paint monitoring system on its trucks. The system measures bead flow and paint flow in real time while striping.
"Paint volume is more important on road striping as compared to parking lot striping, and with the monitoring system we can track our material costs much better," Williams says. "After using the monitoring system we realized that in the past we had been putting down too much paint and too many beads."
Monitoring also helps Williams & Willman meet its job specifications.
"If we put down too much paint or too many beads then we don't reach the retroreflectometer numbers required by the state. But with the monitoring system we get a report every 500 feet so we can adjust it if we need to as we go," Williams says. "The on-board computers help the company be right-on with our material costs, which helps us in the bid."
Williams & Willman will add truck-mounted monitoring to two more of its trucks this year.
Williams says they are also the first striper in the state to use a laser pointer instead of a wheel in front of the truck to align stripes.
"MB asked us to try the laser pointer, we did, and we liked it better than using a wheel out in front," Williams says. "The problem with a wheel in front is that if you come up to an intersection red light and you stop, that wheel is out in front of the truck and it extends into the intersection and it can get hit. The laser pointer is just a beam, so if traffic goes through it nothing happens. It cannot cause an accident."
Scheduling can be tough
Having dependable, cutting edge service is only part of being reliable. The other part is job scheduling, which can be a nightmare. Sue Willman, office manager responsible for job scheduling, says that in a perfect world the first general contractor (GC) that calls is the first one on the list, and the schedule is completed as GC's call. But Williams & Willman doesn't work in a perfect world.
"Our scheduling can change on an hourly basis," she says. "We really don't know what we're doing one day to the next." She says so many factors – paver breakdowns, plant breakdowns, job delays, and weather – are beyond her control.
"We have certain crews that specialize in certain types of work, and when that type of work gets added or delayed, everything has to get rescheduled."
She says as calls come in she pours them into a schedule, factors in when they expect the work to be done. She plans the schedule on the computer in a basic Excel spreadsheet because it's an easy way to see it all together and it's easy to "cut and paste" the jobs to move them around. She says on the very rare best days she can schedule the work in 30 minutes; many days she works half the day to prepare the next day's schedule.
"By the end of the day we usually have figured out how we're going to do it all. Sometimes we have to prioritize and the jobs with the highest Average Daily Traffic volume get done first," she says. "We then have to call a GC and let him know his job will be delayed."
"It's not something we do often but it does happen," Mark Willman says, adding that communication with the GCs is very important.
"If a customer calls and wants us there at 3:30 in the afternoon, and if we're not there when he wants us, we're holding him up and costing him money," he says. "So when we communicate with the GCs we try to be very open and up front with them and tell them if we have a problem with the schedule. That allows them time to put up signs or make arrangements for traffic control so that the traveling public is not put at risk of an accident. We'd rather have them upset at us for telling them the truth than mad for lying to them."