Ajax Paving Operates Automated Loaders from a Command Center

Asphalt manufacturing is a time-sensitive business. When customers need asphalt, it’s needed right away, which is understandable since roadways are a critical part of America’s transportation infrastructure. 

Ajax Paving – which operates eight asphalt manufacturing plants across the state of Florida and has paved thousands of miles of roadways – needs to ensure they have enough operators to run the machines that load their asphalt plants with materials. The just-in-time nature of the business is hampered, however, by an ongoing labor shortage that has made heavy equipment operator roles tough to fill. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, 91% of construction firms are having a hard time finding workers to hire.

Ajax Paving turned to Teleo for help. The company outfitted a new Caterpillar 966XE wheel loader with Teleo Supervised Autonomy, the technology that enables remote and autonomous operations of the machines from a comfortable command center, and is in the process of outfitting a second wheel loader. 

These Teleo-enabled machines will provide a practical solution to help alleviate Ajax Paving’s staffing challenges. The loaders are stationed at two of the company’s asphalt manufacturing plants, which are roughly 80 miles apart from one another. This means that once the second wheel loader is outfitted with Teleo’s technology, a single Ajax operator will be able to work across two job sites, simultaneously, from one of three of Ajax’s command centers. Ajax Paving is also the industry’s first company to use remote operations to load an asphalt plant.

“We’ll be using Teleo at two of our asphalt facilities to remote-operate the loader which feeds the plant,” said Andy DeCraene, executive vice president of operations at Ajax Paving. “This is going to allow us to not only staff the facility with just local folks, but we can do remote working from other places around the state.”

Having one operator able to control machines across multiple sites has many advantages for Ajax Paving. If an operator isn’t available on one site – due to a general staffing shortage or an operator calling out sick – another operator at a different site can step in and operate the machine.

While it may seem that younger, tech-native operators – those who are more familiar with gaming and technology – would be the only ones who quickly adapt to this new technology, that hasn’t been the case. “Even some of the older generation operators have picked it up within 20-25 minutes,” noted DeCraene.

The job of a heavy equipment operator is extremely stressful, both physically and mentally, because of heavy machine vibrations, secluded job sites and more. Ajax Paving President Vince Hafeli is a vocal advocate for mental health in the construction industry and he quickly recognized how Teleo could help both the business and its operators.

“One of the perks of integrating Teleo’s technology is that it takes operators out of the cab, making their lives easier,” said Hafeli. “By removing the physical aspects of doing this job, the mental demand automatically decreases. It’s a welcome benefit of the technology.”

One of the unintended positive gains Ajax realized after implementing Teleo’s technology was the savings that could be achieved with maintenance costs. “If we’re running the machines only when we truly need to run them, we’ll get more production out of them while putting less hours on them. That efficiency is going to lower our maintenance costs,” added Ajax Paving Fleet Manager Dan Maitland.

Ajax Paving may be Teleo’s first customer in the asphalt industry, but entering a new industry wasn’t a concern. “One of the things that was exciting about Teleo is that they’re willing to come to your industry and learn your business,” said Maitland. “Teleo came to our site, observed, met with operators and key personnel, and then began to address our needs. So, there’s no need to worry about, ‘oh, that’s not my industry’; if you run heavy equipment, you have a loader, you’re the industry.”

Teleo provides a solution that will help Ajax Paving broaden its hiring pool which helps solve its labor shortage issues, allows operators to control machines in more than one location simultaneously, reduces maintenance costs, and provides meaningful mental health benefits that are a priority for the company. According to Hafeli, “We say that the future is riding on Ajax. Well, the future is now at Ajax!”

Watch a video of the automated loaders in action here.

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