“The package was right….” By Dan Gilkes

So says David Lancashire, Plant Manager for C A Blackwell (Contracts) Ltd as the company takes delivery of 24 Volvo machines for one of the biggest infrastructure projects currently underway in the UK.

A fleet of 24 Volvo machines, supplied by GB dealer for Volvo Construction Equipment, SMT GB, has started work on one of the biggest infrastructure projects currently underway in the UK. CA Blackwell (Contracts) has put 20 of Volvo’s latest A45G articulated haulers, two 75-tonne EC750E crawler excavators, a 48-tonne EC480E and an EC300E into Sections 4 and 5 of Highways England’s A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement £1.5bn scheme.

Blackwell’s machines are working on the earthworks subcontract for the A14 Integrated Delivery Team (IDT), a joint venture between Costain, Skanska, Balfour Beatty and designers Atkins/CH2M, working on behalf of Highways England. The Volvos form part of a fleet of more than 160 earthmoving machines and tipper lorries that Blackwell has operating on the site. This includes 72 articulated trucks and a range of excavators, graders and dozers.

The new Volvo machines are being used initially on the excavation and haulage of 500,000m3 of Gault Clay, from a borrow pit at Dry Drayton to a link road embankment at the remodelled Girton Interchange. This has required the use of a temporary bailey bridge across the existing A14, which separates the fill site from the borrow pit, thereby negating the need for tipper lorry journeys via the A14 and the local road network, in turn benefitting road users and the local community alike.

In sections 4 and 5 of the scheme, the A14 is being widened to four-lanes on each side, between Bar Hill and Girton and junctions at Bar Hill, Swavesey, Girton, Histon and Milton are being improved. Construction commenced in 2016 and the road is due to open to traffic in December 2020. The work in these sections calls for about 5 million m3 of earthworks, including the development of two large borrow pits.

The new Volvos represent part of a programme of growth for the Blackwell fleet as demand for the company’s earthmoving expertise continues to build.

The Blackwell Plant fleet is utilised within Blackwell’s and parent company Hargreaves Services’ operating markets of earthmoving, surface mining, quarrying and materials’ handling.

Blackwell has always sourced its machinery from premier equipment manufacturers and the new Volvo machines have been specifically prepared to meet the needs and requirements of the A14 project.

“The package was right,” says Plant Manager, David Lancashire, adding,”it was a complete mix of haulers and excavators that we’re looking for. The package price was of course important, but more so was availability, and SMT GB was able to meet our timescale.”

All of the Volvo excavators have been equipped with bright orange ‘boxing ring’ safety rails, audible quick hitch alarms and 360° cameras, fitted at SMT’s machine preparation centre in Immingham before being delivered to site. The Volvos are also equipped with fast-refuelling systems, to improve safety for the refuelling operator, eliminate spillage, reduce downtime and improve fuel cleanliness.

Though Blackwell has its own extensive maintenance facilities across the UK, the number of new machines working on the A14 led the company to take out SMT GB’s Blue level Customer Support Agreement on the machines. This includes all maintenance and inspections, along with analysis and preventative maintenance tools, such as CareTrack, Volvo Oil Analysis and MATRIS analysis.

Blackwell will also be exploring the possibilities of a number of advanced Volvo productivity tools available, including Dig Assist for the excavators and Haul Assist for the fleet of trucks.

“We’ve got telematics on all of the machines and Haul Assist is something that we will be looking at using on future projects,” adds David. “Blackwell is always keen to try the latest technology, although there has to be a clear justification and benefit.

“Haul Assist will give us efficiency improvements – when the trucks speak to each other and decide which excavator to go to, you’ve got savings.”

Excavator performance is just as important as hauler efficiency and the latest Volvo EC750E is proving to be a popular choice with many of the UK’s leading earthmoving companies.

“The EC750E is a great machine,” says David. “We already had two EC700s in the fleet and our guys say that the EC750E is more powerful, more productive, great for the drivers and a big improvement.”

Much of the bulk earthmoving on the A14 project will be concluded this year, providing Blackwell with a fleet of new machinery for future use.

“This is the second season for the major muckshift in our programme,” says David. “We’ll have machines available for the work that we can see going forwards with HS2 and other Highways England projects. We’re adding to the fleet with more new machines, though we also have the capability to completely refurbish equipment to an as-new specification.”

SMT GB markets Volvo Construction Equipment products which include wheeled loaders, articulated haulers, hydraulic excavators, Volvo utility equipment and Volvo road equipment products in Great Britain. There are eight strategically placed customer support centres, a dedicated National Used Equipment Centre and a network of utility equipment dealers to ensure high quality customer support is maintained throughout the country.

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