Diamond D General Engineering


May 28. 2013

Efficient Komatsu machines cut costs

The list of earthwork services Diamond D General Engineering performs is long and comprehensive. The Woodland, Calif.-based company works in nearly every sector of the construction marketplace, including residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural.

“During the past 25 years, we’ve continually progressed to the point where we can handle nearly 100 percent of the work on every project, including engineering, surveying and AutoCAD capabilities,” said President Spencer Defty, who manages the company, along with his wife, Laura, and Vice President Kirk Johnson. Laura is Chief Financial Officer. “Our work is now about an 80/20 split between hard bid and negotiated agricultural.”

Defty put down roots for Diamond D largely through negotiated work, starting in 1987. While working for another company, he bought a garden tractor and began doing small jobs in the evenings and on weekends.

“Much of the work was residential, including grading backyards and around houses for landscaping, cleaning up weeds, mowing and rototilling, among other things,” recalled Defty. “Farm friends would also hire me to run their equipment, building ponds and constructing or repairing ranch roads. It created opportunity, so I bought a dozer of my own and eventually went into business for myself.”

Defty continues to offer those services to farmers and ranchers. In fact, building ranch roads is a specialty, and he has even presented seminars on best practices. “There’s an art to it, and you have to be able to understand topography and hydrology in order to diffuse water and its energy away from the road because those have a profound effect on the road during its lifetime,” he explained.

Additional agricultural work includes applications such as deep ripping and soil amendments for crops. Diamond D also offers flood-control measures, storm damage and ditch cleanup, underground infrastructure installation, and construction of check structures and weirs.

“Once many businesses get to a certain size, they no longer want to deal with smaller projects, but I don’t think that way,” said Defty. “I still believe no job is too small, so we’ll take care of those customers just the same as we do our larger clients.”

Large variety of projects

Those larger clients tend to be governmental entities that put projects out for bid, including the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Bureau of Reclamation. In addition, the company works with local water conservation districts and county flood-control authorities. Diamond D typically has three to five projects going at any one time in its territory, which is primarily northern California.

“Our services include everything from clearing and grubbing to final grading,” Defty said. “We offer levee repairs, pipelines, road building, dams, bridges and demolition. If it has to do with earthwork, we’re involved. We’ve even crushed material on site and reused it as part of a project.”

Diamond D crushed at one of several projects it had at Beale Air Force Base. Other projects included building a bridge, fixing a main thoroughfare and repairing a failed levee. The contractor has also completed demolition and grading projects at Travis Air Force Base. Recently, Diamond D finished a project at Fort Hunter Liggett that involved excavating about 100,000 yards of earth to build ponds and wash stations for Army tactical vehicles. Installation of between 6,000 and 7,000 feet of water, sewer and other utility work was also part of the job.

The company also completed a 15-acre laydown area for a precast manufacturing company that’s supplying materials to the new 49ers football stadium in San Jose. The fast-track project involved moving about 130,000 yards of dirt and installing infrastructure, including 48-inch reinforced concrete storm piping, and creating 26 acres of associated detention basin and waterways. Like many jobs that involve grading, Diamond D used GPS technology in putting it all to grade.

Dedicated, safe team

Defty credits his staff of about 30 employees for ensuring Diamond D’s sterling reputation for delivering such projects on time and on budget. Defty said that’s been a key factor in the company’s success, along with an emphasis on safety, which has helped the company maintain a zero-lost-time accident record, twice winning a National Safety Award.

“We build relationships with our customers based on honesty and trust, and that’s why they call us back to either do more negotiated work or provide a bid for an upcoming project,” said Defty. “Diamond D delivers on its word because we have a dedicated staff, many of whom have been with us a very long time and bring a great deal of expertise to each project. I consider myself privileged to be the figurehead of this team.”

In addition to the Deftys and Johnson, another key staff member is Senior Estimator/Project Manager Dan Cecil.

“There are three traits I tell people they must have to work here: honesty, work ethic and the ability to work as part of a team,” Defty listed. “Everything else about the business can be taught, including how to operate machinery.”

Komatsu heads equipment list

Defty takes it upon himself to train new hires, including operators. During the past several years, they’ve primarily run Komatsu equipment, including dozers, excavators and a wheel loader, from Road Machinery LLC. Defty’s latest purchases include a new Tier 4 Interim D61EX-23 dozer and a Hybrid HB215LC-1 excavator.

“We started using Komatsu dozers, because I believe Komatsu’s quality and technology is now far superior to the brand we were running,” said Defty, who began buying Komatsu machinery about 20 years ago. “Similar to the D51 we purchased a few years ago, I believe the new D61 is really in a class by itself. With its production ratio and the power-angle-tilt blade, it has the capacity to handle large cut/fill projects, while at the same time being nimble and agile enough for finish work. It’s built with cast steel, so the D61 is more durable. I also like that the radiator is in the rear, which gives the operator better visibility, and the backup camera increases operator awareness.”

Defty noted that the D61’s fuel efficiency is another standout feature, something he also appreciates about the Komatsu Hybrid HB215LC-1. The second-generation Hybrid model captures energy during swing braking in its ultra capacitor and uses it to assist the engine. “We do quite a lot of work that involves swinging 90 to 180 degrees, and that’s an ideal application for the Hybrid. We’re seeing a 40-percent reduction in fuel usage compared to a traditional machine of similar size (48,000 pounds). We were using six to seven gallons per hour and that dropped to between three and four gallons per hour. Not only is it good for the bottom line, but also for the environment, from an emissions standpoint.”

Under Komatsu’s CARE program, Road Machinery takes care of scheduled maintenance on the D61EX-23 dozer, and Defty calls on Road Machinery as needed for additional help. Defty works with Territory Manager Jason Ketchum on equipment purchases. “We’ve received great support through the years from Komatsu America, and Komatsu CARE is another benefit that really shows its commitment to the customer,” said Defty. “Ensuring that customers see those benefits means having strong dealers that back them up, and we’ve seen that with Road Machinery. Jason is great at working with us to find equipment, and Road Machinery is tremendous in service and parts to support it. That’s another reason we’ve become so loyal to Komatsu.”

Giving back

Five years ago, the Deftys held an appreciation event for World War II veterans in the Woodland area. It proved so successful, they’ve made it an annual event where veterans and their families can meet, catch up and enjoy rides in World-War-II-era planes and other aircraft. The occasion has also become a fundraiser to help area individuals in need, and Road Machinery has been a sponsor.

“We’ve met some amazing people during these events, and it’s taught us and our kids what that generation sacrificed and gave for our country,” said Defty. “It’s humbling and inspiring at the same time. We’ve gotten much more out of it than we’ve given, especially on a personal level, and you can’t put a price on that.”