Customers in Action

Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel Co.


February 16, 2015

Maximizing efficiency with Komatsu D61PXi-23

Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel

With its roots dating back to the 1920s, Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel Co. is a fourth-generation Red Deer, Alberta, firm that now offers much more than sand and gravel. To be sure, the company is still an aggregate supplier, including offering recycled asphalt and concrete products, but today, Bettenson’s is probably best known as a site-development contractor.

“Our specialty is smaller, more-complex site projects rather than large subdivisions or road jobs,” said Parker Bettenson, who, with his brother Joe, are the fourth-generation managers overseeing much of the day-to-day activities at Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel. “We often work for clients who are building a facility or putting in a parking lot. We will do the demolition, excavation, grading, gravel – anything associated with the dirt aspect of the job.”

Bettenson’s employs about 40 people during the busy summer season. The company works throughout central Alberta, generally within an hour’s drive of Red Deer.

“Our goal is to give clients a top-quality job at a fair price and complete their projects on schedule or early,” said Joe Bettenson. “We’re fortunate that we have employees who share our philosophy. We think they’re the best in

the region. They’re experienced, work hard and represent us well. We’re very proud of our staff and the work we do.”

Both Parker and Joe are managers in the family business. Their dad, Doug, is president and their grandfather Carl still has an office and continues to come in to share his wisdom.

Technologically advanced GPS dozer

Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel

Like all companies, Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel is always looking for ways to improve efficiency. Toward that end, a couple of years ago, the company turned to GPS grading by putting a Topcon mast and cable system on one of its existing dozers. They liked the results, so about a year ago, they started looking into acquiring a second GPS dozer, which led them to examine the revolutionary Komatsu intelligent Machine Control (iMC) D61PXi-23. It was the world’s first dozer with GPS technology integrated into the unit with no exterior hardware, such as poles, masts and cables. Komatsu remains the only manufacturer making such GPS-integrated dozers.

“Although we had never owned a Komatsu dozer, we’d heard good things about them,” said Parker. “That made us willing to consider the D61PXi-23, which I had read about and was interested in. The fact that it has no masts and cables to install and remove each day, or to potentially damage by snagging or bumping while on the job, made the D61PXi-23 very intriguing.

“I talked to our SMS Sales Rep Mike Trask, who put me in touch with SMS’s Information Communication Technology Manager Chris Safinuk. He really understands the technology behind the iMC dozer and was very informative. In the end, Mike was able to offer us a package that was too good to pass up.”

“We’ve only had the D61PXi-23 for about six months, but we’ve been very happy with it,” added Joe. “Before we got it, all of the operators liked our dozer with the mast and cable GPS system, but after they tried the Komatsu, it quickly became everybody’s favourite.”

D61PXi-23 advantages

Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel has discovered the following advantages of using the D61PXi-23:

  • Time savings because there is no need to set up a mast and base station each day, and it requires fewer passes to reach grade.
  • Material savings because operators never undercut or overcut.
  • Labour savings because it requires fewer people.
“Bottom line, it’s more efficient, which leads to better productivity and profitability,” said Parker. “We’ve found our clients also appreciate that we have the D61PXi-23 because their sites get completed sooner and the quality of the work is consistently very high.”

“Other advantages with the Komatsu D61PXi-23 are the blade-control options and load-sensing hydraulics,” added Joe. “With our other GPS unit, if the operator needs to cut a foot and is in automatic, the blade will drive down a foot, but the dozer won’t be able to handle the load so the tracks spin, and we get premature undercarriage wear. With the Komatsu intelligent Machine Control system, if the dozer can’t physically handle the load, the blade will rise on its own to where it can handle it. This helps turn a good operator into a great operator.

“For example, we recently had a site where, due to holidays or sick days, we had four different operators running the D61PXi-23 throughout the three weeks it took us to complete the job. When we were done, thanks largely to the automatic blade control on the D61PXi-23, it looked like one operator had done the whole thing.”

Since it enables them to do their jobs better, Parker says Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel operators love the Komatsu D61PXi-23. “Everybody always wants the latest and greatest machine. We’re convinced having the D61PXi-23 helps us attract and keep top operators.”

“Flawless” SMS support

Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel

Rather than buy a new base station to accommodate the D61PXi-23, Bettenson’s Sand & Gravel decided on a cellular system that uses a SIM card in the dozer to connect to base stations mounted on buildings throughout Alberta. They pay about $3,000 a year for access to the cellular system, compared to the cost of a base station, which Joe says would be anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

“We like the freedom that cellular gives us to be able to go anywhere in the province. When you consider how quickly technology is changing in this arena, we figure the base station would be out-of-date within five years, so the cellular-based service is also more cost-effective.

“SMS doesn’t handle the cell service, but they were very helpful by putting us in touch with the providers,” he added. “They knew what SIM card we needed and how to convert it, and they walked me through it over the phone. When the cell company sent us the wrong SIM card, SMS was there for us every step of the way to troubleshoot it. They know as much about Topcon as any of the Topcon personnel we had dealt with previously. SMS has been flawless in our dealings with them regarding GPS and D61PXi-23 technology.”

Beyond the GPS, the brothers say they also appreciate other aspects of the D61PXi-23 such as KOMTRAX and Komatsu CARE.

“First and foremost, the D61PXi-23 is an excellent dozer,” said Parker. “It has good pushing power and great visibility, but it’s our first Tier 4 machine, and there’s always some nervousness when buying something brand new. That’s why Komatsu CARE, which provides complimentary service for three years or 2,000 hours and includes a DPF filter exchange, is a big deal to us. It’s an extra guarantee that not only saves us money on the services but also gives us greater peace of mind. To my knowledge, nobody else is offering anything like it. We think it’s a significant advantage.”

“We try to use technology to our advantage, and we’ve found the KOMTRAX machine-operating system in the D61PXi-23 (and all Komatsu machines) is very beneficial too,” said Joe. “We use it to determine machine location, monitor idle time and track fuel usage. It’s an excellent tool. KOMTRAX reports are also excellent documentation if we have warranty issues or need to prove work hours. Of course, SMS also uses KOMTRAX to keep an eye out for warning codes or any other issues that might be developing on our Komatsu units.”

“In all respects, we’ve been pleased and impressed with the support we’ve gotten from everybody at SMS,” Parker noted. “Mike’s a really good salesman. Darren Ondik in parts has been helpful. We work long hours. We’ve found that the folks at SMS are willing to pick up their phones even when we call after five o’clock. Sales, parts and service – they’ve demonstrated they’re going to be there to help us keep our downtime to a minimum, and that’s crucial.”

Maximizing efficiency with Komatsu iMC

Looking to the future, Parker says he’s interested in the first GPS-integrated excavator, the PC210LCi-10, which Komatsu recently introduced to the North American market. “I can see value in excavator-based GPS when we have major cuts and need to get down to grade. As a company, we’re interested in maximizing efficiency, and based on our experience with the D61PXi-23, we’re convinced that any Komatsu intelligent Machine Control unit will help us do just that.”

“You’ve got to be efficient to make it in this business,” added Joe. “It’s not just a matter of working hard, it’s about working smart. Parker and I are very proud of the longevity of this family-owned company and the history of success passed down from our great-grandfather to our grandfather to our dad and soon to us. We want to do all we can to ensure its success into the future, and we think the best way to do that is to embrace technological innovation that allows us to give our customers a better bang for their buck. Komatsu’s intelligent Machine Control will help us get there.”