Versatile, easy-to-use Terramac crawler carriers make work simpler for crews at West Virginia pipeline company.
It’s simple to explain why work crews at Ronald Lane Inc. think so highly of the Terramac RT9 crawler carriers that the pipeline construction company purchased last year: simple engineering, simple operation, simple to modify for various applications and simple maintenance.
“It’s so easy these days to overcomplicate machines,” says Chris Lane, part owner of the family-owned company, founded by his father, Ronald, and based in Clarksburg, West Virginia. He also heads up logistics and procurement for the firm, a pipeline contractor that serves the Marcellus Shale region with nine locations in West Virginia. “But Terramac has found a way to make them simple, easy to use and reliable. Those were the big driving factors that led us to go with Terramac.”
As an example, Lane points to how easy it is to modify the two RT9s for various applications, which makes them extremely versatile — think Swiss Army knives on rubber tracks. By switching out various bodies and/or components, the company can use the machines as small dump trucks, flatbed cargo carriers, TAC (welding) rigs, coating rigs (for sandblasting and painting pipelines), personnel carriers, and for hydro-seeding and spreading grass seed and straw. The machine is capable of handling attachments on both the front and rear, and can carry payloads up to 18,000 pounds.
“It’s simple to modify the chassis for different applications,” he explains. “The mounting points on their bodies are easy to get to. We just remove a hydraulic cylinder, unpin the hinge pins and lift the body right off it, then put on another body with the same bracketry, pin it on, put back the cylinder and we’re good to go again. It’s a very simple process.”
Equipped with 27-inch-wide rubber tracks and powered by a 230 hp Cummins diesel engine, the RT9s are well-equipped to handle the rugged, mountainous Appalachian terrain in which they work. Sometimes the terrain is so steep that the company must use bulldozers with 110,000-pound winches and 1-1/8-inch-thick steel cables to pull the Terramacs and other machines up to job sites. But it’s easier with an RT9 because the front bumper features a reinforced, steel-plated hole where a winch hook can be attached. “Terramac really thought things out,” Lane says. “Without a place to hook up to, it doesn’t matter how strong the winch or cable is.”
Lane also lauds the machines’ relatively light footprint (only 5.1 pounds psi at full cargo capacity, and just 3 pounds psi empty), which is important during land-reclamation efforts that follow pipeline installations. (The company builds gas and oil pipelines for upstream, midstream and downstream operations.)
“The low ground pressure allows us to take the machines out on a right-of-way,” Lane explains. “When we complete a pipeline installation, we have to restore the land to its original condition. We take excavators and dozers and backfill to (pipeline) ditches and smooth out the ground to its original contour. So when we spread seed and straw with the RT9s, we don’t want to leave big ruts in the ground. The Terramacs enable us to go on freshly reclaimed ground with minimal disturbance.”
Reliability is another strong attribute. Downtime creates a negative ripple effect on pipeline installations, which resemble assembly lines in that each step in the building process must be finished before the next can begin, Lane notes. “When we have downtime on our projects, it creates a domino effect. … Multiple crews can’t do their job until the crew before them finishes their job. Plus there’s the cost of repairing the machine, the cost of field technicians working on the machine, the cost of labor for workers waiting on the machine and the cost of lost production – what we could’ve completed had the machine been up and running.
“Breakdowns can cost us anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 an hour, depending on the application for which they’re being used,” he continues. “A TAC rig, for example, requires at least five guys … so with the hourly cost for that crew, plus the crews behind them that also are being held up, the numbers start ticking up pretty fast. But these two machines are a little more than 1 year old and are approaching 1,000 hours each, and we haven’t had a single major breakdown. That’s huge.”
When inevitable minor breakdowns do occur, Terramac provides great customer support as well as easy-to-replace parts. For example, the machines’ hydraulic fittings and hoses are standard sizes, so they’re easily replaced with off-the-shelf parts, Lane says. “If you blow a hydraulic line on a Terramac, you can go to any local shop and get that hose replaced,” he says. “I imagine they lose money by not branding and selling their own hoses, but what they gain is pure customer satisfaction. It’s hard to put a price on how much time you save by being able to replace a hose in, say, a half hour.”
Lane says his company’s fleet of equipment and machines totals about 380 units, and the Terramacs are among the top 10 most important in terms of value and reliability. “In the last year, we have not had a single complaint from field personnel about any aspect of these machines,” he notes. “And that includes our maintenance department. Nothing in this world is perfect, but the Terramacs are probably as close to perfect compared to anything else on the market in terms of reliability, serviceability and operation.”
It’s just that simple.