The surest route to being competitive is to find ways to reduce costs, notes Duane Gilbert, COO at Gibco Construction. “We never shortchange ourselves when investing in new trucks and new equipment,” he says. “We don’t shop by price because we’ve found over the years the best quality products aren’t the least expensive initially. However, they are the most cost-effective in the long run.”

That approach is paying off at Gibco. The Cleveland, TN-based company specializes in site preparation for construction projects, excavating work, and building and maintaining highways in a quad-state area of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Currently, the company has a three-year backlog of projects, including work on an expansion at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport and at a new manufacturing facility for the solar panel industry.

Gibco’s philosophy is to spec its 100-vehicle fleet with components that offer long-term value and address the challenges of rising fuel costs and driver retention. In the fleet are Cummins- powered Kenworth T800 tri-axle trucks with dump bodies from Truck Bodies & Equipment International.

In particular, Gilbert cites the choice of Eaton’s fully automated UltraShift Plus Vocational Construction Series transmissions. “We served as a test fleet prior to the introduction of UltraShift Plus in 2009,” he relates. “Now the 8-speed model is a standard specification. So far we’ve put them on 22 new trucks.”

SURPRISING BENEFITS “We weren’t expecting automated transmissions to have a big impact in a construction operation,” Gilbert continues.

“We don’t drive up and down the Interstate all day. Our trucks run fully loaded in on- and off-highway environments, usually over shorter distances. In highway construction, especially, dump work requires extended operation in reverse.”

Gilbert says the company has seen “a drastic improvement in fuel economy.” From an average of 5 mpg, trucks with the automated transmissions are getting anywhere from 1.5 to 2 mpg better fuel consumption. “If you do the math, it really adds up,” he says. “Even a 1-mpg increase over a 450-mi. day saves 15 gals. At today’s fuel prices, that’s at least $50 per truck per day or a minimum of $5,000 a day for a 100-truck fleet.”

Gilbert believes that the fuel savings are a direct result of computer controlled shifting patterns. “Drivers are human,” he says. “They have good and bad days, while the UltraShift Plus makes the same optimum gear changes every single time.

“Driver concerns about moving away from traditional manual transmissions have been all but erased as well,” Gilbert adds. “They were worried about downshifting but that hasn’t been an issue. They are also less fatigued at the end of the day, and I believe that makes for safer driving.”

Another equipment area at Gibco where effective choices are paying off is with tires. “We used to buy different makes of tires depending on the price,” Gilbert explains. “We’ve now switched to buying only Michelin tires that are designed with a construction-specific compound. Before, we were getting about 20,000 mi. out of a tire. Now it’s closer to 80,000 mi. The tires are a little more expensive upfront, but at four times the service life they cost much less in the long haul.

“When you stop and look at overall cost,” Gilbert says, “there’s a payback every day. Along with keeping our customers coming back to us for job after job by giving them exactly what they are paying us to do, our goal is to be competitive.”