First Word: The mother of invention

In no situation is the old adage about time and money more pertinent than with a construction schedule. When a contractor needs a particular machine on a specific job, he will sometimes take drastic means to get it.

This was pointed out to me recently in a conversation I had with Donnie Wiggins, general manager of Top Bid, our sister publication that lists auction prices for used equipment. With manufacturers struggling to get orders for new equipment out the door contractors have been forced to look elsewhere to acquire machines they need in a hurry. Auctions have become so popular that used equipment prices are at an all-time high.

To illustrate his point, Donnie told me about one contractor who tried to buy a new machine at a dealership, only to be told it would take six weeks before the machine could be delivered. The contractor then tried his luck at an equipment auction and ended up paying more for a used excavator than he would have for a new one. It all boiled down to supply and demand. The good news is that demand for new projects is great, and it appears it will remain strong for the near future. Supply, however, is a different story.

So now that business is going great, life would be much too simple unless we had some new challenges to overcome. Along with the wait required for new equipment, contractors must also contend with a critical shortage of tires. We explore this issue in our cover story by Tom Jackson.

I’m sure someone out there has already figured out that equipment auctions could offer a quick fix to the tire shortage. If a contractor gets desperate enough, the good used tires on equipment up for auction may soon become the target of purchase rather than the machine itself. He could then cannibalize the equipment for replacement parts or just have it sitting in his yard until the tire shortage dies down.

Examples of innovative thinking are all around us. I recently visited Caterpillar to give them one of our six 2005 Innovation Awards for their SystemOne undercarriage, detailed in our January issue. The internal parts in the undercarriage are permanently sealed, eliminating most of the time-consuming maintenance. When you consider all of the savings involved – downtime and the cost of service and replacement parts – such a simple, seemingly obvious idea can become one of the most practical in our industry.

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Innovation can be demonstrated in many ways and will always be a requirement of successful contractors. While we all find different ways to approach a challenge, those who find a way to achieve goals in the least amount of time, at the lowest cost and at a healthy profit will do so primarily by using their imagination.