November 1, 2013
Luck Stone develops technologies for remote-control loading, as well as applications to improve load planning, dispatch, and transportation for its customers.
Luck Companies, the parent company of Luck Stone, has a corporate mission of “igniting human potential.” Pairing this with Luck Stone’s vision of understanding customer insights and acting upon them has led to groundbreaking innovations for the operator.
“One of the things that is really exciting for me, personally, is our whole concept of igniting human potential and our investment in values based leadership,” says Travis Chewning, director of innovation. “It’s about making conscious choices, and it’s really geared around helping each one of us be the best version of ourselves so we can help others be the best version of themselves. What that has led to is getting people what we call straight and beautiful, where they’re in a really good spot. They’re engaged. They’re smiling. They’re joking. They’re having fun. The creative juices in the brain seem to be a little more amped up in that environment.”
While some may think the concept sounds a little New Age-like and more likely to impact people than profits, Luck Stone’s creativity and focus on innovation is helping it to tap additional reserves and differentiate itself among customers.
Luck Stone showcased its remote-control (RC) loader on Sept. 19 at Luck Stone’s Bull Run operation in Manassas, Va. The RC system is installed on a Cat 988G wheel loader and allows Luck Stone to safely access material at the toe of its highwall.
“We were trying to work out a mine plan that would allow us to maximize reserves and then move to a different property,” says Bob Grauer, president of Luck Stone. “One of the areas of concentration, as this pit got deeper, was how we were going to economically and safely extract the material.”
A Luck Stone associate, John Thompson, had spent significant time working in underground mines, as well as with remote control equipment. During these discussions, he posed the question: “What if nobody was in the loader?” That simple question sparked a conversation that spanned about eight months and resulted in an RC loader that can operate similarly to any manned loader in the company’s pit environment.
“We have an innovation process where we take things from opportunities to pilot and, ultimately, implement them into production,” says Chewning. “The most important thing for us, in this project, is to maintain our focus on safety, but ultimately be able to get to more reserves.”
The loader was developed with Val Caron, Ontario-based Anchises Equipment Canada, Inc. “Whether it was fabricating brackets or figuring out where to run hydraulic lines, these guys really just collaborated in a way with our operations team that was amazingly cool,” he says. “When people come look at this loader, from a technical standpoint, they see it looks like a very professional install.”
In the field, an operator can use the wheel loader in a traditional manner, then exit the cab and turn on the remote control system whenever it is needed. “I don’t know that you’d want to use it (RC) for everyday production,” Chewning says, “but in terms of allowing us to access areas that we historically would not have been able to access, it’s done it.”
Beyond high scores on the cool factor, the technology is also expected to allow the company to mine an additional bench into the pit. “A typical quarry has about 50 million tons of reserves,” Chewning adds. “We think it’s reasonable to believe we can pick up 1 to 2 million tons of additional reserves employing this technology.”
While tapping additional reserves is certainly a positive outcome, he says that the most exciting part of the project was the way everyone engaged in its development. “There was certainly the headwind of ‘you can’t do it,’ but I think our culture here has grown to a point that … we were self-aware enough to make a conscious choice to say, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe that shouldn’t get in the way. Let’s keep the conversation moving forward.’”
“We’re really proud of having a remote-control loader, but what’s more meaningful to us is having the culture and the ability to change the question,” Grauer adds. “The question got changed from ‘that’s going to be hard to do’ to ‘well, what if nobody was in the loader?’ In that change of question, the whole environment of possibilities changes, and we are where we are today.”
Another area of innovation includes how Luck Stone interacts with its customers. As the company developed its strategic plan, Vision 2015, it prepared by conducting a number of surveys, including surveys of its customers.
“Our customers told us that dependability was one of the most important things to them,” Grauer says. “As a basic material provider, we have worked considerably on the whole idea of load planning, dispatch, and transportation.” For example, he says customers want to know truck and material locations, track the status of orders and purchases, and be able to order material from remote sites.
To address these priorities, Luck Stone developed and deployed two technologies: LOGIQ, a web-based product that allows its scale offices, customers, and transportation partners to remain connected, and the Luck Stone mobile app, which gives customers a 24/7 way to stay connected and understand the material flow.
The company piloted LOGIQ with one trucker until it had created enough value to share with pretty much all of its contract haulers. At that point, the company provided approximately 250 haulers with iPads that were preloaded with LOGIQ. “It’s a proprietary Luck Stone product,” Grauer says. “It’s not something we bought from someone else. We built it to serve our needs and the needs of our customers.” Based on the value that has been found with this application, one Luck Stone customer is already using LOGIQ, and Grauer says the company plans to grow that offering throughout the next business year.
The second new offering from Luck Stone, The Luck Stone mobile app, can track vehicle locations, give directions for deliveries, and place stone orders from the field. “We try to create differentiated value. We try to give people choices,” Grauer says. “People need more than a load of stone. They need information. They need service. They need connectivity. They need ease.
“We try to get connected so that we can play where the rest of the industry isn’t playing,” he adds. “This whole order management and connectivity space was something we saw as an opportunity.”
As Luck Stone develops these innovations, it is taking away lessons that will influence future developments. For example, the process of developing LOGIQ and the Luck Stone mobile app influenced how the company is approaching the installation of an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, including the replacement of its point-of-sale system. Rather than build the system in a traditional manner and later adapt it to suit customer needs, concerns for future connectivity are influencing the system’s architecture from the outset. “It’s causing us to get ahead of the curve enough to build in the connectivity before anyone from the outside comes to us and says, ‘Can you do this?’” Grauer says.
Planning for the future
While Luck Stone leads the way when it comes to operational innovations, it continues to update its business and plan for future innovations. The company’s brand, seen in its new logo and tagline, is built around innovation and customer inspiration.
“We want to send a message to the marketplace that there is something different at Luck Stone,” Grauer says. “Technology and the needs of the marketplace are taking us places that we wouldn’t have imagined 10 years ago, or even five years ago.” While options range from taking RC technology to other portions of the plant to running truly autonomous mobile equipment, the driving factors remain true to Luck Stone’s core values.
“Where we really want to go is where technology adds value to our customers, adds value to our business, adds value to our associates, and, more broadly, how does it raise all the boats, so to speak, in the industry?” Grauer says. “We have a few ideas of what the next step may be and are really excited about these possibilities and what they mean for our customers.”