UNITED KINGDOM: Praise from a UK demolition team does not come much higher than this
by Tony Lawrence
One minute there is a five-meter high wall of reinforced concrete dominating the jobsite, the next minute it has gone. After a moment or two of resistance, the structure starts melting away, like a slab of butter on a hot day.
“Proper kit, that is,” says David Skillings, in his broad Lancastrian accent. “The machine’s never been beaten by anything it’s tackled.”
The Volvo EC700C excavator, supported by an EC300E, are both owned by Skillings Crushing Company Ltd and they are dismantling four clean water-storage tanks near Doncaster, in the north-east of England. The foundations are also being drilled out as the site is prepared for housing.
The excavators, armed with quick-fit, hydraulic rotating pulverizers or ‘munchers’, look like two Tyrannosaurus Rex dissecting a carcass. While the 70-tonne machine brings down the walls, the 30-tonner crushes the concrete into smaller pieces and carefully picks out and removes the mangled steel reinforcing bars. It seems an apt image except that T-Rex weighed in at under 10 tonnes and was a mere four meters tall – the EC700 has a standard reach of 11.46 meters.
Later, the concrete will pass through one of the company’s crushers to be ground down into aggregate for reuse on site. In all, around 5,000 cubic meters of concrete will be processed. Each year, the company, which specialises in demolition and remediation projects throughout the UK, deals with around 400,000 cubic meters of material, weighing 800,000 tonnes.
Skillings started the Burnley-based company with his wife Jan almost 20 years ago. He set out as a one-man band after spending his early career working for other firms, built up the business and now employs 17 staff as well as running a fleet of 20 machines, including excavators, two crushers and a bulldozer. He was never going to do anything else. His father ran a plant hire company before moving into quarrying and his son was driving excavators and bulldozers around by the age of 11.
“I was lucky,” says Skillings. “When I started out alone, the idea of building new homes on brownfield sites was just taking off. I was well connected to a contracting remediation company, so there was plenty of work from the start.”
His first Volvo arrived in 2005. “It was a 45-tonne excavator, an ex-demonstration model and at the right price,” he recalls. “I had been buying cheaper, new machines until then, but prices had gone up so I thought: ‘Why not buy the better equipment?’ I knew all about Volvos since I had always used their dump trucks and Åckerman (later bought by Volvo) excavators. When I eventually replaced that first Volvo, I sold it to a quarry – they’ve still got it.”
In truth, Skillings was probably made for Volvo, just as Volvo was made for Skillings. Listen to him speak: “top-quality machines are key for us”, “everything we do starts with safety”, “we recycle all the materials”, “back-up and service is paramount” – and he could be quoting directly from Volvo Construction Equipment’s core values.
Things really changed for him when he bought his first EC700 to tackle a big job in London. “It had done about 3,000 hours, and we also bought a hammer to tackle meter-thick reinforced concrete slabs and foundations. It was a breakthrough. The job went really well and the machine never missed a beat. We then knew we had the firepower to sort anything out.”
He also recalls receiving some good advice. Bill Holcroft, Volvo CE’s sales manager for the north-west of England, recalls: “I persuaded him to take out his first full service warranty. This type of work is very, very hard on machines, so breakdowns come with the territory. And if one machine breaks, it has a knock-on effect on the whole operation.
“Previously, he had had problems with back-up for his non-Volvo machines, because his local dealers kept changing hands. With his warranty, though, he was dealing with the Volvo service network right across the country. We do everything for him now. He said it was the best advice he ever got.”
Indeed, things rarely get tougher than demolition work. Skillings now has seven, specially reinforced Volvo excavators of various sizes. Over the years, they have worked on a huge variety of projects, ranging from office blocks, factories and paper mills to power stations, nuclear bunkers and bomb-proof hangars at US Cold War airbases.
Skillings tends to deflect credit for his company’s continued success. “I am blessed with good men,” he says. “They all want to do well for the company – it’s all about doing a good, safe job. It’s about quality not volume, and job satisfaction. I listen to the guys. They have to be happy with the equipment. We have a very low staff turnover.”
Site manager Peter Lees has worked alongside Skillings for almost 30 years. He has loved excavators since he was at school. “You can’t not like a Volvo,” he says. “They are so reliable and so user-friendly. This is proper work, so they will have problems, but the key is to fix them quickly. And Volvo fix them quickly.”
Operator Matt Wright is a relative newcomer, having done four years with Skillings. He highlights the “super-smooth hydraulics and the responsive controls and the cab comfort – I’m generally working on concrete but the cab dampers and the air-seat mean there are no aches and pains at the end of the day – and if you don’t get tired you don’t make mistakes”.
Ian Watkinson, who operates the EC700C and is another 30-year demolition ‘veteran’, concludes: “I love them, they’re fantastic. They sit really well, whatever the terrain. They make you feel safe and they’re a great tool to have in your arsenal. Turn on the key and the machines starts – instantly and every time.
“If David replaces the Volvos with other machines, well, I’m gone!