PANAMA: No less than 28 Volvo machines are deployed on the renovation of a stretch of the legendary Pan-American Highway
by Julian Gonzalez
Connecting vast oceans and stretching 77km across lush landscapes and waterways, the Panama Canal is evidence of what great engineering can accomplish. Today, 101 years after the completion of this modern marvel of the times, Volvo Construction Equipment is helping pave another vital path across Panama by facilitating the modernization of the nation’s main transit artery, the Pan-American Highway.
With a price tag on the entire project of more than US$900 million (€823.9 million), Odebrecht is one of five companies hired by the Panamanian government to renovate and widen the 185km stretch of highway that connects the western cities of Santiago and David.
Odebrecht is responsible for the longest section of the well-worn road that runs from Santiago to Viguí, a distance of 71km that is just 6km shorter than the entire length of the Panama Canal.
“There will be a lot of communities [seven] that will greatly benefit from this project, which will also help the tourism industry as this road takes commuters all the way to Costa Rica,” says Victoria Palacios of corporate communications at Odebrecht. “This project will have a huge national and international impact. This is very important to us because we’re helping unite these communities in many ways.”
Headquartered in Salvador, Brazil, Odebrecht has a global presence in 21 countries, across four continents that encompass 15 businesses. With its expansive construction acumen, Odebrecht decided to tackle the Santiago-Viguí project with an extensive inventory of Volvo machines: eight EC220DL excavators, three EC380DL excavators, two MC70C skid steer loaders, five G940 motor graders and 10 BL60B backhoe loaders. Their combined effort will help convert the well-beaten highway – which currently resembles a multicolored quilt of asphalt patches, concrete and holes – from two to four lanes while also adding four new vehicle bridges and seven pedestrian bridges. With a time frame of three-and-a-half years to complete the project, Odebrecht found that Volvo CE was the ideal partner in terms of meeting the August 2017 deadline and reaching expected results.
“For such a long project, fuel saving is huge. We might have these machines running for 5,000 to 6,000 hours. Let’s say that if each machine only uses one gallon of fuel per hour during our time here, we’re going to save a lot of resources,” says Claudio Da Silva, equipment supervisor at Odebrecht for the Santiago-Viguí project.
As Da Silva further explains, low fuel consumption and state-of-the-art equipment is optimum, although that counts for nothing if the operators are not properly trained. He cites the EC380DL excavator which completes a cycle faster than any other excavator of its size. When the Santiago-Viguí route calls for an estimated 5,387,018m3 of earth to be scooped, turned and dumped, a well-trained operator is priceless.
“We can actually notice the difference. They work very fast. We recently told the local Volvo CE dealer that our operators needed more training in the hope of improving the efficiency and speed at which they work,” says Da Silva. Local Volvo CE dealer Comercial de Motores SA (CDM) places considerable emphasis on the importance of operator training and the positive contribution that it makes to a project.
“If you have a well-trained operator who knows how to position the machine correctly, scoop the dirt and make the turn to fill the truck, it leads to a lower consumption of fuel,” explains Justo Santos, area manager for road machinery at Volvo CE Latin America. “A common problem in most Latin American countries is getting well-trained operators. Unfortunately, if you have a very well-trained operator there is a chance they could leave for a higher-paying job. But if you have a machine that is easy to master you can train any operator for two or three hours and you won’t have that problem but you will have a continuous workforce.”
With the tropical storm season quickly approaching the Panamanian shoreline, working around the clock has become the norm for the 1,600 employees involved in the project. Odebrecht has also made sure that for safety and maximum comfort all their Volvo machines are equipped with closed cabins.
“We have other equipment brands in our fleet and you can’t compare the cabin comfort of those to Volvo, which have air-conditioning, a radio and you can barely hear the outside noise,” says Da Silva. “A happy operator works harder and is more efficient.”
Some have even told the local dealership that working in the cabin of a Volvo machine is like working in a spaceship. Operator Jose Montezuma, who spends countless hours in an EC380DL excavator, agrees: “To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t change the comfort of this Volvo machine for anything else. It’s great.”
While its advanced technology and fuel savings lead the industry, Volvo CE support has also been key for Odebrecht. Tasked with laying 838,373m3 of pavement and sub-pavement, 63,095m3 of concrete and more than 400,000 tonnes of asphalt, and with Panama City more than three hours away to the east, the Brazilian company wanted quick answers to the potential problems of servicing machines in areas hours away from the capital.
“The great thing is that Volvo CE has a distributor close by. With one call they’re here quickly to help us. They have all the parts on hand in case we need them. It’s very reassuring to know that they have every thing we need to keep our Volvo equipment running all the time,” says Da Silva.
“Odebrecht told us that our support system and the speed with which we replace a broken part far exceeds our competitors. They tell me things that I already know and it makes me proud,” says German Diaz, of the CDM dealership.
“We have an agreement that whenever they sell one of our machines they have to have the parts for that particular machine on hand in case our customer needs it immediately,” adds Volvo CE’s Justo Santos.
For decades, bouncing, swerving and sudden stops in attempts to avoid potholes have become a habit for commuters using this part of the Pan-American Highway. Small trucks, hauling tall piles of bananas to Panama City, emulate footballers eluding defenders as they race to goal.
Odebrecht, with the help of the Volvo fleet, has its own goal in mind which cannot be measured by weight or distance, but rather by the impact it has on those who will be most affected by its labors.
“It’s very important, for example, for getting kids to school and their parents to and from work a lot faster. It will give them more time to spend with their families because they won’t have to leave home so early or get home so late,” says Diaz, who lives in the vicinity. “It means advancement, progress and opportunities for these communities. It means easier and quicker access and commutes to other provinces and municipalities – the commute from Santiago and David alone will be a huge improvement for everyone.”