Hyundai heavyweight for Luffman Group

April 21, 2020

Like many towns and cities in the UK, Exeter is expanding. New homes are being constructed and to service the increase in population growth in the locality, space is also being made available to increase industrial expansion. In common with many locations around the country, large distribution warehouses are being built in and around Exeter to supply consumers with their next day deliveries.

Based On the outskirts of the town, Tiverton based John Luffman Group are hard at work undertaking the site preparation works for the construction of a new distribution centre. The Luffman Group offer their client base a wide range of construction, transport and civil engineering services throughout the South West and have done so for over 30 years. “I started out with a JCB 3CX “ John explains “Even though my father John was a guarantor on the loan,  he later told me he thought I was mad making the leap into self-employment!” The bug to join the plant industry came from his father, an extremely well-respected person within the industry who was part of the BT Jenkins empire until his retirement. “I had a short spell with the company but wanted to try it for myself.” John explains “The opportunity came along 30 years ago, and I’ve never looked back!”

From his humble beginnings with a JCB backhoe loader undertaking drainage work on the local motorway and road networks, the company has expanded and flourished into the multi-facetted entity it is today. “I was initially hiring an old 3CX at £200 per week to undertake the drainage operations.” John comments “It was an old dog! I spoke to the local dealer and found out that I wouldn’t be paying a great deal more if I bought a new one, even with the high rates of interest at the time.” The work on the roads led to John increasing the fleet with further backhoe loaders, wheeled excavators and a fleet of tipper trucks to carry material to and from projects he was now winning. The increase in work led John to offer a wider range of equipment including crawler excavators, dozers, dump trucks, crushers and screeners. The need to increase the fleet eventually led John to the door of Bristol based Molson Group where a Hitachi ZX200 was subsequently purchased, starting a long-term relationship with the company. Whilst the Hitachi may have been the first machine purchased from Molson, it certainly wasn’t the last with the fleet now dominated by the dealer’s equipment. “We changed the Hitachi in for a Kobelco and haven’t looked back since then.” John explains “When they took on the Kobelco dealership again in 2014 we were the first company to buy a machine from them, it’s one we still have in the fleet today, an SK140SRLC-3. It’s done over 6000 hours now and has been exceptionally reliable.”

The company continues to run a number of Kobelco excavators in the fleet but the latest addition, also from the Molson stable, has come in the shape of a new Hyundai HX380L. As the fleet is dominated by, and John speaks so highly of, the Japanese brand, why has he chosen their Korean counterpart? “Its what the driver wanted.” John explains “Martin has been with us for a number of years, and we gave him a choice.” The 39-tonne excavator is now the flagship of the fleet and has opened up possibilities for John and his team to undertake even larger projects. “Martin and I looked at the possibility of taking a Kobelco SK350LC-10, but we felt the larger capacity afforded by the Hyundai would give us a little more flexibility when it comes to some of our larger cut and fill operations.” John explains “We could have gone for the larger SK500 but that would have meant an increase in dumper and dozer sizes too, something we didn’t want to do at this time.”

The project the company were undertaking consisted of a mixed 35,000m3 muck shift split between top soil stripping and storage and a 20,000m3 cut and fill operation. Aided by a smaller SK210LC-10 excavator, the large Hyundai was curtailed to final stripping works and spreading of incoming material on the day of our visit thanks to a couple of days of heavy rain. “The soil conditions are very much against us here if we have rain.” John explained “It turns to mush almost immediately and stops us running the trucks. We’ve been very fortunate that we have been able to get so much work done but that’s down to our team. They are very focussed and productive, and they all know what they have to do to get a job completed. We have a great team, many of whom have been with us for a number of years. It’s very hard to find good, reliable workers these days.”

The huge site is adjacent to a Lidl distribution centre and John remembers the days when he used to undertake farm contracting work on the fields. The site on which he is working now was covered in up to 1.1m of top soil in places meaning the removal work left very little in the way of suitable material in which to use in the cut and fill operation. “We believe that when next door was built, they took most of the suitable fill material and replaced it with the top soil we now have.” John explained “This means we have to bring in more fill just to get to the correct levels.” Running both a large tipper fleet and a dedicated material recycling and handling centre not too far away has helped John in securing the contract for the supply of the materials into the project.

As is the norm with many modern-day earthmoving companies, John has invested heavily in GPS technology for his equipment. “We have tried both Leica and Topcon.” John explains “And have standardised on the Topcon system as it seems to be the best of the rest. It’s very simple and easy to use, the controls are intuitive and more importantly, the drivers find they can work with it easier than anything else. We took the first system on our Komatsu D61PX, way before the intelligent machines came about and stuck with it ever since.

The new Hyundai has also been equipped with the system, something driver Martin feels makes the outfit extremely productive. “We took the option a while ago to get into the GPS side of working.” John explains “It’s made our jobs quicker and more productive as well as being a lot safer. We don’t need to have lads on the ground or waiting for an engineer to come and put a batter board back in because its been knocked out for instance. We have no excuse for over digging now and when we are on a priced project, that means we don’t move too much or worse still, have to import more material at our cost. With a fully GPS’d up site it means the machine drivers are in control of what they need to do.” The addition of the system to the Hyundai means that any large cut and fill operations can now be effectively controlled by just two operators with Site Engineer Harry on hand to inspect and check as well as monitoring for any changes within the site models, all of which are produced in-house by John’s stepson Cheslyn Edwards.

Whilst the previous day’s weather had put paid to any serious muck shifting being performed and showing off the Hyundai to its full potential, a fleet of 8-wheeled tipper trucks were steadily bringing in recycled material to build the site levels up. With a small section reduced by the Hyundai, it was then time to spread the incoming material. Using one of the Komatsu D61PX dozers and the Hyundai, the team quickly spread, levelled and compacted the material in shallow layers. Both machines, aided by their respective Topcon systems worked effectively alongside a hired in 13t roller piloted by John’s son David. The large Hyundai doesn’t look out of place on final trimming works despite its huge size difference with the nearby SK210 Kobelco. “It copes exceptionally well with anything I have to put it at.” Martin explains “She’s very smooth to operate and I find the cab is laid outvery well.” With a 316hp, 9-litre Cummins engine at the heart of the excavator, the machine is said to be responsive and when called upon, very powerful. “She will dig and load trucks at a good pace if we need too.” Martin exclaimed.

With the Hyundai representing the latest technology available from Molson, Luffman also have the first Kobelco sold by Molson when they brought the Japanese brand back into the UK. The SK140SRLC dates from 2014 and is about to be traded in against a new model. “We have had no issues bar a heater matrix on any of the Kobelco excavators.” John said “We have barely put a spanner to any of them. If we do have any minor issues, then Molson’s service team are very quick to respond and get us up and running.”

Keeping the machines on a 5-year cycle allows the company to get the best and more from their kit and with the great reliability shown by the existing fleet, the new Hyundai has a lot to live up to.

Written by Paul Argent for Earthmovers magazine.