Witney screening to a better future

January 11, 2021

Coming from a trade background into the plant hire business has helped Witney Plant Hire’s owner David Johns into developing a multi-facetted service from small tool hire right through to the current crushing and screening operations the company undertakes on a regular basis.

The Oxfordshire based company are in their 20th year of trading having been started by David Johns in April 2000 with the company now being run by David and his brother Michael.

The formative years of the company saw them source and export a huge number of Massey 135 tractors out to Sri Lanka through an acquaintance out there. This trading went on for a number of years but as it gradually slowed down, the need to fill the gaps left by the diminishing export market were filled with more local opportunities.

“We were undertaking a large number of repairs for local construction companies at the time.” David explains “Conversations led on to the possibility of hiring these companies’ various pieces of equipment and we took the calculated chance on doing so.”

 Witney Plant now offer a comprehensive range of equipment and tools right across Oxford, the Home Counties and the Cotswolds. A large and well stocked tool hire shop caters for both local tradesmen and the public alike whilst the heavier side of the plant hire market ranges from Wacker plates and concrete mixers through to skid steers and excavators, the latter range in weight from 1.5 – 20 tonnes.

The smaller end of the excavator range is the sole domain of Takeuchi. “We find them reliable, robust and when we do have an issue, relatively easy to work on.” David comments.

From 13 tonnes to 20 tonnes the company used to deal with Doosan but thanks to a variety of issues with aftermarket pipework, the company decided to look elsewhere. “We had dealt with Tristan Dorey at Promac and had bought all of our Doosan machines through him.” David commented “Once we knew he was at Molson, we contacted him and started looking at what they were able to offer us when it came to replacing and expanding our fleet.”

Some of the latest machines to arrive from Molson are from the Hyundai stable in the shape of HX130LCR excavators. “They are ideal for us.” David explains “The compact tail swing is something that attracts a wide range of users from our city centre developers to our agricultural contacts that we supply. They are mechanically very simple too with no AdBlue to worry about. We like these excavators when it comes to transporting them around as their 13t weight allows us to put them on a 6-wheeler and still be legal on the axle weights. We have a lot of country lanes around here where an artic or even an 8-wheeler would struggle to get into. That said, we have taken a number of SK140 Kobelco excavators into the fleet and whilst the customers like them, we have to be careful where we send them as they are a touch heavy on the smaller rigid truck.”

Offering a wide range of machinery and working in a semi-rural location has benefitted the Witney team even through Covid. “We have over three thousand account customers.” David says, “Whilst some of the bigger firms shut for a short period, others were running as per normal.” This diverse customer base has allowed the company to achieve in the region of 95% utilisation during the summer months dropping down to 65 – 70% over winter, something David is happy about.

Whilst Hyundai and Kobelco excavators are now the mainstays on the larger side of the fleet, they are not the only products from the Molson catalogue the company is running.

The past couple of years has seen the company add crushing and screening machinery into their portfolio, but only as a contract item. “We won’t go and hire out this sort of kit without an operator.” David says “We have a small Seba crusher capable of up to 50t per hour which is ideal for small housing projects but we were getting jobs that involved us digging out material and then importing recycled or even virgin material to fill the void left by the material we have dug up. We thought this was ridiculously inefficient and unfriendly to the environment, so we approached Molson to look at solutions.”

The initial purchase of a Keestrack crusher led to its recent replacement with a Terex Finlay J-1160 jaw crusher capable of producing almost 1000 tonnes per day of 6F2. The addition of the J-1160 has boosted the capacity of the crushing and screening division headed by David’s sons Callum and Jack. “Whereas many companies will want a full week’s hire from a crusher to even contemplate sending it out, we’re happy to go out for a day with ours.” David says, “Material management on and off site can play a key role in the profit or loss on a project and having the ability, and willingness, to crush or screen relatively small amounts of material, can pay dividends for a developer in the long term.”

One project the company were undertaking was on the expanding outskirts of Witney where a huge housing development was underway. Witney had been called in to undertake the screening and stockpiling of a large amount of topsoil recently stripped off a future development site. “The houses on this site go up to £800k in price and the developers want to use the best materials and also keep the costs down as much as possible.” David explains “We have been brought in to screen the soil ready for use in the gardens on finished properties as it is more cost effective than removing the material and bringing new back onto site.”

To undertake this work the company has deployed a pair of Kobelco excavators; an SK140LC and an SK210LC. “We would have preferred to bring in a wheeled loader for the stockpiling, but the ground is quite wet after recent rain and it would make more of a mess than anything.” David points out. Another recent addition to the fleet from Molson was undertaking the screening work a Terex Finlay 883+ three-way screener.

Loaded by the SK140, the 883+ uses a vibrating deck to screen the incoming material into three products. On this particular set-up David was using a punch-plate screen to allow a high-quality fine topsoil to be removed and two fill products, both of which could be used as potential fill material on the project. “There is no waste from the screening work.” David is quick to point out “The client just gets three different products capable of being used in different environments.” To help screen the damp material the 4.8 x 1.5m screen box can be tilted between 13 and 19 degrees by the touch of a button. Surprisingly quiet even at full tilt, the 883+ is powered by a 130hp Caterpillar diesel engine which sits at low level under the large incoming material hopper. A sturdy set of drop-down legs ensure the machine remains stable on uneven ground. The three hydraulically actuated conveyors allow material to be piled up safely away from the machine and when in transport mode, fold tightly into the body of the screener to allow for easy transport. Capable of up to 700 tonnes per hour in the right material, the screener has impressed its loader Brian. “I’m impressed with it! It’s easy to use, quick to set up and does exactly what you expect it to do without any fuss at all.”

“We are very happy with the product range available from Molson. Both of the excavator brands have their own plus points and to be honest, not many negatives as far as we are concerned.” David says, “Molson’s service and back up is excellent, we can’t complain about anything!” Asking if the company is going to expand into more contract crushing and screening works brings a wry smile from David; “We’re not sure, we’ll have to see how things go!”