Digger Man

Digger Man Blog

by Nick Drew  |  Fri 26 Nov 2021

Best Machines, Best Operators

Established as far back as 1960, Devon based BT Jenkins Ltd is now in its 52nd year of business and is widely renowned as one of the premier earthmoving and plant hire contractors in the South West, operating over a wide area covering Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset, with repeat business being at the core of its success.

Best Machines, Best Operators

The firm was initially founded by Tom Jenkins, who set it up as an agricultural and forestry contracting business, but rapidly moved into the construction industry after a few years. The company became incorporated in 1973 and continued to expand its operations as a result.

The retirement of Tom Jenkins in the late 1980’s initiated an MBO (management buyout) of the business.

In February 2017 BT Jenkins sold the shares to Bristol based CJL Construction Ltd. The company has continued in the same vein as before under CJL and is run as a wholly separate company, although the two companies integrate seamlessly together with BTJ carrying out bulk earthworks and muck away for CJL.

During this period the business has gone from strength to strength and experienced increased expansion and turnover.

The company has always had a long-standing and enviable reputation for directly employing some of the best plant operators in the region who collectively have many years of experience in the earthmoving and associated industries.

In addition to its earthmoving contracts the company also run inert landfill operations, recycling and screening at 3 local locations.

Today BT Jenkins is run by long-standing Operations Manager Russell Lowton, who has been with the company for in excess of 25 years having joined the firm in 1997, he is assisted by Contracts Manager Simon Bray who has held that position for 5 years, amassing a total of 8 years on the books, but having previously been around the business for a long time on hire, so its fair to say the firm is in extremely safe hands.

The company is not a massive concern, running around 22 machines, but they are big enough to cope with a wide variety of projects with a level of professionalism that is highly sought after.

The business has a great work ethos, look after the men, threat them well, with a good wage, new vans and new machines to operate and they will look after the firm. They operate the well proven “old school” approach of one man, one machine, they then run that machine for its entire working life, and they are serviced and maintained by the main dealers under a service contract arrangement.

In today’s climate finding the very best operators is becoming a challenge for many companies, asked how BT Jenkins are coping Simon Bray said, “Well because the company is not stupidly big, we find it easier to keep control of the operator situation, some big firms have a need to fill the seats and end up pulling in people who might not be up to the required standard, which as we all know can cause problems, so in that respect, we are lucky, we source the very best operators, look after them well, and they stay with us”.  

Earthmovers caught up with some of their latest kit from their preferred suppliers Volvo and Caterpillar, in a stunning location on a hillside overlooking the seaside town of Dawlish in Devon.

This was not a massive job Jenkin’s standard, but they were brought in to excavate and construct an access road across two farmers’ fields and to create two large compound areas to facilitate the works on £28m rail project being undertaken by Morgan Sindall for Network Rail.

The earthmoving involved the initial top soil strip and around 5,500 m3 of excavation work in a cut and fill operation, followed by the spreading of 6,500 tonnes of 40mm stone which was then to be cement stabilised to form a strong concrete haul road and compound area.

Following completion of the railway works in 12 months’ time, they will return to dig up the material and restore the fields to the original landscape.

The rail project itself is a technically demanding job to construct a 209m long extension of a rockfall shelter to the north of the existing Parsons Tunnel, which incredibly has been in place for some 100 years, with the objective being to protect the line and more importantly trains from falling rock damage between Dawlish and Holcombe, a beautiful but often vulnerable stretch of coastal track.

Having worked on that same stretch of track myself during my time on the road raiders, I can really appreciate the difficulties they will face on that job, especially with winter fast approaching!

The job was a classic mix of BT Jenkins kit, consisting of two Volvo EC250EL’s, one being 18 months old operated by Danny Austin, with the all-brand-new Stage 5 model EC250EL being operated by Phil Nicholson which was the main focus of this visit.

Two nearly new Caterpillar D6’s were also in action which like all the main production machines on the firm were fully kitted out with Trimble 3D GPS systems. Operating these machines were two local South West dozer legends, Mike Cann and Justin Gliddon aka “Go Back” who we last featured in the November 2020 edition of Earthmovers operating a Liebherr dozer, but he subsequently joined Jenkin’s shortly afterwards.

3 of the companies Volvo A30G articulated haulers were working on this job with two being utilised on the day, operated by Scott Lowton, and Jamie Gliddon, Justin’s son, while Dan Warren was operating the Volvo SD135B single drum vibratory roller while his A30G was parked up.

On the excavator front, the company have historically been running Volvo’s 22-tonne offering the EC220E’s but having tried out an EC250EL they discovered that for the relatively small money difference to upgrade, it makes it a much better option in terms of improved lifting capacity, productivity and performance, especially as they now run the A30G ADT’s, whereas previously their 22-tonne excavators were matched to A25’s, so effectively all the kit has got bigger.

The same can also be said for their Caterpillar D6 dozers with the latest models having a much larger presence in the field.

Talking about the new excavators Simon said, “The new EC250’s are brilliant machines, the drivers love them, as I’m sure they will tell you when you speak to them, they look the part and the cab comfort is second to none by anyone’s standards.

As we see it a happy operator is a productive operator, these lads spend half their lives in the cab, so it pays to have the best!”.

Simon continued, “In the first instance we have a great relationship with our regional sales manager Richard Shelbourne and in addition to that the back-up we get from Volvo after the sale is fantastic, Dan Thirtle the head engineer for the South West is a great guy, nothing is too much bother, and that is the key really, good back up is crucial in our game and that’s another reason we stick with Volvo, and SMT GB who have really come on leaps and bounds in this region over the past 10 years or so, and its not hard to see why, its just a very good product!”.

As previously mentioned, the newest arrival on the fleet is the latest upgraded version of the Volvo EC250EL which has been entrusted to experienced operator Phil Nicholson who has been with the firm for around 8 years.

Phil was previously operating the older Tier 4 Final EC250EL model and whilst operating that machine on a site in Exeter in March this year, Phil hit the headlines on both regional and national TV when he unearthed a seriously large WW2 bomb, which when detonated in a “controlled explosion” by the military, caused substantial damage to surrounding properties. A scary experience for any excavator operator for sure! 

The new EC250EL tips the scales at between 26.0 to 31.7 tonnes depending on specification and is powered by Volvo’s latest 6-cylinder D8M diesel engine which uses Volvo’s Advanced Combustion Technology (V-ACT) to meet the current Stage 5 EU emissions compliance regulations. Power output from this engine is 168kw (225hp) offering incredibly high torque at a surprisingly low 1600rpm, down from 1800rpm on the previous model, and yet still delivering a 5% increase in power, while also offering up to 10% improvement in fuel efficiency according to Volvo CE.

The new engine works in harmony with Volvo’s new generation electro hydraulic system, which, through its Automatic Sensing Work Mode, matches engine power to the hydraulic systems demands, to offer the optimum performance and fuel economy. Those familiar with Volvo excavators will note that the classic features we all know, such as ECO mode and selectable work modes have been retained on this model.

Sitting on standard UK spec 700mm track pads, Phil’s EC250EL is brimming with the latest technology, which includes Volvo’s optional fit CDC (Comfort Drive Control) which enables him to steer the tracks using the machines SVAB joystick roller thumb controls to make adjustments, without the need to use the dedicated tracking levers or pedals, this in turn with the new boom and arm bouncing reduction system makes for a much more comfortable operating experience.

From a safety perspective the EC250EL is fitted with the optional Volvo Smart View system which uses front, rear and side mounted cameras to provide that real-time “birds eye” 360-degree overview of the machine and the surrounding area.

The machine is fitted with what Volvo describe as the first all-electric cabin, including electric joystick controls, and full electric travel pedals, if using them and not the joystick option. Operators can also adjust the boom/swing and boom/travel elements electronically to suit their operating style or jobsite requirements using the menu on the monitor.

Volvo’s Care Cab comfort levels have long been the stuff of legends, packed full of creature comforts and all the toys, ergonomic, spacious and with low interior noise levels, and this model continues with that theme, it certainly looks a nice place to spend your days.  

This machine features the new dynamic design style counterweight, which is very noticeable when the two EC250’s are working together, it’s also been supplied with the Hi-Viz access hand rails and upper-structure “boxing ring” fall from height protection, and was supplied Trimble Earthworks Ready from the factory.

At the business end this example is fitted with a Miller Powerlatch fully automatic hydraulic quick coupler, and came with 3 x Miller buckets c/w Volvo tooth system. The machine features proportional rotation and tilt control, so effectively it is Steelwrist tiltrotator ready, something that Phil is keen embrace in the future.

On the day of our visit Phil was digging out for the road, cutting into the side of the field, with final trim work being performed by the Cat dozers. The EC250EL just purrs away as it goes about its business, with speed and power, loading A30G dump trucks in 6 passes, with a slew speed of 11.7-rpm it’s a lively machine, and it makes the whole job look so effortless, a credit to both the machine and Phil’s operating.

Talking about his latest mount Phil said, “This is my first brand new machine in 8 years and its quite simply a dream to drive!

I love the fact that it is so stable and remains planted at all times, nothing seems to unsettle it. The electric levers are a dream, very responsive, but you do still get that all important feel and feedback. Having the tracking on the joysticks is a real bonus and I rarely use the tracking levers anymore”.

Summarizing Operation’s Manager Russell Lowton said, “Although we only run CAT and Volvo these days, we have always historically run a very mixed fleet and never had an allegiance to one particular brand.

With the dozers a switch to Cat 10 years ago was mainly due to the System One undercarriage and strong residual values which have made future deals easier.

With our excavators and ADT’s the drivers have more impact than anything. We feel if they find the cab a comfortable place to be then they are happy, and a happy operator is a profit-making operator.

Both CAT and Volvo offer tracking systems and we use them both to the maximum. On top of this the integrated Trimble 3D GPS systems and SIM card connection to the machines work very well for us, saving both time and money.

And in conclusion I would have to say a company is only as good as the team and that’s the ethos I work to always, we are a team here at BT Jenkins”.

Checkout some video footage from the day of our visit. And don't forget to subscribe to the Digger Man Blog You Tube Channel.



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