One Year, 500 Cat's later and a UK first

James Ashbrook, MD of Plant, Access Hire and Groundworks contractor, J K Ashbrook has had one of the most exciting and challenging 12 months in the businesses 25 years in operation. Working flat out, the business has doubled its Cat® fleet to 500 units, with existing and new machines benefitting from connected technologies. 


His technology focus will also see J K Ashbrook be the first UK plant hire business to take delivery of a fleet of 20 brand new Cat 320 excavators, when they touch down into the UK in May 2018, which by then will swell his Cat fleet to 550 machines. 

The big numbers come after a very big decision made by James in December 2016, when the business acquired the Hewden Bangor and Warrington branches. At the time James said: “While we were all sad to see the news regarding Hewden, we are pleased to report that we were able to react quickly and diligently to secure both depots and assets.” 

In addition, the business was able to secure the future and livelihood of the workforce in Warrington and Bangor. Ever since the purchase, James and his extended team has been expanding the reach and capabilities of the business, as we found out when we recently spoke to him. 

“The last 12 months has been an amazing journey for our business, from our solid foundations, we have been able to roll out a whole new offering for customers, expanding our reach dramatically. The staff that joined us from Hewden have really embraced our culture and their expertise and customer relationships really helped us hit the ground running. 

“Our people and a lot of hard work has definitely helped us on the road to success, but I also think we have been able to bring a new technology driven approach to the market, focused on premium products that deliver high levels of performance and uptime.

“Having used technologies like the Caterpillar Product LinkÔsolution on a wide variety of equipment, for a number of years, we have also recognised the competitive and cost benefits of machine health, location and utilisation data.  With all of our Cat fleet now connected, we can see our utilisation at the touch of a button and because we have our own HGV fleet, we can manage our logistics more sustainably, to better serve customer demand from our branch network. 

“Because we also have experience of being both a plant hirer and contractor, we understand the impact of equipment downtime and how a technology driven service and maintenance programme can benefit this. Ever since we founded the business we have had our own fitters, but as we have grown we have expanded our service capabilities by working in a much more collaborative way with Finning. 

“This has led to us having two dedicated field engineers, who are really an extension to the team that have both the right equipment and onboard technologies to support first time fixes in the field. Connectivity for us doesn’t just stop at the use of Product Link, as we are now heavy users of the online, portal. 

“This allows us to link our fleet to its parts needs much quicker, as we have uploaded each machine into the system, so that we can order the correct parts quickly and have them delivered to the relevant location. With multiple locations in operation, this means we can also use Product Link to see where the best location is for each unit, or whether our Finning engineers should be the ones to receive parts. 

“All of this activity behind the scenes really helps to give our customers a much higher level of service, allowing them to concentrate on doing the jobs they hire our equipment for. Having invested in a lot of 13 tonne or smaller machines to build up the branch fleet, we have also recognised that through our expansion we have increasing demand for larger excavators. 

"This is why we have chosen to continue our technology driven journey, by investing in the new Cat 320 fully technology loaded excavator. Having our own operators that are also hired out with machines, I know the productivity difference an experienced operator can make, but I also recognise that we have got to attract more talent into the industry. 

"With so many people now familiar with tablets and apps, the productivity and safety features built into the tablet control on the Cat 320, is a great example of how technology can benefit both new and skilled operators. When we take delivery of our new fleet in May, it will certainly be interesting to see the difference in performance from our previous generation units."