Team Earthmoving Equipment Magazine recently dropped into one of their job sites in Warragul, Victoria, to learn what they were all about – and see a couple of their latest Kobelco excavators in action.
What do you picture when you hear the name ‘Mad Cat Constructions’? A ramshackle crew of construction cowboys with a taste for chaos and diesel coursing through their veins?
In speaking with Mad Cat Co-Directors Jim Knight and Trevor Reynolds, one sliver of that hyperbole rings true – they are deeply passionate about their work, and the people and machinery that make it possible.
“I love earthmoving,” Jim says. “I genuinely love machinery, technology, and efficiency – anything that goes fast.
“We mainly work on greenfield sites and do subdivisions from start to finish. That includes retaining walls, roads, curbs, all the sewer and stormwater – the whole package.”
Despite the Mad Cat name, Jim (who manages daily operations) will tell you he and Trevor (who handles all construction administration) run a pretty tight ship, whether it’s ensuring their machinery is treated and operated with care and respect, or simply keeping the site toilets in order.
But Jim and Trevor are also passionate about training employees to go about things the right way – for the sake of their own growth and development, not just for the business.
“I honestly love watching people develop into proper operators, not just truck loaders,” Jim says. “We’ll take them through all aspects: reading plans, how to set up lasers, and then move into the GPS stuff. And over that time, they’ll become a full operator, and then they can pass that knowledge onto other staff members.”
For Jim, this also means building mutual trust, ensuring that he’s not required to supervise all his operators 24/7.
“Everyone takes ownership in the job, and they feel more rewarded – and happy to be part of the team,” he says.
“Our staff is our business,” adds Trevor.
“Obviously, the work that we’re doing, Jim and I couldn’t do it all ourselves.”
What’s in a name?
Jim and Trevor originally ran their own smaller earthmoving businesses, which came together when they decided to price a job for VicRoads 18 years ago.
“From that, we became business partners and started Mad Cat Constructions,” Jim says. “And it just grew from there.”
Jim’s original business was called Mad Cat Bobcat and Tipper Hire, a name that ended up carrying through to the current business.
“Everyone thought I was a bit mad in the way I did things, and I was also mad about Bobcats – and pretty handy in a Bobcat too,” he says. “That’s how the name Mad Cat came about, and it sort of stuck.”
Jim says in the past he and Trevor have pondered changing the name – concerned that it could give the wrong impression – but they’re now happy to let their reputation do the talking. In fact, Jim and Trevor have recently doubled down on the name, with the business in the process of transitioning into Mad Cat Group as operations expand into new areas.
Same name, fresh colours
The Mad Cat name might be stuck for good, but Jim and Trevor have recently made one important change to their operations: swapping from yellow to Kobelco blue for Mad Cat’s primary workhorse excavators.
This was driven in part by the need to have their excavators seamlessly integrate with their trusted Trimble Earthworks automation package – something other brands couldn’t offer. Jim says the Trimble system is critical to how the Mad Cat fleet operates.
“Our machines wouldn’t operate without it,” he says. “That’s the main attachment that makes everything else work, and what enables us to be not as hands-on.”
Another factor was Mad Cat’s relationship with the team at local Kobelco dealer Melbourne Tractors. Jim says he originally called Tim Hanson at Melbourne Tractors to discuss an auger, and ended up purchasing two new Kobelco excavators: a 35t SK330, and a 38t SK380XD.
The XD series: Extreme duty
The SK380XD is the latest in Kobelco’s line of extra-heavy-duty excavators, designed to deliver massive power in the harshest conditions.
The SK380XD is a market leader with regards to its build, its undercarriage, its strength, its hydraulic power, and its 244kN breakout force. The machine is a real heavy hitter when it comes to earthmoving in general.
Tim Hanson, Melbourne Tractors
Based on the range of tasks Mad Cat had been undertaking at its current Warragul site, Tim knew the XD would provide the power and versatility the job demanded.
“It involved a really broad spectrum of earthworks, and I thought that machine was going to be best suited to what Jim and Mad Cat needed here,” he says.
Jim was initially reluctant when Tim recommended the SK380XD.
I was concerned about the weight. But when we got the machine and actually put it to work, we realised we should have gotten two, not just one. It’s that good of a machine. Its breakout, its speed, its stability – everything is very impressive.
Jim Knight, Mad Cat
Jim says the SK380XD has also been a hit with his operators.
“When it’s time to go out in the morning, if they have the option, the SK380XD is always the first machine to leave,” he says. “They’re very impressed with the stability of it. It can hold its weight, especially when you’re reaching out a long way.
“Comfort-wise, the cabin is extremely quiet. It’s got a suspended cab, so we don’t have any vibration. I’ve spent a lot of time in it myself, and I’m extremely happy with it.”
Trevor says what sold them on a quarry spec SK380XD was that it gave them power and versatility to tackle work in a wide range of environments – and they even had it custom-fitted with wide tracks to enable better tracking in softer wetland areas.
“It’s obviously heavy duty, it’s designed for rock and that type of stuff,” he says. “We’re in West Gippsland, where you get a lot of very solid red clay, which we’re constantly digging, turning over, and compacting. So, in this environment, it works very well.”
But all that power doesn’t mean the SK380XD lacks for accuracy.
“Even though it’s a quarry-spec machine, it’s expected to dig within a 10mm tolerance – and it actually does,” Jim says. “It’s extremely precise.”
He says the combination of the precision and breakout power of the SK380XD allows them to achieve with one pass of a large mud bucket what once would have required additional passes.
“The fuel efficiency is exceptional because we are moving so much more dirt than we were, and our numbers haven’t changed that much,” he says. “We’re very happy.”
Jim says the service delivered by Melbourne Tractors has been equally impressive.
“When it was time to fit these machines out with the scales, the GPS, the tilt hitches, the wide tracks, and big buckets, Melbourne Tractors were straight on top of it, straight away,” he says. “They got the project started, completed, and delivered very efficiently.”
Trevor says he and Jim won’t hesitate to reach out to Tim and the Melbourne Tractors team when another purchase is on the cards – and will be confident in the back-up support available to them.
“With other machines we’ve purchased over the past few years, we’re still having trouble getting support and follow up on those,” Trevor says. “So, you can’t compare the two. Without a doubt, Tim from Melbourne Tractors will get the first phone call.”