BearCat Manufacturing Inc.
- Written by: Jeanee Dudley
- Produced by: Dave Gushee
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
In 1969 Ken Hill launched a pattern of innovation while working as a distributor operator at BearCat Trucking in Klamath Falls, Oregon. His first foray into equipment design was modifying a truck in order to control all the machine’s functions within the cab. Ken’s employer, Don Carson, recognized his abilities and the pair partnered up to form BearCat Manufacturing (BearCat).
The partners began building asphalt distributors that quickly gained popularity in the paving industry. Over the years, the business has evolved, adding new products and innovations for more than four decades. In 1977, Ken purchased Don’s shares of the business and moved BearCat to Wickenburg, Arizona.
Today, Ken’s son, Kelly Hill, operates the business as president. He works alongside a strong management, design, manufacturing and sales team from the company’s headquarters in Wickenburg. Fred Anderson, general manager, as well as Rick Christian, engineering manager, strive to ensure BearCat runs smoothly. The leadership team oversees 58 employees who are dedicated to providing clients with durable, efficient equipment for a range of applications.
Precision and quality
The business serves chip sealing and asphalt paving contractors all over the world, providing quality and value in the growing, innovative product line. BearCat equipment has been used to pave and seal roads, parking lots and runways throughout the United States and on several continents overseas.
“Our equipment is sold worldwide,” Rick explains. “About 20 percent of our products are exported and we have sold to clients in China, Russia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico, among other locations.”
The bulk of BearCat’s revenue comes through the production and sale of asphalt spreaders, chip spreaders and crack sealers, although custom work is a continually growing segment of the business. The crew is also constantly looking for new market gaps to fill with innovative equipment. Recent developments include equipment for spray asphalt that allows contractors to integrate sand into the surface of the pavement. This machinery has been popular with contractors who specialize in airport work, allowing for a more efficient boost in plane traction than ever.
As technology changes, the BearCat team is taking advantage of new developments to better serve contractors all over the world. “One thing we are working on right now is implementing what is called Bearcat-Connect,” Rick elaborates. “This will give us a way to remotely access equipment we sell and help our users troubleshoot and update software over the Internet. There are not many people in our industry currently doing that. We will also be able to gather production data that our clients can use for billing and costing materials and hours.”
The crew is rolling out the technology during 2015, making wireless devices available in new equipment on the production line and retrofitting older machinery. Customers can purchase a simcard from their mobile phone carrier and install it in the device, allowing contractors and BearCat to access equipment. BearCat can tap in to update software and diagnose performance issues while clients can access equipment through a web portal to monitor and manage activity.
The company is also working on project that will help the brand further diversify on an international scale. “We are in the process of releasing our new chip spreader design for 2015 that will be Tier 3 or Tier 4 compliant depending on the market needs,” Rick says. “In the diesel engine world, because of our company size, BearCat does not have to be there until 2017. We will have that technology available next year. We are putting in a lot of changes to our chip spreader, including alterations to hydraulics, the cooling system and the exhaust. This is a pretty big undertaking that involves a lot of new technology.”
The BearCat team’s ability to keep moving forward has helped the business remain stable, even during uncertain economic times. “We were fortunate during the recession,” Rick says. “It was rough in 2009, but the road maintenance industry was still pretty good. When counties and states started running out of money for repairs, they would turn to more cost-effective methods of keeping up roads. Chip sealing picked up a bit. We struggled like everyone else, but our diversity helped us stay ahead. Our partners overseas continued to buy from us, which helped us even out in the tough years. We would have struggled without that foreign market.”
As the economy recovers and work is picking up, many contractors still struggle in a competitive bid market. BearCat’s innovative and efficient equipment can improve bidding accuracy and reduce operational costs over time. Rick and his team know that innovation is the key to moving forward and the crew plans to keep seeking out new technology that will help the business introduce increasingly efficient equipment.
Rick says the future looks bright for his team. The crew has a number of projects in the works for the coming years, introducing technology that promises to deliver precision and quality results while helping clients manage costs. The BearCat team loves a challenge, which makes technological upgrades and incoming custom work even more exciting.
With all of the new products and technology coming through the line, Rick says his team’s ability to work together plays a critical role in operations. The company holds daily meetings to talk about progress on projects, as well as service work. Crew members can bring up questions or address service patterns to help resolve problems on current equipment and for projects under development to help improve technology going forward.
More than anything, BearCat is committed to customer service. Whether during the sale of new equipment or services machinery that has been out in the field for years, clients can count on the crew to think outside the box in order to resolve problems and improve efficiencies. As time goes on, BearCat Manufacturing proves time and again that good things happen through hard work and innovative thinking.
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