More than two decades after machine control made its mark on the construction industry, there is little denying the benefits in productivity, efficiency, and accuracy the solution can bring to a jobsite. For the small to mid-size contractor, however, committing to GNSS-based machine control—a decent capital investment—is largely dependent upon the volume and size of projects in the pipeline. A technology, after all, is only beneficial when it can be economically justified. So, when On-Track Construction (OTC) landed a major project at the Buffalo International Airport, followed by other sizeable site work contracts, they knew their time to make the move had come. Purchasing a GNSS base/rover and a dozer equipped with Topcon 3D-MCMAX, the latest generation of machine control, they immediately saw production soar. Today, less than a year after that initial investment, the company has embraced the technology, is able to tackle more work than at any point in their relatively short history, and is already eyeing a second identical system. One might say they are on track to success.
In 2010, equipped with just a mini-excavator and a skid-steer loader, Jesse began bidding and landing small commercial jobs that included site work, (excavating and grading), as well as utility installation (storm, sanitary, water). Over time, they steadily built the business through hard work, determination—and a lot of manual staking. On that last point, Jesse Milley says they were aware of the changes taking place with regard to machine control but could not justify the investment in such a system.
“By 2013, we had built the business up to where we were doing about $650,000 of work annually,” he says. “I’d already been talking with Admar Supply, our local Topcon dealer, about GPS for a couple years and knew that it and machine control were solutions we needed to look into. But, up until that point, we didn’t really have enough large-scale jobs to justify the expense; for a smaller contractor, that’s a huge investment. Last year, however, we landed a $1.1 million airport job and backed it up this year with a 12-acre, $1.7 million six-unit apartment complex site in nearby Hamburg. Those two projects alone really helped me pull the trigger and make a commitment to GPS.
“Evan Spencer, one of Admar’s key sales technicians, showed us what Topcon 3D-MC2 could do and we were immediately impressed with the potential it held for us,” says Milley. “We agreed to rent a dozer equipped with the Topcon system for 2 months and immediately put it to work out at the Hamburg site. It did all that Evan had promised—and more.”
NO LATHING MATTER
“We did that 12-acre site—which included stripping, importing 10,000 yards of soil, and laying down a subbase—in 25 days,” Milley says. “Pounding down lath as we’d done for years, would easily have taken us twice that time. It didn’t take long for us to have a comfort level with machine control, at which point it became second nature to us. With this technology, once you verify that your model is correct and get your numbers dialed in for your cuts, they stay the same and you just fly.”
On-Track Construction (OTC) purchased a GNSS base/rover and a Komatsu D39 PX dozer equipped with Topcon 3D-MCMAX to take the company to the next level.
After only one week using the Topcon 3D-MC2 solution, Milley was on the phone with Spencer confirming that this was, indeed, the direction they wanted to take. They were surprised to learn that there was an even newer system about to be introduced.
POWER TO THE MAX
The system to which Milley was about to commit, Topcon 3D-MCMAX, uses a pair of Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) that enable an operator to blade faster and smarter, and do so without the need for a mast on the machine. Having two IMUs working together quickens the response time, allowing for both tighter turns, and smoother grades.
“The newer system was well within our budget, so we ordered it for the Komatsu D39 PX dozer we were buying,” says Milley. “I wanted to make sure we had the system that was the most productive as we moved forward and we definitely got that. The performance of 3D-MCMAX is impressive overall, but even more so on slope grading—the blade just nails the contours perfectly, it doesn’t skip around at all.”
Other purchases OTC made in support of the machine control system include a Topcon HiPer V base/rover and a pair of field controllers (FC-500 and FC-5000), also from Topcon. In a matter of months, the company went from no GNSS capability to a complete geopositioning solution. And, they recently brought it all to bear on a site work project for an addition to the back of an existing industrial manufacturer’s building, coupled with a sizeable, detail-laden retention pond and access road.
“The 26,000 square foot addition extended right into a huge bank, so we first had a 7,500 yard cut to handle,” he says. “The design included lots of contour lines and swales and the MAX system just cut them right in and moved on to the next section. Similarly, work on the pond called for removal of about 2,400 cubic yards of soil and creation of some interesting contours the engineers designed in. It would have been a nightmare to do using stakes, but was a breeze with the Topcon solution.”
The issue of how quickly, efficiently and accurately 3D-MCMAX can get things done has forced Milley to rethink his overall business model for OTC.
“I have to rethink the whole process because of how fast the workflow on site is right now,” he says. “Adding GNSS has changed that part of the job immensely. We started this business with the intention of running with the big boys; the new technology has helped make that happen and I’m sure it’s only going to get better.” ■
About the Author: Larry Trojak is president of Trojak Communications, a Minnesota-based marketing communications firm. He has written for the construction, recycling, demolition, scrap, and aggregate processing industries.
Modern Contractor Solutions, February 2017
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