Rethinking Old Methodology

WC Contracting Solves Excavation Challenges with New Technology

By Richard Rybka

Daniel Childs is one of those fiercely independent men who choose not to “color inside the lines”. His definition of success is more philosophical than economical. Childs’ path revolves around using his talents and passions to operate a contracting business that he can enjoy, day in and day out. 

Dan Childs with his Volvo Excvator

At the same time, his operations need to generate sufficient revenue to sustain his equipment and provide income for his family. Childs walks a fine line, maintaining a balance between his personal vision and harsh financial reality. He is constantly seeking a way forward.

Challenges of Launching WC Contracting

Childs made a vital business decision 15 years ago. He decided to start WC Contracting Inc., a multi-service grading and excavating company out of Cape May Court House, New Jersey. To have full control over his company’s operations and destiny, Childs runs his enterprise as the sole employee and machine operator. But there is one major hurdle to this business model that he had to overcome.

This is a pile cap dug with a standard Steelwrist
16” trenching bucket. What you see was dug
entirely with the machine from pretty much one
position. iDig was used for depth but
unfortunately not in the picture. This job would
be formed so it is over dug and standard bucket
could be used

As an operator digs, he needs to know how much material to remove. Typically, a worker enters the excavation with a grade rod. Another person takes a reading through a construction level. Calculations are made to determine if the bottom is “on grade” or if more material must be excavated. Manual grade checking presents a major complication to a one-person operation. It also presents a potential safety risk.

Depending on the configuration, special OSHA requirements must be met before a person can safely enter an excavation. These additional measures can be time-consuming and add extra cost to a project. Eliminating the need for a grade checker would allow Childs to work solo and eliminate the cost of an additional employee. He needed to find another way to make sure he was digging accurately.

Searching for a Solution

For the past 15 years, Childs has experimented with a variety of tools, techniques, and technologies that would enable him to work solo and simultaneously check grade. He looked at every available option as grade checking devices came on the market. 

Never satisfied with the results these provided, his desire to take full advantage of current technology was always at the forefront of his efforts. This pursuit finally led him to the iDig system. He resolved to further explore this option.

Custom made broom bucket excavating grade beam with normal pile spacing

Deciding to purchase a new piece of equipment based on advanced technology is not always easy. Will it perform as advertised? Will the improvement in my day-to-day operations be worth the cost of investment? These are common questions contractors ask themselves. Are there any ways to gain reassurance before taking the plunge?

Purchasing from a reputable dealer is one way to ease purchase anxiety. Requesting an on-the-ground demo is another. Jim Hardman, President of Eastern Laser and Positioning, and Drew Williams, Inteq Territory Manager, set up a trial system on WC Contracting’s machine. This extra level of pre-sales support facilitated Child’s decision.

“Jim is clearly interested in not only selling the product, but in my success with the product,” Childs explained. “They were both willing to take whatever time I needed to be comfortable with the system. I know that I will be well supported with any needs that arise.” 

Features and Benefits

iDig is an accurate grade checking system. A touch screen display, mounted right in the cab, enables an operator to see the bucket of his machine in relation to surrounding surfaces. A light bar with red, orange, and green LED’s shows the operator when the bucket teeth are “on grade”. 

Custom long narrow bucket for grade beams with tight pile spacing

The light bar is positioned in the operator’s working field of view. He can easily watch the movements of the bucket and simultaneously obtain visual grade information. The need for a grade checker is eliminated. 

The display and light bar are only part of the unique iDig system.

Three external sensors are mounted to the bucket, boom, and dipper. A fourth sensor is located inside the cab to account for chassis pitch and roll. Solar-charged batteries power the sensors, eliminating the need to plug into a 120 VAC outlet for charging. The system operates wirelessly by radio, so there are no cables to connect. Wireless operation provides several benefits.

“No running of wires from the cab out the arm, or worse removing them once they’re all greasy. No wires for a branch to snag on,” Childs explained. Communication cables can easily be damaged in the type of work he does, and connectors can become clogged with dust and dirt. Eliminating them altogether adds to the reliability of the system.

The iDig system is designed for portability and ease-of-use. Quick-connect cradles for components reduce the amount of setup time. Once the system is installed and calibrated on a particular model machine, the configuration is saved for future use. One iDig system can be deployed on any number of excavators. Swaps can be made quickly and do not require technical personnel.

Success is Measured by Workflow Improvements 

Childs used a tripod-mounted laser transmitter with a machine receiver mounted on the excavator arm before purchasing the iDig system. Keeping a clear line of sight while moving around a foundation dig was always a problem.

Custom long narrow bucket for grade beams with tight pile spacing

Childs commented on the improved workflow he now experiences. “I used to have to get the laser tripod at just the right spot and dig in the right order so that the machine was never between the receiver and transmitter,” he explained. “As jobs get more complex, this gets harder to do and causes you sometimes to have to dig yourself into a corner or do multiple setups.”

Because the iDig system does not rely continuously on a laser reference while digging, this problem is totally eliminated. Childs continued his explanation: “If the excavator will be relocated during digging operations, the receiver on the arm only needs to be rotated into the laser beam once. The system will then be on grade for any digging that can be reached from the new location.”

Job Setup is Easier

Setting up for a new job site is one of the most challenging tasks for an excavating contractor. An error in grade calculation can easily result in over-excavation or costly rework of finished grade to meet plan requirements.

Here being used with floor pan in place to grade for new sidewalk

“The setup on the iDig is quicker,” Childs said. He continued: “I can build the grade for the job right on my hand grade rod from the benchmark given and the requirements of the prints. Once I have that set, I just take the total distance from the bottom of the rod to the center mark on the hand receiver and enter that into the iDig system.”

Old habits die hard. Childs finds himself double-checking the iDig readings using his grade rod. The system has proven itself trustworthy. “I have also enjoyed a new experience for me, using the system to check grade without having to set up the laser when there are physical benchmarks within reach,” he said.

Specialized Foundations Present Tough Challenges

WC Contracting serves an area along the Atlantic coast and includes barrier island towns from Cape May to Atlantic City. Because of direct access to the ocean, this area is popular for high-end shore homes. 

Shore homes are built on sandy soil, subject to high winds, and prone to flooding. Conventional dug foundation walls are not feasible for these conditions. Typically a wood pole piling and grade beam design is used. It is an excellent structural system for the local conditions, but a nightmare for an excavation contractor.

Excavating for grade level wood deck around
swimming pool. Pilings will be cut down and a
wood beam installed to carry the deck joists.

Pole spacing is typically 5- to 6-foot on center but sometimes can be as close as 3 feet. This grid creates a maze of obstacles around which as much as 36 inches of material needs to be removed. Excavation under these conditions requires focus and trust in the machine’s capabilities.

When machine trenching around the pilings is completed, the result resembles a series of interconnected rectangles. According to Childs, getting to this point usually takes one and a half days, and the excavation work is close to 95 percent complete. A few laborers can clean up material around the poles in less than an hour.

The iDig system shines under these types of conditions. Checking grade with a rod in so many different locations would be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Once the system is set up for the job, no further checks are needed.

This feature appeared in the January 2020 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & Engineer, Construction, Construction Digest, Construction News, Constructioneer, Dixie Contractor, Michigan Contractor & Builder, Midwest Contractor, New England Construction, Pacific Builder & Engineer, Rocky Mountain Construction, Texas Contractor, Western Builder

0 Response to “Rethinking Old Methodology”

Comments are currently closed.