Tag Archive for 'GPS machine control system'

Work Hard and the Money Follows

DeNucci Constructors LLC Meets the Challenges of Rapid Growth

By Richard Rybka

Take care of your biggest asset – your employees and customers.”

This statement by Paul DeNucci demonstrates his understanding that empathy is critically important to success in contracting. He has followed this mantra for the past 28 years. Equally important to his business philosophy are the words that has kept his company solvent and prosperous: “Work hard and the money follows.”


Since 1992, DeNucci has taken his company from a start-up to a highly competitive, multi-functional construction company in a tough market. It took more than a sound business philosophy to move through the ever-changing landscape of construction. Learning the company’s history and transitions will reveal the motivating factors that made his business a true success story.

Starting Out With Chains and Hubs

In 1992, DeNucci founded his company in Austin, Texas. That was back in the day when “technology” was a non-existent term in the construction business. For a site work contractor, that meant slow and tedious tasks for layout, grade staking, blue tops, and as-builts. A tripod-mounted construction level and a grade rod were the most innovative tools available for construction survey work.

Today, DeNucci Constructors LLC is a major player in the Austin construction industry. His company is licensed both as a commercial general building contractor and as a utilities construction company, providing services to public government entities and private customers. DeNucci’s typical mix of construction contracts includes residential subdivisions, assisted living facilities, sanitary and storm sewer systems, urban street improvements, and recreational parks. 

Rapid Growth Spurs Change

As of April 2019, Austin, Texas, is the fastest growing major metropolitan area in the United States. This growth spurt extends well beyond the city center area into five surrounding counties.

A contractor operating in this economic environment faces two challenges – increased competition and pricing pressure. DeNucci was determined to continue the growth of his company in this fast-changing market. Not quite sure of how the future of his company would unfold, he maintained an open mind and an expansive perspective.

“We were always looking for technology and other innovation to help give us an edge and increase production,” DeNucci said. Willingness to explore new options was and continues to be what keeps his company moving into the future. It also gave him the advantage he needed to stay ahead of the competition. 

Expediting the Transition to Technology

Coming from the old school way of doing things, DeNucci admits that he was a “hard sell” when it came to adopting GPS technology. 

He tried integrating GPS into his workflows, but was not having much luck with the first system he purchased. Looking for a better solution, he met John Favret in June 2015. Favret is Senior Machine Control Sales Specialist, based at GeoShack’s store in Austin.

The Austin location is one of 21 stores in eight U.S. states and has the resources to provide a total solution to its customers – the most advance technology products, highly competent sales consultants, and unlimited support.

Favret demoed Topcon’s HiPer V base and rover system to DeNucci, his son, Ryan, and General Superintendent Josh Walenta. With Pocket 3D software on the field controller, it is a perfect solution for layout, grade staking, and collecting as-built information. Quickly seeing how Topcon’s GPS system out-performed his existing system, he made the switch. He noticed a huge improvement in managing his subdivision projects. 

Within a few months, DeNucci became eager to explore machine control systems. He asked Favret to install a Topcon 3D-MC2 on a Caterpillar D8 Dozer. Shortly thereafter, another system was installed on a Caterpillar 140 M3 Motor Grader. 

DeNucci purchased his first Topcon 3D-MCMAX dozer system in August 2017. That was just the beginning. Today, the company owns three 3D-MCMAX-equipped dozers, one 3D-MC2 dozer, two 3D-MC motor graders, and two sets of Hiper V base and rover systems. 

A Typical DeNucci Project

Santa Rita Ranch, a premier master-planned community, is located in Williamson County, Texas. Upon completion of total build-out, the project will include approximately 6,500 homes located in nine distinct villages and more than 200 acres of commercial and multifamily development.

The site work, grading, and excavation required for the project includes construction of numerous water quality ponds, drainage structures, water and wastewater systems, lift stations, curb and gutter, HMAC paving, dry utilities, sidewalks, signage, and other amenities.

DeNucci explained how this complex project showcases the use of Topcon GPS systems for every phase of the massive development:

“Our Topcon equipment has allowed us to localize and seamlessly move from section to section within the subdivision, locate erosion controls and other items of work with our rovers, complete our rough cutting and lot grading operations with our 950 and D10 dozers with machine control followed by our motor graders with their machine control to complete the road base operations and final grading before the final HMAC installation.”

A Word from the Man in the Field

Josh Walenta has been with DeNucci for 13 years and experienced first-hand the growth and changes that have taken place. Walenta is the man who oversees the day-to-day field operations.

Before the company started using machine control systems, they depended on surveyors to set grade stakes and blue tops. Earthmoving and grade work depended on the schedules of others. Equipment and operators were often delayed from making progress on a job while they waited for layout information.

Walenta says the most significant advantages to machine control systems are speed and cost savings. “No waiting on anybody, no scheduling,” he explained. Once others set control points, there is no need for outside consultants.


Field checking, when necessary, is done with a Topcon HiPer V rover and Pocket 3D software. “Most of the time if there’s a question or problem you can check in on something with an existing elevation, like a manhole or an inlet, and figure out what’s going on – instead of waiting on someone or building it and having to come back and fix it later,” Walenta remarked.

When a Dealer Becomes Part of the Team

All the technology in the world cannot achieve its full potential without knowledgeable support from the supplier. It’s not just about selling a product and answering support phone calls. It’s about seamless integration of technology with the user.

John Favret received the highest compliment that a sales consultant can expect to receive from a customer. “John is an invaluable part of our team and his service after the sell is unmatched in our industry”, said DeNucci. 

GeoShack, Topcon, and Favret give DeNucci the advantage he needs to not just stay competitive, but to thrive in one of the toughest markets. It also gives DeNucci confidence in an ally that can help him control his company’s destiny. 

DeNucci claims an optimistic future for his company: “We look forward to continuing to grow with the Topcon products and utilize the ever-changing technology as they continue to innovate.”

For more information about GeoShack, Topcon GPS products, and Topcon machine control systems, go twww.geoshack.com

This feature appeared in the March 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

Utah Landfill Shuffles, Gains Space

GPS rover and level/slope measuring system help relocate garbage to gain 2.3 million yards of landfill space

By Jeff Winke

Ask the average person on the street where garbage goes after the garbage truck picks it up and takes it away, and most will likely say, “the dump.” At one time, most communities had a town dump located near the edge of town or just outside. That was where town-folk could toss out anything.

One can imagine Andy and Opie hauling an old chair that Aunt Bee wanted out of the house to the Mayberry town dump. Fortunately, in 1976, eight years after the last episode of The Andy Griffith Show aired, the United States government passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This law put new rules into effect to protect water supplies and control how trash was thrown away. As a result, many dumps were closed or changed to follow the new rules.

There never was an episode showing toxic waste absentmindedly tossed into the Mayberry dump seeping into the ground and causing problems to underground water, streams, rivers, and the local “fishin’ hole.”

Today dumps are illegal, and trash is taken to a landfill. Modern-day landfills are sophisticated operations and are designed to receive garbage and keep the environment safe. A landfill has a liner system at the bottom to catch toxic waste that could pollute groundwater Trash is piled and smashed down to “fill” the landfill space.

Well before the federal law was passed, three forward-thinking cities near Salt Lake City, Utah came together in 1959 and decided to convert a popular dumping spot into a landfill. Slowly other local cities bought

into the project. Currently, the Trans-Jordan Cities Landfill is now owned and governed by seven cities with several other non-owning cities also bringing their Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to the site. The once Mayberry-style community dump is now a technologically advanced, sophisticated landfill serving approximately 500,000 residents, as well as accommodating the commercial waste from the same south half of Salt Lake Valley region.

The Class 1, Subtitle D landfill is managed by Trans-Jordan, South Jordan, Utah. At the site, Trans-Jordan digs down a hundred feet from ground level and fills it up to a point higher than original ground level.

“Our company started with seven full-time employees and has grown to a staff of 39, plus five temps,” stated Jason Turville, operations supervisor at Trans-Jordan Cities Landfill.  “We take in 365,000 tons of MSW a year at the Trans-Jordan Cities Landfill with steady growth as the communities continue to build out and the demand increases.”

Since its start, the company has made conscious, concerted efforts to be a positive corporate neighbor. They offer an active Green Waste program where they accept, grind and mulch trees, brush and associated organic materials, which are converted into compost and chips that is sold to the public at a reasonable price. The compost is a high-quality product that meets the USCC (US Composting Council) certification for compost.

There is also a public convenience center (PCC) for residents to drop their trash on a hard, concrete surface with recycling of many materials including metal, carpet pad, Freon containing appliances, electronics, and second-hand store donations. Another service offered is a Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection and processing facility–free to residents and fee-based for small businesses.

The Trans-Jordan Cities Landfill currently accepts 365,000 tons a year of MSW from the 7 member cities which are West Jordan, Sandy, Draper, Riverton, South Jordan City, Murray and Midvale, as well as local commercial contributions.

“The best way to describe our company is ‘we manage airspace,'” Turville said. “Our job is put as much MSW into as little airspace as possible to maximize the life of the landfill space we have available.”

That goal of maximizing space was behind a recent Trans-Jordan project. The landfill has six cells. The company determined that they could gain significant space by relocating 500,000 cubic yards of MSW from a corner of an old cell to the new active cell. The move would literally gain 2.3 million yards of future landfilling space.

“Our current lowest elevation for our operation in Cell 6a has us at an elevation 50 feet lower than the bottom of the old trash placed in the corner,” Turville said. ‘Therefore, by moving it into the active area of the landfill, we gain the 50 feet of depth directly underneath and also from where the natural earthen slope will be removed to maximize the depth and space of the area.”

For the Old Cell 6 Trash Relocation Project, Trans-Jordan used a Cat 349F excavator and two Cat 740B haul trucks. Digging a new cell with an excavator is common practice, but digging trash out of an existing cell is not. The trash had been sitting there for 20-plus years and was very compacted. Trans-Jordan claimed that it actually was harder to pull out than dirt.

Trans-Jordan does not employ GPS machine control on any of its machines; however, they do use a handheld Trimble TSC3 GPS controller for establishing design grades and top of waste (TOW) grades. The Trimble rover is used for site measurement, stakeout, and grade checking operations. The controller, which is paired up with a Trimble R10 LT Receiver uses Utah’s VRS wireless network. In conjunction, all machines use JohnnyBall 3D onboard measuring systems, which is designed to provide operators with real-time level and slope.

“We manually put out stakes to follow, then use JohnnyBall as a tool to accurately maintain a level working area and establish a 4:1 working face on a daily basis,” Turville said. “Our MSW side slopes are 3:1 and with us having many new operators it is a great tool to teach them and show them the exact slope required for the operation.”

Base cups for JohnnyBall have been mounted in seven Trans-Jordan machines–dozers, compactors, an excavator, and a motorgrader–which enables the four JohnnyBalls they currently own to be moved seamlessly from machine to machine as needed.

“The GPS rover gives us the ability to take the site design created in our office and implement it in the field,” Turville said. “JohnnyBall helps our operators to efficiently and accurately build slopes where staking is not reasonable or appropriate–and it keeps the machine operator accountable to me and the other managers. The GPS rover used with JohnnyBall is a powerful combination that has become essential to our success.”

The Old Cell 6 Trash Relocation Project was completed in two phases. The company cut half of the old MSW and relocated it from August 2014 through Sept 2015. Phase 2–the other half–started up in May 2017 and finished October 2018.

The project occurred while continuing to take in 365,000 tons a year of MSW from the seven member cities and commercial traffic. The MSW that was moved was added into the daily processing amount.

For processing the trash daily, Trans-Jordan employs two Cat 836K landfill compactors equipped with JohnnyBall 3D onboard measuring systems to maintain a level top, 3:1 side slope, and a 4:1 working face. The company operates a Cat D5 dozer equipped with a JohnnyBall for dressing-up side slopes and working on finish slopes for liner placement.

“JohnnyBall has become a necessary tool to ensure we maintain 3:1, 2.5:1, and 2:1 slopes in the various locations,” stated Turville. “It is simple, easy to use, and provides real time feedback to the operator, which means a lot to us especially since two-thirds of the crew are green and learning how to achieve the grades we need, while working on their own.”

With the Old Cell 6 Trash Relocation Project completed, Turville reflected: “For years we will be talking and reminiscing about moving ‘old Cell 6,’ how this project helped extend the life of the landfill, and how interesting it was to ‘mine’ old trash and see what did and did not decompose over the 20 years it was sitting. A worthwhile and interesting project, for sure.”

Complete In-Motion Dozer Control — An integrated 3D dozer system defines cutting edge

Complete In-Motion Dozer Control

An integrated 3D dozer system defines cutting edge

A development in the ongoing evolution of machine control technology, is Topcon Positioning Systems’ introduction of its 3D-MCMAX integrated 3D dozer system. Most notably, the new system has eliminated the GPS/GNSS receiver masts and associated cables which are anchored to the machine’s grading blade.

Instead the Topcon system uses two inertial measurement units (IMUs). The IMUs are low-profile boxes about a foot square and two inches thick. One mounts on the backside of the blade, the other on the undercarriage frame. The antennae for the GNSS signal is built into another low-profile box that is mounted on top of the machine cab.

In comparison, a GPS machine control system with just one position sensor on the dozer blade processes location information about 10 times a second. With Topcon’s dual IMU arrangement, the two combined sensors are designed to process information up to 100 times a second. The faster processing speed is designed to give the Topcon 3D-MCMAX system the ability to react to and compensate for small inconsistencies between the blade’s position and the position of the rest of the dozer.

As the company describes it, “3D-MCMAX provides high-accuracy elevation, slope, and blade rotation resulting in maximum speed, maximum control and maximum grading performance.  With its dual IMUs and mast-less blade, the 3D-MCMAX increases on-grade performance, maximizing both speed and grade performance.”

“We like the 3D-MCMAX system’s incredible speed, especially when we’re working on a pond project with an intricate model,” stated Ian McDonald, assistant general manager-equipment, ConDrain Company Ltd., Concord, Ont., Canada. “We have a 300-plus equipment fleet so it is good to learn, as we did, that the system works like magic on older machines, thus saving us from needing to invest in new machines in order to benefit from this advanced technology.”

In essence, the system is designed to correct errors in blade position that occur during rough or fine grading.

“In practical terms what that means is that the small errors in blade position that happen when the dozer lurches or the tracks hit low or high spots are corrected almost instantaneously,” said Murray Lodge, senior vice president and general manager of the Topcon Positioning Group and Construction Business Unit. “The end result is that in many cases the dozer can do the fine grading, eliminating the need for a motor grader, and the dozer can maintain higher speeds without needing to slow down to maintain accuracy. Additionally, the dual IMU’s know the blade’s position at all times without cylinder sensors or GNSS.”

With the elimination of the mast and connecting cables on the top of the blade, there is time savings since the operator doesn’t need to install and remove masts and cable assemblies before andafter a production shift. Plus, it can be unsafe when operators are climbing around on the dozer blade for set up and removal. If a company decides to leave masts attached to the dozer overnight, there is a theft risk, since receiver masts are high-dollar items that can attract thieves.

In addition to eliminating additional tasks that can cut into productivity, the cab-mounted receiver with the 3D-MCMAX system gives the dozer operator an unobstructed view of what’s ahead.

“We’ve been using 3D-MCMAX on our dozers for more than a year and have found it to be very user friendly—simple to install and operate,” states John Loudermilk, owner / president, Loudermilk Contracting, Vincennes, IN. “The system is very fast, which helps us complete work sooner.”

The cab-mounted GX-55 control box features integrated LED light bars, a graphical interface and data processor, which are designed to guide the machine operator to maintain grade. The control-box software captures as-built data for volume and productivity reporting.

As part of the Topcon 3D-MCMAX system, the MC-R3 is an interchangeable receiver with integrated boards for GNSS, radio, and controller to receive RTK corrections, as well as drive valves of the machine.

Mounted on the cab of the machine, is the Topcon-patented Fence-technology MC-G3 receiver/antenna. By arranging the receiver pins in an array or “fence” along patch edges, it increases the effective frequency bandwidth of the antenna. The MC-G3 antenna captures all available GNSS satellite signals, while identifying and rejecting signal noise thus, maximizing grading control.

In conclusion, the dual IMU sensors and new, unique algorithms deliver an integrated solution that locates the sensitive GNSS technology safely inside the cab instead of out on the harsh environment of the blade mounted on a receiver mast.

Products at Work – Technology Adopter Reaps Immediate Benefits

Contractor overcomes challenges on big-box site-prep project

 By Jeff Winke

Palmer, Alaska has just under 6,000 residents, but as a commercial and cultural center for the region it draws visitors from well beyond its city boundaries. Come the end of summer, the annual week-and-a-half long Alaska State Fair, located in Palmer, can draw more than 300,000 visitors. The fairgrounds are located approximately one hour north of Anchorage, which helps explain how Palmer and the fairgrounds can draw such large numbers.

An indicator of how Palmer, which was established around a 1930s New Deal farm colony has changed, can be seen in the growth of the Palmer big-box Fred Meyer store. Built about 10 years ago and the smallest in Fred Meyer’s retail network at 66,000 square feet, the Palmer store was built then much to the chagrin of many locals who feared the end of their quaint, small-town community. Fred Meyer is owned by The Kroger Co., one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers.

During the years, Palmer residents made peace with its Fred Meyer store. The location is big enough to offer groceries and other items including a little clothing — socks, jeans, and underwear. Recent scuttlebutt was that the store was so successful it was outgrowing its “small” space.

When Palmer community affairs manager Melinda Merrill confirmed that Portland-based Fred Meyer planed to build a new store on the other side of the Glenn Highway from the current location, she pointed out that although the store was small it had significant sales volume. She said: “The business is big. Our community can support a bigger store. It does far more business than most stores its size.”

With the demolition of a vacant 30-year-old shopping center, the site was readied for the new 100,000 square foot Fred Meyer. The new store is expected to cost $20 million to $30 million to build, and is expecting to add 100 jobs.

The big-box builder giant ESI or Engineered Structures Inc., Boise, Idaho, won the contract as general contractor for the Palmer Fred Meyer. ESI concentrates on commercial construction, primarily for major retail outlets such as Fred Meyer, Albertson’s, Wal-Mart, Staples, Home Depot and other big-box stores in all of the Western states.

“We were sub-contracted, by ESI, to perform the civil site work, and site balance to include import-export, waterline installation, storm drain installation, sewer installation, and all excavation for the concrete foundation, sidewalk, and curb,” stated Scottie Johnson, project manager with Dirtworks, Inc., Palmer, AK. “The contract value for our work on the project was $1.9 million.”

The residential and commercial construction company, Dirtworks, was started in 1989 and has expanded gradually ever since completing projects for individual residents to large, complex municipal and commercial projects. The company has also completed work for the Alaska DOT and Public Facilities.

The site had a small commercial building, which housed a grocery store until 2010. That store opted to build a new location across the road too, on the other side of the Glenn Highway where the new Fred Meyer store is being built. Plans call for the new Palmer Fred Meyer to give shoppers more of the full-line amenities found in larger Fred Meyer stores. The store will feature more furniture, apparel and garden supplies, as well as expanded natural food sections.

The condition of the 10-acre site was flat with a large, approximately 66,000 cubic yard hill that ran along the back and around the corner. The majority of the jobsite was previously occupied by the grocery store. But in order to fit the new bigger Fred Meyer store the site needed to be bigger. The soil was sandy gravel with big rock and silty brown topsoil type material. Dirtworks approached the site as a site balance project, utilizing the hill on the back half of the property for fill.

“The project was to be started around the first week of May 2016, but we were able to start in April,” Johnson said. “We were given a month to get the majority of the site balanced and the new building slab area approved and ready for the footings to be dug. “

For the project, Dirtworks used three mid-size hydraulic excavators that included a Case CX460, Hitachi ZX350LC-6, and a Hitachi EX200LC-5. They also had a pair of 40-ton rock trucks, a Cat D-5K dozer equipped with Topcon 3D-MC² GPS machine control system. They also used a combo Topcon HiPer V receiver rover and base station and a hand-held or rod mounted Tesla data collector.

“The biggest challenge on this project was the tight deadline we needed to adhere to so that the new store could open on time,” said Johnson. “Two things that helped with these challenges was the ability to start a month earlier than originally scheduled, and having our dozer equipped with GPS machine control, which helped us quickly achieve accurate grade.“

There were no early completion incentives, but there were penalties for the general contractor if milestones were not met.

The Topcon 3D-MC² dozer system is designed to achieve finish grade with the machine traveling at a faster speed. Traditional finish grading with a dozer generally will take multiple passes at slower speeds.

“The GPS machine control system meant we could run the dozer faster and with its accuracy we could pretty much achieve finish grade in one pass,” Johnson stated. “Less dozer time on the job translates to less fuel, less machine wear, and we were able to keep the project on schedule and on budget.”

For Dirtworks the use of machine control and site positioning technology is new to them.

“We learned about this technology from GPS Alaska, our local Anchorage Topcon dealer,” Johnson said. “They stopped by our office and talked about the equipment with us and we liked what we heard. We actually bought a Topcon Tesla handheld data collector and two HiPer V poll-mounted base and rover combo GNSS receivers. We didn’t have a job for the equipment at the time or any experience with it, but made the investment because I always thought doing things with tape measures, stakes and lasers was slow and time consuming. Once I was told that you will have cut-fill information anywhere you set this thing within the project I was sold.”

Dirtworks currently owns four HiPer V base-rover combos, two Tesla data collectors, and a dual 3D-MC² dozer system.

The Topcon HiPer V base-rover combo is considered an all-on-the-pole GNSS receiver that can use 226 channels to lock in a satellite signal.

Smaller than a tablet computer, the palm-size, touch-screen Tesla data collector is designed to be flexible. It can be hand-held to provide a vertical screen orientation or affixed to the GNSS receiver rod to provide a horizontal-screen orientation.

“Our experience so far with GPS machine control and site positioning technology has been great,” stated Johnson. “It quickly is becoming something where we are almost forgetting how to work without it – interestingly, even for our guys that have spent their entire careers not using this kind of technology, they are almost lost without it now!”

For the Palmer Fred Meyer project, Dirtworks used a HiPer V base-rover combo, a Tesla data collector, and the GPS grade control system on its dozer. The Topcon systems were used throughout the entire project to control the production.

“The thing that is so nice when using technology is that even on a site this big with a good map and model we can hand the data collector to anyone on the crew and get usable information,” Johnson explained. “We bid the project to be a site balance, using onsite materials to bring the site up to grade by removing the material from the back of the property and spreading over the remainder of the site.

“Our figures were based on the provided geo-technical report which provided a bore log in the top, tallest and fattest part of the hill, showing gravel from top to bottom. Only problem… as it turned out, where they punched the bore log happened to be the only area where there was usable gravel. Just beyond this bore log, the gravel disappeared and became unusable silty material. This meant that the project went from a quick excavator and rock-truck show to a highway truck job. The silty unusable material had to be hauled away and better usable material needed to be imported. It is always quicker to move material onsite with rock trucks than it is to use highway trucks. So, we needed to make sure we were always able to run the maximum amount of highway trucks that the loader at the off-site pit could handle, along with the help of our excavator loading trucks off site.

“This is where the machine control on the dozer became so key. I do not believe that if we were using traditional hubs and stakes, we wouldn’t have been able to maximize the trucks like we did in order to keep the fast pace we needed.”

Johnson concluded that without the Topcon systems used on the Fred Meyer site, the project would have required more people, time and “just energy spent taking the necessary steps to ensure the site is moving in the right direction.”

For Dirtworks, the adoption of machine control and site positioning technology appears to be changing how they approach their market.

“I don’t know yet if our new technology will make a difference on how we bid against the competition,” said Johnson. “It has given us confidence knowing that we will have complete grade control of a project site no matter what the size, utilizing minimal personnel.”


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Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wis. He can be reached through jeff_winke@yahoo.com.