Tag Archive for 'Topcon 3D-MC² dozer system'

Technology Training on Workflow Helps Address the Need for New Workers

By Jeff Winke

It is a scary world out there for you construction contractors who struggle with tight deadlines, demands for regulatory-governed quality, better productivity, lower costs, more time in a day, and that ominous need for a competent workforce.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) released a study of construction firms in the United States.A few key statistics included in their Workforce Shortage Report include:

  • Eight out of 10 construction firms cannot find sufficient qualified employees
  • 19 percent are investing in labor saving equipment and tools that require smarter workers
  • 82 percent believe that it will be more difficult to find qualified workers over the next 12 months

“As the U.S.-based construction workforce becomes increasingly thinly spread,” the AGC report stated, “owners and managers of construction firms will be required to approach the problem of labor shortage creatively, in order to convert these problems into opportunities. A key to overcoming the labor shortage, in the construction industry, is to invest in current employees to increase their skills, knowledge and abilities, as well as to support existing employees with labor-saving tools and equipment.”

Investing in existing employees has definite advantages, when compared to hiring new employees.

  • Current employees know how the company operates and manages its project sites. 
  • Current employees are a known entity. Managers know their strengths and weaknesses and may be better able to manage and lead them than new hires.
  • With new employees, there are start-up administrative costs, drug testing, equipment and safety training, and general acclimation to new managers, co-workers, and procedures. 
  • Current employees pose less risk. Studies have confirmed higher injury rates among workers who have been on the job for less than a year. Consider also that hiring new employees with less experience and then moving them quickly into the field to meet demands may create greater risk.

Clearly, on-going skills and technology training of existing employees can prove to be critical not only for retention but the success of the company.

“The penalty for not keeping current with technology is longer project timelines,” stated Ron Oberlander, Vice President, Global Professional Services, Topcon Positioning Group, Livermore, California. “Successful training focusses on the work process which yields greater efficiencies and better results.”

An Emphasis on Workflow

With the training emphasis on workflow, employees can develop a broader perspective on construction projects and all that goes into the tasks that culminate in their completion. The emphasis on work processes demonstrates a respect for the intelligence of employees and invites them to think in a partner role, which can strengthen their commitment to the job and the company.

“I’ve completed a couple of training programs conducted by Topcon and I am scheduled for another in the next six months,” said John Poirier, Project Manager with Warman Excavating & Trenching Ltd., Waldheim, Saskatchewan, Canada. “It is well worth the time; and the cost is inconsequential compared to what I learn. Unbelievable trainers, seasoned experts with 20 to 30 years of experience, are training me. They know the products, the market, and understand the workflow.”

“Technology changes too frequently,” said Oberlander.”When we host attendees – distributors and end users – at our training sessions we focus on workflows and how the key features of our products and systems improve the productivity and efficiency of end users.”

With the strong job economy today, it is sometimes difficult to find talent to fill open positions.A benefit of training and the power of easy-to-use technology means that contractors can hire less-skilled talent.They can either send them to instructor-led courses or put them through e-learning-based training.Either way, the knowledge and skills gap can be bridged.

Technology Evolution

Since every construction project is unique, and may require different technology and solutions, it is important – actually imperative – that workers at all experience levels engage in training regularly to remain up to date.

“Think about the advances in consumer technology such as the Apple iPhone,” Oberlander said, “The innovations and high-powered processors that upgrade the iPhone annually are being used in construction equipment. Look at the displays and systems inside of a new excavator, dozer, or other heavy equipment which now make them more productive to run and service; and in turn, makes the contractor more efficient and profitable.”

Oberlander went on to describe how GPS machine control has evolved during the past 20 years from little adoption of machine automation to a market where some machine manufacturers are integrating machine control technology direct from the technology-provider’s factory floor into their machines or even wiring heavy equipment so that they are capable of later adding aftermarket systems.Some government agencies are even specifying that contractors working on their projects must employ GPS machine control on their equipment.

An Investment in Training

Topcon Positioning Systems’ current project is an example of the interest and commitment to training occurring in the construction industry. The company is investing by building state-of-the-art training facilities in the United States, Italy, and Japan. 

The new 6-acre training facility in the U.S. is being constructed at the Topcon campus in Livermore, California, and will cover training for construction, geo positioning, and paving. Vertical construction and layout training will include a half-built building for real-world demonstrations. Two state-of-the-art classrooms will be included. The training facilities in Italy and Japan are being built to the same parameters.

“Since we focus heavily on workflow training, our training will mimic live applications that take place at a typical construction site,” Oberlander said. “The main difference is we can focus on the application and training without distractions of a contractor’s live jobsite. We always offer on-location training at the contractor’s jobsite or home office, but we believe that it is important to establish a baseline of education with a contained workflow at our training center.We also offer the students a tour of our manufacturing facility so they can see how the products they use are made.”

Construction contractors struggle with the need to keep up to date on the latest technology and trends that make their projects more efficient, while attracting and keeping a full workforce in a tight labor market. The answers may be found in training both existing employees and new inexperienced workers on labor-saving technologies with a focus on the work process which yields greater efficiencies and better results.

What do you tell others considering training? Poirier said: “Go for it. There is 100 percent benefit to training; otherwise you’re looking at your technology being the world’s most expensive paperweight. Training gave me knowledge and confidence to feel comfortable with the technology. I recently set up a new excavator using a system I had mounted on a different machine. It works great and would have cost me $42,000 to have someone come in and set up and initialize the GPS system on the excavator – all work I did myself.”

Clearly training can benefit contractors. It can add knowledge, skills, and the confidence to succeed.

Rabb Construction Uses 3-D Modeling to Improve Efficiency, Help Meet tight Deadlines

Topcon’s Complete In-Motion Dozer Control Defines Cutting Edge

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.