Time Is Money

Oct. 2, 2023
How machine control cuts costs from infrastructure projects

By Eman Abu-Khaled, Contributing Author

Construction Industry Professionals know that there’s a price tag for every minute on a job site, according to Ashley Pittman, the GPS manager at Brent Scarbrough and Co. The need for the most reliably efficient and accurate methods is why fleets such as Scarbrough’s use machine control to reduce costs and improve performance.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is releasing funding on projects from roads and bridges to sewers and broadband, creating a pipeline of projects. Ongoing inflationary pressures caused by supply chain shortages and interest rate increases will deeply cut the value and scope of infrastructure projects put in place.

As a result, the value of every dollar shrinks as the price tag on every minute of work grows.

GPS machine control allows contractors to understand and adjust to the worksite surface without the need for a surveyor, providing better accuracy in necessary calculations in a shorter amount of time.

“After the development of the 3D digital design file is complete, the file is uploaded to the machine’s machine control and guidance system,” said Lonnie Fritz, senior market professional at Caterpillar. “The alignment(s) and grade information for the job site are onboard and ready for operator intervention during machine operation. When the operator activates the machine control and guidance system, the design information is displayed showing the operator where to cut or fill to build to the project’s design.”

GPS technology enables the machines to grade the site with an accurate data analysis in a shorter amount of time.

Matt Goedert, solutions marketing manager, roadbuilding at John Deere, provided another example of time savings with GPS machine control.

“If we were grading a mile of two-lane highway, and let’s say the subgrade was…low just over a half inch, this would require roughly 450 tons of extra road base,” Goedert said. “Depending on where the aggregate is sourced and the price to transport, the added cost could range between $7,000-$10,000. If we use the same example for concrete, that’s over $27,000 in added concrete cost. Because materials make up the largest portion of the cost to complete road building jobs, machine control plays an important role in improving accuracy and minimizing waste of material.”

GPS has raised the stakes and competition standards. A recent project grading a ridge wall next to a Costco in Georgia illustrates that being quicker, more efficient, and delivering higher quality work wins the bid.

Pre-planning determined the need to build berms around the Costco building. Using GPS to calculate how deep to go saves time and improves the stability of the job site. A Trimble study to test how machine control affects accuracy showed that a novice was able to perform grading with a 43% increase in accuracy using guidance-only machine control, and an average improvement of almost 52% when using automatic grade control.

They were also almost 50% faster with guidance-only than conventional methods and more than 62% faster with automatics as compared to conventional methods. On average, novice operators were able to complete the job in a third of the time of conventional practices while staying well within required error tolerance.

Machine control addresses two major challenges: a critical labor shortage and skyrocketing inflation. Machine control boosts accuracy, and saves time, resources, and labor. R&B

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