Fine-Grade Tech

Sept. 1, 2007

The popularity of global positioning systems (GPSs) and machine-automation-control (MAC) technology is growing rapidly in the construction industry. Why GPS MAC? Consider the main reason many contractors are taking on this technology for use in their projects. Simply, by using GPS MAC technology on their grading and excavation projects, they have found that increased profits are the result.

However, there is another reason why GPS MAC technology is rapidly increasing in popularity. Leading contractors who now are employing it say that not only is the profitability of many construction projects greater but also the GPS equipment investment is returned within the first year.

Machine automation control won’t do the job, but it makes it more efficient.

The term “leading contractors,” as used here, is not suggesting that all leading contractors are necessarily the biggest or fastest-growing companies. As it is used here, it encompasses that group of contractors who are leading the construction industry in implementing new technologies into their businesses as they become available. While these leaders certainly evaluate the profit potential before investing in a new technology, they also are careful to ensure that it will not compromise the quality of work performance. They find to the contrary that GPS technology affords them notably improved machine production efficiency with greater precision grading results that was hitherto not possible to accomplish.

One such contractor, who fits the leading-contractor description, is James R. lentile Inc. (JRi), of Marlboro, NJ. The company started using laser technology in 1970, and by 2001 it had fully embraced GPS technology by investing in a 2D GPS system. In 2006, the company graduated to the latest 3D GPS technology.

James lentile, president of JRi, says the efficient and cost-effective machine performance the company is enjoying since adopting the new 3D GPS equipment continues to convince him that profitability often can be accomplished by working smarter (i.e., using new technology), not harder. “Sure, there is always a risk to be taken when taking on a new technology, but I find using GPS technology to be a relatively low-risk endeavor. Certainly it requires learning how to apply the technology for effective results, but that is an acceptable trade-off for the improved machine efficiency experienced,” he says.

lentile had the new 3D GPS installed on one of the company’s midsize-capacity bulldozers. It is the latest GPS technology offered by Leica Geosystems Inc. and is designated the GradeSmart 3D GPS System. The use of this system has been so profitable for the company that lentile is purchasing a second GradeSmart 3D GPS for fitting it on a second bulldozer. “The basis for my decision to buy the second system is simple: My investment in the first Leica [Geosystems] GPS equipment has brought me a substantial return, and I am convinced the second unit will be even more profitable because I am having it installed on a bigger bulldozer with a much wider blade. The more dirt moved per unit of time, the more profitable the GPS system becomes,” lentile explains.

Here is some background on JRi that led lentile to purchase the first Leica Geosystems GPS MAC equipment. Founded in 1989 by lentile, the company is the second lentile family-owned business; the first one was founded by lentile’s father in 1946 under the name FJ lentile Inc. lentile gained much experience working in his father’s company before going it alone. “I learned all about heavy equipment and my operating skills when working for my father, and that experience is an asset in operating my own company,” says lentile.

Nothing is nicer than a full blade.

JRi is best described as a contracting company specializing in site-prep work, including land clearing, site reprofiling, excavation, grading, road building, and underground-utilities installations. lentile prepensely keeps the company medium-size and thus employs no more than 25 people. He explains, “We are a company that has found a niche in the construction industry by carrying out major site-work projects on industrial, residential, and commercial properties, with occasional public-sector projects, such as new schools and major health care facilities. We offer turnkey site-preparation services ranging from underground utilities to building and paving the site’s roads and streets. In fact, we do all the work in-house except for the asphalt paving, which is subcontracted to a third-party contractor. Big is not necessarily more profitable. Taking on the more challenging projects that require our kind of expertise and our valued engineering services has enabled the company to get most of its work repeatedly from a handful of leading customers. They appreciate our high-quality work, and that makes our services rendered to them less price-sensitive.”

As a businessman, lentile has always been forward-thinking. He is receptive to adopting new technologies that will enhance the quality of work performed by the company with correspondingly greater profitability. He reasons that superior-quality workmanship is a significant bonus for his customers and the greater profitability is his company’s benefit.

Some new technologies, such as GPS MAC, necessitate a local expert to give technical and applications support to the contractor. Atlantic Laser Specialists Inc. of Matawan, NJ, is a high-tech equipment dealer that introduced JRi not only to GPS technology but also to the laser technology. The company is a Leica Geosystems dealer.

Actually, Atlantic Laser Specialists sold the laser equipment to lentile when he was still working with his father. As the laser technology further developed, FJI and then JRi continued to update the equipment in the companies’ respective fleets.

The GPS technology was also introduced to lentile by Atlantic Laser Specialists, prior to him buying the first 2D GPS. It took only a few excavating and grading projects to convince lentile that GPS technology for construction was here to stay. He would have added more 2D GPSs to the equipment fleet, but that thinking was changed when Atlantic Laser Specialists introduced him to the latest Leica Geosystems GradeSmart 3D technology designed specifically for bulldozers, excavators, and motor graders. The GradeSmart 3D product was purchased by lentile in time for a big industrial site-preparation project, the Amboy Center in Perth Amboy, NJ. This project was started in May 2006.

The project calls for excavating 500,000 in situ cubic yards of clayey marl, relocating it to different below-grade areas on the site for backfilling, and bringing the areas to specified grade. Here is where the company’s valued engineering services coupled with the new 3D GPS technology paid off big for the owner of the project. The JRi engineering-surveying team of Kenneth Ploskonka, CE, and Stan Wabisky, general superintendent and chief surveyor, made an alternative proposal to the design-engineering firm’s site layout by suggesting the complete 65-acre site be lowered by 9 inches.

The team used some of the GPS’s components and specialized computer software for making the proposal. The Leica Geosystems equipment included a GPS 1200 Base Station and a GPS 1200 Rover to help lay out the revised topographic maps. “We had to be sure the originally designed topo[graphic] made by the engineering company was held to the same balance when we designed ours. The Leica [Geosystems] equipment coupled with our computer software enabled us to do the project in a minimum of time and effort yet with great precision,” says Ploskonka.

One million dollars in construction costs were eliminated for the owner by lowering the site 9 inches. The reason is that the original design necessitated importing a considerable quantity of backfill from distant borrow pits. The 9-inch lowering of the grade was not chosen arbitrarily but was the precise grade needed to ensure no excavated ground would need to be exported or additional ground imported.

JRi was able to increase the profits on this project because the GradeSmart 3D GPS enabled the company to carry out all the cut/fill and grade activities without installing surveying stakes. lentile says that elimination reduced surveying labor by $119,000. “This one 20-week project paid for most of the capital investment we have in the Leica [Geosystems GradeSmart 3D] GPS. Projecting this cost savings rate, we’ll be able to pay for the second new GPS in less than a year,” says lentile.