GPS Technology Meets Destiny

Feb. 1, 2008

It is plausible that Destiny USA, the proposed retail and entertainment center in Syracuse, NY, will be the largest building complex in the world, if the following facts are taken into consideration. Upon its completion, the project will include a 6.5-million-square-foot integrated structure built on a 325-acre site that is situated in an 800-acre renewal program site. Before the renewal program was launched in 1983, the 800 acres were considered an environmental wasteland. One of the major improvements made in 1990 was the building of the Carousel Center Mall, a striking seven-story shopping mall with 1.5 million square feet of shopping space. The Destiny USA project’s eastern boundary will join the Carousel Center’s western boundary.

Leica’s GradeSmart 3D GPS controls a lateral blade.

Prior to the start of the Destiny USA project, the area was densely populated with petroleum refining tanks. This vast oil-tank farm was popularly known as “Oil City” by the people of Syracuse. The unattractive oil-tank city has been razed, and in its place will soon be an aesthetically pleasing complex of buildings and other architectural structures that will not only serve well the local people but will actually offer something to be gainfully experienced by all who visit Syracuse.

Phase I of this ambitious project is expected by Destiny USA to be completed within two years. Future building phases will include hotels, a large indoor park that is weather-protected by an “invisible” dome, and miscellaneous venues for different entertainment and cultural activities. Further, there are plans to develop a complex for the $2.6-billion Destiny USA Research and Development Park. When completed, the park will have diverse R&D programs in place that will be individually funded, managed and carried out by national and multinational companies.

Exciting Things Coming Soon Here is what is in store for the public, once Phase I of Destiny USA is completed. There will be an upscale hotel, restaurants, and retail shops included within the edifice. Destiny USA is considered a green project because all energy utilization will originate from renewable energy sources and not fossil fuels. Further, the Destiny USA facility will be a minimum of 30% more energy efficient than the baseline energy utilization with comparable modern buildings/structures. The energy consumption efficiency projected is based on the company’s adapting new or improved energy-efficient systems.

All About New Technology
Destiny USA is receptive to integrating all new technologies into this project whenever and wherever possible. The company’s interest includes the latest available construction-application technologies that can be employed with the building of Destiny USA. Destiny USA has been an inspiration and encourager to all its construction contractors involved with the project. Contractors have been encouraged by Destiny USA and its construction manager, Cianbro Corp., to present for approval the use of new technological construction methods to carry out their work.

Selecting the GPS Equipment

In With 3D GPS Technology—Out With Survey Stakes
An example of forward technology employed on the Destiny USA project is the Leica Geosystems 3D GPS systems that are used with all rough grading, fine grading, trenching, and general excavation activities. Much of the grading–excavation work has been completed during the last six months, but there is still site work in progress.

A.P. Reale & Sons Inc. of Ticonderoga, NY, is the contractor responsible for most of the Destiny USA site work. The company has four bulldozers, each fitted with a Leica GradeSmart 3D MAC (machine automation control) GPS system that enables the operator to run his bulldozer in the indicate or automatic mode.

When the indicate mode is active, the operator can see on an onboard monitor the precise position and configuration of the bulldozer blade in real time. With this real-time information at hand, he can remotely position and reposition the blade at will to rough grade the specified area, just as it is done when operating the bulldozer without using GPS technology.

The important difference between operating the bulldozer with the indicate mode active and operating it with the indicate mode inactive is, the superior grading results gotten by the operator precisely adjusting the blade’s position in accordance with the monitor’s readout. Basically, the GPS system takes the operator’s guesswork out of the grading process, which is inherent with a conventionally operated bulldozer. The operator can only approximate grading to the specified grade when there is not a GPS system assisting him during the grading process. Approximating blade-positioning leads often to either time-consuming multi-pass undercutting until the specified grade is reached or by overcutting, which necessitates backfilling the overcut and regrading the area. In either situation, there are additional grading costs involved because of a slower, more cautious grading process or the additional time and costs associated with backfilling and regrading.

With the GradeSmart 3D GPS system in the machine automation–control (MAC) mode, the bulldozer’s blade positioning is automatically precision-controlled for meeting a specified grade. A preprogrammed software program overrides the operator’s control of the blade-positioning function. An important feature available when the MAC mode is selected is Leica’s Hold-X-Slope. Hold-X-Slope holds the blade to its prespecified position despite it moving across breaklines; thus, crowns and batters are cut with greater precision. A software program manages breaklines by interpolation.

The Leica system helps an operator hold slope—without stakes.

The Leica GradeSmart 3D MAC GPS System on the contractor’s motor grader functions similarly to the system just outlined for a bulldozer, except it features the Side-Shift. This feature automatically controls the lateral movement of the motor grader’s blade to grade precise edges and complex grading designs.

Leica’s DigSmart 3D GPS system functions somewhat differently from the GradeSmart 3D GPS system. DigSmart monitors the precise position and location of a digging or grading bucket. The bucket-position/location data appears on the onboard monitor screen in real time for the operator to see. DigSmart systems do not include the MAC mode; rather, it is a guiding system enabling the operator to carry out excavation and grading procedures with preciseness not probable to accomplish when conventionally operating the excavator. Precise excavation and grading eliminates the threat of overcutting. Further, the monitor’s bucket-position/location readout enables an operator to dig “blindly” but confidently in locations, where and when the existing underground utilities’ locations are precisely known.

Great Technology—So What?
Applied technology that does not lead to a practical outcome with meaningful benefits is of little consequence, not only to Destiny USA but also to contractors such as A.P. Reale & Sons. Jim Reale, vice president, is certain that not only is GPS machine control technology here to stay, but it will be a commonplace technology found on many grading projects once more contractors understand its benefits.

Reale has made a serious commitment to machine automation GPS. Between purchased and leased Leica GPS equipment, Reale says its collective market value exceeds $500,000. Charlie Manfred, project superintendent for A.P. Reale & Sons, agrees with Reale’s decision to make the commitment. “This has been a very good move for improving the quality of grading we performed on this project. I must give the people at Destiny USA a lot of credit for encouraging us to get involved with GPS technology for both machine automation and general surveying. They saw the value in this technology, as we do now,” said Manfred.

Reale says the leased equipment is more than paying for itself as it is used on the project and as lower grading costs are experienced by the contractor. He says that is not all; the purchased GPS equipment, which cost the company about $175,000, will be paid off in 12 months through the reduced surveying costs experienced.

Essentially, it is the improved surveying and grading-excavating efficiencies that are translating into greater profitability. For example, a major undertaking on the Destiny USA project is the grading of six new parking lots that total 1.3 million square feet. Four of the parking lots are prepped by grading the subgrade followed by grading the newly laid subbase that is prior to paving it with hot mix asphalt. The other two parking lots are likewise brought to the specified subgrade grade and then to the subbase grade. Paving these two parking lots has been deferred to a later date.

With GPS 3D technology applied while grading the parking lots, there are considerable costs saved by eliminating the labor to survey and install approximately 570 survey stakes that are placed in a 50-foot grid pattern.

Surveying-staking requires at least two high-priced people to carry out the surveying, install the stakes, and mark each one accordingly; then as needed, they repeatedly revisit the surveyed area to resurvey and restake the inadvertently knocked-down stakes that are caused by the normal movements of working construction equipment and aggregates of delivery trucks. Instead, of all these surveying-staking activities, a lone surveyor with a portable Leica rover in hand periodically verifies the new grades as they are created with the bulldozers and motor graders. Since equipment operators using GPS technology know precisely at what grades they are grading, the surveyor with the Leica rover is used primarily to verify the grades.

Besides grading the parking lots, six surface-water collector/sediment ponds were excavated and graded by using the two hydraulic excavators fitted with Leica DigSmart 3D GPS Systems. Each sediment pond was dug four feet deep with two ponds each 70,000 square feet, and four ponds each 30,000 square feet. The ponds’ total excavated surface area to be graded is 260,000 square feet. The sides of the ponds were graded on a 1:2 slope. Normally, it would require about 80 stakes to be installed on a 50-foot grid pattern.

Another excavation task carried out by a hydraulic excavator was a cut-and cover, buildings-utilities services tunnel 8 feet deep by 30 feet wide by 700 feet long. Staking here would entail installing about 30 stakes.

One of the major challenges in excavating-grading sediment ponds or cut-and-cover tunnels is in holding to the specified slope grade and not overcutting the specified excavation grade. Both errors can be completely avoided if the excavator operator follows the GradeSmart System’s monitor readout while excavating or grading.

Finally, there is an existing asphalt-cement-paved parking lot used by people shopping at the Carousel Center Mall. A section of the parking lot is being excavated to construct a new Destiny USA building. There are 300,000 square feet of pavement, subbase and subgrade, that are being excavated. Starting at the existing mall, the excavation depth is 0.0 feet and graduates to an 8-foot depth at the far end of the parking lot.

There are parking lot underground utilities to contend with, but that presents no major issues while excavating because the exact positions of the utilities have been documented by using sophisticated radar measuring equipment. There would be issues, however, if the bulldozer were not equipped with the GPS system. The system takes all of the guesswork out of the equation for excavating and grading.