Project Profile: Overcoming the Gotchas

Sept. 1, 2010
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In 1994, Jon and Jeff Rood opened a two-man lawn and landscaping service with one truck and some big dreams. The brothers proceeded to “go to school” on ways to build their business.

They proved such quick studies that their Livingston, TX-based company, Tri-County Construction, is now playing a major role in actually building schools-and other large site-preparation projects-in southeastern Texas.

The brothers reached into their proverbial backpack for just the right resource, Topcon’s 3D-MC2 machine-control system, for their work in constructing a new high school at Livingston.

The new campus, located roughly 70 miles north of Houston, occupies 100 acres and will serve 1,600 students. Construction began in August 2009 and will be finished in two years.

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Jon Rood says Tri-County was under significant scrutiny and pressure on the project. “The construction schedule was extremely aggressive. They wanted to make sure we could meet it.”

The project’s concrete subcontractor, TAS Commercial Concrete Construction, “had never heard of us or worked with us before. So they were naturally apprehensive-coming behind us to do their portion of the job.”

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Over 300,000 cubic yards of site preparation work was completed on time and actually exceeding specifications, Rood notes, with the additional help of Topcon’s GPS+GLONASS technology on the excavator and grader Tri-County used on the project.

Because of the lack of prior experience with Tri-County, TAS required tighter tolerances on the project as a result, Rood says. No problem. Tri-County not only met the tighter tolerances but delivered even better than prescribed precision results. Consequently, Rood says, “they are very, very happy with the results.”

Jim Varno, field superintendent for project general contractor J.E. Kingham Construction Co., had similar concerns. “Every new technology has its “˜gotchas,’ its “˜you’ve-got-to-figure-it-outs.’ You don’t need to be an expert in the technology, but you do need to understand the gotchas and how they come to be. How does the info from the design specifications get to the machine doing the work? But the more I learn about this system, the better it looks and works. I’m becoming very comfortable with it and the results it produces.”

And the benefits do not stop there. The safety performance from such GPS+GLONASS technology is a key differentiator, Rood says. “With traditional staking, you must have stake chasers. With this system and technology, you don’t have the exposure and risk of someone on foot-in, around and under the machines. The cleaner your safety record, the lower your insurance cost, and that can make the difference between winning or losing a job.”

Rood proudly observes that Tri-County turned over the slab on September 9, 2009.

Productivity was dramatically increased by the 3D-MC2 system because of increased precise positioning capabilities and accuracy-all while allowing the dozers to move at higher operating speeds, providing further benefits in time and money saved.

Moving to the system “was a tough decision in this economic climate,” Rood admits. “I was happy with our former system. But I’m much more happy with the 3D-MC2 upgrade. The smoothness and uniformity of the finished product are exceptional.”

With the former system, “when you encountered hard slopes or sharp turns, the blade would often wiggle, and you’d get a negative reaction that would affect the precision of the cut. The new system has eliminated that.”

The 3D-MC2 technology speeds position calculations by a factor of 10 from the prior generation of such systems. This delivers faster positioning in real time, allowing the machine to be controlled to design grade at much faster speeds.

Rood also praises the system’s design. “It’s like it’s built by dirt pushers for dirt pushers. The way it’s set up, it’s very intuitive to operate. And that made it a very quick and seamless transition for our operators. We put in the new boxes and went right to work.”

Rood estimates the system “cuts finished grading costs by 30%. It’s a great system for any project involving grading. The larger the project, the greater the savings multiplier you’ll gain.”

General contractors are becoming more and more aware of the system’s inherent capabilities and advantages, Rood says. “They’re going to be looking for it-particularly on large projects-because of its ability to help meet tight schedules and the savings it can provide.”

The flexibility of working in and around other contractors on a large job site also is better supported by the Topcon system, Rood says. “With the traditional systems, you started each day with a prework meeting, lining out the work area and then doing the staking. You might even have had the luxury of having all the site work done before other subcontractors were given site access to begin their jobs.

“But with today’s accelerated construction schedules, that’s not practical from a work or a cost standpoint. Completion dates demand we work with and around the other vendors onsite-concrete folks, plumbers, electricians, and masons. You have to be ready and able to work on different portions of the site, literally at the drop of a hat. This system accommodates that.”

The system positions Tri-County to handle even larger site projects. “We’ve grown to $3 million to $4 million grading projects. With the advanced capabilities of the 3D-MC2 system, no job is too big for us. We can use our heavy equipment to its fullest capacity.”