Editor’s Comments: The Pieces Are All in Place

Jan. 1, 2011
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Let me introduce this issue with a couple of excerpts from my article, Automating Your Construction Site, that appeared in the very first issue of Grading & Excavation Contractor in September 1999:

It may seem like 25th century stuff, but computer-aided or controlled site work is already serving notice that it will become a way of life in grading and excavation work 500 years before Buck Rogers is due to be born. Here’s a look at where we are and where we’re going.

The demand for increased productivity continues to be driven by the high costs of manpower and equipment, but other factors loom larger on the horizon. One of these is the impact that access to information via the Internet is having on our ability to make cost/performance comparisons as part of the bidding process, which in turn accelerates the demand for the right people having the right information at the right time. It’s little wonder that more and more contractors are looking to technology-particularly those featuring graphic display-for answers in meeting the challenge. Because of their growing acceptance in specialized applications and their promise for the future, we intend to focus attention on emerging technologies that address productivity.

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Starting with computer-aided and/or controlled site-work systems such as Caterpillar’s Computer Aided Earthmoving System, Trimble’s SiteVision system, Spectra Precision’s BladePro Motorgrader Control System, and Topcon’s Touch Series Five automatic slope- and depth-control laser system, the article went on to explain how these systems were finding their way into construction and what the future might hold.

Despite its limited vision of what lay in store, the article proved to be a good launch pad for the magazine and its technological focus over the years, heralding advances in such disparate fields as machine guidance and control systems, telematics, photogrammatics, operator and service technician training, and the evolution of computer software packages that deal with virtually every aspect of the construction process.

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ConExpo As a Yardstick
Let me take you back to ConExpo 1999, where for the most part the machines were hydro-mechanical and the displays, while digitally based, parroted their analog ancestors. Yes, laser and GPS systems were present, but not on the front line. Progress in the realm of productivity was more apt to be a matter of size and horsepower-an iterative upgrade of predecessors with only a trim and a rinse to mark the three-year passage of time.

ConExpo 2002, by contrast, was a wake-up call to the 100,000-plus visitors who trooped the area in a state of amazement at the tremendous display of technological wizardry. While in some ways it smacked of “things to come,” it showed for certain that the days of beefy levers and no-nonsense dials were numbered, booted out to pasture by fighter-plane joysticks and electronic display panels offering the promise of control and information beyond imagination.

It remained for ConExpo 2005 to drive home the point that the electronic-hydraulic onslaught was no flash-in-the-pan. While it was in full progress, replacing questions of if and what, with how far and how fast the technological revolution would proceed. Yet, the notion of digital access to all aspects of the construction effort would have to wait for another three years.

What ConExpo 2008 showed-indeed drove home with absolute clarity-was how deep an impact the digital job site has had on equipment and practices in the decade since it began to make its presence felt in the industry. The speed and thoroughness with which the machine guidance/control vendors developed and refined their systems since ConExpo 2005 was stunning to say the least, but their feats were matched by the manufacturers on whose equipment these systems reside. In turn, the software purveyors’ offerings grew in strength and user-friendliness to bridge the gap between project planning and jobsite production. But above all it was the emergence of the digital job site integrating these elements into a cohesive vision that focused attention on solutions rather than activities.

What this issue intends to make clear today is that the digital job site is no longer on the horizon. It is here, and while still fledgling, its importance to your future is inescapable. This issue is about what’s real and available right now, but by next March, at ConExpo 2011, these technologies will have grown, expanded, and morphed into new forms. While it’s truly astounding what technology makes possible these days, it seems that the biggest problem lies in deciding what elements fit your needs the most…and it’s to that end Grading & Excavation Contractor intends to keep you on top of the task.