Technology in Construction: The Connected Job Site

March 1, 2011

John Thomas, a marketing consultant for Caterpillar, recognizes that for some grading and excavation contractors, technology can be viewed as disruptive.

“They know how to move dirt. They’ve moved dirt for years,” he says. “When we introduce some of these solutions to them, it feels disruptive because it makes them have to change if they’re going to have to incorporate it.”

“Getting an understanding of how technology actually works, how simple it can be, and how beneficial it can be when applied correctly is pretty important to those customers,” Thomas adds.

Plus, establishing a comfort zone with new technology helps contractors become more competitive and reap time and money savings on their investment, he says.

In the past, Caterpillar has offered the AccuGrade machine control and guidance as a feature installed by a dealer through a partnership with Trimble Geomatics and Engineering.

This year, Caterpillar will be unveiling for the first time at ConExpo a factory-installed grade-control solution on multiple machines in what Thomas calls an “even larger connected worksite and technology presence.”

Thomas says the company will display 10 machines with various grade-control technologies on them. The majority of the machines will feature the company’s Product Link solution, which wirelessly transmits data from onboard machine systems to a computer, tracking such information as machine location, productivity, health of individual machine systems, and service meter hours.

“We’ve recently announced our next-generation Product Link telematics solution,” Thomas says. “There will be an opportunity for customers to talk to some of our telematics experts at ConExpo about how telematics can impact their business and to be able to look at the software online, look at machines and how the system reports.

“We will be displaying some of the new gear showing deeper integration of grade-control technologies into the machines at ConExpo for the first time,” Thomas adds.

Also, customers who have been conducting field testing will be on hand to provide testimonials.

“We’ll have a number of experts on the show floor who will describe the definite differences in the product, but more importantly how it will make a big difference in the customer’s business and the application in the field,” Thomas adds.

“At the heart of any digital job site is data-without digital data the contractor cannot build the project as it was designed,” says Nick Guadagnoli, product marketing manager for Leica Geosystems Machine Control.

Leica Construction Office is a software platform designed to help a contractor convert paper plans or two-dimensional data to three-dimensional data.

“It allows the contractor to import and export data to Leica Geosystems positioning equipment and machine control equipment, as well as to other third-party manufacturers’ equipment by supporting industry standard data formats such as dxf and LandXML,” says Guadagnoli. “This gives the contractor unlimited freedom in deciding on what type of positioning equipment they would like to use.”

Leica Geosystems offers machine-control systems on a large number of machines to help the contractor build what has been designed.

“We offer machine-control solutions for excavators, graders, dozers, curb and gutter machines, slipform pavers, drilling rigs, backhoes, asphalt pavers, milling machines, and trimmers,” he says. “We also offer positioning equipment that allows the contractors to take control of their jobsites by performing their own stakeout and measurement tasks.”

Topcon Positioning Systems will show at ConExpo its latest technology for crawler dozers: the new 3D-MC² machine control system, which utilizes Topcon’s GX-60 control box, GPS+ antenna, MC-R3 receiver and MC² sensor, pairing them with advanced new controlling software to provide position updates up to 100 times per second.

The MC² sensor combines a gyro, compass and inertial sensor mounted to the back of the blade of dozers to measure the X, Y, and Z position as well as the roll, pitch, yaw, and acceleration.

“Our premiere product is 3D-MC² for dozers, because it enables contractors to double the speed and accuracy they’ve been able to get out of conventional GPS machines,” says Tony Vanneman, construction products marketing manager for Topcon Positioning Systems.

“It enables the dozer operator to get operating speeds and accuracies out of these GPS-base machines we haven’t been able to get before,” Vanneman adds. “Anytime you can take any conventional machine, get better operating speed and better accuracy out of it, makes fewer passes and get the grade makes the contractors a lot more money.”

Meanwhile, the company’s indoor booth at ConExpo will feature major equipment manufacturers, including Caterpillar, John Deere, and Case. The outdoor booth will encompass several pieces of heavy equipment featuring Topcon’s GPS, machine-control, and 2D laser-based systems.

Manufacturers are cognizant of the increasing need for a return on investment, Vanneman says.

Case in point: the Topcon Tierra telematics system.

“That greatly enhances contractors’ ability to control their costs,” says Vanneman. “The biggest one is fuel savings. As fuel costs continue to rise, if we can reduce the amount of time when those machines are sitting there running and not being operated, that not only saves the contractors fuel, but also the biggest side benefit of that is it reduces emissions.

“Telematics does a multitude of things to help control costs. Where is that machine? Is it being used on a job? Is it on a trailer heading for Mexico in the middle of the night? Is it in a heavy equipment dealership branch being serviced? Being able to control your assets is increasingly essential.”

Hemisphere GPS brings to the construction sector its heading GNSS compassing technology. Hemisphere GPS’s two-dimensional and three-dimensional excavator guidance systems will be at ConExpo. Earthworks is the construction business unit that features two-dimensional and three-dimensional solutions for excavator bucket guidance.

The X200 system is all about onsite design capability, says Andre Roberge, the company’s senior business analyst and senior marketing manager. “You can position or move your excavator onsite and then select from a number of standard technologies that may be flat plane, simple trenching, single slope, dual slope, and easy things like that where you put the teeth of an excavator on a known elevation or coordinate and work from that particular point.”

The X300 system-which will be the focus at ConExpo-uses a more powerful computer and a large sophisticated interface along with a digital terrain model loaded onto the computer onboard the excavator.

“Instead of designing onsite, this is a full three-dimensional system where you can track an excavator anywhere onsite and know exactly from a traditional perspective where you need to guide the bucket to your design style, which could be something simple like a parking lot, a simple grade, or it could be something sophisticated like an 18-hole golf course,” Roberge says.

Another option to optimize construction productivity comes from Trimble Heavy and Highway solutions.

The Trimble Connected Construction Site provides real-time, two-way data flow between the office and job site to enhance productivity, reduce downtime, and streamline the construction process.

In the excavation software takeoff sector is RocTek, which offers WinEx Master and LineTracker Technology.

“Companies use our take-off software to determine the quantities needed for the job,” says Jim Jimenez, sales manager for RocTek.

Contractors can take hardcopy plans or those transmitted electronically and use Rocktek’s takeoff software program to determine how to execute a job in excavation, site work, cutting or grading.

“Before they got that software, they’d have to get a ruler and a pencil and grid it out by hand,” says Jimenez, adding that the software significantly reduces the time necessary to map out the job.

The company’s LineTracker Technology automatically tracks and traces lines, replacing the user having to identify points with a computer mouse.

“The most tedious part of doing a cut-and-fill takeoff is manually tracing all of the contour lines,” Jimenez points out. “Some jobs may have a thousand contour lines, and each contour line has an elevation. LineTracker speeds up the process.”

Software that addresses the needs of the construction industry is helping companies save time and money.

Lojac Enterprises implemented Maxwell Systems’ StreetSmarts in April 2006 after management’s dissatisfaction with another software program’s inventory and job cost components.

Maxwell Systems’ StreetSmarts is business management software for heavy and highway construction designed to achieve operational efficiencies, cost reductions, and increased profits on a daily basis.

Its SmartTraxx module enables contractors to enter data once in the field, enabling field personnel to track such factors as payroll, equipment and mechanic time, progress quantities, fuel tickets, and purchase order receipts. Information is synched with the home office.

Kellie Mires, chief financial officer, says the company chose Maxwell Systems’ StreetSmarts among four other companies’ products because of its strength in job cost and inventory processing.

“We were also impressed with the software’s ability to integrate with existing programs,” says Mires.

Since the original implementation, Lojac has added several modules.

“We use the document-imaging and SmartTraxx’ remote payroll,” says Mires. “The remote payroll has been one of the most dramatic improvements in our field reporting. We have approximately 30 users that now transmit daily field information-payroll hours, equipment hours, and progress quantities-remotely. We have included the asphalt plants and trucking employees and plan to continue adding specific groups to this method of reporting.”

Mires says the software has saved a “tremendous amount” of time for the foremen and the accounting staff and also yields more accurate information.

“The data input is validated remotely from the most recent data available on the StreetSmarts server,” she says. “Each electronic time card is transmitted to the appropriate division manager, who reviews all the information submitted by their specific crews.”

Mires says electronic processing has been beneficial “not only from the standpoint of efficiency, but it also instills pride in our foremen.

“Because we purchased the hardware necessary for SmartTraxx, they are now able to use e-mail and Internet on the job site,” she adds. “It has been most impressive to see the many uses our employees have found for this new technology.”

Of note, the crews send daily quantities to state inspectors, decreasing the amount of time for accounts receivable to be processed.

“Another feature that saves a great deal of accounting time is the product’s ability to export to Excel from all system-generated reports,” Mires says, pointing out that Excel is within the comfort zone of her company’s software users.

John Deere’s JDLink telematics equipment management systems are wireless communications systems designed to deliver location, utilization, performance, and maintenance data to contractors for optimum productivity and operating efficiency, says Clint Allaman, product marketing manager.

The company offers three distinct lines of JDLink, depending on individual fleet requirements.

The systems combine JDLink network services with field-installed hardware, the components of which are integrated into a machine’s electrical system to monitor location, functions, hours, fuel information, alerts, and other essential machine data providing timely data on fuel, machine utilization, machine location, maintenance planning, and service alerts.

The system tracks the gallons-per-hour fuel consumption as well as the amount of time a machine works at various load levels. Utilization by function also can be tracked, such as seeing how much time a loader spends working in third gear.

The systems provide a geofence that keeps tabs on which machines are working and which are not, as well as providing driving directions to any machine in the fleet. An alert log with a description of each alert code can be accessed upon demand.

Additionally, the system may alert users and John Deere dealers to potential downtime scenario. All stop-engine alerts are sent via e-mail, Web, or cell phone.

“JDLink improves the efficiency of both Deere and non-Deere machines by reducing cost and increasing revenue, monitoring machine health, simplifying maintenance scheduling and documentation, tracking rental fleet machine locations and engine hours, recovering stolen machines through alerts and superior tracking, and a lot more,” Allaman points out.

Johnson Construction & Development in Lamar, MO, uses Carlson software for many projects. Bob Littlejohn, who does CAD Services for the company, likes that those who own Carlson Software also are programmers who can be called upon if there is an issue.

Carlson Software has several components, with the “ultra” level being Fleet Manager Office, says Randy Noland, vice president of business development and director of the company’s machine-control software sector.

“Within that are productivity analysis tools for the grading performance,” he notes. “That connects to Carlson Grade, which is 3D machine-control software that monitors all of the articulation through various sensors-Global Navigation Satellite System and Global Positioning System.

“It’s comparing the design surface to your current surface so that it’s always monitoring in real-time the progress of this earth being moved,” he adds. “What connects this Fleet Manager Office and one of the variations is HeartBeat connectivity-a wireless connectivity that links the machine or machines to the office.”

Like many software solutions, Carlson offers a scale of design/build life cycle options. Those options will be displayed at ConExpo and include Carlson’s Machine Control & Site Management software; Grade Supervisor; Grade (3D machine control for dozers, excavators, compactors, and scrapers); TruckPro-Material Management for mining haul trucks; Fleet Manager Office; Productivity Tools; the Heartbeat Connectivity, MC Pro line of GNSS receivers; MC Pro GS; MC Pro 500; MC Pro Lite; MC Pro Lite Duo; MC Control Box; Commander; Rugged Field Tablet; SUPERVISOR; Design Software; Takeoff 2011, and Construction 2011.

InSite SiteWork will be introducing 3D Live at ConExpo. The software provides a real-time 3D display.

“Unlike other three-dimensional displays where you have to save and exit in order to render a 3D and look at the quality of your work, 3D Live is hooked to the live data you’re working on, so that as you trace, edit, and add contours and other site features to your take-off, the 3D is instantly up,” says Steve Warfle, product manager.

“That allows the end users to immediately see whether the changes are correct in real time,” he adds.

The company also will be releasing a tool that makes it easier to convert Vector-based PDF files into takeoffs.

“This new tool allows you to get CAD-like speed out of a PDF file,” says Warfle. “The name of the game is production. Most people don’t think of estimating as a production environment, but the truth is the more takeoffs you do, the higher your chances of getting a job.

“By introducing this feature, we’ve given the estimator the possibility of getting their work done faster and therefore, the potential to win more bids.”

There are two areas in which contractors derive a return on the investment in 3D software, says Warfle.

“If you are an estimator for a company, you need to know every facet of the company’s capabilities,” he says. “We take the takeoff portion of their job and decrease it by a factor of five to 10.”

Another benefit is having the ability to prove that an estimate is correct.

“The way that contracting is done in the United States, you typically have an engineer or developer, a general contractor, subs, and there might even be a construction manager monitoring the job progress,” Warfle adds. “You get into a lot of situations where it’s my word against your word in terms of getting paid. It’s not uncommon for our customers to find out the original job they were bidding either requires extras or it wasn’t correct and there’s no way that the balanced job site is really balanced.”

With manual takeoffs, the only way to prove calculations is for someone else to go through them step-by-step.

“What InSite provides is full graphics to say this is where the numbers come from,” Warfle says.

Longevity is one of the strengths of OEM Data Delivery, says Sam Simons, director of business development for the company. The company has made customized electronics for the off-highway market (construction, aggregate, and mining) for 40 years in response to the industry’s ever-changing needs.

OEM Data Delivery provides a full range of telematic products, including RFID, GPS alternatives, cellular units, and fuel-tracking solutions.

“We provide a data pipeline from the field back to our customers’ corporate computer system,” says Simons, adding that the hardware is customized to client needs.

Products that will be at ConExpo include the ST-550 Radio Tracker, a wireless hour meter that also produces idle/work logs and service alerts; the ST-900 Cellular Service Tracker for remote equipment tracking; the Serial Pump Tracker, which delivers fuel and consumable analytics to help control and reduce fuel costs; the GoPOD, which offers wireless, hands-free equipment data capture; and the Secure Fuel Management System for security and accountability.

One of the most prominent current customer needs is for hour meters and fuel tracking, notes Simons.

“We capture fuel from the fuel truck and the fuel island as well as hour meters and location,” he says, adding that the ROI comes with eliminating the need for someone to climb into equipment to capture data.

“We work with our customers to come up with a proactive program to cut down idling hours,” Simons says. “You cut that time by 10% and those are huge numbers off your fuel bill.”

OEM Data Delivery often services the top 10 to 20 of the ENR Top 400.

“They’ve invested millions of dollars in software programs to help them manage their costs, people, fleet, and all of their equipment,” says Simons. “They know they can’t get good data if it’s based on human beings. You’re asking people who are normally working in the field to now become clerical people. We’re a way to help them execute their strategy of managing their equipment by better data from the field.”

There also is a great deal of employee turnover and different skill sets, Simons adds.

“It’s tough for these companies to train people in their own processes, and one of those processes is data collection,” he says. “If they don’t keep good data coming in, they can’t make profitable decisions. They’ve moved the clerical activities out into the field, so the field productivity has dwindled because they have to spend so much time on paperwork. They love the fact that we can automate the whole process and help them manage their fleet better while freeing up their people’s time.”

Vertigraph develops quantity takeoff software that calculates cut-and-fill volumes directly from the file. No paper blueprints are required with the company’s SiteWorx/OS software.

SiteWorx/OS enables users to digitize directly from TIFF, PDF, DXF and other raster and CAD format files using the computer mouse with existing and proposed contour lines, spot elevations and areas along project boundaries, topsoil strip areas and topsoil re-spread areas.

SiteWorx/OS automatically calculates cut-and-fill volumes and areas with subgrade volumes. Information can be viewed on-screen or printed. Among the reports that can be generated: 3D graphics of the existing and proposed site; cut-and-fill grid report; takeoff report with the plan view of the site with project boundaries, contour lines, points and areas, and area reports identifying measured areas, along with subgrade volumes and materials. All information can be exported to Microsoft Excel and Word.

Dexter + Chaney’s Spectrum Equipment Control enables contractors to track all aspects of equipment usage and assign equipment costs to specific jobs.

“All costs and all revenue associated with any piece of equipment can be assigned, tracked, and reported,” says the company’s marketing director, Wayne Newitts.

“Because the Equipment Control module integrates completely with Spectrum’s Preventative Maintenance module, contractors can take control of equipment maintenance using accurate and updated information on every piece of equipment in the field.”

The Equipment Control module also enables equipment to be charged to jobs and provides profit reporting for each piece of equipment, tracking all costs associated with individual pieces of equipment.

Among the many features:

  • The Recurring Equipment Transaction Report starting screen offers “˜active’ and “˜inactive’ status check boxes.
  • On the G/L Detail Report update, the Equipment Standby and Equipment Usage transactions posts to Job Cost history in detail if a Document Imaging image is attached.
  • Tracking of equipment revenues, fuel and oil usage, and meter reading is made easy.

Trakware will be displaying its Earthworks software at the Tally Systems booth at ConExpo.

“Primary design consideration is ease-of-use,” says Trakware president Gregg LaPore. “Many of our users have to wear a lot of hats in their jobs, and we don’t think that having to learn a lot of complicated software is what our users really want to do.

“We’ve written software that is both affordable and very easy use. It has a very clean interface, big icons, lots of detailed prompts, many tools to double-check their work, more than four-and-a-half hours of training videos built right into the software, a dedicated online support site, and twice-weekly online training classes that are free to our users who are in their first year of ownership or are on maintenance.”

One end user is Charles Hassinger of CR Hassinger Consulting in Raleigh, NC. Hassinger relies on Earthworks to develop site design and takeoff for restaurants, including Golden Corral.

Hassinger says he’s been in the construction industry for 39 years and has used nearly every program on the market. Always on the lookout for something “bigger and better,” Hassinger saw a nine-minute demo of Earthworks more than a year ago.

“I literally drooled the entire time I was watching it,” he says.

Hassinger says the ease of accessibility and user-friendly qualities are remarkable.

Of the many features on the program, one he favors in particular is the trace feature.

“Instead of doing an entire contour line, you can digitize the first quarter-inch and bring entire rest of the line onscreen,” he notes.

Hassinger also has high praise for the program’s measurement feature.

“Everything is onscreen,” he says. “I rarely print plans anymore. All I need is a computer, and I can access every plan and takeoff I have with the field measurements on my laptop. It’s just absolutely phenomenal as to what it allows us to do.”

Hassinger often finds himself doing site design with little or no data. Using Earthworks, Google Earth and information from local municipalities, he puts together a document for civil engineers that stays within budget.

When he does his presentations, he can do so in three-dimensional views.

“My folks can visually see what we’re doing versus looking at numbers at spreadsheet,” he adds.

Sometimes, Hassinger will come across a challenge for which he needs help.

“The online weekly training programs are just phenomenal,” Hassinger says.

The Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Co.-which constructs multimillion-dollar bridge and highway projects throughout the Intermountain West-has saved more than 20 hours of time and a clerical position through its use of Build2Win. Previously, the company had used Excel spreadsheets that were managed via fax and e-mail.

Build2Win is an integrated construction management suite of three browser-based modules that share a common database so field, dispatch, and shop personnel share real-time information on the status of their resources, says Justin Heitmann, creative/Internet specialist for Bid2Win Software.

“This gives companies visibility into and control of project profitability in a way that has been previously unimaginable,” says Heitmann, adding that the expansion from Build2Win’s single field tracking solution will be unveiled at ConExpo.

New elements include field tracking and analysis, resource planning and dispatching, equipment maintenance, and repair management.

HeavyJob Field Management Software is one of many software products that will be displayed by HCSS at ConExpo.

Others include HeavyBid Estimating Software, The Dispatcher Resource Management Software, and Equipment360 Equipment Maintenance Software, among others.

Matt Teeters, HCSS’s marketing specialist, explains how each works: “HeavyBid leverages cost history to make estimating more accurate; HeavyJob tracks job costs and helps the company effectively manage field operations; The Dispatcher tracks company assets-equipment and employees-and how efficiently they’ve been utilized; and Equipment360 enables construction companies to manage their entire maintenance operation, thus lowering costs and increasing utilization of each piece of equipment.

“Thousands of contractors rely on HCSS to turn their estimators, foremen, superintendents, dispatchers, project managers, and equipment managers into knowledge workers via software, implementation planning, and training,” he says.

Networkfleet connects wirelessly to an engine’s onboard computer and a GPS system. It continuously monitors the vehicle’s location and performance, including MPG, idle time, engine health, and more.

Business owners log in to a secure website to view vehicle location and diagnostics data and can receive instant e-mail or text notifications when exceptions occur or pre-set thresholds are exceeded.

Networkfleet also offers an optional Sensor Expansion Module that detects voltage events from the vehicle, such as Power Take Off (PTO) engagement/ disengagement, secondary engine on/off, and door open/close. Users get detailed reports on sensor activity showing the duration of events as well as the location of where those events took place.

One-call programs help those working around utilities know what’s underground before they dig. But that’s only one tool in the toolbox, and the information can be faulty or inaccurate. The contractor is still responsible for knowing what’s under the ground before digging.

Randy Agnetti previously owned a company that provided utility locating, leak detection, video inspecting, and ground-penetration radar for northern California.

He used Geophysical Survey Systems, Inc. (GSSI) in his work. The system, now more than a decade old, has never been in the shop, says Agnetti. Others report the same experience.

“Before I bought it, I went to ConExpo and tried out all of the models that were there,” he says. “I felt the GSSI had the best resolution, the best features, and was built better than anybody else’s.

“Its components are all military grade and all of the parts were made specifically for ground-penetrating radar; it was not a computer-based program that adapted itself to GPR signals. The processing was quicker and more accurate; their resolution was better. Everything about it was a finer product.”

Agnetti went from service to sales in 2008, starting up Clear View Equipment in Mount Dora, FL. Among the many types of underground location equipment he sells is the Geophysical Survey System product.

People erroneously assume it requires technical expertise to use, notes Agnetti.

“The perfect example is when I went to visit a guy in Alabama who never used ground-penetrating radar before,” he says. “He was doing directional boring. He was put off by GPR, thinking it was difficult to use and he needed an engineer to do it.”

Agnetti demonstrated the GSSI product for about 20 minutes.

“We found things the other units couldn’t find,” he says. “I gave it to his wife, who had never seen one in her life and within two hours, they were walking up and down the street finding utilities with it. The customer bought it that afternoon.”

The Southeast Alabama Gas District also bought a unit the following day.

“It’s the sort of unit that has a lot of good, clean images,” Agnetti says. “The technology is so simple. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist anymore to make it work. It does a very accurate job and gets very good information.”

GSSI does provide training and support to help end users launch the equipment faster.

Peter Masters, application specialist for GSSI, points out that the company has longevity on its side. It was begun 40 years ago by university professors who wanted to do their own ground penetrating radar equipment to do geological investigations, building upon technology that has existed prior to World War II.

Since that time, applications have extended beyond geophysical-type investigations to such applications as utility locating and non-destructive test equipment for looking at concrete buildings, bridges, and roads. The equipment has been deployed everywhere from the North to South poles.

“We’ve got a lot of experience developing the algorithms and the software to make these machines work to the best of their ability,” says Masters. “The result is we get very good resolutions with our antennas and equipment. This is a reading type of technology. We’re looking for little bits of information on the screen that are going to help us figure out where pipes are and how things are laid out in the ground, so resolution is a very important factor.”

GSSI’s utility scan system will be the featured product at ConExpo.

“It’s a GPR system set up with an antennae frequency that works well for doing shallow investigations to find such things as utility lines, underground storage tanks-even geophysical applications such as soil, water tables,” says Masters.

Also featured will be structure scan products for those involved in rehabilitating concrete structures.

There is a bigger return on the investment in ground-penetrating radar due to prices for the technology coming down over the years, says Masters. “Starting with $15,000, you can get a piece of equipment you can put out in the field. If you’re using GPR, you’re going to be able to cut down on the amount of time that you’re out there locating.”

In utility locating, “the best guys are the people who do the best job using a number of different tools,” Masters adds. “They’ll use the standard radio frequency locators, GPRs, metal detectors and maps. The more information they bring together, the better job they’re going to do.”

GPR helps contractors get the most information “up front,” Masters points out. “It helps you make better decisions to help you understand the underground before you get into it. It saves you time,” he points out.

Saving money in damages and fines is another benefit of identifying exactly what’s underground, says Masters, adding that some contractors tell him they can pay for a GPR system with one prevented accident.

“A lot of companies—utility contractors in particular—rely on the one-call system. People will tell you that the onecall system is good, but it doesn’t give you enough information. The contractor is still liable for what it costs to repair that line if that information is faulty or inadequate,” he adds. “Employing a GPR in conjunction with other locating tools can prevent damages and breaking into people’s utility lines.”

Many contractors who had not previously heard of GPR were excited to learn how easy it is to use, says Masters. “You don’t need a Ph.D. in geology to be able to use this equipment,” says Masters. “It’s definitely something people can deploy on their own. Over the last 10 years, it’s been growing because people are learning it’s not that difficult to use. People have been hiring other companies to do it for them, and that’s fine on an occasional basis. But for those interested in making gains in the excavation business, being able to do your own locating is a huge factor and is manageable for an excavation company.”

Geotrack provides Subsurface Utility Engineering, the engineering process of designating (horizontally) and locating (vertically) underground utilities. Once the facilities are located, Geotrack surveys, maps, and digitizes the subsurface data as required with a CAD drawing in MicroStation or AutoCAD software depicting the utilities on design plans and on test hole reports in profile view. “This service mitigates risks associated with projects that impact existing utilities,” says company president Jonathan Tan. “We reduce catastrophic, legal, and financial risks while improving project schedules, budgets, and keeping projects from being delayed due to utility service disruptions and hits. “We utilize state-of-the-art electromagnetic, sonic, and vibratory techniques to perform the horizontal designation and non-destructive vacuum excavation to determine actual utility depth, size, material, and condition. We can also provide various levels of GIS services and can tailor any deliverables to accommodate requirements.”

The company’s clients include 18 major airports, highways and tollways, water and waste water systems, power generating stations, utility companies, industrial plants, corporate campuses, port facilities, state transportation departments, and federal projects for the White House, Pentagon, military bases, and the Kennedy Center.

The company also is the primary provider of On-Call Professional Utility Locating services for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Pipehorn Utility Tool Co. has improved its high-frequency pipe and cable Pipehorn inductive locator through its Pipehorn 800 Series, which features the same high-frequency performance (480 kHz) as the Classic Pipehorn as an option when direct connect is not possible.

The technology works with such conditions as cast iron, un-energized power (streetlights), tracer tapes and worn-out tracer wires, short side services, and fiber and also sweeps for unmarked utilities. “New simultaneous conductive transmission of both high [480 kHz] and low [9 kHz] frequencies provides better performance in congested underground areas,” says David Dodd, the company’s sales and marketing director.

“A new fast-response signal strength meter and sharp audio tone combine for precise pinpointing in all conditions,” he says. “The transmitter features a new allweather, high-impact ABS housing. Audio tones indicate ‘transmitter on,’ battery strength, and good connection.”

Damage prevention is a common goal in the industry, Dodd points out.

“Avoiding utilities is just as important as finding them,” he says. “When excavators are a partner in this process, everyone wins through fewer damages and safer digging. Many excavators today are rediscovering the benefits of ‘Search and Verify’ used in conjunction with Call 811. With the right technique and tool—one that’s effective, simple, and affordable—excavators can better know what’s below.”

Some underground lines are not required to be marked for ‘Call Before You Dig.’ What makes that scenario safer is higher-frequency inductive searching and verification at dig sites to help excavators avoid all lines, Dodd says.

While locating with a direct connection using a low frequency yields satisfactory results, “the problem is that often there is no access to direct connect, or there is not sufficient signal at low frequency to trace the line,” Dodd says. “These situations don’t have to be classified as ‘unlocatable.’ Locating inductively, or without hooking up, using higher frequencies can solve an otherwise impossible locate.”

Higher frequency/inductive locate situations include the following:
• Inserted services
• Tracer wire/tape that is broken, has deteriorated, or is not accessible
• Street/parking lot lighting or two-wire photocell systems with no access
• Cast/ductile iron pipes with electrically resistive joints
• Searching for unmarked conductors and verifying existing marks
• Energized power lines and stubbedout power secondaries
• Short lengths like water and gas shortside services and stub-outs
• Fiber-optic lines with no access or minimal metallic content.

MALA Geoscience USA will be showing three ground-penetrating radar (GPR) systems at ConExpo including the CX11, EZ Locator, and X3M. “We have tailored each system specifically for the particular application for which it’s being used,” says Matt Wolf, company president.

The MALA CX11 concrete imaging system scans concrete structures, presenting data for real-time and in-the-box 3D data acquisition, display, and analysis. Wolf says the system allows for accurate inspection of concrete structures such as floors, walls, balconies, or bridge decks, and the detection of metallic and nonmetallic objects and features within (e.g., rebar, post-tension cables, metallic/nonmetallic conduits and pipes, voids, and the measurement of slab thickness. Software for the system is available with three different measurement modes: 2D, 3D Grid, and Object Mapper.

“The user-friendly software with its simple interface is easily operated by either the popular push-and-turn knob or by the full remote capabilities with the buttons on the antenna,” says Wolf. The system fully supports the Mala High Frequency (HF) Antennas. The MALA Easy Locator System is a standard GPR system for utility-location professionals. The system includes an easy user interface with almost complete automation of settings whereby the operator provides minimal input to begin collecting data, says Wolf.

Two available antennas for the system are the “Mid,” used for targets as small as 5 centimeters in diameter and up to 4 meters deep and “Shallow,” used for targets as small as 3 centimeters in diameter and up to 2.5 meters deep. Modern advances in the design and construction of buried utilities have resulted in an increasing use of nonmetallic materials.

GPR is the only technology available that does not require a physical connection to the utility, nor does it rely on radiating electromagnetic fields that may or may not be present or detectable, Wolf points out.

“Locate professionals know the difficulties associated with nonmetallic utilities and that conventional locating tools leave you a few pieces short,” says Wolf, adding that the Easy Locator technology helps to fill in the missing pieces.

The MALA X3M system is based on the MALA X3M Control Unit and MALA Shielded Antennas 100–800 MHz. The MALA X3M control unit is an integrated unit, fitted directly on a shielded antenna and powered externally.

The built-in electronic design makes the complete system a low-weight and very compact system, easy to transport, assemble and operate, Wolf says, adding that the system can be quickly and easily configured for use across a wide range of midrange applications and on either a pushing or a pulling system. Knowing how to operate equipment before even stepping foot into it is the benefit of computer simulation. Personal Simulators is PC-based simulation software developed by Simlog. Among is applications is Hydraulic Excavator and Wheel Loader.

Each Personal Simulator features a unique instructional design enabling trainees to work their way through a series of simulation modules focused on core skills development.

Modules begin with the basics of controls familiarization and progress trainees through to a high proficiency level that prepares them for seat time in the field. “Training with Simlog’s Personal Simulators is self-paced for the trainee with automatic measurement of key performance indicators that frees up instructor time,” says Mike Keffer, marketing specialist at Simlog.

“A choice of simulator controls and setup options are offered to suit a range of training budgets,” he says. “Simlog’s Personal Simulators are ideal for prescreening training candidates, skills devel-opment, and skills upgrading that will allow operators to reach their productivity goals faster while reducing trainingrelated fuel costs and keeping accidents due to inexperience at a minimum.”

Vista Training offers PC-based simulators to help new construction equipment operators to become proficient with basic machine operation and controls in a safe environment, says Chuck Frey, the company’s marketing manager. “These affordable 3D simulation programs are instructionally designed for maximum training effectiveness,” he says. “They help trainees to build operating skills by presenting them with tasks that are progressively more difficult and performed in realistic job-site environments. As a result, when trainees graduate to a full-sized machine, they can operate more safely with less wear and damage to the machine, and can reach their production targets faster. In addition, fewer hours spent ‘in the seat’ can also result in significant fuel savings.”

For each task, the simulators measure how quickly and carefully each exercise is performed, based on key performance indicators. This data can be used to help improve trainee performance. It can also be used to evaluate which trainees are best suited to equipment operation.

The simulators are available for hydraulic excavator, wheel loader, rigidframe off-highway truck, tower crane, mobile crane, harvester, forwarder, and underground drill jumbo machine types. “Compared to full-motion platform units, PC-based simulators from Vista Training are inexpensive and easy to set up, using off-the-shelf hardware,” says Frey. “They are designed to run on a desktop PC or laptop with a high-end graphics card and may be used with a flat screen plus PC joysticks, replica controls, or OEM controls.”

Underground Imaging Technologies (UIT), recently acquired by Caterpillar, has developed a system to nonintrusively and rapidly collect subsurface data “that we use to precisely map underground infrastructure in 3D as well as to identify a variety of unknown subsurface targets,” says Dominic Indelicato, director of business development.

“Our system integrates a number of second-generation technologies, such as multichannel ground-penetrating radar and/or EM systems, GPS, or laser-survey systems and our proprietary data collection and interpretation software, which when combined with our extensive geophysical expertise, allows us to analyze and interpret the huge volumes of geophysical data collected in the field.”

The horizontal and vertical location data can be downloaded into most industry- standard CAD, GIS, or 3D modeling software.

UIT’s geophysical tools include a multichannel, 14-antenna, ground-penetrating radar system called TerraVision II and a time-domain electromagnetic induction (TDEMI) system called MetaVision II. The extensive data from multiple geophysical and geospatial inputs are processed using a suite of UIT’s proprietary software that integrates the acquisition, processing, and analysis of these dissimilar datasets in a geomatic engineering process.

That process integrates acquisition, modeling, analysis and management of spatially referenced data that, when used in common information systems provides a well-defined and accurate representation of the subsurface that is geo-referenced and tied to control points, says Indelicato. “All of UIT’s subsurface mapping activities are tied to an extremely accurate differential GPS or a robotic Total Station that provides the required spatial information and has the capability to provide the actual elevation—not just the depth of cover of all targets,” he adds. “Extensive post-processing and interpretation of the developed datasets, acquired from favorable soils, result in a foot-by-foot map with accurate three-dimensional target locations formatted for CAD, BIM, or other GIS compatibility.”