Assembling the Software

June 1, 2011

Randy Noland, vice president of business development and director of machine control for Carlson Software, is fond of saying, “I can put this hardware all over a grader or dozer, and it’s like a printer sitting there waiting to operate. If it doesn’t have data and software, it’s nothing.”

Steve McGough, chief operating officer for HCSS, has another perspective. He sees the industry “getting smarter and using technology to help drive quantities and push cost down.

“If a company is standing still, its competitors will pass them by,” he adds. “Every contractor is trying to squeeze each nickel of saving out of each job. If you are not using technology, you will not be successful.”

Noland points out Carlson Software has helped to lead the way into the digitally connected job site since 2001, when the company first installed a digitally connected job site at North American Coal, an open-pit coal mine in North Dakota.

“We were early believers in this technology,” he says. “Clients have told us what the benefits would be and we developed further specifications. We continue to promote that by developing scalable solutions that allow users to simply add on connectivity modules from several different approaches—one being that our boxes already have SIM cards inside, so we believe in it from a production standpoint, a safety standpoint, a support standpoint and from a maintenance and upgrade standpoint.”

Carlson Software is one of many companies that are not only rolling out ongoing updates, but creating full-service packages that provide umbrella services on the job site.

Yet, Noland does not believe it removes the need for special purpose software.

“Special purposes are just that—special purposes,” he says. “If there is an application-centered process that’s not addressed by another software company’s vision of this, they need to be able to plug in other packages when they need them. That’s one reason why we believe in open architecture.”

New from Carlson’s Positioning and Machine Control Division is an onsite catalog that outlines the features and benefits of site management, landfills, mining, fleet management (a new version was recently released), construction, 3D drilling, and material management software.

“It lists and categorizes our machine-control solutions by application and by product,” Noland says.

One of the fastest-growing niche markets for adopting the software is landfills, Noland says.

“We have two of the top players who are adopting the technology on a large scale with dozens and dozens of machines,” he adds.

Carlson Software recently rolled out a new software package called TruckPro for material management.

“Basically, it’s a heavy mining and landfill type application,” says Noland. “If you are a dredging company moving tons and tons and different sizes and quality rock, it’s a way to track where you’re picking them up and where you’re putting them. With regards to coal, it lets you blend multiple qualities of coal to get the right blend, just like coffee.”

Software benefits abound, says Noland.

For instance, one of the major benefits of the site management software, such as Carlson Grade Supervisor, is bid verification, Noland says.

“It’s basically a 3D control on a stick,” he says. “I can drive or walk a site, do a topography easily, and know where to bid my takeoff quantities from an accurate starting point rather than relying on an engineering company that’s simply referencing an old plat that might have been surveyed 20 years ago.”

Another benefit is being able to use fewer stakes by 90% without paying a surveyor, he says.

“We don’t want to take their work away, but when you reduce stakes, you reduce the need for a professional land surveyor, and when stakes get knocked out you’re not unproductive while you’re waiting for the surveyor to come out in a day or two,” says Noland.

The software also moves technology into the machines.

“All you are doing there differently is rather than a person or a pickup truck or an ATV riding around gathering data, the machines have sensors on them that monitor all of the articulation with regards to cross-slope and rotation, and then you have real-time records into your design surface,” he says.

“You know where your cuts are and where your fills are, so rather than leaving dirt off, you can push fill dirt into cut areas and balance your quantities in far fewer passes.”

That makes jobs quicker and more efficient, Noland points out.

“It also means you’re wearing the machine out less and you have a reduced carbon footprint because you’re burning less gas to get the job done,” he says.

Bridging Carlson Software’s various applications is Heartbeat, which establishes connectivity between machine assets, providing real-time streaming data.

Carlson Software offers free technical support for its products. Through SIM cards used in the Carlson Commander control box, which go into the machine and the Carlson Supervisor tablet PC, Carlson’s technical support department can remotely log in and provide technical assistance as well as upgrade the software.

Additionally, technical support and training movies are available online or inside the control box.

Most grading and excavation contractors have not yet adapted software into their operations, Noland points out.

In an effort to bring it to the attention of contractors, Noland founded and writes for a magazine titled Machine Control that’s also online as an effort to establish an open, unbiased platform.

Noland attends trade shows and also has attended Survey Summit in San Diego to spend time with surveyors.

“In some regards, they are being phased out, and in other regards their services are needed in a different role,” he says. “They’ve moved from driving stakes in the ground to being expert positioning consultants.”

Going forward, software will be a key factor in the future of the digitally connected job site, says Noland.

“It’s the glue that makes everything else work,” he points out. “Most of the changes in the future will be in hardware, and I believe they will disappear into the manufacturing of the machine. Software will become simpler, more open, and it will all be connected—not only connecting machine to office, but machine to machine and, even more intimately, every part of that machine will be connected to that software through sensors. The reaches of connectivity will be broader, but more integrated and more internal.”

Another company that makes a full-service software package is Maxwell Systems, which recently introduced ProContractorMX: Complete.

“This product is the first to the marketplace from the concept that estimating, takeoff, project management, analysis and accounting are all under one roof,” says Mike Gillum, director of product management for Maxwell Systems. “We call it a complete solution.”

One of the challenges for contractors has been that they’ve had to use multiple products to accomplish those tasks, Gillum notes.

“They’ve used an accounting package, a management package, a scheduling package, a take-off package and an estimating package, all from separate vendors,” he says. “All separate payments they have to make and all separate phone calls they have to make when something goes wrong or they need technical support.

“We’ve developed the ProContractorMX package, keeping in mind that we can be the one-stop shop for these contractors, from the small subcontractors that are doing the drywall for $1 million a year up to the billion-dollar general contractors putting together development packages and large jobs.”

The software can be tailored for each type of contractor.

“One of the benefits of the ProContractorMX package is there is one place to go for all of the data and the data is the most important part of any project,” says Gillum. “It all starts with the takeoff and the estimate. Once the job has been awarded, it needs to pull through to the project piece and onto accounting.”

Although ProContractorMX: Complete is a comprehensive software approach, there are those contractors who are either not ready to make the investment in it, whose team is not ready to use it or who are satisfied with a special purpose software they already operate.

For those contractors, Maxwell Systems offers a flexible way to get started with ProContractorMX to best meet immediate construction business needs, says Gillum. For example, contractors can begin with the solution’s Take-off & Estimating functionality and expand capabilities as needs demand by adding Accounting & Project Management capabilities in the future. When all features are used, contractors have the complete, bid-to-cash system, he adds.

As for ProContractorMX: Complete, once a bid is awarded, it allows for the estimate to be pulled into the project management piece, enabling real-time, work-in-progress field and office reports, Gillum says.

That’s accomplished through ProContractorMX Connect, which lists the pertinent project data, such as budgets, invoicing, and purchase orders, and ensures that materials are getting delivered on site on time.

It also helps manage subcontractors by tracking if they show up on time and schedules them to perform whatever job they were hired to do, Gillum says.

“All of that data gets entered into the ProContractorMX product, along with all of the attachments, which could be contracts, invoices, and attachments of the PDF files that you did takeoffs from with all of the annotations and quantities on them,” he says. “These get attached to what we call a job binder.”

The job binder is an automated form of the three-ring binder or folder that project managers or owners typically have carried around on job sites, containing all of the pertinent project data needed to build a job and make sure everything runs smoothly.

The job binder can be taken into the field through Mobile Connect using an iPad.

The information is not only easily accessible, but is current, Gillum points out.

“The key to a successful project is collaboration,” he says. “You’ve got so many players you’re dealing with: owners, clients, subcontractors, and material vendors. Keeping everybody up to date with the right information is one of the most important things to accomplish to have a successful project.”

The learning curve on the software depends on the number of users and what technologies they’ve used in the past, says Gillum.

“The takeoff and estimating piece is pretty simple,” he says. “Everything is driven by a database or what we call a catalog. The catalog is historical data: labor, equipment, subcontract costs, and average costs you’ve created from past jobs or you’re updating from vendors. The most tedious part of getting somebody up to speed is that catalog.”

Maxwell sells industry-specific catalogs, including an RSMeans catalog for contractors doing government work, such as road projects or work for municipalities or military bases.

“Right out of the box, you can be doing take-off, whether it’s digital take-off, doing it with mouse off of a monitor with PDF, bitmap, JPEG files or digitizers if you’re still getting blueprints, which some contractors still are,” says Gillum.

Gillum says one of the easiest ways to generate quantities is through CAD files. ProContractorMX has an Earthwork program, a mass excavation quantity program for cuts and fills into which CAD files can be imported directly from the engineer.

“That saves you a ton of time,” says Gillum. “There is no takeoff required whatsoever. You’re just manipulating that CAD data, entering it in special areas like parking lots and building pads and the program automatically generates cut and fill from the engineer’s CAD data.”

Maxwell Systems recommends that as the most accurate approach for contractors wanting to take the data to the field to a laser GPS or machine control.

Gillum acknowledges that job site technology can be daunting for some contractors, especially those who attend trade shows and see it all under one roof.

“Every vendor under the sun is there telling these contractors they need their hardware and their specific device to be successful in the field,” says Gillum. “It’s tough for these contractors, and when some of our customers have come by our booth to talk to us about what’s going with their business and what’s going on with technology, they look to Maxwell to provide answers. We work with these companies to recommend the best fit for Maxwell Systems ProContractorMX and for their business.”

Maxwell Systems has moved away from traditional software training to offer blended learning and to be consultants to customers, Gillum says.

“We’ve got expertise in project management and estimating and accounting, so we can consult with our customers: What are your business needs? What are you trying to accomplish by purchasing an automated estimating or accounting system? We’ll send in the right consultant to work with them to hone their estimating practices to build that catalog and create purchase orders directly from an estimate. We try to get the big picture from the owner, the estimator, the accountant, and the CFO to be able to provide them the kind of service they desire.”

Software updates can be executed with a DVD or CD for those who cannot get online; ProContractorMX operates on a flexible and scalable platform to quickly accommodate updates.

Customers also can connect with a consultant in a live chat through Maxwell System’s Customer Zone. The company also has a learning management system for real-time training.

“So if somebody wants to learn about one piece, they can do that,” says Gillum. “It’s intuitive where you have to answer questions throughout the training. There’s a quiz at the end to make sure you actually retained that information. That’s the best way to get a contractor up to speed on a specific issue.”

Maxwell Systems also offers regional trainings throughout the country where contractors can learn about the software in a classroom-style environment as part of a group.

Gillum sees Maxwell Systems’ ProContractorMX: Complete as fitting into the march that leads to the fully integrated digital job site.

“With ProContractorMX Connect and Mobile Connect, you don’t need to have a PC or laptop setup in a job trailer to have that connection back to your server in the office to get real-time data,” Gillum says. “The project information you need is on an iPad and it’s mobile, so as you’re out on the site up on a piece of equipment with one of your operators, or you’re in the job trailer, or you’re in the truck on your way to another project, you can synch up and have access to that real-time data as it’s entered into the system.

“If a vendor has supplied you or paid you, or you were waiting on a work in progress report on a different project and it gets entered into the system in the office, it’s automatically synched with that iPad and Mobile Connect so that real-time data is right there at your fingertips. You’re not digging through manila folders or papers that have copies spilling out.”

Down the road, Gillum sees Building Information Modeling (BIM) playing a greater role in the fully integrated digital job site.

“Rather than taking the model, printing it out on a blueprint or digital file and then the estimator or contractor having to re-enter that same exact data into the estimate, what’s happening is there’s more communication being started between some of the large general contractors and some of the engineers and architects,” he says.

“The more collaboration, the better—the better the data is going to be, the better the client’s going to be, and the better the project is going to be, because you’re not having to go back and forth five different times because the engineer redrew something or the owner wanted a change and the contractor never got notified. Then you’re talking about change-order requests and something had come up with more money involved and it wasn’t discussed.”

Not everyone is always kept in the loop on a construction project, Gillum points out.

“It’s almost impossible to do,” he says. “But with BIM and AutoCAD files and the ability for these contractors to work directly with the engineers and architects, we’re starting to see that turn a little bit.”

In the past, engineers did not like to release their data to contractors in part because of liability issues, Gillum says.

“In certain parts of the country, contractors cannot get a CAD file or a BIM file for whatever reason and they’re working through that,” he says. “We’re seeing in a lot of places around the country where contractors are either collaborating directly with certain architects and engineers or they’re bringing those functions in-house.”

That saves the client money, Gillum points out.

“More of that is happening with large general contractors, who can say, ‘We will design, develop, and build this for you all in one place.’ So their clients don’t have to deal with multiple people; it’s a one-stop shop.”

Gillum is starting to see more of that with large general contractors.

“They’re requiring their subcontractors who want to bid on a job to be able to work with BIM files or design files,” he says. “If they can’t, they’re not going to be able to win that work. I think it’s going to trickle down just like digital takeoff did five years ago when nobody knew what it was and now you can’t go to market without it.”

Using its own in-house proprietary software, DirtLogic provides earthwork takeoff estimating services for excavation contractors who prefer not to handle that aspect of a job in-house for lack or time or resources or for those who are seeking a second opinion.

“We quantify all of the dirt—the surface information like paving, concrete, building pads, and landscape,” notes company president Mike Gebarowski. “We provide all of the complete reports for their estimating. Typically in the past, we have done that in-house, but if they’re in a big hurry and don’t have the resources to do it, it makes more sense because of our accuracy. We do it all of the time.”

Some clients will purchase a DirtLogic report in order to tighten up their bid.

“Once they get the job, we can transition that information outright into a model so they can use it for grading and as construction surveying,” Gebarowski says. “It’s something that’s come together with GPS technology, machine control, and very popular nowadays with the contractors. It speeds up their production. We prepare the data for that and email it for companies all across the United States. The same with our dirt take-off.”

DirtLogic’s services are particularly of use to smaller contractors, Gebarowski notes.

“There’s not a lot of work out there and they’re trying to compete against the bigger contractors,” he says. “The smaller guys don’t have the resources to do extra takeoff. By hiring my firm, they get that professional approach to where they can compete against these bigger guys and not be afraid they’re going to mess something up as far as their information.”

Yet, larger companies also hire DirtLogic.

“We’ve been doing this for 12 years,” Gebarowski says. “There are a lot of ways to make a mistake in takeoff and if you do, it’s going to throw the whole bid off.

“Quantities are extremely important. They need to be accurate, whereas 15 to 20 years ago, a guy would do a takeoff on a job and throw in a 10% buffer. Because of AutoCAD technology and accuracy with using this software, you can’t do that anymore. You’re either going to be too short and get the bid and be in trouble or you’re going to be too high and not be competitive.”

Hiring a company like DirtLogic also addresses the discomfort that some contractors have with the digital work site.

“The excavation contractor can typically run equipment very well. But the software that’s available for the earthwork takeoff is getting more and more technical to where it’s almost an engineering tool, so unless you have an education in engineering and can understand how to use these programs, a guy that does this once a week and then he goes out and works the rest of the week is going to get really frustrated,” Gebarowski says. “It’s just one thing he doesn’t have to worry about. We have about 10 different quality control things we do, so he’s very confident when he goes into the bid.”

Gebarowski had the proprietary software developed seven years ago and has had it updated ever since.

“I hired a firm to build software for me that we call the Dirt Report Generator,” he says. “Once we’re done with our part of the project, our takeoff, we run it through the software that crunches all of our numbers, double-checks everything, prints out a report and tells us about where the problems are. We can ignore it, but what it did for us is that it eliminates errors that could devastate us and really put us out of business or cause our clients a lot of grief.

“When I hire a new guy and he learns takeoff and he’s all done, he runs it through that software. I feel very confident I don’t have to sit there for three hours checking everything he did. I can see the report, which saves us a lot of time. Before our guy can finish the complete package, that software has to approve him. And if it doesn’t, it will stop him—he can’t print out the whole book. It’s pretty much a forced check.”

Another aspect of Gebarowski’s business is The Dirt Store.

“We get these excavation dirt guys who typically aren’t on line to have a resource where they can go online, go to their state and hopefully see a couple of jobs in their area that need earthwork and an earthwork contractor to bid on it,” he says. “We update a list of those jobs almost daily. We have anywhere from 50 to 100 jobs available that they can choose from and they get the dirt work takeoff from us.”

Gebarowski’s company also is teaming up with builders’ exchanges across the United States, which collect plans from developers and cities, putting them online in a central location so contractors can bid projects. Currently, his company has teamed up with Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York, with Michigan on hold and plans for Canada.

“The builders’ exchanges members can go online and look at plans and it instructs them that a takeoff is available and directs them to our Dirt Store. It’s for excavation, and eventually we want to provide takeoff for other disciplines of construction.”

Some companies make software designed to act in concert with their hardware to help clients get the most return on their investment. The newest product to come from Trimble is Business Center–HCE for data preparation and management for heavy and highway construction projects.

The software enables users to

  • prepare data and designs for construction projects;
  • manage data for machine control, paving control and site positioning systems;
  • route data to and from machine operators and field crews;
  • track data and perform quality control; and
  • analyze site activity and productivity.

Business Center–HCE moves beyond three other products Trimble had previously offered, including Terramodel for data preparation, Paydirt for takeoff functions, and SiteVision Office for data management of machine control.

“We’ve basically taken those three products and moved them into one platform called Business Center–HCE,” notes Alan Sharp, business manager for Trimble Heavy and Highway Software Solutions.

Business Center–HCE stands side by side with other full-service packages on the market, he says. Its biggest advantage is that it’s tied into the field, Sharp says.

“If a Trimble user is using machine control or site positioning products in the field, then we have a fully integrated product that works very well with Trimble products,” he adds. “Whereas those companies outside Trimble are going to be developing a generic product that meets the needs of everybody using Topcon or Trimble or Leica or any other equipment. They’ll never do as good a job as we would at managing data for our own equipment.”

Four years ago, Trimble formed a joint venture with Caterpillar called VirtualSite Solutions. That venture produced one new solution, VisionLink, the first version of which was released a year ago.

VisionLink fleet and asset management solution combines user-friendly management tools with GPS-based positioning and cellular technology for near real-time equipment performance information.

The software offers up an overview of machine health, fuel management, and working utilization by coordinating an array of information, including machine health and maintenance, location and hours, events, and user-defined alerts.

VisionLink enables its users to see map-based equipment views and run on-demand reports or charts. Alert functions automatically notify users through email or SMS messaging.

VisionLink transcends the work of two other products, one of which is Trimble Construction Manager, used to monitor productivity, utilization and asset use of construction equipment.

The other is Caterpillar’s Equipment Manager, which focused on machine diagnostics.

VisionLink offers “all of the benefits of working with not just Caterpillar equipment, but anybody’s equipment,” Sharp points out, adding the with Caterpillar equipment, there is greater access to full diagnostic information.

“Whereas with third parties, we’re limited to what information they publish on the J1939,” Sharp adds.

VisionLink “provides the best of both worlds, so it’s very machine-health focused on one side, but very machine productivity-focused on the other side.”

A new dealer distribution channel called SITECH that emanated from the Caterpillar/Trimble joint venture endeavors to focus on the heavy construction industry and provide not just the sales and servicing of the products, but solutions such as consultancy and training.

While the first category of Trimble software solutions focuses on estimators, grade checkers, data managers and surveyors, and the second on equipment, maintenance, and business managers, a third addresses collaboration.

Connected Community connects a construction business’ field and office operations—including people, devices and systems—through its own web site. Business operators choose who is granted access and the ability to contribute information.

“Our goal is to tie customers into an integrated workflow that allows them to manage information better,” says Sharp. “Also, for us to better feed that with service and support information so if they want training on a product, they can come online through the Connected Community and get access to training materials that we publish for them so they all can learn to use our products easier and faster.

“It’s part of our three-product initiative, which is Business Center—HCE on one side, fleet and asset management on another side and Connected Community to tie the operations together and tie the customer closer to Trimble so we can get better information to them faster.”

As for updates, Trimble customers get a one-year warranty upon purchase of a software package. It includes 12 months of updates for free on the purchased products.

“Our products are modular, so if they want to buy new features, they can buy the new features in the form of new modules,” says Sharp. “But if they already bought the module, then they get a warranty for free for 12 months. After the 12-month period is up, they can take out a support contract that will give them access to any updates that happen on the products they own over that following 12 months.”

The data can be downloaded from Trimble’s website or in a CD from the dealer.

Going forward, connectivity will be a key factor in construction site software, Sharp notes.

“Most manufacturers have traditionally been in what we call point-based solutions, selling machine-control systems or positioning systems for the customer or a software solution for the customer that does data prep, data management or estimating,” he says.

“What’s changing now is the integration of operations,” he adds. “Data preparations and estimating were two very specific functions two or three years ago. We’ve seen those integrate more closely now so that people can build accurate 3D models as part of the estimating process, which is then used for grade control and positioning applications when they win a project.”

The information flow has become faster and will continue to be, says Sharp. While office-based personnel have become accustomed to working with the Internet, there is a greater drive toward connectivity of the field, he says, making it possible for the surveyor to use such technologies as iPads to gather necessary information without leaving the field.

Also, real-time information is being transmitted from machines toward the goal of optimizing its performance for the greatest return on investment, such as undertaking actions quicker to mitigate problems.

More than three years ago, Trimble enhanced the hardware, infrastructure, and software solutions, tying them together.

“All of the hard work is done,” Sharp says. “It’s now in the detail—making sure the customer gets what they want at the location when they need it in a timely fashion. The connected site element is what’s going to drive the next round of product improvements or developments, because now customers can move data around quickly and can connect different people in their organizations. We’re now getting a far different set of requirements from our customers than we were getting two to three years ago.

“Very few companies have our footprint and capability to deliver these kind of solutions to the construction community,” Sharp adds. “It does require that the customer utilizes Trimble equipment—our focus is providing a solution for Trimble. We do integrate third-party products where applicable, but our main focus is around Trimble Solutions and providing an end-to-end turnkey product for our customer.”

Topcon’s latest software product is SiteMaster. “It’s an integrated design, surface-modeling, and construction survey solution that provides unparalleled ease of use and seamless integration to Topcon 3D systems,” says Mark Larranaga, software business development manager for the construction division of Topcon Positioning Systems.

Several features have been enhanced to save time while building models for both grading and excavation projects. Topcon’s software differs from other in the market in that it can run the software on a USB key without the need to load the program on a computer, notes Larranaga.

“This gives customers great flexibility to share the software amongst users or computers,” he adds. “Second is our file structure: we export a project that can include line work, points, Digital Terrain Model (DTM) and alignments in one file.

Customers can choose what they need and have it all in one easy to upload file.”

One feature of the software is an easy to use step-by-step menu to build models, says Larranaga. “Topcon has recently built a separate menu that has all of the steps it takes to make models in one pull-down,” he says. “Now the end-user can go from the top down in the model menu and complete a project without having to jump around the software. In this menu there are some exciting automation tools to clean up drawings and elevate 2D to 3D. A huge time savings will be experienced while using this new feature.”

Another feature: the one-click DTM creation. “The surface modeling command is the most efficient generator of a triangular digital terrain model available today,” says Larranaga. “The formation of the triangles is a one-button operation with nominated break lines being incorporated into the model upon triangulation. The program provides many options for editing, deleting triangles and viewing the surface in 3D. Multiple surfaces are supported within a project.”

The software also has a roading module. “The Roads View/Editor utilizes an interactive three-panel view which displays alignment, profile and cross section simultaneously,” says Larranaga. “It includes powerful string and template design which can handle an unlimited number of strings. A curve length calculator is provided to simplify vertical curve design. It incorporates all facilities needed to design a simple road or a multi-lane divided highway.”

SiteMaster recently added a resurfacing module to the software. “It is part of our RTP-300 profiling system,” says Larranaga. “Process data using SiteMaster roading functions into a resurfacing design view using functionality included by graphically designing the optimum resurface level for paving and road rehabilitation.

“You can export road rehabilitation strings and points and design a surface to machine-control paving system, generate pavement volume reports, and provide plotting for hard copies of profiles and cross-sections of the design surface.”

Larranaga points out that Topcon is playing a pivotal role in the move toward a fully integrated job site.

“We offer products today that address the fully integrated digital job site, such as SiteMaster, along with a product called SiteLink which gives office and field direct links,” he says.

“Topcon is fully aware for the need for information to be passed in all areas of the project. Whether it be updating changes to a file for a machine-control system, monitoring machines for productivity, or remotely troubleshooting a system, Topcon will continue to add the tools in our software to stay ahead. We see that software will be a major part in gaining productivity and cutting costs.”

As for training, there’s Topcon University, dedicated to the education of Topcon customers, dealer representatives and employees.

“Our slogan, ‘Productivity Powered by Learning,’ illustrates the fundamental mission of TU: to provide the training required so that everyone can get the most out of the Topcon products and systems they are working with every day,” says Larranaga.

TU Online is the focal point of all training programs and materials and also allows access to other information to maximize one’s learning experience, he says.

The program includes the following:
• On-demand learning portal
• TU-Live webinar repository
• Instructor-led training course list
• TU calendar of events
• TU online discussion forums
• Product manuals and information
• TU-approved software and firmware downloads

Software updates are handled through Topcon and its dealer channel. Announcements are reported through e-mail and the website upon a new release.

Topcon promotes its software through its dealer market and major trade shows, such as World of Concrete and Con Expo. As for specialty software, Topcon has invested in several specialty markets in the past and will continue to do so in the future, says Larranaga.

“We have made our software flexible and scalable to address adding additional features for new markets,” he says.
He sees the construction site software industry continuing to focus on enhancements to complete a total solution.

“Topcon’s goal is to produce easy-to-use, feature-rich and automated software for all of the markets we are in,” says Larranaga. “Seamless integration of hardware and software will be the key to the success of a company.”

Grading and excavation contractors are making great use of HCSS’ HeavyJob job software as a tool to analyze job information, not only for more accurate job costing but also for accurate quantity comparisons with resident engineers, notes Chief Operating Officer Steve McGough. “This ability to quickly review historical locations and quantities has been invaluable, allowing us to resolve quantity disagreements in working with resident engineers”

McGough says his company’s software products differ from others on the market “in that they are built from the ground up with customer participation.

“To truly bring value to a customer, a software product must solve business problems and bring value to the organization,” he adds. “As a proven market leader helping more than 3,500 customers and with relationships extending back more than 25 years, HCSS is uniquely positioned to leverage both experience and customer needs when developing new products.”

This is evidenced in a full suite including estimating, job tracking, asset management, GPS services, equipment maintenance, safety, cloud services, and extensive implementation services, McGough says.

When using HeavyJob, “even the smallest feature can deliver tremendous benefit,” says McGough.

Such features include customized drop-down lists for weather conditions, the ability to copy from previous time card job notes, tools that eliminate typing and limit selection choices—all geared to significantly improve the accuracy of data and the adoption at the field level.

“HeavyJob provides a terrific tool for a contractor to easily capture daily diaries, job time, progress quantities and then quickly submit them to the office,” says McGough. “Managers can quickly analyze all jobs for profitability and take corrective actions to keep jobs on budget. However, the true power of HeavyJob is in the analysis of this information and the corrective actions that can be applied to see if the job is on budget.”

HCSS offers a variety of training options, including an implementation center in Houston, training classes, onsite training, regional and national users’ meetings, ‘helpinars’, webinars, and 24/7 instant customer support.

Updates are delivered to customers quarterly through a website; each year, a DVD that includes the new annual release and any past updates is mailed to customers, giving them options as to which updates they want to install.

Although HCSS makes use of such traditional marketing outlets as print media, magazine advertisements, trade shows, association sponsorship, and the Internet, customer referral is the primary way HCSS reaches contractors, says McGough. One such end user is Matt Hubbard, a project manager with Lake County Grading in Libertyville, IL.

He says data entry into HeavyJob is a “time saver. The software has easy access to productions by field guys for cost codes, load counts entered during day, measurement or shoot with GPS to the capture area.”

The ability to compare historical daily reports with respect to locations and quantities to the resident engineer’s daily reports gives him the ability to prove his quantities are accurate, says Hubbard, adding that the focus is then placed on the accuracy of the job costing.

“This gives me better footing with working out quantity differences with resident engineers,” he says. “Two-thirds of the time, I am able to get more quantity based on the data in HeavyJob.”

Reviewing and editing the job for accurate costing takes Hubbard two minutes versus the 15 minutes he’d normally take on a handwritten time card.

“HeavyJob allows a contractor to adjust cost distribution on the fly for labor and equipment, resulting in more accurate accounting data, fewer mistakes and better quality decision information,” says Hubbard.

Job data is entered by the foreman, refined by project management and flows up the chain for upper management to utilize. “HeavyJob makes this process much more quick and fluid,” notes Hubbard.

Route optimization is becoming more critical with fuel prices constantly on the rise. Additionally, safety issues are of paramount concern.

To address those issues is fleet management software. New to the streets is Telogis Fleet 8, the next generation of the company’s scalable GPS fleet management software.

The software enables fleet managers to integrate planning and operational data, field variables such as weather and traffic and location-based intelligence.

Highlights of the new software:
• Seamless integration with Telogis Route and Telogis Mobile
• Dynamic traffic and weather information to improve routing, allocation and direction of field crews
• The ability to track and manage crews through Multiple Vehicle Histories, enabling end-users to view current and historical data to track excessive congregation, speeding and other critical factors
• ‘What Happened Here?’—a feature that accesses historical data within seconds to investigate field incidents and litigious claims.
• An International Fuel Tax Agreement/International Registration Plan data feed to help companies manage compliance by filing reports based on actual GPS data Other features include Streetside/Birds Eye View imaging and a Fuel Card Reconciliation Module that monitors and manages fuel cards.

Customers have lauded the software for everything from being easy to use to locating stolen equipment, as well as reducing fuel consumption.

“We’ve reduced fuel consumption by nearly 30% to 40% by reducing commute times and eliminating unnecessary use of company vehicles by employees,” says Peter Juhren, corporate service manager for Morrow Equipment in Portland, OR. The latest to come from Sage Construction and Real Estate (SAGE CRE) is Sage Master Builder v16.

Jeff Adams, director of product management for SAGE, says his company’s product lines have been recognized as the most widely used applications for construction estimating, job costing, accounting, payroll, and project management, according to the Construction Financial Management Association’s 2010 Information Technology Survey for the Construction Industry, eighth edition.

Sage Construction and Real Estate’s client base numbers more than 20,000. The company offers other product lines for CRM, fixed assets, HRMS, and payment processing.

“The construction industry is always looking for additional ways to be more efficient and profitable, which means construction companies look for ways to extend their back office accounting solutions to operational processes as well as on the job site,” says Adams. “This would include enabling contractors to be able to access their on-premise software in the field via mobile devices, for instance.

“Through our third party developers, we currently offer mobile access for time entry, daily field report entry and equipment entry and tracking,” he adds. “Our systems can also be accessed remotely for reporting. We will be adding more web-enabled solutions as Sage North America continues to build out its connected services.”

As for Sage Master Builder, the software offers smaller construction companies a way to manage their businesses in a more productive way, but without having to invest in a larger, more complex software suite, says Adams.

“It provides simple features like an Executive Dashboard, Report Drill-Down, a Project Work Center, e-filing, and payroll capabilities designed specifically to help construction companies run their businesses more efficiently,” he adds. “And it integrates estimating, production, scheduling, accounting, and analysis data in one convenient and easy-to-access location.”

The integration between accounting and operational processes as well as job costing capabilities offers the ability to take control and better manage business financials and operations, says Adams.

Additionally, the software enables users to jumpstart projects by generating proposals, purchase orders and budgets automatically, he says.

“At any point in the project, you can compare budget to actual costs for increased profitability and control,” Adams adds.

Another product: Sage Timberline Office v9.7, used by more than 15,000 construction and real estate companies for business operations.

“Sage Timberline Office is a completely integrated suite of industry-specific accounting and operations applications that can be used to improve efficiency and profitability in business, such as estimating, project management, document management, accounting, and service management,” says Adams.

“With its integrated and scalable approach, its modular design provides maximum flexibility. You can use just the applications you need now with the assurance that you can add greater depth and breadth should you require it. Sage Timberline Office allows construction and real estate professionals to improve their processes, share data between departments, reduce risk and experience better overall project control and profitability than ever before.”

SAGE offers online training in live and recorded formats, as well as regional onsite or classroom training throughout the country by local business partners. Also available are different training packages by subscription that allow anyone within the end-user’s company to access it at any time.

Updates are done via online downloads or through CD/DVD distribution.

Going forward, Adams sees a number of trends in the industry:
• Mobility, the need for mobile-ready solutions to bolster flexibility and employee efficiency
• Web-enabled connected services, whereby businesses will seek flexible solutions to bridge on-premises systems with cloud-based services
• Globalization, in which solutions simplify the management of global supply chains and economics with US construction firms managing overseas projects and foreign construction firms breaking into the US construction industry BIM Software design poses complicated challenges, says Tim O’Brien, marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment. “It requires anticipating all parameters and situations, with nothing left to chance,” he says. “But once the decision is made to use software and electronic rather than mechanical controls for machine systems, we have better capabilities to add features, such as machine protections and automated features, and to fine tune performance and controls to benefit applications and operators.”

With current machines such as the C Series excavators from Case, software and computer modules control the engine functions, including the power output and the automatic functioning—including regeneration—of Tier 4 Interim emissions systems, says O’Brien.

“This also means precise control of the fuel system to do things like charge shaping of the fuel ignition process for most efficient fuel burn, and even to cancel some sound and vibration caused by the combustion process,” he says. “We also use software controls for the variable geometry turbocharger to optimize performance/response and fuel efficiency.”

The sensors and software also provide vital feedback of information that the operator or fleet manager can use to perform sophisticated diagnostics, says O’Brien.

“For example, the C-Series excavators log a wide range of fault codes which can easily be displayed on the machine’s monitor in the cab,” he says. “Further information and adjustments can be made with our Case Electronic Service Tool.
“The Case C-Series excavators, like the new Case F Series wheel loaders, provide an unprecedented level of information and control to the operator and owner of these machines,” O’Brien adds. “For example, both are equipped with a control monitor to keep track of fuel consumption in gallons per hour.”

Software and controllers also are woven into the hydraulics of the machines—particularly the Case C Series excavators—to automatically change the flow and pressures while the machine is performing a multifunction task, allowing the machine to intelligently optimize the hydraulics for best performance with the least amount of power and energy used, O’Brien says. “Essentially, this next generation software and high-powered computer controls provide subtle capability improvements, but with big gains in fuel efficiency and improved productivity,” he adds.

Software also enables fine-tuning machines with electro hydraulics, as is the case with the new Case Alpha Series skidsteers and compact track loaders, O’Brien says.

Case uses software to optimize and improve the following:
• Engine power curves (such as three curves and four modes on Case Tier 4 Interim certified F Series wheel loaders)—mainly for fuel systems but also dials in proper torque rise for the type of machine and application
• Engine turbos—for proper throttle response and fuel efficiency
• Engine fuel systems—for timing, fuel efficiency, sound/vibration, emissions
• Emissions systems—cooled exhaust gas recirculation, selective catalytic reduction, dosing of diesel exhaust fluid, diesel particulate filter, restriction and regeneration, and ensuring emissions are functioning properly and meeting requirements
• Hydraulic systems for efficiency and speed
• Safety devices to deactivate a machine to prevent accidents
• Controls such as functioning and fine-tuning of electro-hydraulic joysticks and other controls
• Diagnostics—accessible from Advanced Instrument Cluster on the F Series wheel loaders or control monitor or access/adjustment with a technician’s Electronic Service Tool
• Idle management, including engine shutdown/idle reduction features (now standard on Case F Series wheel loaders), for lower fuel consumption and emissions (per California regulations)
• Anti-theft to disable ignition
• Add-on features, such as bucket weigh scales, machine control and guidance, and other automated features such as auto-dig

Staying On Top of Fleet Maintenance
In the beginning, when you were just starting out and had only one or two pieces of equipment to manage, life was much easier. But now that you’re responsible for a fleet of vehicles and other equipment, there’s a whole lot more to look out for.

That’s why Iowa Mold Tooling Co., Inc. (IMT) offers the ValuePlus Fleet ManagementSM (VPFM) program, a web-based application that conveniently helps customers keep track of vehicle and equipment component performance. VPFM captures all the important cost and utilization data customers need to reduce operating expenses, maximize vehicle and equipment component utilization and develop efficient replacement cycles. With VPFM, customers can even view reports that compare their vehicles to similar vehicles worldwide.

The web-based program tracks your entire fleet, no matter what make or model, and offers details on every major component, including trucks, cranes, lube skids, air compressors and other equipment. A variety of reports are provided to assist you in your decision-making process. Reports are compiled for the entire fleet, individual units and company location, and are categorized by vehicle type—providing detailed information and accurate comparisons. Most reports can be sorted by defined time periods, chassis miles or hours, component hours and replacement model. VPFM offers individual profiles, visibility of operating costs, vehicle and equipment component utilization information and notification of upcoming maintenance requirements via the IMT Fleet Management website.

VPFM detailed reports include:
• PM work order schedules—PM work order schedules are developed from chassis and component manufacturer suggested increments, and based on individual chassis and equipment component mileage, operating hours and periods of time reported—whichever comes first. Color-coded past and future service reminders are included in your company’s location unit directory.
• PM activity reports—the PM activity report provides a summary of all planned and completed PM activity for each unit by location or for the entire company fleet. This report highlights past-due PM requirements.
• Utilization and expense summaries—utilization and expense summaries provide period utilization and total expense for each vehicle in your company while supporting graphical plots on the utilization and expense matrix. An individual unit utilization summary includes planned versus actual miles or hours. The expense summary includes fuel, service and downtime details.
• Utilization and expense matrix—the utilization and expense matrix presents a quick analysis of your fleet’s performance. It isolates selected units in areas of high usage/low cost, high usage/high cost, low usage/low cost and low usage/high cost.
• Unit specifications—unit specifications identify the unit number and vehicle location, provide a current chassis odometer and hour meter readings, and outline preventive maintenance (PM) schedules and updates for each component. Unit specifications also list major component descriptions and serial numbers to assist with future repairs.
• Unit summary—A unit summary provides cost summaries by miles and hours of fuel usage, services, downtime and total reported costs. The summary reports service expenses by breakdown, damage, PM service, warranty and vehicle repair. The unit summary also offers service expense history by component, including specific repair details.
• Unit comparisons—The unit comparisons examine a selected unit against similar units within the same location and company throughout the entire VPFM database.

VPFM can easily be installed on location with program tutorials. Your data can be input electronically or compiled and sent to an IMT fleet administrator for input. Either way, you can be assured that the cost and utilization data will be captured on each major component of your vehicle. Additionally, preventive work orders are released and reminders issued to help ensure that your vehicles are well maintained.