Taking Technology to the Gutter…and Succeeding

April 1, 2014

When it comes to the Canadian residential housing market, pundits, pros, and prophets all seem to be watching the housing bubble and exclaiming it will do one of three things: pop, expand, or level off. They’re 100% correct.

Whatever happens to the bubble, Canada has been humming along strong with plenty of new home construction…in stark contrast to its neighbor to the south. Case in point: Mattamy Homes, based in Toronto, is Canada’s largest new homebuilder. Starting out in 1978 with the building and sale of a single home in Burlington, ON, Mattamy has gone on to build more than 60,000 homes in 150 integrated communities, and counting.

Part of the “and counting” is a new, high-end, planned community under construction in Oakville, ON, about 30 minutes north of Toronto. Phase 1-A of The Preserve is currently being constructed, and nearly every one of the 550 homes that will be built there has been sold already. Additional phases will bring the total number of homes to 1,800.

Here’s how Mattamy Homes describes The Preserve in its promotional material:

The Preserve includes neighborhood parks and village squares that take you back to the way small towns used to be configured. Schools will be built, ponds will be created, and a landscaped channel will flow through the community. There will be a meandering road that allows access to the spectacular views of the old-growth forest, and homes that front onto greenspace that provide a place for neighbors to gather and enjoy each other’s company.

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Mattamy Homes selected TACC Construction Ltd., based in Woodbridge, ON, to prepare the 800-acre site for home building and the finished paving of the network of roads. TACC is privately owned and has been in business for more than 35 years. Depending on the season, the company employs 300-plus and generally works within an hour-drive radius of Woodbridge, an outer suburb of Toronto.

“We’re completing all the site development earthworks, underground, and all roadwork for this project,” says Frank Saracino, road superintendent for TACC Construction. “We have seven weeks to complete our portion of the project.”

With the tight timetable, TACC relied on technology to ensure its productivity on the project. The company has been using GPS machine control on its earthmoving machines since 2008, but this was its first experience using the technology on its slipform concrete curb and gutter paver.

“We’re comfortable running our Topcon 3D-MC2 on our Cat dozers that were used on the site,” Saracino says. “The technology is incredibly fast and accurate, so it helped us achieve grade tolerances without the dependence on survey crews pounding stakes everywhere. Our machine operators are used to having the site plan and progress data displayed on the GX-60 touchscreen right in their cab.”

To level and balance the site and strip the topsoil, TACC used Caterpillar 621 scrapers and the Cat dozers equipped with machine control.

Saracino continues: “What was new for us was using Topcon Millimeter GPS machine control on our Power Curber 5700-C. We like the Power Curber because it is compact and designed for tight radius jobs, which made it appropriate for the subdivision with its meandering roads and cul-de-sacs. It was pretty amazing to see how efficient the Millimeter GPS Topcon system made the curber. We eliminated stringlines, which saved us time, labor, and concrete waste, and it’s much more precise. The technology made the Power Curber at least one-and-a-half to two times quicker than using traditional methods.”

TACC and DiCrete Construction acquired the new system from its local Topcon dealer, GeoShack Canada. GeoShack provides systems, setup, training, and support.

There were 11 kilometers of curbs throughout the development that TACC carved out and fine-graded with three-quarter-inch stone as prep for the asphalt paver, placing the concrete curb and gutter using its Power Curber 5700-C with Topcon Millimeter GPS machine control.

There were three mobilizations on this project as far as the curb and gutter work. DiCrete first laid a gutter footing, or base stage, which was 20-inches wide and 6-inches thick. There are two rebars placed in the base.

The next two mobilizations were two stages of the 20-inch curb. Initially 9 inches of the curb were placed with the gutter base. After the road asphalt is paved, the Power Curber comes back and places an 8-inch cap on the curb to finish it off to a proper height.

The curb and gutter work follows The Ontario Provincial Standards for Roads and Public Works (OPS), matching the 600.04 specs for curb and 600.07 specs for where the curb and gutter meet.

TACC used 45,000 metric tons of base stone on the project, and a total of 65,000 metric tons of stone was used throughout the project. The soil on the site was a mix of clay and shale that was pretty weather resistant. As Saracino says, “It could rain one day, and we’d be back working on the site the next day.”

Mattamy Homes hired its own engineering firm to create the original site plan that TACC adapted for use with the Topcon GPS machine control systems by creating their own 3D digital model. Both the earthmoving machines and the slipform paver used the same site model.

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“Because our curb machine runs so efficiently and accurately with the technology, we’ve literally experienced a 10% savings in our concrete use,” says Angelo DiGravino, general manager for DiCrete Construction Ltd., in Concord, ON. “The Power Curber with the Topcon technology is running so fast, we recently broke a production record of ours-we poured 5,700 linear meters or 5.7 kilometers [3.5 miles] in one day, which shows how proficient we’ve become in using the system.”

TACC Construction faced three production deadlines with this project.

“We beat each deadline by two to three days, which is pretty impressive considering how tight the deadlines were,” Saracino says. “This was our first project where we were totally integrated with technology on our earthmoving and road construction. The technology provided seamless transition from task to task.”

“We were given a tight time line and achieved it,” DiGravino says. “The project owner is happy with the time lines and quality of our work. If they’re happy, we’re happy. It’s as simple as that.”