Tracking Progress

Oct. 20, 2014

As the economy continues its slow but steady rebound, competition for available work can at times be understandably fierce. With that competitive component in place, companies are looking for every possible way to streamline their workflow while, at the same time, maximizing productivity. For Thalle Construction Co., doing so meant thinking out of the traditional workplace box and signing on to the latest available technology. In this case, in addition to GNSS-based machine control on two of its dozers, those efforts involved teaming up Topcon’s Sitelink3D job-site management solution with a pair of haul trucks equipped with HT-30, Topcon’s newest vehicle tracking and reporting module. On a project to construct an earthen dam, that combination is proving extremely beneficial in areas far beyond the realm of simple load tracking and is shaping up to be an invaluable tool as the project moves forward.

A Dam Site Better
The project on which Hillsboro, NC”“based Thalle decided to further spread its technological wings was a massive $26 million earthen dam construction titled the New Ragged Mountain Dam, located just west of Charlottesville, VA. According to project manager Andrew Wells, the new dam will replace a pair of existing structures and provide additional water capacity for the area.

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“This job started in April 2012 and it has a fairly tight window for completion,” he says. “Major facets of the job include significant foundation improvements, a rock-cut tunnel which will serve as the primary spillway, and construction of a new 100-foot-tall combination intake tower and operations building. Obviously, dams of this type are earthmoving-centered projects, and this one was no exception. We will be moving more than 700,000 cubic yards of material by the time we are done, and when you are moving anything of that volume, it’s critical to know where that material is going, how long it’s taking to get there, and so on.”

Credit: TopCon

In what can only be described as a fortuitous turn of events, one of Wells’s former colleagues at Thalle, Evan Monroe, had left the company to take a job as a 3D software sales specialist at Topcon Positioning Systems. Placed in charge of development of a system to optimize the very issues Wells’s team was tackling at New Ragged Mountain, Thalle Construction seemed the ideal candidate to put the company’s new HT-30 system to the test. The construction company agreed and took delivery of the equipment a few months into the project.

No Room for Error
In this day of increasingly sophisticated solutions to onsite challenges, it seems hard to comprehend that, even today, load counts on projects are often tracked using penciled tally marks on a sheet of paper-yet that is indeed the case. And that approach, while tried, is not always true, says Topcon’s Monroe.

“Having a decent construction background, I’ve seen manual tallies serve as the standard for years now,” he says. “It’s pretty basic, but it relies upon the attentiveness of the haul truck operator and, while most are good conscientious workers, there is always that possibility of error. And with the slim margins on today’s projects, there is simply no room for that.”

Wells is quick to agree with Monroe’s assessment. Failure to accurately monitor how many loads are moving, he says, can skew volume totals in one direction or the other. That, in turn, can prompt a project manager to either add a truck to the operation or take one out of rotation.

“When you consider that the average base rental for a haul truck is about $10,000 a month, it’s a significant expense,” he says. “By the time you add in the operator’s salary, the cost of fuel, and so on, you’re looking at a $25,000-a-month ticket.

Conversely, if those bogus numbers prompt you to cut a haul truck, onsite production will quickly suffer-costing big money on that end. It’s a system that needed fixing and that’s the basis of what HT-30 and Sitelink3D are designed to do-that, and a whole lot more.”

One-Two Punch
It’s easy to see the benefit Wells and his team at Ragged Mountain will derive from adding the new Sitelink3D component to their operation. The company has equipped two of its haul trucks-a Volvo 840D and a Volvo 835D-with Topcon’s HT-30 tracking/reporting system. Those trucks are continually feeding data (load time, time to destination, drop time, type of material, etc.) out to the web-based Sitelink3D system.

“In the past, we would simply watch where our trucks were loading and where we were dumping to get a feel for how long it’s taking the drivers to complete each cycle. That would allow us to get something of a feel for the operation and, based on that, we’d try to establish whether we had enough equipment-and the right type-assigned to the job.

“But, unless you’re constantly timing, that’s difficult to determine based solely upon what is essentially a snapshot of the operation. Sitelink3D and the HT-30 system give us the ability to constantly monitor the load-to-unload cycles and then create reports (in both time and volumes), which will average it over any given period.”

Based on those reports, he says, they can immediately see that-if the haul trucks have been running nonstop, but production is still lagging-another truck needs to be added. If the report shows an hour of idle time per haul truck per day over a two-week period, they know they have one more truck than needed.

“And based on the numbers we mentioned earlier,” says Wells, “being able to identify that issue early on can be a huge savings. It’s also worth noting that having an automated collection and reporting system like this allows the drivers to better concentrate on what they need to do. This job site can be difficult to get around at times; keeping a load count or a material count is a distraction that driver doesn’t need.”

Credit: Komatsu
The new dam will replace a pair of existing structures and provide additional water capacity for the area.

Sitelink3D in Charge
In addition to the haul truck data, Sitelink3D is collecting information from other areas of the New Ragged Mountain job site as well-including that from the several data collectors and the dozers running Topcon’s 3D-MC2 machine control. Wells says that, in addition to being able to generate valuable progress or volume reports, Sitelink3D allows file transfers and remote support on each connected machine.

Using Pocket3D, Topcon’s grade management system, Thalle’s surveying personnel onsite are also able to connect to Sitelink3D. Doing so allows activities such as topos to be visualized real-time in the office.

“These are things that, over the course of a project, can really add up,” he says. “Just having the ability to send updated files to our dozers, or look at the screen in one of the haul trucks without having to physically go out there is huge for us. And being able to have a real, verifiable sense of where we are from week-to-week is invaluable from a budgetary point of view. I even have a version of Sitelink3D installed on my phone, which allows me to look in on the project even when I’m away from the site.”

Expanding the Effort
At the present time, Thalle has 3D-MC2 on two of its dozers and HT-30 on two haul trucks. But, Wells says, based on what they’ve seen thus far, there are additional purchases looming in the future.

“For us, it all boils down to optimization and utilization-if you can optimize your equipment use, there will be a real cost savings associated with it. We have some jobs in the works-including this one-that include some big cuts with some tight grade requirements. To be able to do that without a dozer, is just going to save me that other piece; again, it’s about optimized use.

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“We are fortunate to have management in place that, based on the positive returns of what we’ve done here at the dam, are behind this push. When the time is right, I’m confident they will agree to further expanding our GPS-based operation; they already know it’s the right thing to do.”