Building a Streamlined Technology Ecosystem

Sept. 19, 2021
Adoption of machine control is a transformational experience.

With 45 years of experience in road construction and site development, Candia, New Hampshire-based Severino Trucking Co., Inc. is one of the leading construction and site development firms in the region. The company, which was founded by then-19-year-old Ron Severino, began with a dump truck and a vision. Today, the 150-employee firm works on jobs that range from commercial site developments to New Hampshire DOT federally funded road construction projects.

Maintaining its leadership role begins with delivering timely, quality solutions—a proficiency that has evolved considerably in the last five years as the company strikes an impressive balance between technology-enabled investment and process improvement.

The company’s challenge was to implement reliable technology-enabled systems for operators and surveyors in a seamless ecosystem that eliminates field-to-office disconnects and facilitates the development of actionable intel.

A Renewed Focus

While total stations, data collectors, and even 3D modeling have been an integral part of the Severino workflow for many years, its foray into machine guidance almost a decade ago proved to be a milestone moment.

In 2009 and 2010, the company began looking at installing positioning systems on its heavy equipment—only to have mixed results.

Patrick L'Heureux, project manager and technology specialist at Severino, recalls those early challenges, saying, “We fought with machine guidance systems for several reasons; mainly it wasn’t as reliable as we expected. This was counterintuitive to the idea of machine control. It should make the lives of operators and managers easier and improve productivity.”

At the time, L'Heureux was a field engineer working on a New Hampshire DOT project when the individual responsible for developing 3D models and supporting the machine control systems left the company. A self-described CAD nerd with extensive estimating experience, L'Heureux saw an opportunity to influence the course of the company’s technology adoption. He added, “It became my responsibility to keep the older systems going while evaluating industry advances to determine future investments.”

As the go-to 3D surface developer, L'Heureux began a more in-depth search of better modeling methods. After extensive research, he found that the Trimble solutions, like Trimble Business Center, fit better with what he was trying to accomplish.

“My goal was to invest in more surveying and construction solutions that improve efficiency and, just as importantly, tie together seamlessly,” he said. “To do that, we need reliable data collectors for our layout foremen, reliable machine guidance for the operators and reliable equipment that we could trust to work all the time—an issue that created huge headaches for our crews with past solutions. And ultimately, we need reliable information that we can share between these new technologies, better connecting the field and office to reduce redundancy and chance of error.”

Controlled Investment

In 2013, Severino’s equipment representative was advocating for Trimble’s machine control system, the Trimble GCS900 Grade Control System. Severino decided to pilot a GCS900-equipped dozer and excavator for a waste management project.

“We have tremendous operators, but looking down a slope and comparing the differences between work done without machine automation on a dozer and a slope completed with machine automation was eye-opening," said L'Heureux. "We could see subtle rise and dips on the slope without automation, but the machine automation slope looked smooth as glass with very little fluctuation.

“We saw such huge value in using that system for fine grading, we installed Trimble machine guidance systems on two dozers and a motor grader. More importantly, we saw the dependability of the brand, and our applications escalated,” he said.

At this time, Severino decided to invest in Trimble SCS900 Positioning System for its layout foreman for layout and data capture. The seamless integration and consistent results between machine guidance and site positioning devices were a big selling point.

Severino recently retired the SCS900 software, replacing it with the updated Siteworks platform. L'Heureux says surveyors particularly like Siteworks because of the ease of working with complex 3D models. “We can collect large data sets and see 3D models right on the tablet. Having access to these more complex data sets and PDF plans reduces the need to run back to the field office to cross-reference data and helps to deliver faster solutions and answers. Innovative Siteworks products like the SPS986 rover allow for faster and more accurate data capture and increased reliability with stakeout.”

Models and Machines

Today, thanks to the proven value of the technology and a close relationship with their Trimble dealer SITECH Northeast, Severino has 10 excavators running the GCS900 3D Grade Control System and, with L'Heureux’s encouragement, the newer Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform. The company also equipped four dozers with the GCS900 and one with Trimble Earthworks, as well as a motor grader with GCS900.

When asked about Trimble Earthworks, L'Heureux is quick to say, “I wanted Severino to be one of the first users of Earthworks. In my mind, Trimble took the reliability of GCS900 and added a 3D aspect, which we missed from previous machine guidance experiences. With Earthworks, our operators have a more visual perspective of what's going on. Also, the touch screen is more intuitive, and a more natural operation as compared to a keyboard.”

The 3D addition reaped almost immediate value. Severino had a housing complex project with a lot of intricate side slopes, swales, and retention ponds.

L'Heureux said, “This type of work can still be done with GCS900, but the 2D views (i.e., plan, cross-section and profile), can require a good amount of staking to help these more complex designs come together. We had both a GCS900 excavator and Earthworks excavator on site and it was incredible to see the difference in both the software and the workflow rates between the two systems.” He noted that the 3D capability of Earthworks makes complex designs easier to comprehend, allowing operators to move the 3D model around and view data from different angles that may make more sense than the traditional 2D views they were used to seeing.

When an operator running GCS900 would hop in the cab of the Earthworks excavator, a familiar statement was “I want that,” or “That’s so cool.”

“2D plans don’t show 3D mistakes, whether with the initial plans or the prepared model,” explained L'Heureux. “The 3D capabilities of the equipment, both with Earthworks and Siteworks, help to highlight potential issues and more rapidly address future problems without creating production delays."

L'Heureux believes it’s this type of visual difference that helps Severino leadership continue to make investments in technology. “We often present ROI to the ownership around saving time and money. But when they can see how smoothly the project progresses and how great the final product looks, it’s the icing on the cake,” he said.

L'Heureux’s more recent investments have been focused on improving project management.

Site Management Portability

As a project engineer, L'Heureux is responsible for obtaining quantities and tracking progress on projects but was handicapped because he and the company’s other project engineers had no easy way to check quantities and project progress. He was looking for a handheld device that could hold all the necessary design documents.

“I wanted something that any project manager or engineer could take out in the field and immediately get immersed in the project,” he said.

Trimble Site Positioning Systems Manager Casey Cyrus introduced him to Trimble SiteVision. “As soon as I saw it, I thought the concept of using augmented reality (AR) to bring complex data sets to the field was great,” L'Heureux recalled.

With SiteVision and an Android phone, users can accurately geo-reference fully attributed and constructible models from Trimble Business Center using existing site calibrations, measure points onsite, track project progress, and much more.

“I will often use it to walk the as-designed model on the site to get a better feel for the project, look at utilities, or review cut-and-fill measurements,” he said. “Our project superintendents use it during site kickoffs. It’s also great for our equipment operator training. Bottom line, it gives tangible visual context to a seemingly intangible idea.”

He has used SiteVision to present data to investors, engineers, contractors, neighboring owners, and operators. L'Heureux confirmed, “Having a visible model to present at meetings takes a lot of questions out of the conversation and helps us present the data in an easy format that everyone can understand so that we can find a resolution.”

He especially likes the way SiteVision fits into the company’s emerging seamless data ecosystem. “We have a lot of good data that is gathered every day on every project, but outside of Trimble Business Center, that data can be difficult to share. SiteVision is a good way of sharing that smart information, adding value to our data workflows and communicating designs,” he said.

Enterprise Edge

From machine guidance to site management, Severino is realizing improvements in productivity and quality thanks to its investment in connected systems.

L'Heureux says, “Day-to-day, we try to implement machine guidance using Trimble WorksManager so all projects are running current designs, and we’re distributing and receiving information to and from the field with ease—and more importantly, quickly deriving actionable intel from that data.”

While he doesn’t have any company-wide metrics, L'Heureux can demonstrate real ROI.

On a recent $70 million project, a large portion of the work was done with 3D models, using Siteworks for quantities and machine guidance onsite.

“We were able to complete this project with two layout foremen,” he says. “We did a similar, though much smaller, highway project a few years ago that required five layout foremen to orchestrate the grade stakes and offsets.”

He believes the speed and quality of every project are increased because the project team has reliable information on demand. “Our operators can dig a pond with minimal staking assistance, which frees our layout foreman to focus on more complex scenarios. Overall, I believe we’re 25-50% faster with better quality results today than five years ago.”

But L'Heureux is quick to say that while all of these systems improve individual activities, the real value of the solutions is the data. “With these systems, we’re able to better use the data we gather on every project to deliver consistent workflows and improve communication. Not only are we connecting management with projects for different sites, but different sites with each other—something that was much harder with older methods.”