Technology On Board

GPS Technology On The Rise In Construction

People are getting used to that soft, female robotic voice in their cars telling them where to make the next left turn as they pass through an unfamiliar city’s traffic tangle. But they might not imagine that the very same GPS technology is sitting on the control panel of the heavy equipment at the nearby highway construction site. Like, can’t dozer drivers find their work sites by themselves? Actually, using satellite technology to pinpoint the position of a backhoe’s shovel or direct the blades of a bulldozer or grader is not all that new.

In fact, since GPS signals can tell you where you are within a foot or so, it has largely replaced the surveyor’s string and chalk as the method of choice to tell you what spot to dig in and how to coordinate the precise locations involved in most construction sites.

A small screen in the cab of a dozer, for instance, can tell the operator within inches, exactly where he is on the site. It can tell him how steep the grade of a road should be and if he’s doing it properly as the job goes along in real time, without consulting a foreman.

For a farmer, the technology can guide tractors and combines, helping adjust the rate of planting and monitoring crop yields.

Big-dig construction equipment companies are on to all of this, and one in particular – NMC of North Platte, NB – is making it a specialty. The third-generation business with more than 600 employees has a whole division dedicated to it – NMC Technologies – with a dozen dedicated specialists developing and selling the precision-digging high-tech hardware.

NMC’s division manager Jana Waugn says old hand-surveying methods are out and it’s the only way to go. “You don’t see guys out there anymore standing there with stakes and little streamlines,” she claims. “It’s all powered by GPS equipment.”

Builders and diggers alike agree. Ron Fucinaro, the co-owner of Fucinaro Excavating in Omaha, formerly used traditional methods for grading roads, constructing airports, erecting commercial buildings. He’d engage a surveyor, who would put down grade stakes along a road, indicating where dirt needed to be moved.  But with a GPS unit, Fucinaro now gets his instructions by e-mail or on a disk, uploads it into the GPS, and gets to work.

“We don’t have to wait for anybody to stake it,” he marvelled. “Once we grade it one time, we’re pretty confident that it’s going to be correct.” And the investment of $100,000+ has paid off for him in accuracy and savings, as he now has had systems installed on two bulldozers and two excavators.

Another mover and shaker, Tom Heimes, vice president of the Heimes Corp., an Omaha excavating company, has installed GPS units on eight machines, including bulldozers, excavators, a compactor and a tractor. Having a computer measuring the work, he claims, ensures that everyone in a project knows just what’s going on.

“First and foremost, you can count on people making mistakes,” he reveals. “Me, you, I don’t care who it is. It’s what we do: We make mistakes. This is just a tool to eliminate mistakes.”

What Jana Waughn back at NMC is counting on is more money coming in to those who sell the technology, from users of all sorts. For instance, NMC recently helped a customer in Michigan use GPS equipment on boats to help track and control the flow of water. “We’re going to continue to see more and more products come on board.”

She’s right about that, and it’s not just happening in America, it’s a global phenomenon.

Courtesy Heavy Equipment Operators Blog

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