Expanding Possibilities: Technologies that Span the Design-through-Construction Lifecycle

There’s been considerable excitement and energy around machine control and autonomous operations in the construction space in recent years. And rightfully so – big machines that can grade a site to centimeter tolerances on the first go without operator assistance are worthy of celebration.

But what about the tools and techniques that go into winning and preparing for those machines to move? Sometimes forgotten in the thrill of the dig is the value of some of those familiar technology-enabled solutions to win jobs and set the stage for productivity, efficiency, and quality delivery.

In the following, we look at a few familiar technologies that are helping facilitate projects well before machines and materials arrive on a site.

A View from Above

By now, almost every contractor has likely heard of or applied data captured by drones. In the last few years, these flying robots have become almost commonplace on earthwork projects around the world as a foundation for volume calculations and progress tracking.

For many, the speedy, accurate survey data also provides a tremendous preconstruction advantage.

Australian infrastructure contractor McConnell Dowell has built some of the most challenging roads, rails, dams, pipelines, marine assets and other infrastructure in Australia, New Zealand and Southern Asia. The company’s latest endeavor is the Level Crossing Removal Program (LXRP), a multi-year program to oversee one of the largest rail infrastructure projects in the Australia’s history. As part of the Western Program Alliance (WPA), which also includes Arup, Mott MacDonald and Metro Trains Melbourne, McConnell Dowell is charged with removing and renovating a set number of the crossings. To-date, the alliance has completed six of the crossing projects, and is currently working on another four.

“Just surveying the individual project sites was a challenge,” said John Dyer, Engineering Manager with WPA. “Even the best surveyor in the world might only survey on five- or 10-meter grids, so we would only get a snapshot of that particular point or area, which then had to be interpolated on a 2D drawing. We needed a way to survey the whole site quickly to provide a timely resource for optimal collaboration and project management.”

McConnell Dowell put Trimble Stratus, powered by Propeller, to work for them. For Alex Wong, Senior Digital Engineer at McConnell Dowell, the Trimble Stratus platform has become an essential tool in the pre-planning phases of the project. “Quite often during the tender period, we have people with different ideas of how things work,” he said. “With the 3D aerial data, that discussion becomes much more focused and everyone is better prepared for the next phase.”

Wong says another advantage of Stratus is coordinating people, equipment and materials for a job. “Material delivery planning can be a challenge on these sites. Recently, a subcontractor from Tasmania needed to deliver some very large steel piles for a bridge structure. Due to the pandemic, we were not able to get to the site,” he said. “Trimble Stratus enabled our subcontractors to plan the safe delivery of these very large elements in a laydown area. Further, we provided the piling contractor access to the topo data of the site in question, and that team is able to pre-plan activities from material laydown to equipment locations, with full awareness of site restrictions.”

Satellite Connections

Integral to everything from watches to automated wheel loaders, GNSS is certainly a familiar technology. But even the application of this now-common navigation solution continues to expand, especially for pre-construction applications.

The capability came in particularly handy for the multi-year $3.7 million Wanaka Lakefront Development Plan, initiated by the Queenstown Lakes District Council and Wanaka Community Board. Key objectives of the plan are to restore and develop native vegetation to maintain the lakefront’s rugged, wild landscape, improve and expand a shared pathway for pedestrians and cyclists, and the construction of a lakeside boardwalk.

The modernisation includes the restoration of 300m long native revegetation of lake edge as well as vegetation along a steep bank, the construction of a 3m wide shared path alongside Lakeside Road and a 2m wide boardwalk along the  lake edge with connections to the existing pathway network as well as an 80m of timber and concrete retaining wall.

For Blakely Construction, a Rolleston, New Zealand-based civil contractor, the project was an exciting opportunity to demonstrate technology enabled benefits both before and after construction start.

The project is about a five hour drive from Blakely’s headquarters, which could create some logistical and communication challenges.

Mathew Havill, General Manager for Blakely Construction, and his team took advantage of Trimble SiteVision, a new, outdoor augmented reality (AR) system purchased from SITECH New Zealand, originally purchased to support project progress. SiteVision is purpose-built to help project teams communicate design adjustments to field crews, conduct inspections, track progress and make quick survey measurements.

“Initially, I wanted SiteVision mostly because I thought it would help bring our clients on the journey with us as we built projects,” Havill explained. “We found it could do so much more.”

Key to Havill’s decision to use the augmented reality system was access to a 3D model of the boardwalk.

“As contractors, we’re very good at envisioning how projects come together, but that’s sometimes difficult to portray to clients and the community in a visual way,” said Havill. “With SiteVision’s AR capabilities, we were able to draw them more into the process by providing clear visuals about how each piece of the project would come together, including, in this case, the interaction between hardscape and vegetation.”

It also allowed the Blakely project team to highlight areas of potential concern so that decisions could be made in advance. In one instance, the technology was used to assess potential concerns during early site assessments. The Lake Wanaka boardwalk runs along the shoreline with a vertical bank in some areas with a lot of existing vegetation.

He continued, “We knew there were concerns about the local ecology, but we were able to show the client and community how that vegetation interacted with the boardwalk—and more importantly, get clarification about removal. SiteVision allows us to communicate those areas that need more detail with clarity.”

Robotic Rewards

One of the challenges in the estimating, bidding and pre-construction phases of a project is often the limited ground-based infrastructure like base stations, radio or internet connectivity necessary to survey and develop estimates for materials, labor and machines. The most common survey approach would be to use RTK, but that requires a fixed base station to acquire correction data.

But what if ground access is not readily available? That’s where a GNSS solution such as Trimble RTX comes into play. RTX is a family of real-time GNSS positioning services available via IP/cellular or satellite delivery worldwide. The services utilize real-time satellite measurements from a global network of tracking stations, along with highly accurate atmospheric models and algorithms to generate Trimble RTX corrections. These corrections are then broadcast to the receiver via a set of geostationary satellites or over the Internet, which the receiver uses to improve the accuracy of its GNSS positions.

While stand-alone GNSS positioning without corrections provides horizontal accuracies that are typically more than one meter, Trimble RTX correction services can provide horizontal accuracies better than two centimeters—ideal for pre-construction activities.

Imagine the possibilities of an RTX-enabled ground-based survey solution such as Boston Dynamics’ Spot the robot dog as a pre-construction tool for gathering as-built conditions inside or out?

As contractors continue to expand their high-tech toolboxes, keep in mind that many of the systems and solutions used to drive project productivity can also better prepare your crews for success before ever putting blade to dirt.

Dredge Contractor ‘Sees’ Under Water and Dredge to a 3D Design

 

Real-time positioning and visualisation from SITECH NZ and Trimble’s Marine Construction Software (TMC) and positioning technologies, help contractors tackle landmark dredging and remediation project.

Working under a consortium headed by EnviroWaste Services Limited, NZPGS was hired for a large-scale canal remediation project for Whakatane’s Kopeopeo Canal in New Zealand. Because of the complexity of the dredging required, coupled with extensive decontamination work ,NZPGS,s engineering team turned to SITECH NZ and Trimble Marine for help with positioning and 3D real-time visualisation of work.

Augmented Reality Platform Turns Risk into Reward for Contractor, Customer, and Community

Founded in 1995, Rolleston, New Zealand-based Blakely Construction is a civil contractor serving Canterbury and surrounding regions.

The South Island town of Wanaka, New Zealand, about an hour’s drive from Queenstown, is a popular lake and mountain resort community situated on Lake Wanaka and in the shadow of Mount Aspiring National Park.

In an effort to modernise the community’s central lakefront, the Queenstown Lakes District Council and Wanaka Community Board initiated the multi-year $3.7 million Wanaka Lakefront Development Plan.

Trimble Introduces the Next Generation of 3D Paving Control for Pavers

PAVING THE WAY WITH TECHNOLOGY

Trimble has recently introduced the Trimble® Roadworks 3D Paving Control Platform for Pavers, the next-generation platform for 3D paving control systems. Trimble Roadworks is a highly accurate, automatic 3D screed control system that can significantly improve paving productivity and rideability by directly referencing the design rather than a surface or stringline to minimise usage, reduce waste and overruns and finish projects on time and under budget.

When used with a traditional paving machine with a tractor and hydraulically controlled floating screed with a supported 2D system, Trimble Roadworks can be used to place any variety of materials, including hot asphalt, cold recycled asphalt, road base, gravel, concrete treated base, sand or any other paving material.


Intuitive Software, Flexible Hardware

The Android-based application runs on the 10-inch (25.7 centimetre) touch-screen Trimble TD520 Display. Trimble Roadworks software has a familiar interface for Trimble users, designed for operator efficiency. Colourful graphics, natural interactions and gestures, and self-discovery features make the software intuitive and easy to learn. Each operator can personalise the interface to match their workflow; configurable views make it easier to see the right perspective for maximum productivity. State-of-the-art software and hardware give operators of all skill levels the ability to work faster and more productively than ever before.

Trimble Roadworks leverages Trimble's proven system hardware, rugged and durable for tough paving conditions. By design, utilising components from Trimble Earthworks increases the portability of the hardware and increases return on investment. Using the Android operating system, users can also download other third-party applications that provide the operator with additional useful tools inside the cab.

"Trimble Roadworks is easy to learn and more accessible for many different types of contractors because it leverages the intuitive Trimble machine control interface and applies it to pavers," said Kevin Garcia, general manager for Trimble Civil Construction Specialty Solutions. "This platform also makes it possible to include Trimble's industry-leading paving technology as part of a connected site ecosystem of solutions, which is valuable for complex infrastructure projects."

 

Connectivity

Office-to-field connectivity reduces waste and overruns with efficient communication and data transferring across the project. Using a Trimble SNM941 Connected Site® Gateway, Trimble Roadworks allows the transfer of 3D designs from the office to the machine via the cloud so that the operator is always using the latest design. In addition, productivity data collected from the machine is automatically synced back to the office.

 

Availability

Trimble Roadworks 3D Paving Control Platform for Pavers is now available through your local SITECH Construction Systems. For more information, call 1800 SITECH (1800 748 324).

2D Grade Control System reshapes Leading Edge Earthmoving’s productivity

Customer Profile

Founded in 2017, Leading Edge Earthmoving is a Victoria, Australia-based earthmoving company specialising in final trim grading and excavation.

Business Challenge

Minimise the need to get in and out of machines to check levels on the job.

Solution
  • Trimble® Earthworks Grade Control Platform for Excavators
  • Trimble LC450 Laser Catcher
  • Spectra Precision Grade Laser

Benefits
  • 1-2 hours a day in time savings
  • Improved fuel efficiency
  • Assured quality

For Rick Gossow, big machines and earthmoving are both his profession and his passion. He’s been working in civil construction since he was 19 years old, largely as an operator on graders and excavators.

When work for others took him too far from home and family, he decided it was time to start his own business. Building on his 14 years of experience, he formed Leading Edge Earthmoving in Victoria, Australia in 2017. He bought a Cat 304E excavator and focused on final trim grading and excavation for commercial and residential projects.

Over the course of three years, he’s built a strong, steady business, but continued to seek ways to improve quality and efficiency for his customers. He confirms, “I’m a one-man operation, so I’m always looking for affordable ways to drive productivity. This is a very competitive market segment. Anything that gives me an edge, saves me time and saves my clients money is invaluable.”

In particular, he noticed that he spent a lot of time getting in and out of the cab to check levels throughout the day. “I do a lot of small, private jobs and I was losing on average one to two hours a day checking levels,” says Gossow. “Not only am I losing time, but I’m burning fuel since the machine is just running. Losing just ten minutes of operation checking levels ten times a day adds up fast.”

He’d seen a lot of technology advancement, including 2D and 3D machine control, during his time on the road working for other contractors, so I knew there were tools that could automate leveling right from the cab, he says.

Laser Focused

He called Shane Wright, Sales Consultant at SITECH Construction Systems in Melbourne, Australia, to ask about a machine mounted laser receiver.

His response was not what Gossow expected. “He said I should look at the Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform for Excavators system instead,” said Gossow. “I had experience with 3D grade control systems in the past but knew those were not within my budget. But, Shane said the 2D capabilities would solve my leveling issues while providing additional benefit.”

Not only was the price right, but the grade control platform runs on a Trimble TD510 7” Touch Display. Gossow is also using the Trimble LC450 Laser Catcher fitted on the 2D Earthworks system with a Spectra Precision Grade Laser for consistent cross-site elevation benching.

“Once he sent the specs and pricing [about the 2D Earthworks], I was onboard,” said Gossow, who signed the purchase order the very next day and soon after, became the first contractor in Victoria to deploy the Trimble Earthworks 2D system.

 

On the Job

Currently, Gossow is using the 2D capabilities of the system on his Cat 304E excavator. The first opportunity to use the system was to dig a trench to prevent rainwater from flooding a client’s home and farm buildings. He followed up with a pad finish project for a farm storage unit and the finishing of a surface in preparation for a concrete pour.

“There are still certain features and functionality that I’m learning,” he said. “But, I know I’m more efficient, saving several hours in a day by staying focused on the job in the cab, and I’m more accurate. For everything I’ve used it on thus far, it’s awesome!”

Leading Edge Earthmoving’s experiences are attracting the attention of other small and midsize earthwork contractors in the area. Demolition contractor TerraFirma Excavations in Victoria, Australia has also adopted the Trimble Earthworks 2D system as well as the Spectra Precision Grade Laser to improve productivity and efficiency.