Site contractor gains productivity edge with grade control platform

March 4, 2020  - By
The automatics on Trimble’s Earthworks Grade Control Platform enabled construction of a tricky retaining wall. (Photo: Trimble)

The automatics on Trimble’s Earthworks Grade Control Platform enabled construction of a tricky retaining wall. (Photo: Trimble)

Based in Vandalia, Ohio, R.B. Jergens has long been an early adopter of technology. The company purchased its first GPS-based surveying equipment, a Trimble base station and rover, in 1999 and has never looked back.

The company has relied heavily on the Trimble GCS900 Grade Control System with automatic blade control for years, and recently put the new Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform to the test on several of its excavators.

“While the user interface is completely different, moving from a soft key control box to a touchscreen control box, the transition from the GCS9000 has not been difficult,” said David Reynolds, surveying manager with R.B. Jergens.

The new Earthworks platform includes intuitive, easy-to-learn software, is extremely customizable, and allows each operator to personalize the interface to maximize productivity, regardless of his or her experience or skill level. When the excavator is placed in “autos” or automatics mode, the operator controls the stick, and Trimble Earthworks controls the boom and attachment to stay on grade for a more consistent grade and higher accuracy in less time.

One of the first jobs that the R.B. Jergens team used the Earthworks Grade Control Platform on was to construct a 1,000-foot-long ditch with a very flat profile of about 0.2%.

A transmission tower complicates construction. (Photo: Trimble)

A transmission tower complicates construction. (Photo: Trimble)

“For this type of task, the automatics functionality is invaluable, because an operator would have a very difficult time maintaining fall,” said Reynolds. “It averages out to less than 3 inches over 100 feet, which is almost impossible to eyeball.”

Traditionally, on a job with that flat of a profile, the surveyor would have had to set frequent grade stakes.

“We used the automatics feature to construct the ditch and ensure that it held a consistent profile per the design specifications, even though the profile is extremely flat,” Reynolds said.

A particularly challenging automatics-enabled project was the excavation near a transmission tower for construction of a soil nail retaining wall. Crews needed to excavate around the tower without undermining the integrity of its foundation.

The soil nail retaining wall is 25 feet tall and about 150 feet long. To complete the job, the R.B. Jergens crew would excavate and expose up to five vertical feet of the bank face. Then the retaining wall contractor would drill holes in the soil, install and grout the steel rod, attach plates, and cover the face with a cementitious shotcrete. “We used the autos on the excavator to perform all of the excavations,” Reynolds said. “Without machine-controlled guidance and the automatics capability to pull those slopes in so tightly, I’m not sure how we’d have done this job.”

Reynolds estimates that the surveyor and field crews saved three days of time each on the job — at least 40 hours total — with the use of automatics.

“We’ve been able to reallocate resources more effectively and increase our productivity anywhere from 50 to 100%, so we’re leaner and more profitable.”

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.