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You're Using Machine Control Technology. Now What?


Since global positioning systems (GPS) were first combined with earthmoving technology in the late 1990s, contractors have been using machine control to improve precision, productivity, and safety. More than two decades later, machine control system capabilities have grown dramatically while prices have dwindled. Grade control technology is no longer just for large equipment like excavators and dozers. Small excavators and additional machine forms, such as track loaders and skid steers, are now being outfitted with machine control technology. What does this increase in capability and accessibility mean for contractors? When combined with jobsite management software, machine control can unlock more visibility into machine performance and a wealth of data that can be used to improve productivity, quality, and cost control. 


You're Using Machine Control Technology. Now What?


Why It’s Time to Get More Out of Machine Control

The increasing popularity of non-traditional project delivery methods, such as design-build and construction manager at risk (CMAR), is shifting the role of the contractor. Technological disruption is further pushing contractors to adapt and adopt new ways of working to emerge as a competitive, relevant player. Key to maintaining that relevance is improving jobsite productivity, safety, and sustainability. 


Source: Construction Industry Institute 


While machine control has the potential to help contractors address these challenges and deliver more value to owners, its full potential often isn’t being fully realized. For example, heavy equipment is constantly collecting data that contains invaluable insights. Yet, much of it isn’t being collected or used. Similarly, when designs must be loaded manually to machines, a worker could easily load the wrong design. But you might not realize it until the work is complete.

These inefficiencies are holding back machine control from delivering on its promise. As long as operators (and the machines they use) work in silos, contractors are limited in their ability to reduce inefficiencies, errors, and safety incidents in the field. The solution is to create a connected jobsite, where information flows seamlessly between machines and the back office. To do that, contractors need jobsite management software.


Tap Into the Full Potential of Machine Control with a Connected Jobsite

Most contractors take a phased approach to implementing machine control. They start with a large excavator, see how it improves quality and safety, then incorporate more automation into their machines over time. This incremental approach, while it seems logical, isn’t undertaken with data flow and management in mind. Contractors end up with lost data, limited visibility, and no scalable way to monitor and manage their growing portfolio of machine-controlled equipment. 

To overcome these hurdles, machines need to be connected to jobsite management software. The software centralizes all of the data flowing through the jobsite, giving field workers, back office managers, and the machines access to the most up-to-date information. With jobsite management software, contractors can manage jobsites more effectively by accessing machine quality, performance, diagnostics, and progress data at the push of a button, from a variety of devices. 


Monitor and Manage the Jobsite Remotely 

Contractors who work on multiple job sites at a time must conduct a complicated logistical symphony. Jobsite management software allows you to connect with your equipment from anywhere to manage it all. Project managers can move equipment from site to site and ensure that each piece is using the correct design, all while automatically collecting data on the machines’ performance and status. 


“Before, if you moved a machine, you’d have to get hold of the surveyor and ask him to plan the machine arrival and be ready to upload the correct designs. With WorksManager, as soon as the machine moves into the project boundary, it recognizes what project it's on and downloads all the data to the machine automatically, without any manual intervention. No advanced warning is needed at all, and the machine never sits idle.” –– Lasse Hanberg, Support Manager at SITECH Danmark A/S


<<Read more about how SITECH is helping it's customers gain real-time visibility and troubleshoot problems quickly.>>


Throughout the course of the project, supervisors and project managers can gather real-time infield measurement and machine measurement to understand progress on the job site and remotely monitor statuses for multiple projects. They can see when machines are in use and where they are on the map. If a machine is malfunctioning, it can be diagnosed remotely––no need to send a technician to the job site. And, being able to show work completed can accelerate subcontractor payment times.


Bring 3D Capabilities to the Field

As project owners and designers seek ways to take full advantage of building information modeling (BIM) and the 3D models produced by the process, contractors don’t have to watch from the sidelines. The next generation of machine control technology is capable of leveraging 3D models. By deploying 3D models from a jobsite management software, contractors can save time and reduce the potential confusion that comes with manually uploading 2D plans. 


“2D plans don’t show 3D mistakes, whether with the initial plans or the prepared model. The 3D capabilities of the equipment, both with Earthworks and Siteworks, help to highlight potential issues and more rapidly address future problems without creating delays in production.” –– Patrick L'Heureux, Project Manager and Technology Specialist, Severino Trucking Co.


<<Read more about how Severino is using jobsite management software to increase productivity by as much as 50%.>>


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found that using 3D data for machine guidance resulted in: 

  • Greater accuracy in pavement material quantities prediction and management
  • A 10% fleet reduction for hauling concrete with stringless paving from better access
  • Smoother concrete paving
  • Less rework due to early issue identification and resolution

The FHWA also found that using 3D data along with machine control lowers the opportunity cost for real-time verification. Inspectors can use 3D data tools to check tolerances and collect survey data without the need for stakes and hubs, improving the safety, transparency and efficiency of the inspection process.


Transform Data into Value

Infrastructure is expected to finally get the focus it deserves. But the impact of infrastructure investment will be hampered by the rising costs of construction materials and labor. The pressure is on contractors to deliver value to project owners through increased project safety, budget, and scheduling compliance. Using the wealth of data available in the field is the key to providing that value.


Source: Dodge Data & Analytics, Improving Performance with Smart Data


Connecting machine control technology to jobsite management systems allows you to take full advantage of the data generated in the field. For example, machines can automatically map and create as built surfaces, which can be used for volume calculations. On a daily basis, you can track the location of machinery, along with volume and compaction methods, to monitor progress and allocate equipment where needed. And the data collected over time allows for better planning, estimating, and scheduling in the future. 


“We’ve never had production data for dozer operations, just best guesses. But, with WorksOS, quantities of material pushed and hours are automatically tallied, which helps us bid future projects more accurately.” –– Britton Lawson, Director of Construction Technology, Veit & Company


<<Read more about how Veit & Company is using real-time data to create competitive advantage.>>


A Contractor's Secret Weapon: Connecting Machines & Devices to a Single Source of Truth

When viewed as part of the larger construction ecosystem, the connected jobsite can be the contractor’s secret weapon for improving productivity and safety, while also addressing cost, schedule, and sustainability concerns. The connected jobsite is part of a larger approach to breaking construction silos, known as Connected Construction

Connected Construction brings the tools, people, and data involved in the entire construction lifecycle together. With every machine and device in the field, from excavators to tablets, connecting to a single source of truth, contractors can easily scale their machine control investment while also increasing data portability, access, and quality. Leveraging cloud-based systems allows everyone––from business managers to operators––to collaborate. That collaboration fuels the time savings, cost reductions, and quality improvements contractors need to stay relevant in the face of disruption. 


Take the Quiz: Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Machine Control?

Many contractors are letting these improvements slip through their fingers. Could you be missing out on realizing the true potential of your machine control investment? Take this 3-minute quiz to find out.

About the Author

Product Manager for Trimble WorksOS. Trimble WorksOS, a new cloud-based operating system, integrates data from any provider to deliver 3D productivity and real-time progress to plan for site supervisors and project managers to maximize jobsite efficiency. I'm currently working with an excellent team to deliver software solutions for Civil Construction customers. I spend time validating workflows, gathering customer feedback and market requirements to drive the development of this product.

Profile Photo of Stephen Benko