Stutsman-Gerbaz Digs in to Subscription-Based Technology with Trimble Works Plus

A worker from Stutsman-Gerbaz

Attention to and investment in technology advancements has long been one of the guiding principles of Stutsman-Gerbaz, an earthwork and demolition contractor based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado.

The company first incorporated GNSS and universal total stations for grade control onto heavy equipment in 2016, providing operators and supervisors real-time information to ensure they are moving dirt or installing utilities according to plan, reducing guesswork and costly re-work.

That investment, along with a skilled team and focused leadership, has helped Stutsman-Gerbaz grow over the last seven years. It has also helped the company diversify its services, moving from primarily residential to an equal balance of commercial and municipal projects, along with some demolition.

President of Stutsman-Gerbaz, Shay Stutsman, summed up the transition: “We’re able to do more work in less time, with greater accuracy, while keeping our indirect expenses the same or even lower.”

However, like many other contractors, that recognition of technology benefits also competes with resource reality. “We know that solutions such as Trimble Earthworks provide real benefits on our projects and, ideally, we wanted to upgrade our entire fleet,” said Stutsman. “But the initial capital investment to outfit all of our machines with 3D grade control was daunting, so over the years we’ve been selective about which machines to automate. Then, Trimble introduced the Works Plus subscription model, which makes our technology decisions much easier.”

Minimizing Upfront Investment

Available in the U.S. and Canada, the Trimble Works Plus subscription that lets contractors upgrade to the latest hardware and software, including a full factory warranty and repair or replacement of accidentally damaged hardware. The subscription supports a wide range of needs for most any contractor. It covers a range of solutions, from on-machine grade control systems to off-machine base stations, data collectors and rovers. Also, every subscription bundle includes a single license of Trimble WorksManager and Trimble WorksOS field-to-office software. These solutions allow users to easily transfer data to and from devices over the internet to track job progress, stream corrections to their devices, and remotely troubleshoot issues in the field from anywhere.

“This subscription option was a real opportunity for our firm to equip the majority of the fleet, with some additional benefits that go well beyond the availability of 3D grade control on a job,” said Stutsman, whose subscription includes a total station, a rover and Trimble Earthworks on a dozer and multiple excavators.

From a business perspective, he thinks the value of the Works Plus subscription is an investment in flexibility. “We can sign up for subscriptions based on our backlog of work,” he said. “If we have a project that is only going to take a short time, I can sign up for a two year subscription that covers all of the technology for that job. It eliminates that sizable upfront capital investment and definitely allows us to make better business decisions.”

Trimble at work

Currently, Stutsman-Gerbaz, has most of its dozers and excavators equipped with the latest version of Trimble technology through its subscription.

He added, “Also, we are always current with all the new sensors, harnesses and cables along with software upgrades on desktops, rovers and tablets—it’s all done automatically. Any time there’s an upgrade or we need a new piece of equipment, our SITECH Rocky Mountain distributor brings it out and installs it. It was a no-brainer for us to go with the subscription.”

Stutsman believes that his job sites are more efficient and productive, now as well. “We’re able to do more with a smaller crew. Technology has really allowed our company to grow and continue to be successful. Five years ago, we were running maybe seven jobs on a daily basis. Today, we’re running 15.”

One of the intangible benefits of having the latest and greatest technology on every machine is consistency for operators. He explained, “Every operator is running on the same platform. If one of our newer operators is not familiar with the system on his dozer, an excavator operator can share expertise. They have the same screen, even on a different machine.”

That visibility translates to productivity on the job.

The Digital Workflow at Work

For Stutsman-Gerbaz, the benefits of technology in the field and in the office are clear on every project.

The two-year Midland Avenue Streetscape project in Basalt, Colorado, is an initiative to improve essential infrastructure, specifically focusing on water, stormwater, sanitary sewer, electric and communications infrastructure. The project includes both below and aboveground improvements, sidewalk widening, improved ADA accessibility, new parking designs and the incorporation of more natural elements along about a quarter mile stretch of Midland Avenue. The first phase is largely focused on water line installations.

Stutsman-Gerbaz office

The workflow begins with the development of a 3D model based on surveying and engineering design within Trimble Business Center. Then, they use Trimble WorksManager to send the design data, in this case, the details of a water line installation, to the team in the field. As the work is completed and documented in Trimble Earthworks, that information is sent back to the office.

“We couldn’t do this project without the technology,” he said. “We’re a month and a half ahead of schedule because we’re able to install pipes almost twice as fast, and more accurately, than we used to do.”

The second phase, to begin in spring 2024, will focus on sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and streets through the middle of town.

“Interestingly, the engineering and survey team on the job said they had never worked with a contractor that had so much technology—and they were a little skeptical of the process when we told them that we didn’t need stakes,” he recalled. “Through the project, seeing the accuracy we were able to achieve, they have learned to trust us.”

The Hallam Lake Habitat Improvement and Berm Repair project in downtown Aspen is another place where technology has paid off for the contractor. The challenge was to repair the earthen berm and outlet structures that created Hallam Lake, deepen some sections and build a new wetlands along the edge of the lake.

“This was a very challenging project because a lot of it was underwater,” explained Stutsman. “We used our Trimble Earthworks-equipped excavators with the submersible kit, which makes it possible to use the technology up to 20 meters underwater. We were able to use the tilt sensors on the buckets to dig to the specified grade underwater, which also allowed us to use fewer machines and reduce our environmental impact.”

Talent Development and a Virtual Look Ahead

The advantage of technology in the field, particularly on every piece of heavy equipment, has been improved machine productivity even with less experienced operators.

“It used to be that we had assigned our most experienced operators to specific jobs,” said Stutsman. “Now, we can spread those skills out. We can have one highly experienced operator supporting newer operators, and once we train somebody and they feel confident using the technology, we can move them to other jobs. It’s a continuous on-the-job skills development that all of our operators appreciate.”

The increased availability of technology has also expanded employee opportunities in the office. “Not long ago, we created a position for a 3D model builder. At the time, we weren’t sure we’d have enough work to keep him busy. Fast-forward a year later, we just hired our second model builder to help him out,” he added.

The company is also looking to invest in more technological advances including radar, LiDAR and virtual reality.

“The Works Plus subscription is a great platform for us to see and potentially invest in these solutions,” said Stutsman. “It allows any contractor, no matter your size, to try out 3D technology at a significantly reduced upfront cost. If you want to try it for one project, you can do it for a short time without taking on that upfront cost for a technology that you’re not sure will provide an equivalent ROI. That said, I believe the first time any contractor tries a solution like Trimble Earthworks, they will not go back to the old way.”

Vicki Speed is a freelance writer focused on the trades.


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