Track Loader Survey Technology Helps a Small Contractor Overcome a Big Parking Problem

Heartland Concrete There stood Beau Wissing, staring at a mess someone else had created — and now was his to fix. “It was a disaster,” Wissing says of the parking lot being built for a new grocery store.

Heartland Concrete Construction, Hastings, Neb., had been hired to finish grade and concrete pave the 100,000-sq-ft lot. The job had turned out to be much more difficult than advertised and then some.

“This was without a doubt the most complex parking lot we’ve ever done,” says Wissing, who owns Heartland with his father, Jeff. “There were valleys and ridges and crazy stuff all over. The elevations were off. Nothing matched. The engineer had been fired. The plans made no sense.”

That was the good news. “The entry was unworkable,” Wissing says. “It was the worst part of the whole project. There was an approach that had a ridiculous elevation change.” The general contractor told Wissing to take whatever steps necessary to move forward. Yet Heartland is a small firm with limited resources. So what do you do when a job is falling apart — and fixing it is up to you?

“We turned to Trimble,” Wissing says. Business Center–HCE (a powerful program to help create accurate, integrated 3D models for sites) was utilized to re-engineer the entry. Trimble SCS900 Site Controller Software and a Universal Total Station helped overcome many of the other engineering and surveying problems on the jobsite.

“Without that technology, I don’t know what we would have done,” Wissing says. “We’re a small contractor. It’s not like I have an engineering department I can call. What took a crew of 10 more than a week now is done with a crew of six in a day.” But for Wissing, the impact of the technology goes beyond productivity. It helps get him out of jams.

Preparing for Re-Entry

The first step was re-engineering the approach. “There was a curb run of 150 ft, with 3 ft of fall,” Wissing says. “The engineer designed it so two and half feet of slope was in the first 20 ft. The last 90 ft had 4 in. of fall.”

The result would have been a very steep drop-off for entering vehicles and transition problems in many other places. “With some areas of the lot, we knew we could make adjustments that would work,” Wissing says. “With the entrance, we needed new engineering.”

Wissing turned to Sitech Mid-Plains and its design team. “The rep at Sitech Mid-Plains designed it,” Wissing says. “We worked on it together in Business Center-HCE. Then we could see it in 3D and make sure everything was flowing. We actually made it constructible, which was a miracle.”

The implementation was “flawless,” Wissing says. “Once it was designed in Business Center-HCE, we just went out and created it. We were able to finish quickly, too.” There were challenges in other areas of the parking lot, where the Universal Total Station and Trimble machine control saved the day.

“I could drop the blade to the dirt level, and the read-out would say add material or take some away,” Wissing says. “If the re-work was extensive, we had another machine handle it. He would get it close, and I would come back and blade it with the Bobcat with the GCS900. It’s not my preferred process, but it did make for a quick recovery.”

Heartland Concrete Construction utilizes a Trimble Universal Total Station and GCS900 on a Bobcat track loader with a grader attachment.

Heartland Concrete Construction utilizes a Trimble Universal Total Station and GCS900 on a Bobcat track loader with a grader attachment.

The Usual Approach

Of course the best process is to grade properly from the start — which Heartland crews do. “We have always taken pride in our work, and I think it’s improved since last spring,” Wissing says. That’s when they started using the GCS900 and Universal Total Station. The Wissings have been thrilled by the cost-savings, accuracy and productivity among other benefits.

The firm utilizes the Universal Total Station and GCS900 on a Bobcat track loader, which is a customized grade control configuration that Sitech Mid-Plains set up for Wissing. “Phil Hoppe at Sitech Mid-Plains listened to our needs, and then went back to the office and came up with a completely customized, perfect solution,” Wissing says. “We have an 8-ft grader attachment on the front of the track loader. All controls are automatic. Really, it’s the same setup as the big road graders.”

Since adding the grader attachment, Heartland has even started contracting out the company’s fine grading service to other construction firms. “We are so excited to have 3D automatic control on a compact grader,” he says. “It is truly an awesome system.” On most jobsites, a Heartland operator simply makes a pass with the automated grade control engaged to reach finish grade. The process works so well Wissing hates to tell its story.

“No concrete contractor of our size in this area is using this,” Wissing says. “Bigger construction companies, yes, but not smaller contractors. They should use it, but I don’t want them to.”

Implementing the Technology

Heartland has been in business since 1993, when Jeff Wissing opened up shop. It is primarily a flatwork company with about 70 percent of its business involving concrete paving in commercial applications such as parking lots. It also handles flooring for larger commercial facilities and does a bit of residential work as well.

Beau Wissing first considered the technology when reading an article that discussed the 3D-grading process for big motor graders. He liked the precision and believed it would enable him to offer more and improved services. Yet he also wondered if that technology could be utilized on smaller machines because his jobsites can be small and tight. The answer is yes. Sitech Mid-Plains demonstrated the technology on a compact track loader and seeing was believing for Wissing.

“On the Universal Total Station side of it, we are transitioning more toward big commercial jobs where accuracy is really important, so that was a consideration,” Wissing says. “These buildings have anchor bolts that have to be within 1/8 of an inch.”

Yet the building can be several hundred feet long. “Stringline can bend a couple inches over that distance,” Wissing says. “People have been doing it with stringline forever, and it works. But I don’t think the old way is the best way.”

Heartland Concrete Construction (Cut 3)

Since adding the grader attachment, Heartland has even started contracting out the company’s fine grading service to other construction firms.

Seeing the Benefits

As for the daily operations, Wissing couldn’t be happier with the technology. “It has exceeded every expectation we had for it,” he says. That includes cost. “It pays for itself quickly. We just hoped that the time saved and productivity would be a good investment. Now, a few months later, we can’t believe how good that investment is.”

The productivity numbers are nothing short of amazing. Wissing offered the productivity on a recent 30,000-sq-ft job as proof. Previously there would have been one to one and a half weeks of fine grading for the job. A crew of 10 would be required for the layout, grading and stakeout, he said. That changed dramatically with the use of the GCS900 and SCS900.

“Instead of a week or longer, the work was finished in a single day — and even that day required only six workers, not the previous 10. It’s changed everything — our outlook on bidding, everything. I don’t even want to tell anyone about this. My dad and I are still blown away by the savings every time we finish a job.”

They aren’t the only ones blown away on the jobsite. Project managers are impressed — and sometimes puzzled — too. “We show up and they say, ‘Hey, where’s the rest of your crew?’” Wissing has a standard response. “I say, ‘Just relax. Trust me.’ In a few hours we’re done, and they can’t believe it.”

Scott Crozier is a product manager for Site Positioning Solutions at Trimble Civil Engineering and Construction.