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Embracing machine control for growth

Nick Caulfield explains why he decided to invest in machine control for future growth.

The UK construction industry is light years behind its European counterparts when it comes to adopting innovative technology – especially machine control. This reluctance for change may be associated with the large cost outlay, but the question contractors should be asking is how these systems can improve performance in efficiency, safety, waste, and quality.

Having undertaken drainage works for some high profile jobs, including the Olympic Park, M25 Widening and Crossrail, we felt the time was right to look at more innovative, efficient ways of working that would put us in good standing for winning future tenders and contribute to safer working conditions.

Turnkey solution

I want to offer our clients a “turnkey” solution that includes us providing engineering solutions, not just plant and labour. A move to machine control is an important step in taking us to this higher level of service, and will help raise safety standards on site.

The M25 Widening has proved the perfect opportunity to test out the technology in earnest. The project team were already heavily committed to machine control through their earthworks operations, which meant that there was an impetus for the drainage team to follow suit.

We contracted Korec to fit two Trimble GCS900 2D sensor based systems onto our Volvo tracked excavators and two Trimble GCS900 dual GPS 3D excavator systems onto our Hitachi 24t tracked excavators.

The two systems provide +/-50mm tolerance, allowing us to quickly reach grade and then use pipe lasers to achieve the +/-20mm required to lay the pipe bedding material.

Using traditional methods, a man in the trench manually checks the grade of the excavation with a dipping stick and pipe laser. The number one benefit for us is safety: working with machine control means we can take a man out of the trench and away from the excavator.

No more waiting

More benefits have also emerged, including not having to wait for the site’s engineers to set out and check our work - this is all done through the control box in our excavators, which are programmed with a design model of the whole drainage network.

If the drainage design changes, the new information is updated immediately on the control box’s data card, and the machine control can also record what depth and line we have dug to, and produce as-built drawings.

These are useful for the client and also record any over-dig through soft spots or obstructions, which can be used in wastage calculations.

Investing in machine control has huge cost implications, but the sums add up. I’m convinced that this is how large drainage contracts will be carried out in the future, and the experience we’ve gained on this job has been a valuable investment.

  • Nick Caulfield is director at Caulfield Contractors

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