Forsgren Construction Finds Big Productivity in a Small Package
While big iron forms the bulk of Forsgren Inc.'s equipment lineup, the company recently expanded its fleet with a seriously downsized dozer. What the John Deere 450K Dozer lacks in size however, it more than makes up for in accuracy and productivity thanks to a mastless 3-D machine control system from Topcon Positioning Systems.
Since its introduction earlier this year, the dozer has quickly established itself as the go-to solution for grading and backfilling in tight quarters. It proved a valuable addition in a recent grading effort for a trucking company's new corporate headquarters in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and the company sees it - and the machine control solution guiding it - playing a continued key role as they move forward.
Olaf Victor Forsgren, a Swedish immigrant who chose to settle in the Fort Smith Arkansas area and focus on sidewalk construction, founded Forsgren Construction more than 80 years ago. Today, the company employs more than 200 and is headed up by three brothers who represent the fourth generation of Forsgrens. With longevity has also come diversity, according to Carrie Hudgens, the company's GPS Specialist and Superintendent.
"The company has really expanded over the years to meet the needs of its customers," she said. "In addition to the site work which is a huge part of the business, we also have divisions that deal with utility installation, directional boring, engineering design,
concrete work and asphalt paving. There's not much we don't do and, as a result, we've become one of the area's more in-demand contractors."
The company's site work expertise is currently on display at the Fort Chaffee project mentioned above. There, the Forsgren team has converted a 40-acre rolling hillside overgrown with brush to a site suitable for the 200,000-square-foot structure, the adjacent parking areas and its complimentary grounds. Getting to that point, said Hudgens, has not been without its challenges.
"We brought in a fairly substantial volume of dirt to get the area to grade; some areas needed up to 9 feet of fill," she said. "This was definitely one of the more difficult projects we've done from a grading standpoint. There were sections where one parking area had 2 to 3 feet of difference in elevation between it and the next one. Given that there were so many different levels on this job, it would have been a real challenge to do it with grade stakes. This was a job literally made for GPS."
Fortunately for Hudgens and her team, Forsgren has been committed to the GNSS approach to construction for nearly a decade already. The company currently has Topcon machine control systems installed on six dozers, three motor graders and an excavator.
"In addition to that, just last year we added Topcon Millimeter GPS to our GOMACO concrete paver and curb and gutter machines," said Hudgens. "We share the same monitor, receivers and mag box between the two units and everything else is wired. So it's easy for our operator to just unplug the necessary component from one machine, carry them to the other machine, plug it in and get to work."
Forsgren is a progressive company in other areas as well, a fact borne out by Hudgens' position within the company. In construction, an industry in which a mere 9 percent of the total workforce is female, Hudgens has flourished in her roles as Supervisor and GPS Specialist.
"Prior to coming here, I was a state inspector and had done a fair amount of survey work in that position." She said. "But then I left that job and went to work as a surveyor for a Forsgren-owned company called Meridian. Though I already knew how to survey, I hadn't done so on a computer. But I learned the programs, took a number of classes, did online webinars, and discovered that I liked doing this new approach to survey. As a result, I started building DTMs for Meridian, and when that company was eventually closed down, Forsgren kept me on board. I've been building models for better than seven years now, work that was formerly subbed out is now done in-house, and I feel we are better company because of it."
Forsgren's willingness to try new and innovative technology came to the forefront again last year when they were looking for a new dozer. They wanted one that would fill a size niche for them without adversely affecting productivity and, according to Hudgens, got that in the new John Deere 450K running a Topcon 3D-MCMAX machine control solution.
"We were specifically looking for a smaller dozer that would work well behind our curb operation, could get into tighter areas and yet could still keep up with our other units in terms of quality of performance," said Hudgens.
"Working with Jeremy Mauney from the Little Rock branch of Trench Safety & Supply, we purchased the John Deere 450K with the new mastless Topcon system, and it's done all that for us. Here on this site, there are areas near the building that are almost inaccessible with a larger machine, but the 450K with its 8-foot blade is able to easily get at them and get the job done."
According to Rusty Reed, one of Hudgens' colleagues and a Forsgren operator, the benefits of the new machine control solution definitely meet the company's needs for performance. He said that, while not having to remove a mast at the end of the day is convenient, it's what's inside the system that impressed him.
"I've been using GPS for about 10 years now and this system has so many features built into it that I really like," he said. "Bringing up the information I need on the touch screen is so much easier than even the previous system. Also, on this job, we subbed out the curbing facet of the job to a different company and they adjusted things to such a degree that our model no longer fit the curb.
"In the past, we would have had to put our tracker on to track the curb to get the 2 to 3 inches depth we needed. Using the 3D-MCMAX system, we can have one side of the blade act like a tracker and get the grade we need for the sidewalk automatically. There is still so much I have to learn about it but it's impressing the heck out of me so far."
At the heart of the 3D-MCMAX system to which Reed refers, is a pair of Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors. An integral part of the dozer's blade, the sensors work in unison to keep the machine's cutting edge steady on any slope.
"The performance is strong and accurate," added Reed. "This is a smaller machine so you would think that, if you felt any type of blade shuddering, it would be on this 450K, but there's none. When I look at the blade and see there are no masts, it just blows my mind."
Hudgens added that they've used the new system primarily for fine grading at their current site and she sees it filling that role - and more - as they move forward.
"We are in the early stages of replacing some of our older GPS systems with newer technology and this is just the first move in that direction," she said. "We recently upgraded our data collectors from Topcon FC-250s to their FC-500 model and we have five Topcon GR-5 bases/rover setups. Jeremy from Trench Safety is excellent at making sure we are taken care of in terms of support, and we do the rest.
"For us, the bottom line is, we know what the GNSS solution can do for us and we rely heavily on it. On this job alone, we used machines running Topcon solutions to build all the dirt grade and gravel; we did all the storm drains, we installed conduits and roof drain, and built several retention ponds down below. We will always be replacing or upgrading equipment and components as they need it, but we've got a good system in place and we like what it's doing for us."