Beaver Excavating Benefits from Cutting-Edge Machine Control Technology on Portsmouth Bypass
Beaver Excavating has been providing premier earthmoving and construction services for more than 60 years. The company's core services include mass excavation and grading, underground utility installation, roadway and bridge construction, cast-in-place concrete, and geotechnical construction, which it provides across Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding region. Today, Beaver Excavating maintains a fleet of more than 600 pieces of specialized earthmoving and construction equipment, with about 110 machines equipped with machine control. Beaver works frequently with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and various municipalities on large highway and roadway construction projects, as well as bridge and drainage structure construction.
Long-Time 3-D Customer
Jim Sterling, Survey and GPS Manager for Beaver Excavating, explains that the company has been a loyal and longtime Trimble customer, first adopting Trimble's 3-D machine-control system, Trimble SiteVision, about 20 years ago. Over the years, the company has added additional machine control equipment, including dozens of Trimble GCS900 Grade Control Systems for dozers, excavators and motor graders. Beaver Excavating has worked with its local Trimble dealer, SITECH Ohio, for several years. The company consults with SITECH on new equipment, training and customer support. When approached to try out the new Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform last August, Beaver Excavating jumped at the chance, and started by installing Trimble Earthworks on three track excavators.
Trimble Earthworks is the industry's first integrated 3-D aftermarket grade control system with excavator automatics capabilities. The new platform includes intuitive, easy-to-learn software, is extremely customizable, and allows each operator to personalize the interface to maximize productivity, regardless of his or her experience or skill level.
"When I heard about the new product, I was very interested and excited about going through the beta testing process," said Sterling. "I definitely see value in helping the product be everything it can be and it was really a great opportunity for both of us."
The Bypass Project
The team started by leveraging the new system for work on the Portsmouth Bypass project, also known as the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway. The project started in 2015 and is scheduled to be substantially completed in December 2018. Delivered to ODOT under a Public Private Partnership (P3) contract by the Portsmouth Gateway Group, the new highway will be a 16-mile, four-lane divided highway that bypasses approximately 26 miles of U.S. 52 and U.S. 23 around Portsmouth.
Beaver Excavating is performing the extensive mass excavation work along the 16-mile route, along with utility and storm water drainage, bridge structure construction, and the project's Erosion & Sedimentation (E&S) pond and ditch line components. Trimble Earthworks was originally beta tested on two Kobelco SK210LC-9 Excavators, including one at Portsmouth and the other at the company's water treatment plant project in Columbiana, Ohio. At the bypass project, Beaver Excavating also had a large fleet of equipment including six Hitachi 1200-sized excavators, heavy rock trucks and dozens of machines equipped with Trimble GCS900 Machine Control. In total, there are more than 300 Beaver Excavating crew members on the jobsite and several hundred pieces of heavy highway equipment at any given time.
According to Sterling, one of the most exciting features of the new grade control platform is the "Autos" or automatics feature. When the excavator is placed in Autos mode, the operator controls the stick, and Trimble Earthworks controls the boom and bucket to stay on grade. This essentially automates the excavator operation and allows operators to achieve grade at a very consistent rate, with high accuracy and in much less time.
"I am a decent excavator operator, and I can tell you that I used to struggle to make a really uniform grade," said Sterling. "The new platform makes me appear to be an expert operator, just like that. We can now make a less experienced operator just as efficient as an expert operator, which is significant because looking ahead, we can see a personnel crunch in our industry, which could be costly for our business. The feedback I'm hearing from our operators is that it's easier than ever to pull grade with the new platform, and there's no denying how much time it saves."
Potential for Future Gains
Currently three years into the Portsmouth's project, Beaver Excavating has completed nearly all of the mass excavation work for the $430 million project (including design and construction). Sterling explains that the initial test of Trimble Earthworks has been extremely successful and he sees tremendous potential for efficiency gains on future projects. Today, finish excavation work continues on the retention ponds of the bypass. Sterling explains that training on the new platform was quite simple and he let operators generally learn on their own and ask questions as they worked. Trimble Earthworks is built on a familiar Android operating system and runs on a 10-inch Trimble TD520 touch-screen display. The intuitive software includes colorful graphics and recognizes natural interactions and gestures. The learning curve is shorter because operators can customize the software to present the most commonly used options in the most convenient way possible.
In addition to digging retention ponds, Sterling sees a significant advantage using Trimble Earthworks for laying pipe. Instead of setting up a pipe laser and having a crewmember check grade continuously during excavation, which requires pausing work, grade checking isn't needed until the final step. With the new 3-D Earthworks platform, a grade checker is only required directly before the pipe is laid, which makes everyone from the operators to the field crew much more productive throughout the day.
"Already I can see how digging to design, digging a ditch or pipework will be so much more efficient with this technology," said Sterling. "It makes working with an excavator every bit as efficient as working with an automatic dozer. I feel that this will make us far more efficient, because even a good operator slows down to try to hit grade whether he realizes it or not. With this new system, you don't have to slow down at all, which I anticipate will make our operators at least another 20 percent faster."
Beaver Excavating has also used Trimble Earthworks for ODOT's road-widening project in Findlay, Ohio. This $113 million project is widening the I-75 interstate to three lanes from County Road 99 to the Harrison Street overpass and requires a mix of pipework, shoulder work, trenching, and small area grading. The superintendent on the job explains that the new technology is extremely handy and allows him to work quickly and accurately. With the ability to dig faster and much more accurately during these initial test projects, Sterling predicts that the system will pay for itself in about one year.
Currently, Beaver Excavating has five machines equipped with Trimble Earthworks, and Sterling plans to add the technology to additional machines going forward, including machines that will be used for an upcoming water treatment plant project. He plans to keep a few excavators with GCS900 machine control for mass excavation, and Trimble Earthworks for more finished grading and creating smooth, flat and sloped surfaces across a variety of projects.