On a rainy day in June, Trimble held a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new research and development site at their Dayton, Ohio, facility. Storms rolling through the area were a perfect backdrop for showcasing the 65,100-square-foot dome, which allows Trimble employees to continue working even in inclement weather. Prior to the dome’s construction, the company would lose up to 130 working days of testing each year due to poor conditions.
In addition to equipment testing, the new facility has an attached 4,000-square-foot training support building with a classroom, lab, kitchenette and restrooms. The support building allows Trimble to host customers and dealers for educational sessions. In the past, Trimble provided training in dry climate states, requiring them to send staff, acquire equipment, get the equipment fitted with control systems and find available land each time.
“Having those sessions here is so much more cost efficient and convenient,” according to Scott Crozier, General Manager, Civil Engineering and Construction at Trimble. “It means we can run them more often – maybe smaller classes but more frequently and with better results.”
Next Generation Machine Controls
Trimble plans to offer training sessions eight weeks out of the year leaving the development team with 44 weeks for testing. That testing time is needed as Trimble transitions every machine control system from their previous version, GCS900, to the new Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform.
“Every machine’s hydraulics performs differently so we have to be able to work with the machine’s hydraulic control systems to make sure our system will control that machine the way we want it to – meeting the expectation of the contractor,” explained Product Manager Rick Peare. The entire Trimble solution is tested at this facility including the software, custom built displays, GPS receiver performance, and the software controls that control the excavator buckets and dozer blades to surface.
The state-of-the-art Trimble Earthworks software and hardware is currently available only on select machines but the new development facility should help alleviate the bottleneck that limited testing time has created, allowing Trimble to increase available machines much more rapidly.
“We have to make sure performance levels are met, quality, performance and reliability is what our brand is built upon,” Crozier stated. Trimble started porting models from the older software to the new system about a year ago, and plans to have the remaining dozers and excavators completed within the near future.
“The number one issue in the industry at the moment is workforce shortages of skilled labor,” Crozier continued. “And then the rising labor costs as well. The new interface appeals to younger people who enjoy apps and video games and hopefully that will spur more interest in construction as a career choice.”
Dome Structure Meets Specific Needs
After much research, a dome with a fabric blend of polyester and polyvinyl chloride was chosen so that GPS signals could reach the machines, “Some plastic materials allow signals to come through but attenuate them to a point where we can’t do proper testing,” said Crozier. “This dome material is almost invisible to the GPS signal.”
Members of the Trimble testing group visited domes all over the country to determine the best fit for their needs, which included a space that would safely handle the emissions from the operating equipment.
The installed system includes sensors around the perimeter of the dome that monitor and control the air quality. Facility personnel will be alerted if the sensors detect a decrease in air quality.
A display screen just outside the dome that displays emissions levels will turn red, a strobe system inside the dome will go off, all of the facility personnel will receive a text to their phone, and 90 percent of the lights inside the dome turn on and off every five seconds. “If I’m running a machine and my phone buzzes, maybe I don’t hear it or I don’t see the strobe over there but when the lights go off and on in the dome, you see it,” said Paul Francis, Validation Manager. At that point, the dome is evacuated until levels normalize.
Another important safety feature of the integrated air handling equipment is weather monitoring. Automated wind and precipitation sensors on the outside of the dome will increase or decrease temperatures as needed and adjust the pressure inside the dome to keep it inflated. Any one of the three air handlers can control the entire dome and each has its own separate standby, natural gas-fed generator for maximum redundancy.
Inside the dome, three separate testing areas provide flexibility including a 50-foot by 50-foot calibration pad, a 50-foot-wide by 18-inch-deep gravel strip and a large dirt area with a 2:1 slope and 4:1 slope. An irrigation system allows staff to water the ground when the dirt has become too compacted. The dome can accommodate approximately 14 machines at one time and a vehicle airlock makes it possible to move big equipment in and out easily so that an additional outdoor testing area can be utilized.
“Pretty quickly, I think we will find out that the payback is going to be faster than we planned,” said Crozier. “It was primarily based on test time – how many hours a year are we losing of testers not being able to test in the environment.”
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