Feature: Quick Return on Investment
Professional Surveyor Magazine - April 2008
Rodney Evans Garrett
We all know that some prognostications eventually come true. To illustrate, the rapidly growing popularity of GPS MAC (machine automation control) technology, as it is being applied in the construction industry, inevitably will become a household word. Why? Consider the main reason many contractors are taking on this technology in their projects. Simply, by using GPS MAC technology on their grading and excavation projects, they have experienced increased profits. And leading contractors employing this technology say they see a return on their GPS equipment investment within the first year.
The term "leading contractors" does not necessarily mean the biggest or fastest-growing companies. It encompasses contractors who lead the construction industry in implementing new technologies in their businesses as they become available. While these leaders certainly evaluate the profit potential before investing in a new technology, they also are careful to ensure that it will not compromise the quality of their work. They find that, to the contrary, applying GPS technology affords them improved machine production efficiency with greater precision-grading results hitherto impossible.
One such contractor who fits the leading-contractor description is James R Ientile, Inc. (JRi) of Marlboro, New Jersey. The company started using laser technology in 1970, and by 2001, it had fully embraced GPS technology by investing in a 2D system. By 2006, the company had graduated to the latest 3D GPS technology.
James Ientile, president of JRi, says the efficient and cost-effective machine performance the company enjoys since adopting the new 3D GPS equipment continues to convince him that profitability often can be accomplished by working smarter (i.e., using new technology), not harder. "Sure, there is always a risk when taking on a new technology, but I find using GPS technology a relatively low-risk endeavor. Certainly, it requires learning how to apply the technology for effective results, but that is an acceptable trade-off for the improved machine efficiency experienced."
Ientile had the new 3D GPS system installed on one of the company's midsize bulldozers. It is the latest GPS technology offered by Leica Geosystems, designated the GradeSmart 3D GPS System. This spring, Ientile is purchasing a second Grade Smart 3D system for a second bulldozer. "My investment in the first GPS equipment has brought me a substantial return, and I am convinced the second unit will be even more profitable because I am having it installed on a bigger bulldozer with a much wider blade. The more dirt moved per unit of time, the more profitable the GPS system becomes," says Ientile.
A Family Business
Some background on JRi shows what led Ientile to purchase the first Leica Geosystems GPS MAC equipment. Founded in 1989 by Ientile, the company is the second Ientile family-owned company; Ientile's father founded the first in 1946 under the name FJ Ientile Inc. Ientile gained extensive experience working in his father's company before going it alone. "I learned all about heavy equipment and my operating skills when working for my father, and that experience is an asset in operating my own company," says Ientile.
JRi is best described as a contracting company specializing in site-prep work, including land clearing, site reprofiling, excavation and grading, road building, and underground utilities installation. Ientile purposely keeps the company medium sized and thus employs no more than 25 people. He explains, "We have found a niche in the construction industry by carrying out major site-work projects on industrial, residential, and commercial properties, with occasional public-sector projects such as new schools and major healthcare facilities. We offer turnkey site-preparation services ranging from underground utilities to building and paving the site's roads and streets. In fact, we do all the work in-house except for the asphalt paving, which is subcontracted to a third-party contractor.
"Big is not necessarily more profitable. Taking on the more challenging projects that require our kind of expertise and our value engineering services has enabled the company to get most of its work repeatedly from a handful of leading customers. They appreciate our high-quality work, and that makes our services rendered to them less price-sensitive."
As a businessman, Ientile has always been forward thinking. He is receptive to new technologies that will enhance quality of work and correspondingly bring greater profitability. He reasons that superior workmanship is a significant bonus for his customers, and greater profitability is his company's benefit.
Some new technologies, such as GPS MAC, necessitate a local expert to give technical and applications support to the contractor. A Leica Geosystems dealer, Atlantic Laser Specialists of Matawan, New Jersey, introduced JRi first to laser technology and later to GPS technology. They sold the laser equipment to Ientile when he was still working with his father. As the laser technology further developed, FJI and later JRi continued to update the equipment in the companies' respective fleets.
It only took a few excavating and grading projects to convince Ientile that GPS technology for construction was here to stay. He would have added more 2D GPS systems to the equipment fleet, but that changed when Atlantic Laser Specialists introduced him to the latest Leica Geosystems GradeSmart 3D technology designed specifically for bulldozers, excavators, and motor graders. Ientile purchased the product in time for a big industrial site-preparation project, the Amboy Center, Perth Amboy.
Started in May 2006, the project calls for excavating 500,000 cubic yards of clayey marl and relocating it to different below-grade areas on site for backfilling and bringing the areas to specified grade. Here is where the company's valued engineering services coupled with the new 3D GPS technology paid off big for the owner of the project. The JRi engineering-surveying team of Kenneth Ploskonka, CE and Stan Wabisky, general superintendent and chief surveyor, made an alternative proposal to the design-engineering firm's site layout by suggesting that the complete 65-acre site be lowered by nine inches.
Bringing in Surveying Equipment
The team used some of the GPS system's components and specialized software for making the proposal. Equipment used included a Leica Geosystems GPS 1200 Base Station and a GPS 1200 Rover to help lay out the revised topographic maps. "We had to be sure the originally designed topo made by the engineering company was held to the same balance when we designed ours," says Ploskonka.
One million dollars in construction costs were eliminated for the owner by lowering the site nine inches. The reason: the original design necessitated importing a large quantity of On the Amboy Center project, the JRi team used GPS equipment to map the site and propose an excavation plan that saved having to import backfill backfill from distant borrow pits. The nineinch lowering was the precise grade whereby no excavated ground needed to be exported or additional ground imported.
JRi was able to increase the profits on this project too because the 3D GPS system enabled the company to carry out all the cut/ fill and grade activities without installing survey stakes. Ientile says that reduced surveying labor by $119,000. "This one 20-week project paid for most of the capital investment we have in the 3D GPS system. Projecting this cost savings rate, we can pay for the second new GPS system in less than a year. We already have a 45-acre project that will be started in April," says Ientile in looking ahead to future benefits of his MAC system.
In explaining another advantage, Ientile says JRi maintains quality workmanship and competes with the best site-prep contractors despite performing all grading with various-size bulldozers rather than motor graders. Generally, motor graders are used by choice for fine grading roadways and other large flat areas. "Our grading and excavation equipment fleet consists of late model bulldozers, excavators and scrapers. It would be nice to have a motor grader in the fleet, but we can grade about as precisely with a bulldozer featuring GPS MAC as we can using a similarly equipped motor grader." The Komatsu D61 with the GPS MAC system has an 11-foot wide blade, and the new Komatsu D85, where we are installing the second system, has a 14-foot wide blade.
"We got plus-or-minus .125 inch grading results when fine grading two warehouse pads at Amboy Center; one warehouse was 950 by 500 feet and the second 1,100 by 500 feet." This grading performance is equivalent to what would be achieved using a motor grader equipped with a GPS MAC system. The benefit in having a bulldozer instead of a motor grader is it can be used to make major cuts and perform all kinds of the slope grading. A motor grader is a specialized piece of equipment with limited grading capabilities and not useful for major excavation work.
"Our type of projects—site work and limited road construction— do not justify the investment of adding a motor grader to the fleet because its utilization rate would be too low. If faced with investing comparable capital in a motor grader or more GPS MAC systems, I will choose purchasing multiple GPS MAC systems for retrofitting on our bulldozers." This is testament that GPS MAC will probably indeed become a household word in the future.
About the Author
Rodney Evans Garrett is a freelance writer in Bernville, Pennsylvania who specializes in the use of new, applied technology in the agricultural, construction, and mining industries.
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