A laser and a machine mounted receiver are easy to use and ideal for road building projects. A contractor can gain a more precise final grade than they could without the system, as much as +/-1/4inch.
Laserline Mfg. Inc. A laser and a machine mounted receiver are easy to use and ideal for road building projects. A contractor can gain a more precise final grade than they could without the system, as much as +/-1/4inch.

Laser-guided equipment and attachments made their debut in the construction industry nearly 40 years ago. First, a laser receiver was mounted on a bulldozer or motor grader to indicate the elevation of a laser transmitter. Soon after, a hydraulic system was developed to automatically drive the cutting blade of the machine to match the grade reference from the rotating laser transmitter. Originally the technology was targeted toward big machines and big projects. Today, the technology is used widely across the construction industry.

“The indicate and automatic versions of machine control have had almost 40 years to mature from their introduction. The ease of use and accuracy of these systems provide big returns on their investment versus manual grading alone,” says Jason Killpack, director of product marketing and events for Topcon Positioning Systems.

Saving time and increasing profit

TA contractor can increase speed of excavation and accuracy of site-work, reduce over excavation of material and fill material costs, eliminate rework, and reduce machine operation time.

“The contractor of today needs to multitask on a number of different levels,” says Killpack. Bryan Garner, machine control manager of AGL Corp. adds, “A contractor can control cost by eliminating the guesswork caused by wrong grade stakes and have better control of material quantities.”

Learning the ropes

One concern of contractors changing over to laser-guided equipment is learning to use the equipment and training their team. Garner says, “We have designed our system to be the easiest to operate and to be operator friendly. It takes about two hours to train the operator on all the functions.” Though it may be simple to learn the functions of laser-guided equipment, there are other factors to consider. Staff roles and responsibilities might need to be redefined. In addition, existing business processes might need to be refined. As with any computer-based technology, the risk of having a downed base station that can shut down all of the GPS-enabled machines is a possibility. It may be a good idea to dedicate one or two individuals to overall operation, training, and maintenance.

Making the change

The popularity of implementing laser-guided equipment in one's construction business is increasing, especially for concrete flatwork or applications that require a single-slope grade. A contractor can attain a more precise final grade than they could achieve without the system, as much as +/-¼ inch. “Using a laser and machine mounted receiver was, and is, easy to learn and use. You set up the rotating laser that creates a plane of laser light over the jobsite as the elevation reference. Then you place the cutting edge of the machine, such as a bulldozer, elevating scraper, or motor grader, on grade, and you turn the system on. Since the introduction of laser-guided equipment, I have never heard of a disadvantage,” says Bob Vanneman, owner of Laserline Mfg. Inc.

Killpack believes not all site projects are suited for laser machine control. “The ideal projects for laser-guided machine control are road building, commercial property development, and housing projects. Jobs that can have large elevation changes and complex super elevation changes, such as a golf course development, are better suited for 3-D machine control versus laser-guided machine control systems.”

There are obstacles to using laser-guided equipment. Garner says, “Obstruction of trees and buildings can interfere with the line of sight.” Other disadvantages include the lack of any QA/QC check an engineer or surveyor would perform. However, laser-guided equipment continues to provide its users with a good return on investment and increased productivity.

Sharon J. Rehana Associate Editor srehana@hanleywood.com