A valuable investment


Dec 17, 2012

Komatsu and Topcon systems save time and money

Despite having only a couple of pieces of equipment when Jeremy Andrews and his cousin Jamie founded J&J Earthworks, they weren’t afraid to take on a large project. Working as a subcontractor, J&J tackled the reconstruction of water and sewer services for the town of De Smet.

The Milbank-based company installed about 4,000 feet of water main, including nearly 60 services, as well as almost 500 feet of sewer with almost a dozen services. Additionally, J&J subcut an existing road and put it back to grade.

“To date it’s the biggest project we’ve ever done,” said Andrews, Co-owner/President of J&J Earthworks, which is in its third year of operation and serves customers within a 50-mile radius of Milbank. His cousin Jamie is Co-owner/ Vice President. “I was confident we could complete it because I have a strong background in construction. I did similar work for someone before founding J&J. And now, nearly everything we do is as a prime contractor.”

That includes reconstruction projects at several airports. This year, the company has worked on four airport jobs, most of which involved milling of existing pavement and subcutting about 40 inches below existing grade. After that’s done, J&J installs drain tiles, lays fabric down and proceeds with refilling up to original grade with millings and subbase materials before new pavement goes down.

“J&J is a turnkey earthwork operation,” Andrews described. “We perform cut-and-fill for roads, runways, parking lots and building pads, as well as utility installs. J&J subs out the paving and milling, but it falls under our responsibility as a prime contractor. We believe having that control gives us greater efficiency, so we’re able to deliver a project on time and budget.”

Earlier this year J&J Earthworks increased its efficiency by adding a Topcon 3D-MC2 GPS grading system to its Komatsu D51 dozer. Andrews worked with DMI Territory Manager Mark Schievelbein on the purchase of the dozer, as well as purchase and rental of other Komatsu pieces.

“Topcon has proven invaluable, especially on the airport jobs because it allows us to complete them faster and at a lower cost,” stated Andrews. “It helps us get to final subgrade faster, without the worry of overcutting. As we fill the subbase, we have multiple elevations to achieve with each material we place. The Topcon system tells us how close to those elevations we are as we go, reducing the chance of overfilling. We can do both the cuts and fills without stakes and a laborer to check grade — I haven’t pounded in one stake since we’ve started using Topcon. So, our labor, fuel, wear, material and other costs are drastically reduced.”

Andrews noted that the Topcon 3D-MC2 system is easy to set up and run. DMI GPS Machine Control Specialist Loren Fuhrmann helped with initial training and provides ongoing support.

“Plans come in an electronic file which we plug into the system, and Loren helped me set up the first few projects,” noted Andrews. “Topcon is easy to work with and simple to run. We’re already thinking about systems for additional machines because we see how good the return on investment is.”

Schoenfelder Construction sees significant time savings

Schoenfelder Construction is seeing similar results. The earthwork contractor added a Topcon 3D-MC2 system to a Komatsu D51 dozer about a year ago. The first job they used it on was a 25-acre, site-work project that included subgrade cuts for a parking lot and building pad near the company’s home base in Mitchell.

“We used it to cut about 30,000 yards of dirt and place about a foot of gravel under the pavement,” said Brad Schoenfelder, who works alongside his father, Norm, the company’s founder, and his son, Riley. “A job of that size would normally take about three months doing it by the traditional method of staking and constantly checking grade with a laborer or by the operator getting out of the machine to check grade. We had it done in two weeks. In fact, at the end of our work, the surveyors challenged us by saying there was no way it could be done that fast. It didn’t take long for them to figure out it was spot-on. That really sold us.”

“We initially looked at a GPS system for several reasons, including not being able to get staking done on a timely basis,” added Norm, who works with DMI Territory Manager Roger Horstmeyer on Komatsu equipment purchases. “It’s almost inevitable that we’re going to knock over stakes during grading, which means we have to call someone out to restake. That takes time away from production because we don’t want to continue working and guess where we are in relation to the elevation we’re trying to obtain. With the Topcon system, that’s not a problem. Using a set of electronic plans and a Topcon system, we can do a project with few or no stakes at all.”

More recently, Schoenfelder Construction employed the Topcon 3D-MC2 system in moving more than 50,000 yards of earth as part of the addition to the Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI). Part of the project called for installing storm piping and a substation, as well as a retention pond.

“We did everything using electronic plans that we loaded into the Topcon system, including the entire retention pond,” said Brad. “And, like the previous project, it saved us months of labor, fuel and other costs associated with typical cut-and-fill projects.”

Most projects require the earthwork contractor to be within a tenth of an inch of final elevation. Brad’s son, Riley, who works part time for the company and is attending MTI with an eye toward GPS work, said Topcon 3D-MC2 easily meets that requirement and often betters it. “It’s a solid investment,” he noted.

Staking costs reduced for Slowey Construction

Yankton-based Slowey Construction is in its second full season with a Topcon 3D-MC2, and Estimator/Project Coordinator Patrick Slowey continues to see significant time and cost savings with the system. Slowey Construction switches the unit between a Komatsu D51 dozer and a GD655 motor grader it purchased from DMI with the help of Territory Manager Roger Horstmeyer. The contractor offers full-service earthwork, including road work on municipal street and state highway projects.

“Our family’s been in the excavation business for decades, so we’ve performed work with and without a GPS system,” said Slowey, who noted that the company’s main focus is underground utility work. “The Topcon system has definitely increased our efficiency, especially when it comes to fine grading. In some cases, it’s cut that time in half because we’re handling material once without stopping to check grade. It takes away guesswork.”

Slowey Construction simply loads a project’s electronic file into the system and dials in the proposed elevation. The operator always knows the relationship from the existing grade to final grade because Topcon 3D-MC2 displays it on the system’s screen, which is mounted in the cab.

Slowey Construction recently used its Topcon system while preparing subgrade on four, quarter-mile stretches of Highway 242 near Emery. “We raised subgrade four feet, with three feet of pit-run material as an initial base, followed by one foot of gravel before it was paved,” Slowey described. “The job took more than 40,000 tons of material to complete.

“We used Topcon on the dozer during the pit-run placement, then switched it to the motor grader for the last foot of material because that involved fine grading,” Slowey continued. “Before using Topcon, we would have had to get close to grade, then call in the state to set blue tops to see where we needed to be for final grade. With Topcon, we eliminated that step and saved about a week’s time, which also provided savings in relation to fuel, labor and wear on a machine.”

Slowey said it also saves initial staking. “There are times where we have to provide staking, which can be a fairly sizable cost. With Topcon, that’s either reduced or eliminated. All those savings add up, and we saw a return on investment fairly quickly. The next step I want to look at is a hand-held add-on that will allow me to use the system for design work. I can definitely see us adding more GPS systems in the future.

“We worked with Loren Fuhrmann (DMI GPS Machine Control Specialist) to help set up our Topcon system, and I know he can help us with the hand-held add-on,” Slowey added. “He’s very knowledgeable about the Topcon systems and he helped us determine which one was best for us. We’re very happy with the results.”