Advancing Automation in Construction

June 8, 2020
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At Brasfield & Gorrie, we use innovative solutions to address many challenges in construction. For instance, the industry faces an ongoing labor shortage. Owners are understandably interested in saving time and therefore saving money when possible. And safety is always a key consideration.

Autonomous machine control can help address these issues. At Brasfield & Gorrie, we’ve recently proven the value of using autonomous machine control to improve efficiency and safety in excavation and grade control.

Machine control uses design models and GPS to position earthwork machinery. It isn’t new, but the technology has only recently become accurate and user-friendly enough to implement on intricate construction sites. The addition of machine control on track hoes and excavators also increased its possible uses.

Eliminating Error, Enhancing Efficiency

Josh McKenzie is an innovations specialist and grade control field engineer at Brasfield & Gorrie. He recommends using machine control for excavation and grade control on projects that involve massive amounts of dirt removal on large sites.

So how does it work? When using autonomous machine control, a field engineer will load a model, built using GPS and AutoCAD, into a piece of equipment. The model then serves as a guide for the equipment operator, with stopping points to prevent over digging.

Using a model eliminates human error in grading and excavation. Those controls also help reduce utility strikes. “It can make a good operator great. It also makes the operator more efficient so you can do more with less,” McKenzie explains. As a result, the project team spends less time refining work and can move forward with the project’s schedule.

Automation in Action

Brasfield & Gorrie has proven the value of this technology on several projects. We used automated machine control on one of several projects we built concurrently at Plant Bowen in Georgia. The project required changing a subgrade from flat to a steep slope. Once the model was loaded into the excavator, the field engineer was freed up to focus on other tasks, and the result was an accurate product and greater efficiency. 

“There’s a night-and-day difference in finish and the effectiveness of our crew,” said Eric Parrish, who was senior superintendent at Plant Bowen. “It’s been a game changer.”

Once the Plant Bowen field crew saw the possibilities of automation, they also suggested adding an air-activated external vibrator to a screed rail attached to the excavator. This allowed the team to use the equipment to finish concrete, in addition to the grading it was originally intended for. We’re excited by the possibilities of further on-the-job innovation as more field crews use the machines to address challenges.

In Gainesville, Florida, a team from our Jacksonville office is completing construction on the University of Florida’s new ballpark. Senior Superintendent Tim Small estimates the crew completed foundation work in half the time it would normally take, thanks to the use of autonomous machine control. Tim has years of experience operating construction equipment, and he was impressed by the machine’s accuracy.

We have used this technology on several other projects and see an increased demand for it. We’re dedicated to identifying and testing technology to increase safety and efficiency, and we will continue to explore the applications of automated machine control and other technologies on our projects.