Machine Guided Construction - Challenges

The introduction of new technology to any industry always brings new challenges and this is certainly true of machine guided construction. This article takes a practical look at some of these challenges and how they can be overcome.

Published: 4th September 2010


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There is little doubt that machine control has revolutionised the heavy earthmoving game, particularly in the world of engineering surveying. The advantages of using machine guided construction over more traditional survey methods include pegless construction sites, improved accuracy, faster design updates, the ability to efficiently proceed with unplanned works, greater on-site safety and an increase in job satisfaction. The advantages of machine guided construction are highlighted in the article "Machine Guided Construction - Advantages".

However, like any new method there are always a number of challenges to overcome and this is certainly true of the utilisation of survey equipment integrated with heavy construction plant. While the benefits far outweigh the challenges, this article looks at some of the specific machine guided construction challenges and how these can be effectively and practically overcome.

Challenges of Machine Control

Field Reference

GPS Car Kit Display

Field Reference

Field Reference

While the move to a pegless site certainly helps streamline the survey operations of a project, it does pose a significant challenge to the supervisors responsible for overseeing on site operations.

With no survey marks to reference, field supervisors and client inspectors are effectively working in the dark - struggling to visualise what they are trying to build. In fact, instead of the supervisors, the actual machine operators now have all the design information at their fingertips.

The solution to this challenge is to install GPS devices into the site supervisor vehicles. Earthworks foreman and leading hands are constantly driving up and down their work areas. With GPS displays mounted onto the windscreen of their vehicle, these field supervisors are given real-time access to both basic cut/fill levels as well as cross-section and long-section information for every millimeter of the construction.

With just some basic system training, field supervisors and client inspectors are empowered with the information they require to both visualise the job and check on the progress of the equipment under their supervision. GPS supervisor kits are the perfect supplement to machine control plant. The supervisor systems effectively solve the challenge of providing field reference in a pegless site.

Operator Training

Operator Training

Like any new system, the adoption of machine guided construction involves the significant challenge of operator training. Machine operators capable of their traditional role are required to learn a new method, albeit a user-friendly system.

The implementation of machine control technology onto a construction project is often initially met with resistance. However, it does not take long for those involved to realise the benefits of machine guided construction and shortly most are embracing the challenge.

This being said, it can be necessary to employ the services of a suitable person with advanced knowledge of the capabilities of the machine guidance systems in order to maximise operator efficiency, particularly on larger projects that employ numerous operators unfamiliar with 3D guidance.

Survey System Check

Reliance on Machine Control (text)

Reliance on Machine Control

As the jobsite progresses and the full benefits of machine guidance are realised, the field operations become very reliant on this system.

The process often goes full circle - from field supervisors wanting pegs to check the accuracy of machine guidance to field supervisors wanting the machine guidance to check the accuracy of the pegs! With 3D guidance replacing all traditional earthworks setout, the job progress becomes quite reliant on the machine control systems.

In this way, it is important to provide good support for machine control. This includes regular system checks as well as experienced troubleshooting support. Again, it is important to have access to a suitably qualified person willing to embrace the machine control support role in order to ensure that the systems run efficiently and effectively. Similarly, it is wise to have good supplier relationships to ensure that hardware support is readily available.

Limited Use of Machine Control (heading)

Limited Use of Machine Control

Limited Use of Machine Control (text)

Machine guidance technologies are currently largely limited to earthworks machines. The numerous benefits of machine guided construction cannot easily be applied to the construction of bridges and culverts, which must still be surveyed in traditional manners.

Advancements are being made in the development of machines that can use 3D guidance in other construction processes. Machine guided kerb and channel machines / barrier machines have recently become available for use as has 3D-guided pavers and trimmers. Developments are in their infancy for machine-guided concrete screeds and the like. Continued feedback and support can aid in the enhancement of machine guided construction.


GPS Car Kit and UTS Grader

Conclusion (text)

The use of machine control technologies over traditional survey methods is not without its challenges. In order to gain the most productivity and effectiveness from machine guided construction, these challenges must be recognised and managed.

The biggest advantage of machine guided construction is the development of a pegless site. While this concept may initially be met with resistance, a relatively small investment in GPS car-mounted systems along with some basic operator training will actually improve the availability of design information in the field. Similarly, it may be necessary to provide training and support to machine control plant operators in order to gain the most productivity from machine guidance products. Regular system checks and experienced support may also be necessary to instil confidence in this new construction method.

The possibilities for increased construction efficiencies using machine guided construction are almost endless and embracing these technologies will almost surely reward the user with significant cost and productivity savings.

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