Think Big! Start Small!

Johan Smet (Trimble's Director of Technology Consulting and Services) discusses how owner / operators can get started with machine control technology when they only have one or two machines.

Published: December 2013

Author: Johan Smet, Trimble - Heavy Civil Construction Division

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Think Big! Start Small!


I get quite a few questions from owner/operators asking about how they can get started with machine control technology when they only have one or two machines. They recognize that machine control is something they need to do if they want to remain competitive... but fear that the cost and complexity will just be too much for their companies to absorb and deal with.

There are already some options out there for everything from compact machines to smaller fleets that don't require the infrastructure and communications technology investment of the more advanced 3D systems:

The simplest and most economical option to consider when starting out are laser-based systems that typically use a magnetic mounted laser receiver on the machine with a grade lasers for elevation and grade. The laser receiver offers both visible and audible indication for above, below and on grade position. 

These proven systems have been available for a number of years and allow machine operators of backhoes, skid steers, dozers and smaller excavators to know exactly where grade and elevation is without the use of a grade checker. Depending on the system components and machine type, these laser-based systems can be used for flat, slope and cross slope grade control. Additionally some laser-based systems use an in-cab control box to provide automatic control of the blade. 

Laser-based systems are typically very easy to set up, and require very little training... if any. Additionally, some laser based 2D systems for mini excavators and backhoes use wireless sensors to measure the relationship between the body, boom, stick and bucket - making installation and setup even easier!

There is also a new category of machine control systems that combine the simplicity of laser-based systems with some of the more advanced capabilities of a full 3D system. These lower-cost "system in a case" solutions for excavators and compactors are designed specifically for companies that have not yet invested in machine control. 

The system typically includes control box, software, rotational and directional sensors, laser catcher, and all the cabling and mounts needed for installation. The systems are so simple that the installation can be done by the contractor in about two hours... with no drilling or welding required. This means, anyone can be up and running with 2D machine control before lunch! And with add-on options like GPS, you can easily start small today with the system in a case and go big as your needs change. Plus, the systems are extremely portable and versatile they can be easily moved from machine to machine, or between jobsites if required.

Both of these options have one thing in common. They can improve your productivity without the complexity and investment required for full-scale 3D systems. I would recommend that you don't wait any longer. Contact your technology dealer to check out the options, and be sure to check on things like expandability, durability and warranty.   And then get started! 

You can read many stories about why and how customers made the decision to implement technology, and what their experience has been, at


Johan Smet is Director of Technology Consulting and Services for Trimble's Heavy Civil Construction Division. He joined Trimble in 2004 as Director for the Construction Division. Johan holds an Engineering degree from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.

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