Davis Grading Turns to Topcon GPS for Competitive Edge

Fri October 24, 2008 - Southeast Edition

Davis Grading needed an edge.

Feeling the burden of a tanking economy that all but halted residential construction — even in Charlotte, N.C., which seemed to be dodging the national downturn — the grading contractor started to bid on more and more public contracts.

The competition was tough. In the first few bids, the company was one of 10 to 15 firms vying for the job and “we were getting blown out of the water” at the bid opening, said Project Manager Tim Davis. “We had to look for ways to make our company more efficient.”

The solution he came up with was to make his first foray into the world of GPS.

Davis Grading purchased Topcon’s GR3 machine-control kit with 3D software for its John Deere 750J bulldozer as well as a rover kit for staking.

The Davis Grading crew first used its GPS system at the Berewick Elementary School site in Charlotte, N.C., where it is working as a subcontractor for the Charlotte-based G.C. Hendrick Construction

“We bid the job as cheap as we thought we could possibly go,” Davis said, which helped spur the Topcon system purchase.

Davis had demoed the system before and was familiar with it. With the pending job, “we needed to make the investment now to be able to move through as efficiently as possible and not have errors that would have forced us to move the dirt twice,” he said.

Davis decided to go with Topcon because of the service he received from Benchmark Tool and Supply, which has locations in Raleigh and Concord, N.C.

“Benchmark put forward a big effort to make sure we understood the system and did multiple demos,” he said. “We knew we wanted somebody that was going to stand behind it and help us with it.”

Benchmark installed the system and provided a few days of training until “we were moving along and felt comfortable with what we were doing,” Davis said.

The service continued afterward when the crew found the grades were consistently 0.3 ft. (9 cm) off from what the GPS said. “They came out and reran controls to ensure everything was set up right and got everything back on target,” he said.

Davis Grading started clearing the 31-acre (12.5 ha) site June 27. It was responsible for moving 12,000 cu. yds. (9,175 cu m) of dirt for erosion control measures and delivering a building pad, which required moving 70,000 cu. yds. (53,500 cu m) of material, within five weeks.

The crew completed the building pad four days ahead of schedule.

“I contribute a lot of that to the GPS system,” Davis said.

The bulldozer operator was able to get on grade with the first pass, eliminating the need to bring in a grader and a scraper to finish the job.

Since then, the crew has finished all of the mass grading work, which required moving 230,000 cu. yds. (175,850 cu m) of dirt, and was able to get all of the site contoured exactly to the elevations shown on the drawings as they were mass grading the site, which enabled the seeding process to happen right away eliminating expensive erosion control repair and clean up during construction. Davis said that he also expects the GPS system to significantly reduce the company’s fine grading cost.

Once the market turns around, Davis said he’ll be adding more Topcon machines to the fleet.

“We’ve seen enough benefit of it at this point that we don’t want to have a job that doesn’t have at least one machine-control system on a dozer on site,” he said.

Steve Davis founded Davis Grading in 1991 with just a crawler loader and a dump truck. Now, its 60 employees make up approximately six utility crews, two mass grading crews and a fine grading crew. With a fleet of 55 machines, the company usually has six to eight jobs going on at a time in the Charlotte area. CEG

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