Machine Control Systems Hit Grand Slam at Trade Show

Wed August 19, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Daniel C. Brown

This Komatsu PC 200LC is fitted with a Topcon X63 GPS system.
This Komatsu PC 200LC is fitted with a Topcon X63 GPS system.



“Build It and They Will Come,” goes the saying from “Field of Dreams,” the movie about baseball players and spectators coming to a new ballpark in the midst of Iowa cornfields. And come they did, to the Midwest Construction Expo and Field Days, held in July at a farm near Melbourne, Iowa, northeast of Des Moines.

The farm is owned by the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Association (LICA), which chose the site to host a demonstration-style trade show for its associate members — construction equipment dealers, manufacturers, and suppliers to the land improvement industry.

Hosted by Iowa LICA, the show drew more than 700 contractors and visitors on July 15. Many of the contractors were members of Iowa LICA, but membership was not a requirement to attend. Meanwhile, more than 50 exhibitors, including Topcon Positioning Systems, showcased their products and services for the land improvement industry.

“I’m extremely pleased with the success of this event,” said Dan Rasmussen, executive director of Iowa LICA. “In my 30 years in this industry I’ve never seen a participatory event that can exhibit a variety of equipment the way that this show can. Through their promotional efforts, our associate members made this a success.

“This farm will be a showplace of soil and water conservation practices,” said Rasmussen. Contractors took turns operating the construction equipment — including the latest in GNSS-based machine control systems – used to build a real-world wetlands project. The 14-acre (5.7 ha) project involved building an earth-fill dam and spillway structure. Wetland grasses in shallow water behind the dam will filter out nitrates and sediment from creek water running across the site, according to Jim Ricken, owner of Ricken Tiling Inc., which has a $125,000 contract with the state of Iowa to build the project.

The next generation in machine control technology was the hit of the show, as contractors literally lined up for a hands-on demonstration. Topcon had fitted two bulldozers, a Caterpillar D6R and a John Deere 700J, with its new 3D-MC2 machine control system, which automatically controls the dozer blade. The 3D-MC2 system includes a revolutionary Inertial Sensor that works with the GPS system and enables an operator to double the machine’s operating speed and accuracy compared to conventional GPS systems.

Plus, Topcon mounted its X63 grade indicator system onto a Komatsu PC 200LC excavator. The X63 system employs two on-board GPS antennas, a receiver, control box, and base station to indicate design grade and bucket position on a display in the excavator cab.

Seat Time

“This show enables the end users to see and understand our technologies and get some hands-on time with them,” said Tony Vanneman, construction products marketing manager for Topcon. “There is nothing that proves performance like sitting in the seat, looking at the control box and feeling how productive our machine control systems can be.”

Dan Wiese, the laser and machine control specialist for Star Equipment, the Topcon dealer that covers Iowa added: “Our customers have received 3D-MC2 very well. We put our first units in the field last April, and we’ve sold several of them since then.”

One of Star Equipment’s customers is Deran DeLong, co-owner of DeLong Construction Inc., Washington, Iowa. “We use our Topcon GPS system on every job,” said DeLong, a grading contractor who builds highways, airports, landfills, site developments and more. The company has mounted Topcon GPS systems on five dozers – four John Deere units and a Cat D6N — plus two Cat motor graders. “We’re going on our fourth season with the 3D-MC systems,” said DeLong.

“We like to use the GPS on subdivision work,” said DeLong. “Our customers like it when we do the work with GPS because they don’t have to trim the grade behind us.” GPS is recognized as a generic term for GNSS, which includes using satellite signals from both the U.S. system (GPS) and the Russian system (GLONASS.)

Paul Ruckman, DeLong’s GPS technician, said, “The city of Iowa City usually puts concrete streets right on the dirt, so they like us to grade the finish surface. With a machine control system we can get it within half a tenth of a foot.”

“We’ve done two projects at the Cedar Rapids [Iowa] airport, and those two projects have paid for a Topcon 3D-MC system on a Cat motorgrader,” said DeLong. “The GPS systems save time because the machines are more productive, and there’s a lot less surveying and staking involved.

“The systems help us to get new work, because our bids are more competitive,” DeLong continues. “Our time to finish is considerably less. We know we’re going to move dirt once and we’re done. There’s no rework and no guess-work.”

Now, DeLong plans to buy Topcon’s 3D-MC2 systems for a John Deere 750J dozer and a Cat D6N. “It boils down to more productivity every day,” said DeLong. “We’re looking forward to seeing the productivity of 3D-MC2 in our own operation.”