When the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) decided it was time to spread the word about intelligent construction systems and technologies (ICST), it turned to Oregon, considered the leader in developing and using the technologies. So the Oregon Department of Transportation sent out invitations to individuals in 18 western states — adding Michigan, Florida and North Carolina when two states couldn’t make it — and in July, hosted a two-day event to demonstrate just what this new technology can do.
The response was overwhelming.
“I have been working in this business for almost 38 years and I’ve done a lot of workshops and conferences and gone to a lot of them and people appreciated this tremendously,” said Ranvir (Ron) Singh, ODOT chief of surveys and geometronics manager. “I got so much response it was unbelievable. We had engineers from 20 different DOTs from around the country. We had our engineers, consultants, academia, a big contingency from the FHWA from all over the country and people from the American Society of Civil Engineers.”
While ICST has become common in some places, in many others it’s still new and unexplored. The Oregon event was one step toward changing that. Participants spent part of the time in classrooms, the rest of it in the field watching demonstrations including ICST-equipped dozers, motorgraders, excavators, roller/compactors, paving machines and even unmanned aircraft systems (better known as drones) and robotics.
In the early days of automated machine guidance, the technology was basic, but it’s since been evolving faster than most agencies can adopt it, said Singh.
“This was an effort to bring everyone into one place,” he said. “Let’s say someone from Hawaii, it may be 5 to 10 years before they see all these machines on one project. For them to get a whole big picture of everything would have taken a long time. This was a way to see and touch and feel all the technology in one place. Our feeling is it would accelerate the use.”
Oregon has been working with ICST since the late 1990s. The FHWA began paying attention in about 2000, but it wasn’t until 2011, that the federal government identified it as a proven technology and began its efforts to accelerate the use.
What Is ICST?
“The intelligent aspect refers to equipment being able to collect, store, analyze and process information and execute actions or decision in quality construction,” said Bryan Cawley, FHWA construction management team leader. “The systems aspect is different pieces of equipment of technology that process this information with various softwares to operate the complete systems.”
In simple terms, contractors outfit their construction equipment with GPS, LiDAR, laser and other technologies, allowing them to get their projects done with a greater degree of precision and efficiency. That in turn, results in cost savings, better quality, reduced emissions and equipment usage.
Kerry Kuenzi, president of K&E Excavating headquartered in Salem, Ore., bought his first piece of equipment about a decade ago. He now owns numerous pieces.
“The machines always know where they are at on the construction site,” said Kuenzi. “They always know vertically and horizontally. The motorgrader can grade within tolerances of an eigth of an inch. The machine will grade it by itself. You have to steer. It has to know where the material is, you have to watch the screen. Everything is exact. There is no human error in it. It will stamp out on the ground exactly as the plans show. We have it on an excavator. We use that a lot for slopes, digging out soils underwater where you can’t see under there. You just follow on your screen and it shows you exactly where you are at. You can dig out culverts, slopes and everything is exact. We use it on dozers, our scrapers, our asphalt grinder and a compaction roller.”
The equipment is not cheap. Kuenzi estimates he spent between $60,000 to $120,000 per machine. But the savings add up fast.
“You can do double the production because the operator always knows where he is at,” he said. “You are not going back and reworking, so you’re saving fuel, man hours, equipment time. You get at least double the production, so that’s where you get your savings at. It definitely has helped us land bids. We can be more productive. There is a cost to begin with, but it’s definitely paid for itself. When you know you can be accurate and know what you can do, you can bid it and you don’t have to figure in all the rework.”
Cawley recalled asking a Texas contractor why he installed the ICST on his roller. “He figured on that project alone he saved enough money in fuel costs to pay for the additional technology,” Cawley said. “He was able impact the asphalt to just what he needed and then turn the equipment off.”
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