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SJ&L Takes Guesswork Out of Grading With Komatsu

The project is the construction of a $27.3 million professional office building for the University of South Alabama’s Children’s & Women’s Hospital.

Tue August 02, 2016 - Southeast Edition #16
Construction Equipment Guide

SJ&L Inc. Civil Contractors uses a Komatsu D51PXi for precision grading and contouring on a professional office building job site in Mobile, Ala.
SJ&L Inc. Civil Contractors uses a Komatsu D51PXi for precision grading and contouring on a professional office building job site in Mobile, Ala.
SJ&L Inc. Civil Contractors uses a Komatsu D51PXi for precision grading and contouring on a professional office building job site in Mobile, Ala. (L-R): Michael Tew, Wes Williams and Chris Cincotta, all of SJ&L, discuss the productivity of the Komatsu machines on the job site with Chris Howard of Tractor & Equipment Company. Chris Cincotta, project superintendent of SJ&L Inc. Civil Contractors, checks his grade on the touchscreen monitor in the Komatsu D51PXi intelligent machine control dozer. Michael Tew, president of SJ&L Inc. Civil Contractors, monitors the progress of the company’s job sites.

On a project in south Alabama, SJ&L Inc. Civil Contractors of Mobile, Ala., is taking the guesswork out of grading by using a Komatsu D51PXi intelligent machine control dozer.

The project is the construction of a $27.3 million professional office building for the University of South Alabama's Children's & Women's Hospital. The two-phase project consists of a new 133,000 sq. ft. (12,356 sq m) medical office building and related site development. This three-story tilt up concrete structure, supported on deep foundations, will provide exam rooms and offices for multiple practices, including family medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics, neurology and physical therapy.

Doster Construction Company, based in Birmingham, Ala., is the general contractor on the project and has subcontracted with SJ&L for all grading work and installation of all storm drains and sewer and water pipes. The 12-acre site also required crews to move more than 30,000 cu. yds. (22,936 cu m) of material, including onsite and offsite material.

In addition, the job required precision contours for the final grade throughout the job site, and was made easier by using the Komatsu D51PXi intelligent machine control dozer.

“It doesn't jump around from stream to stream and has a very smooth transition,” said Chris Cincotta, project superintendent of SJ&L. “Using the system is simple, and the sensor positioning or sensor control takes place right after starting the machines. First you angle your blade and hold it for two seconds up, and hold it for tilt for two seconds and then you hold the angle for two seconds — this process repositions everything. It's very simple, very user friendly and easy to maneuver. It's a good system.”

Cincotta has been operating the machine for the past two years since the company purchased it from Tractor & Equipment Company's (TEC) Mobile, Ala., branch. He has been impressed with the machine, and said that the best part of the integrated system is the precision of the blade positioning.

SJ&L Contractors also has been in contact with Buddy Averett, TEC's Komatsu intelligent machine control expert.

“Buddy has walked us through any and all issues we've had with the machine and is on the job site when needed,” said Cincotta.

According to Cincotta, there was a bit of a learning curve as they worked with the machine in various applications, but after mastering the technology, he doesn't want to do another job without intelligent machine control. The company works within tight schedules, and he said this dozer takes out some of the guesswork.

Wes Williams, SJ&L Contractors general superintendent, played a part in the decision to purchase the intelligent machine control dozer. He thought the integrated system turned out superior production and tolerances. “It makes your job so much easier. You can take an average operator and turn them into a finish operator. Once you understand how the electronics work and the way you run the machine with the electronics on, it makes everything a breeze,” said Williams.

“Before purchasing the machine, we went to the intelligent machine control training days at the Komatsu facility in Cartersville, Ga. We saw the type of work that the intelligent machine can turn out, and we decided that the integrated system was the way to go. Right away we saw far less staking was required,” said Williams.

Williams said the precision work makes the company more marketable to other general contractors for its subcontracted grading work. He is grateful that TEC's staff helped the company choose the technology.

“Buddy Averett of TEC answers any and all questions and helps out on all set up problems we might have, if he can't handle it over the phone, he'll come to the job site. They're very good to work with. The service department works very hard to keep the machines up and running and they work around our schedule for oil changes and routine maintenance and what not. They're just good people to deal with.

“I could see another intelligent machine control machine purchase decision happening in the next two years, probably another 51 model. It's the same size machine we use on most of our job sites. You can tell that Komatsu put a lot of thought into the engineering of this machine,” said Williams.

Michael Tew, owner of SJ&L Contractors, said that buying a new machine is a group effort for his company. The project managers and superintendents get together and discuss every new job site. Based on the job and the equipment requirements, Tew and his staff make a decision on whether it's best to buy, rent or lease to fill their needs.

“Once we found out that Komatsu starting producing the integrated machines, we were pretty much compelled to move on and buy one,” said Tew. “We've been quite satisfied with that decision.

“We can definitely do a more efficient job with the GPS machine than without. Our productivity has improved from where we were just three or four years ago. A job that would have taken an entire day to complete in the past, we can now do in just a few hours with intelligent machine control. Every move with the new machine is specific. If the model is built correctly, it reduces any guesswork.”

Tew said the purchase was easy.

“Chris Howard, TEC branch manager, Mobile, Ala., and I have been friends for many years. I've worked with TEC for almost 40 years on machine purchases and we've had success with working with them, which is a testimony to the entire sales and service staff there. It's a good relationship. They're a great company and we're glad to be part of their success, and vice versa. It's a true partnership — we're all in this together.”

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