Sweatt Construction utilizes a John Deere 331G track loader with Level Best grading attachment and Topcon 3D-MC grade control software works on reclaiming a creek bed on the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico.
A contractor is getting a lot of help from above on a challenging project in a remote corner of New Mexico, near the Colorado border.
Sweatt Construction, with assistance from 4Rivers Equipment, is using drone technology and GPS machine control to efficiently complete a reclamation project at the abandoned Swastika Mine, a former silver and lead mine, near Raton, N.M.
The project, commissioned by the New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), calls for the removal of coal waste (gob) and leftovers from the mining operation and restoring a stream channel to its natural state.
But it's rarely ever that easy and there is a catch: The mine and creek bed are now on private property owned by Turner Enterprises Inc. — the Vermejo Park Ranch that covers 590,000 acres. Due to state historical requirements, the contractor had to confine its excavation along the 1-mi. stretch to an area of just 20 ft. wide.
Sweatt Construction, though, knows all about precise excavation projects, having been introduced to drone technology by the 4Sight Solutions division of 4Rivers Equipment a few years earlier. Lead Estimator Doug Fortner knew that the drone would give his crew a highly accurate survey of the site and a precise plan for the job.
Still, the actual excavation work would be very challenging, especially given the tight work area restrictions.
"We threw this at Robert last minute," Fortner said, referring to his 4Rivers representative, Robert Masales. "He pulled a rabbit out of his hat on this one."
That "rabbit" included a John Deere 210 LC equipped with Topcon's X-53x Auto Excavator system, and a Deere 331G track loader with Level Best grading attachment and the 3D-MC system from Topcon.
Both are proving to be crucial to completing the job on time and without interrupting historical, archaeological and environmental interests just outside the creek bed.
Drone Surveys Say
Collecting the survey data would be the easy part, according to Fortner. "We've used drones now for a while in our survey work, and the accuracy we achieve is amazing … not to mention the labor savings, which is also impressive," he said.
Nick Guadagnoli, technology solutions manager of 4Rivers said there is much more that drone surveying offers the contractor.
"Everyone talks about the accuracy of the drone software, but that's just the beginning," he said. "Site safety is also a huge consideration. The drone can get to more remote places than a human surveyor can. And not having surveyors walking across the job site is a safety consideration, too."
He noted that updated measurements can be taken as often as needed, even on a daily basis.
Fortner said Sweatt has flown the drone repeatedly over the course of the job, giving the state and property owner updates, as needed.
Time savings are a huge advantage of drones, as well, added Fortner and Guadagnoli. The Kespry drone that Sweatt uses is able to fly the reclamation job site in approximately an hour and captures a huge number of photos, which are then collated by software, stitching them together into a massive orthomosaic. Software then analyzes every pixel, each of which has its own GPS coordinates and creates a digital file that can be read by any planning software.
A digital terrain model is then produced and can be read by the grade control software at the machine level.
"Even more savings is achieved," said Fortner, "because only a final grade check is required, eliminating the need for guinea hoppers throughout the course of the job."
Sweatt Construction is excavating "scour pools" as part of a broad range of grade stabilization measures being implemented. These must be removed to exact measurements of the plans. Any guesswork was removed by the GPS equipment add-ons to both the excavator and track loader.
"The operator is not guessing with the Auto Excavator system," said Fortner. "The screen shows him exactly where he needs to be, where he needs to dig and how deep he needs to go."
"Once the grade is set on the model, it won't let the operator over dig," Guadagnoli added. "Therefore, it eliminates going back over the same area."
Guadagnoli added that the system automatically controls both the bucket and the boom. "The operator cannot even over dig accidentally," he said. "If the plan says go down 3 feet, that's how far it lets him go."
Fortner said that this prevents the operator from having to get in and out of the machine to check grades.
This marks the first job that Sweatt is using the 3D-MC with a track loader, and Fortner said he saw the benefits right away.
"We made fewer redundant passes over the same area because of the GPS system," he said. "Not only does it make a good operator better, but it allows for a less experienced operator to be very productive, as well."
Mike Tompson, an engineer with New Mexico's Abandoned Mine Program, said the state is satisfied with the results they are seeing at the site.
"The early winter conditions, unique technical requirements and COVID restrictions have been challenging," he said. "But all is going well and we expect them to soon start on the Upland Stabilization work on the adjacent hillsides. The results of the project are looking very promising."
About Sweatt Construction
Based in Artesia, N.M., Sweatt Construction Co.., an ESOP company, has been in the business of moving dirt for more than 50 years. The company offers many oilfield industry-related services, as well as many other types of dirt construction.
"We respect the environment and those that live off the environment," said Brad Larsen, president and general manager. "We strive to be friendly, respectful, positive and determined. With these ingredients, we hope to fulfill all of our clients' expectations."
About 4Rivers Equipment
In 1926, 4Rivers Equipment began as Romer Mercantile, a small John Deere agriculture equipment dealer in Holly, Colo. Through dedication and perseverance, the store prospered through difficult times and started to grow during the 1960s.
According to Keith Olson, CEO of 4Rivers Equipment, "We now feature agriculture locations, construction locations, and some stores that are combined ag and construction. Thanks to the dedication of more than 400 highly trained and skilled employees, we plan on being your working partner through all the seasons moving forward.
A John Deere dealer headquartered in Greeley, Colo., 4Rivers Equipment also many locations throughout Colorado (11), New Mexico (three), Wyoming (two) and one in El Paso, Texas.
For more information, visit www.4riversequipment.com.