Despite its current position at the forefront of cutting-edge technology, Regehr Construction’s roots are humble ones. When Kenton Regehr first started his company, he was focused on hourly work; digging house basements and performing miscellaneous agricultural projects. Since then, the company has evolved into one with more than 50 people, four separate divisions, and a breadth of expertise in everything from demolition to mobile aggregate processing to stream restoration and more. One of those strengths is in utility installation, which is where the new solution was introduced according to James Cucheran, one of Regehr’s supervisors.
“Our civil/residential group handles this type of work,” he said. “The site, a two-acre parcel located on Great Northern Avenue in Abbotsford, will be the home to three different tilt-up structures — all part of a future industrial complex. We were installing roughly 300 m of storm, sanitary and water services for the complex, a process that can be tricky for accuracy at times and almost always involves two men in addition to the machine operator.”
The traditional approach to which Cucheran refers starts with a surveyor laying out the direction of travel for the utility by either spray painting a line on the ground or using a theodolite to make certain the excavation is maintaining the proper line. Then, once excavation begins, a rod man must also be present in the trench to ensure a proper and accurate grade on which aggregate will be placed and the pipe will set by another worker. A visit from Cory Luck, territory manager for Brandt Positioning made them aware that an ability to trim that workforce — while at the same time improving efficiency and accuracies — could be possible with an X-53x Automatic Excavator system from Topcon Positioning Systems.
“Regehr was already a customer of ours for other GPS technology and they were looking at machine control for the excavation facet of their projects,” he said. “I showed them what the new solution could do for them and they just happened to have the Great Northern job coming up. The timing could not have been better.”
Next Step Excavation
While machine control for excavators has been around for a while, the control they provide has typically been limited either to showing where the operator’s bucket is (an indicate-only system) or directly targeting grade via a digital model, onboard sensors and an in-cab display (3D GPS). The system that Regehr added to its John Deere 345G takes that control to the next level, presenting the operator with an option to let the machine do the excavation itself — once again based on a digital model.
“Our interest in the Automatic Excavator system was based on the promise of what we felt it could do for us,” said Cucheron. “The fact that it could reduce the size of our trenching crews was attractive, as was the accuracy it could deliver — both in direction and depth. When placed in ‘Auto’ mode, the system is designed to automatically excavate down to the grade that is loaded into the model — no more, no less. My operator can cut his subgrade and be consistently within 1 to 2 centimeters without anyone needing to check it with GPS or a laser behind him. So, between that and the streamlined layout function, we can now use that rod man and one surveyor elsewhere on site.”
Minimizing material overages was a benefit from the new solution that Regehr had not foreseen, but it has already proven to be the case. According to Cucheran, that, too, stems from the system’s ability to get material to grade quickly and accurately.
“Being able to set grade in aggregate for our pipe has been a huge difference,” he said. “In Auto mode, my operator can get a perfect grade every time, so the gravel savings is substantial. We’ve found that we can save about 10 tons of material on a 100-meter stretch. At today’s prices for aggregate, those savings can be substantial.”