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Changing the Face of Concrete Construction

Buffalo contractor taps new technology to simplify layout in range of projects.

For years, Jim Sickau had been searching for a tool that could simplify the layout facet of his concrete construction operation. The owner of Buffalo, New York-based ProLine Concrete, wanted an affordable instrument that could be operated by one person and did not demand that operator to be extremely survey savvy. He feels his search is finally over. His purchase of the Topcon LN-100 Layout Navigator has shown him that concrete layout and simplicity are not mutually-exclusive terms. The new tool has also proven that he needn’t break the bank to get great results. Already having cut layout times by a minimum of one-half, he calls it “a game changer” for his company.

Sub’s not the answer

Sickau formed ProLine in 2000 and has grown it steadily into one of the largest concrete contractors in Western New York, employing anywhere from 35 - 50 people and tackling more than 200 projects per year.

“We probably pour more concrete than anyone in the area now — we do everything from bigger parking lots to slabs and foundations for new big-box stores,” said Sickau. “Because of major interest — and financial commitment — from medical-related companies, Buffalo is experiencing one of the largest periods of development the area has seen in a very long time. We’ve been fortunate to have had projects related to that growth. But the fact that we are equipped to even handle those kinds of projects has been a real plus for us.”

The nature of ProLIne’s business obviously demands an emphasis on concrete layout and a high degree of accuracy within that effort. Sickau said he’s taken a number of approaches to tackling those demands in the past, none of which was ideal.

“We’ve done everything from subcontracting the layout, to having a surveyor on retainer, to using a standard total station,” he said. “Contracting something out is rarely good from a financial standpoint, neither is paying a surveyor retainer fee simply to use him intermittently. As to the total station, it’s a great tool, but it can be complex to learn and operate. And, because it’s a two-man operation, there’s a margin of error with the guy at the rod end. In fact, I often had to call in a surveyor to re-check such work, so it was a costly approach for me to take.”

What happened in Vegas

A visit to World of Concrete changed all that for Sickau and Pro-Line. There, he saw a Topcon salesperson demonstrating the LN-100 Layout Navigator.

“I was blown away by how simple it was,” he said. “Everything from startup to overall operation seems to have been designed for ease of use. And it was genuinely affordable; I knew I had to have one of those.”

In true fashion, Sickau ordered two of the LN-100 units from the Buffalo branch of Admar Supply and was further impressed by the instrument’s power and simplicity, leading him to make some major changes in his operation.

“The fact that the LN-100 was so easy to use meant that I could confidently promote two of my men, Shane Torriere and Nate Grabar, to lead foremen and eliminate a surveyor I had on retainer.”

“Before we got the LN-100, we were using a total station which was a great tool but it was a two-man operation.”

Lead foreman of ProLine Concrete, Shane Torriere

Simply productive

For ProLine’s Torriere and Grabar, the LN-100’s simplicity translates to added production.

“Before we got the LN-100, we were using a total station which was a great tool but it was a two-man operation,” said Torriere. “With the new unit I can handle the layout and that second man can either be right behind me starting the formwork or working elsewhere. On a modular home site we recently did, layout would have been a two-man, half day effort using our total station — I did the layout myself in two hours.”

Torriere’s colleague, Nate Grabar cites similar results from laying out a parking lot  in downtown Buffalo.

“On this job, using the Topcon LN-100, I did all four corners of a large parking lot in less than an hour,” he said. “In the past that would have been a full-day’s work. Anybody with a basic knowledge of this type of work could start with the LN-100 and in a single day be doing accurate layouts. That, to me, is just amazing.”

Jim Sickau agrees and sees serious potential in what the new tool brings to ProLine’s capabilities. “That parking lot job was a better than a 600 yd. pour and we did it in just over a day. The time we saved in the layout portion of that job was critical to how quickly we were out of there. The LN-100 will be a great selling point for our services as we move forward — it’s a real game-changer for us.”