Like any business steeped in technology, Topcon is continually changing and evolving, its products growing ever more sophisticated. That change is necessary, certainly, to maintain a competitive edge, but more importantly, to meet the demand from its customers for solutions that do more and do it easier. To ensure that those customers — be they end-users, dealers or dealer personnel — garner the most benefit possible from its products, Topcon has always made available some of the most comprehensive training offerings in the industry. With the opening of its new John D. Dice Training Center, however, the company has raised the bar, bringing a whole new level of support, ranging from instruction in large, well-equipped classrooms to dedicated hands-on training spaces to a theater-like demonstration area, and much more. The facility, named for long-tenured director, John Dice, is aptly nicknamed “The House That John Built,” and it represents a level of sophistication fully on par with the evolution of Topcon solutions. Paraphrasing an old Vegas expression: “This house always wins.”
Changing Face of Support
To fully understand how much the concept of support and training has changed, one need only think back to a time when for many, overhead projectors and slide carousels with fold-up screens were commonplace and laser pointers were cutting edge. Today, using Power Point presentations with embedded video in a classroom environment is standard fare and even the traditional whiteboard has been replaced by an interactive version that runs Windows and offers Zoom capability. That shift in how people were learning was just one factor in the push to upgrade the training environment at Topcon, according to John Dice.
“So much has changed as a result of things going digital,” he said. “A good example: service people’s shelves used to be crammed with manuals — now, most everything they need is available online and much faster and easier to access. Our customers are getting their info in different ways; it stands to reason that we should be presenting it in new ways as well. The new training center incorporates those changes — and a whole lot more.”
Dedicated in 2021, the John D. Dice Training Center is the sequel to the service Dice and his team had been providing at the previous training center in nearby Pleasanton, California. While that site proved very functional and highly successful for more than two decades, a combination of space limitations, location, and the opportunity to take all training efforts to the next level led to the development of the new center in Livermore.
“A key part of any instructor-led program boils down to reading body language and facial clues.”
The Personal Touch
Despite a wealth of online classes available via its myTopcon site and the prevalence of remote meeting options such as Zoom, Teams, etc., one of the key components of Topcon training remains in-classroom sessions. Dice feels there is simply no substitute for in-person learning to best determine if a student did or did not get the message.
“A key part of any instructor-led program boils down to reading body language and facial clues,” he said. “If you see that something is not hitting home, you can easily explain it again, or show a diagram, or do whatever it takes to make it clearer. We have two classrooms here now that incorporate all the latest technology and can accommodate up to 60 people. The new site has already proven itself to be an outstanding learning environment.”
That learning experience is enhanced by a number of extra touches in addition to the technology mentioned above. One of those, floors that incorporate markings used in a construction layout operation, is especially popular — and effective. “We started doing that at trade shows and saw how successful it was,” said Dice. “We wanted that feature in the new site and having larger-sized classrooms made it possible.”
New Era in Training
If the Pleasanton training center was early Apple, the John D. Dice Training Center is post-iPhone Apple. Rich in features and able to do so many things that were previously a challenge, the new center offers six acres of training and demonstration capability — with a host of additional amenities as well. According to Dice, however, having a site designed for effective, informative demonstrations was key in the decision-making process leading up to construction.
“Traditionally, we’ve had a lot of success doing demos for the sales department — what we call a ‘Fly and Try,’” he said. “That program is aimed at the contractor fully realizing the value of a solution by having a machine available, getting in and experiencing it. It is coordinated through the local dealer, but once contacted, we put together a program based on that contractor and their specific needs. It’s proven so successful that we now have interest in it all year round, whereas it used to be limited to the winter months when contractors’ workloads are usually slow.”
The new site also features a 6,000 square foot equipment depot where instructors can conduct training sessions regardless of any inclement weather. The depot has video screens located throughout, allowing for training sessions to take place — augmented by an actual machine available for the hands-on element of the session. “It really provides the best of both worlds,” said Dice.
“We are continually asking ourselves what we can do to establish — and maintain — a solid relationship with our customers.”
Test Benches and Bench Seating
To better prepare Topcon dealers and distributors tasked with loading software and firmware needed to configure many Topcon solutions, the depot also features a number of well-planned, efficiently configured test benches.
“Now, when our dealers come in for training, we show them exactly what they can expect,” said Dice. “They see what an efficient test bench looks like and how easy setting one up for themselves can be. Not only do we go through how to set up and configure the systems, we talk them through the process of actually installing it on a machine. They leave here much better prepared than they’d even been.”
While the entire site is impressive, its centerpiece is undoubtedly the demonstration area known as the Fieldwork Theater building. Designed to provide maximum value for any customer wanting to see Topcon heavy equipment-based solutions at work, the theater impresses right out of the gate.
“The theater features a retractable wall which, when opened to the demonstration area, literally brings the outside in,” said Dice. “Projected on huge monitors in the seating area, Sitelink3D, allows customers to see the control box in the cab as the machine works in front of them. Being able to communicate directly with the operator, they can describe exactly what they’d like done using the solution, then immediately see it happen. We always envisioned this as a powerful tool to have — we could not have been more right.”
The Social Network
The final component to the new site is geared more for what happens after the training sessions, demonstrations and hands-on work are completed. And while, at first glance, it might seem less important than those tasks, Dice would beg to differ.
“Our business, more than selling solutions, is about building relationships,” he said. “We are continually asking ourselves what we can do to establish — and maintain — a solid relationship with our customers. So the social aspects of the training center, the after-class areas, if you will, were a very important element. As a result, we have a large, comfortable patio area, a barbecue pit, a well-stocked break room, all the amenities needed for a more open, informal, relaxed environment. At the end of a day of training, the opportunity to sit down, have a beer and a meal and just talk about anything from backsighting to baseball can prove almost as valuable as the classes themselves.”
Anyone who has received hands-on training at the California headquarters, in all likelihood received it from Dice. He was a member of Advanced Grade Technology, the company Topcon acquired in the mid-‘90s, and since then has played an integral role in ensuring that thousands of dealers and customers alike understand and appreciate all the benefits technology can provide. Perhaps Jamie Williamson, executive vice president, summed it up best: “For his entire career, JD has not only been a tireless, professional ambassador to the world for Topcon and machine control, he’s also been a shining example of the goodness that can come from mankind.”
And, as anyone who knows John Dice will attest, he is perhaps the humblest person one could meet, so the subject of the center being named in his honor is not readily brought up or easily discussed.
“I am still floored by the fact that this site bears my name,” he said. “It was the biggest surprise of my life, for sure. I genuinely feel that I am only doing my job here at Topcon and don’t think someone should be honored for that. But, nevertheless, I am extremely grateful for the honor and am reminded of how lucky I am every time I look up at the entrance and see that name.”
If the walls could indeed talk, those in “The House That John Built” will long be ringing out with impressive tales of machine control development and the key role John’s played in it.