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Flat Out Productive

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Newer technology helps Iowa-based company excel in grading and screeding projects

As the state of this post-pandemic employment market is proving, people are not afraid to make serious career changes. Gone is the apprehension and fear of the unknown — replaced instead by a boldness and sense of excitement in the new chapter unfolding before them. Although his actions predated the pandemic by more than a decade, Matt Eischeid also made some gutsy changes to his livelihood, changes that took him from a professional carpenter framing homes to becoming one of the leading screeding and grading companies in Iowa. That amazing transition was made possible through equal parts old-fashioned Midwest tenacity and innovative 3D LPS technology. While his new staff is only a fraction as large as that of his “previous life,” the technology he employs has allowed him to take on more work — and do it quicker and better — than others in his field with a much more robust workforce. Take that, Midwest nice.

Change in Direction

Founded in 2008, Eischeid’s company, Elite Builders, initially focused on carpentry and framing. He grew the business, eventually finding himself in a situation that most would see as enviable — he saw it as something entirely different.

“There’s no denying we were a successful business,” he said. “However, we grew to a staff of about 40 and when you get that big, the size of the headaches and challenges, overshadows any added profits. Eventually, it became more than I wanted to handle. Around 2016, I did some research and found two things: first, no one was doing mechanical screeding in this area, and second, a Ligchine laser-guided screed seemed to be the best way to go. So, I reached out to representatives from the company, purchased my first unit — a Ligchine ScreedSaver Max — and Elite was born.”

Today, largely because of that and subsequent Ligchine purchases, Elite has grown to a staff of only three persons yet performs between 200 and 300 projects per year ranging in size from small to very large. In addition, seeing an opportunity to expand, if not their ranks, at least their capabilities, they’ve added grading services to the mix, making them an even more formidable player in the Des Moines-area paving market.

“We were now able to tackle bigger, more complex jobs, be more efficient on them, and even increase the level of accuracy we brought to the job site. The Ligchine screed, which was already a powerful tool for us, was instantly made even more valuable.”

Matt Eischeid

Adding a Critical D

Their current employee count notwithstanding, saying that Elite hasn’t grown much since its inception would be a gross misstatement. In his early days as a startup screeding company, Eischeid relied solely upon 2D laser technology for handling all his work. While effective for flat pours, it limited the types of jobs they could do. All that changed in 2017, however, with the addition of a 3D LPS (local positioning system) solution via a robotic total station.

“LPS opened up a whole new world for us,” said Eischeid. “We were now able to tackle bigger, more complex jobs, be more efficient on them, and even increase the level of accuracy we brought to the job site. The Ligchine screed, which was already a powerful tool for us, was instantly made even more valuable.”

Elite’s Ligchine 3D LPS paving system utilizes a fast-tracking Topcon GT Series robotic total station to register and maintain screed position from a machine-mounted prism and sonic tracker. Height adjustments — transmitted to and from the screed at a rate of 10 times per second — maintain even the tightest accuracies. Using LPS, Elite was now able to quickly and accurately place concrete on grade, slope, dual slope and 3D contours.

“Because we were no longer limited to working solely with flat floors or even flat slopes, it literally changed the game for us,” said Eischeid.

Grade Schooling

One of the biggest challenges to companies like Elite Builders who are tasked with placing concrete, is having confidence in the subgrade. An improperly prepared subgrade can adversely affect the volumes of concrete needed for any given job. Realizing this, Eischeid began looking for a way to augment his screeding operation with a cost-effective grading component. According to Jerry Bickner, director of sales at the Carol Stream, Illinois branch of the Topcon Solutions Store, a Level Best box blade attachment for his John Deere 333G compact track loader was the obvious answer.

“What made the Level Best the best possible choice for Matt and his team was the fact that they already had the Topcon grade control solution they needed on their Ligchine screed,” said Bickner. “It was a simple matter of switching the components over to the Level Best and, working off a single 3D model, getting the same degree of accuracies for grading.”

Once grading is complete, the system can be easily moved back over to the Ligchine and the concrete facet of the job can begin. “It’s fairly inexpensive to get into grading if you already have the 3D system,” said Eischeid. “In essence, we now have the best of both worlds.”

“Because we were no longer limited to working solely with flat floors or even flat slopes, it literally changed the game for us.”

Matt Eischeid

One-Two Punch

That dual solution proved itself at a recent distribution center project outside of Des Moines. Working as a subcontractor to a major commercial developer, Elite was tasked with fine grading and screeding both 100,000+ sq. ft. of parking lot and 210,000 sq. ft. of interior floor.

“This project was outstanding and the system more than proved itself,” said Eischeid. “With the 3D solution, on average, one person in one machine can generally grade between 7,000-10,000 sq. ft. per hour while maintaining accuracies to within a 1/4”. Similarly, after grading with the 3D LPS, we can almost always get our concrete yields on our pours down to within 2%. Both were the case here.”

That last point, concrete yields, is extremely key in today’s highly competitive construction landscape. In fact, according to Topcon Solution Store’s Bickner, lack of subgrade accuracy can dramatically affect the profitability of any pour.

“Creating an accurate subgrade is huge,” he said. “Being even ¼” off on a 100,000 sq. ft. pour can result in $20,000 to $30,000 off your bottom line. That’s why customers like Elite value the Topcon 3D LPS solution so much — it allows them to keep that subgrade on the money and eliminate the risk of bad yields. Couple that with the fact that it is easily movable between the grading and paving machinery and it’s easy to see why Matt is so pleased with it.”

System Flexibility

Eischeid is indeed pleased, both with the path his business has taken and with the solutions that have helped him get there. Today, each member of the Elite trio — Eischeid and operators Eric Case and Jacob Jansen — has a grading and a paving system available to them. On the paving side, Elite now owns a pair of Ligchine’s Boss units as well as a Ligchine Elite model; grading is handled by a pair of Level Best box blades and a Level Best GB 108 grader blade. At the job site mentioned above, Eischeid showed just how productive he can be in the grading portion of that operation.

“If the general contractor chose to grade that parking lot themselves using traditional means, it would have easily taken them a full day to grade it,” he said. “Using the Level Best with 3D, I did it in roughly two hours. The screeding part of the job presents different but equally compelling advantages. While there are cases in which manual screeding is better — accessing hard-to-reach areas, for example — the Ligchine running 3D LPS is far more accurate, produces a better product and doesn’t suffer from heat exhaustion or backaches as a crew yielding a 2 X 4 can.”

He added that their fleet — any component of which can run the Topcon 3D LPS solution — has served them well and allows them to do the volume of business they currently do.

“While we have the potential to grow the business, I’m content where we are right now. I’ve run a large company and doing so again doesn’t appeal to me at all. My guys and I work hard, we get great service from our equipment and the team at the Topcon Solutions Store and we have more than enough work. I’ll take that all day long.”