The combination of decades of grader operating experience, plus Topcon’s millimetre GPS precision machine control system, recently saw Perth operator Jeff O’Donnell pick up an award on a major project for consistently achieving the best tolerances.
Jeff has been operating graders for over 35 years, and runs a fleet of four graders – two Cat 12Hs, a John Deere 770GP and a Noram M65 through his company J&J O’Donnell – with all four graders set up to run Topcon’s mmGPS and 3D-MC2 systems.
The work Jeff and his team carry out includes major road and rail projects, around Perth, as well as in more remote areas of the state.
Currently he and three of his graders are part of a fleet of around 40 graders working on roadworks for the New Gateway project at Perth International Airport.
Jeff has used Topcon machine guidance and control systems on his graders for many years, starting with System 4 and System 5 before becoming an early adopter of Topcon’s mmGPS about five years ago.
“When I first saw the mmGPS, I could see its potential straight away, and within three months, I’d bought my first system,” he says.
“Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of money and time getting them all running, but they definitely help the game, save a lot of money with no need for pegs.
“And this latest GX60 box for mmGPS is just perfect; you can calibrate it a lot easier so you can get your blade in exactly the right spot. And doing your offsets is just so much easier – you put it where it’s needed and away you go,” says Jeff.
“It’s a really good system; there’s nothing wrong I can pick with it. I’ve always been with Topcon, and they are good, very good.
“Our three machines on this site all have mmGPS with the new GX60 box on them – and my other two boys operating the machines here love the Topcon system as well, they know how good it is,” he says.
“A few of the graders on this project have got the Trimble system on them, and we can see that it’s just not nearly as good as our Topcon systems.”
Jeff and his team are doing the final trim and water-binding work for the final road base surface, using material sourced from a local quarry.
“It’s our responsibility to mix the material and lay it out ready for compacting, then we trim it to the tolerances required.
“The tolerances my team has been achieving have been right on spec,” says Jeff.
“When the surveyors have been doing their as-cons, we’ve been consistently getting within 3 mm every time. We typically do ±3 mm, but here they like it to be 3 mm-high, so that’s what we give them.
“To achieve this, you need to have the experience and to know what you are doing, so you can put it in a bit high, then trim it down.
“We also have to contend with the Main Roads inspectors, and for them it’s got to be 100% right. They check it all, and if it doesn’t come up to scratch, you have to do it all again.”
Jeff’s use of Topcon mmGPS on his grader – combined with his experience and understanding of the materials he’s working with – recently saw him win an award for the quality of his work at the Perth Airport project.
“So of about 40 graders on this site, I’ve been getting the best tolerances, and they recently gave me a big award in front of everyone, a nice cash reward and a proper plaque.“We know we save them a lot of money by doing this right. If you get the tolerance 20 mm below the level, you’ve got to put a corrector in, and that costs a lot of money,” he says.
“In the whole time we’ve been here, I’ve only had one failure where we had to redo some work, and that was because the material wasn’t right.”
Jeff points out that experience and knowledge of material characteristics are still essential for successful grading.
“We know how to mix material, and get it right first time; when you’ve been in this business for many years, you get to know your dirts, and how they will perform – and that experience you can’t buy.
“You can’t just jump on a grader fitted with mmGPS and expect to be an instant expert,” he says.
“You have got to know what you are doing; it can’t be too wet or you’ll wait days for it to dry, too dry and it won’t pass the compaction test.
“You need the right amount of material, then once you roll it, it needs to be at 101% compaction; you have to have all these things just right before you trim it.”
Jeff is also finding Position Partners Tokara Link saves him a lot of time and lost production if there’s ever a problem.
“With this new Tokara Link, if something goes wrong, they can fix it remotely; they just send files out from the office. It works really well, it’s a very good system, especially if you are out in the bush, or you have a design fault, they can fix it straight away then and there.
“We’ve always been very happy with the service and support we get from Position Partners; it’s very good, 100%, spot on. You can ring them up any time, and they will come straight out if necessary.
“In particular, we find Bernard and Daniel Cecchele can solve our problems really quickly, which is great. I can’t speak highly enough about them,” he says.