Hiring machine control for graders: why ownership is not nine-tenths of the job!
By Joel Seddon
Previously, I have explored the current situation with grader machine control in Australia, the different options available and why there is still so much to be gained from the technology with so many more motor graders yet to realise its benefits.
This time, I will look at how motor graders are used on large-scale projects and the increasing trend towards hiring 3D machine control for this powerful and crucial piece of machinery.
In Australia, the uptake of machine control for graders has been high compared with other markets around the world, with between 15-20% of all machines now fitted with some form of the technology.
The benefits of machine control are three-fold.
- Machine control technology saves time by reducing or in some cases elimination the need to use pegs and stringlines.
- The technology improves productivity by assisting the operator to get to grade faster without the need for rework.
- Machine control technology improves site safety by removing the need for regular grade checks.
In fact, it could be argued that the ultimate success and profitability of many civil projects revolves around the grader.
Shifts in project spend
As with all major projects, timeframes shift and processes are adapted as the project progresses. Weather, funding, and resourcing all play a significant part as to whether a project remains on its critical path.
Construction projects are no different, perhaps even setting the standard for how things can sometimes divert from the original plan.
In recent years, there has been an increasing trend to move away from CAPEX (capital expenditure, an up-front cost) to OPEX (operating expenditure, a running cost).
This enables contractors and project managers to better manage their jobs “on the fly”, adapting quickly to problems that arise without tying up the financial resources beyond what is known.
This helps to eliminate risk, keeps the job on schedule, under budget and within scope.
In response to market demand, machine control has shifted towards being an OPEX cost.
With most large construction projects today, the project owner is either a JV or a large contractor that employs several sub-contractors, who each own their own equipment and are ready to work on the job.
Websites such as www.iseekplant.com.au can help contractors find motor graders (and other plant) equipped with GPS or other forms of machine control for their jobs.
But what if the machines they source do not have machine control? That is where the opportunity to hire or rent comes into play.
Many large contractors or JVs do not want to invest in a machine control system that will only be used on a project for a short period of time (6-18 months).
This is because once the project is finished, the JV or project teams disbands and the equipment becomes difficult to manage; for this reason many are turning to hire options to fulfil their needs without the need for a long-term investment in owning machine control systems.
Companies such as Position Partners, the exclusive Australian distributor of Topcon machine control systems, offer flexible and competitive hire rates for all machine control systems from the X63i GPS excavator systems to 3D-MC² dozer systems, all the way up to mm-GPS or LPS motor grader systems – and everything in between.
Graders – a special case
Unlike machine control systems on other popular machines such as dozers or excavators, motor graders come with a variety of options depending on the type of work being done on the job site:
1. GPS systems for clearing and site prep work as well as fine grading to less tight tolerances
2. LPS systems, which use a total station for high accuracy fine grading work or for work in areas where GPS is not suitable (under bridges, in tunnels, next to tall tree canopies or buildings)
3. mm-GPS – much like an LPS solution but instead use laser-augmented GPS to provide high accuracy GPS positions for fine grading. Unlike an LPS solution, a single mm-GPS transmitter can work with up to 10 machines, whereas LPS is a one to one setup (one machine to one total station).
4. 3D-MC², a system that “supercharges” a grader by providing it with position correction information up to five times faster than traditional machine control systems, even leaning the blade forward when fine grading or mixing.
All of the above systems have a home on all large construction sites today. However, purchasing all four options to use on one machine can be a costly exercise and leaves the contractor or JV with a large amount of hardware at the end of a project.
That’s where suppliers such as Position Partners can offer a hire solution.
Hiring machine control on a motor grader is a highly efficient and effective way to manage machine control needs.
It’s a strategy that many contractors are starting to take note of, employing it on large-scale projects across Australia from Roy Hill to Burrumbeet.
All motor graders that may require machine control at some stage of the project can be “hardwired” in advance with base cabling and bracketry, so when hired for the job the machine control system can effectively be “plugged and played” and is ready to go.
This doesn’t just apply to large contractors or projects.
For subcontractors, one of the best ways to win work on that next big project is to have their machines fitted with a base kit and machine control ready.
This puts the future machine utilisation is every grader owner’s hands – base kits are a small cost of the overall machine control system – and an investment owners can’t afford not to make in today’s construction environment.
Flexible machine control hire options mean equipment can be hired for as long as the project, from just a few weeks out to18 months or more – and is then returned to Position Partners when the job is done.
Position Partners offers the added advantages of expert technical assistance and industry-leading support for the duration of the hire, including software upgrades that can increase productivity.