Why Carlson — Because machine control is only as good as the model

By Karen Cummings • November 21st, 2013

RJ Grondin & Sons contracting firm in Gorham, Maine, uses Carlson Takeoff “because machine control is only as good as the model.”

Why Carlson?’ is a series featuring Carlson Software users and highlighting exactly why, with all the choices available out there, they’ve chosen Carlson software solutions for their work and how, exactly, Carlson works for them.

WHO: Hannes Schneider – Estimator/Project Manager

Jed Cook, Hannes Schneider & Roger Parks (l. to r.) checking the paper plans.

Jed Cook, Hannes Schneider & Roger Parks (l. to r.) checking the extensive paper plans.

Jed Cook – Survey/Machine Control Coordinator

Roger Parks — Maine DOT Consultant (checking the work)

WHERE:  Schneider and Cook work for RJ Grondin & Sons, a family-owned contracting firm located in Gorham, Maine.

WHAT: Cook used Carlson Takeoff to develop the model for construction of a 2.52-mile, 10-foot-wide recreational paved pathway, which is part of the Maine Mountain Division Trail that will eventually be 52 miles long and connect Portland on the coast of Maine with the town of Fryeburg on the New Hampshire border.

Fill us in on how you started using Carlson Takeoff.

Consulting with Peter Reinhard, excavator operator.

Consulting with Peter Reinhard, excavator operator.

SCHNEIDER: RJ Grondin has about 150 employees and an annual volume year-round of around $30 million. I do the estimating end — been using Agtek for 20 years so still use it.*[1] We have two levels of models — the estimating model then the construction model. It’s not the end of the world if I’m off a bit for the estimating, but there’s a gigantic difference if the actual building model is off by two inches. Jed creates the very specific model to build the job. We use the Topcon excavating system, but machine control is only as good as the model.

COOK: Ken Grondin and all of our owners have the philosophy of using technology to improve our work. I’ve been using Carlson Takeoff for six years – I took a course with Harry Ward [Harken-Reidar], went back and told them that it was what we needed and we bought it right away. We’ve recently expanded our use by adding another license, and have trained two new users.

We’ve been doing a lot of DOT work lately and we get paper plans from the state. When we get two-dimensional data, we get DGNs and Takeoff can convert DGNs really well.

The RJ Grondin crew on the job.

The RJ Grondin crew on the job.

Why and how did you use Carlson Takeoff for this project?

SCHNEIDER: This seemed to be a relatively easy job – nothing complicated… or so it seemed. Just a 2.5-mile, 10-foot-wide sidewalk out in the middle of the woods next to a railroad track. Other than access and getting lease rights from property owners, we thought it would be pretty easy.

COOK: While this is a bike/recreational path, it was designed in the exact same manner as a road. No two cross sections were the same so a lot of detail had to go into the model.

paper plans

Maine state DOT provided the engineers’ paper plans.

“Some of the data came from the state, which farmed out the engineering. They gave us the engineer’s version of the 3D model. It wasn’t machine grade. It wasn’t really anything grade, so I used Carlson to do most of this modeling because there’s a lot of functions in Carlson’s road software that can speed that up. You can put in a lot of the typical and a lot of the shape of the road with a few keystrokes instead of hours punching in every grade at every location.”*[2]

PARKS: I’ve been amazed at how well it works. This is just as detailed as doing a highway – 82 plan sheets; they’d have the same documents if they were building the turnpike.

COOK: The vertical tolerance of the gravel on this project had to be 3/8ths of an inch everywhere. It’s pretty hard to achieve that consistency even with a great supervisor and crew. Projects like this used to take a lot of stakes. With this job, when we started, we couldn’t walk it as some areas were swamp so there was no way to stake it.

“There was a place on the job where we had to build the trail through a peat bog, which you couldn’t drive machines in. There would have been two more crews up there messing with this if we didn’t have computers in the machine… We took this bike path job – it’s basically a $1 million job, and it’s three-and-a-half months worth of work – and we’re doing it with five people and we’re on schedule.”

Locals and visitors alike enjoyed the finished trail this past winter.

Locals and visitors alike enjoyed the finished trail this past winter.

Since I’ve been doing the modeling, we’ve eliminated a supervisor, two or three grade foremen and their pick-up trucks and the cost associated with them. It pays for itself in no time. Doing it this way saves like a week’s work for each job.

A guy with machine control can be all by himself. Pete Reinhard, our excavator operator, can know where everything is on the job – he’s like a one-man army. Cutting ditches, putting down loam and rip rap, it’s all precise and he’s done it all with the machine.

SCHNEIDER: The model that you’re given in the field is gospel – it’s got to be right. For building the very fine models that Jed builds, Carlson has some pretty serious advantages.

[1] Carlson Takeoff is also excellent for estimating – visit here to see if your estimating software answers all of your needs.

[2] Quoted pieces are excerpts from Grading and Excavation Contractor, Nov-Dec 2012, “From Takeoff to Project Management: What’s New in Software?”

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