Elmer’s launches new GPS system

TRAVERSE CITY – Star Wars is coming to the construction business.

A new state-of-the-art GPS system has helped Elmer's Crane & Dozer, Inc. cut its grading time by up to 75 percent.

"It's like a video game with really large equipment," said Tonya Wildfong of Elmer's.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) technology allows equipment operators to cut and fill to within one inch, without continuous staking on a large job site. It saves time and money for the contractor and the owner, says Wildfong.

One example is the job Elmer's did at the Wexford County Landfill.

"We had 100,000 cubic yards of dirt that we had to move, and we got it done in three weeks," said Joe Herman, a foreman for Elmer's. "Without the GPS system, it would have taken double the amount of time."

On a typical construction site, stakes are set to show an equipment operator if an area needs to be cut (lowered) or filled (raised) to create the proper drainage. If a large area needs to be filled or cut, there are several sets of stakes that need to be repeatedly set through the length of the project.

With GPS units, on projects like the Wexford County Landfill, Elmer's was able to cut large cell structures without the use of grade stakes. Once the GPS unit is synced with the control stake, the GPS unit mounted on the dozer or grader bounces a signal to a satellite and back to the control stake to measure the actual grade elevations. The GPS unit will tell the equipment operator how precisely they need to cut or fill a section.

Herman said the GPS system helps eliminate the staking and grading.

"And with its pinpoint accuracy, when it's done, it's done right," he said. "This system has a tolerance of plus and minus 1-1/4 inches on the grade. That's hard to achieve without GPS."

Wildfong said construction equipment is entering a new age where the GPS is tied into automated machine control and guidance.

"It used to be that a laser with a quarter-inch accuracy was about the only tool we could use," she said. "But now, we use these satellites that are approximately 20,000 miles in the air and-with a base station-they can get the corners of the blade with golf ball-size, 3-D accuracy.

"The other big advantage is that the machine has the ability to work night and day. It makes a good operator a great operator and improves our efficiency."

The technology is expensive, she said, but what makes it pay off in the long run is the increase in productivity.

"It's been shown to have a rapid payback," she said. BN