SITE TECHNOLOGY: Machine Control 101

SITE TECHNOLOGY: Machine Control 101

October 4, 2011

For those readers who aren’t using machine control yet, or have been too busy to follow the developments, I thought it might help to do a basic overview of what it is and why you should be thinking about it.

At its simplest form, machine control is the use of various positioning sensors and a display to provide the operator with a reference between the position of the bucket or blade and the target grade. The target grade may be as complex as a 3D design model, or as simple as a vertical offset from a known level.  Depending on the configuration, machine control systems can just provide the operator with a simple visual guide to bucket or blade position, or they can automatically move the blade to grade by directly “talking” to the machine’s hydraulics. 

The sensor that positions the machine relative to grade is typically a rotating laser, a total station, a sonic tracer, or advanced GPS. Most systems then also use slope, angle and rotation sensors to measure the movements of the blade or bucket relative to the machine’s body, providing millimeter-level accuracy to guide the operator. The operator display can be as simple as a big up / down arrow on the laser receiver, or as advanced as a graphical in-cab display showing different views of the real-time position of the machine blade or bucket compared to the design.

Getting the system mounted on your machine can be very quick and easy for the more basic systems, or a bit more involved for installations that tap into the machine’s hydraulics.  To help, many machine manufacturers offer machines that come “pre-plumbed” for the installation of machine control systems.  Talk to your technology distributor and your machine dealer to learn more about specific options.

There are machine control systems available for just about any machine you may have: graders, dozers, excavators, soil and asphalt compactors, scrapers, trimmers, milling machines and pavers. The reason for the rapid expansion of both the applications and the industry has to do with the powerful benefits of the technology, which include:

• Higher machine productivity and efficiency

• Lower operating cost (fuel, maintenance, repair, blades, teeth, tires)

• Lower surveying costs – less staking

• Reduced material costs

• Improved overall job efficiency

• Highest job accuracy

• Reduced rework

Individually, each of these can deliver significant cost and competitive advantages, but combined they make such a compelling case that it is completely changing the way the construction industry works.

Obviously there is more to machine control than my simple overview. But it’s not that hard to do. Thousands of companies like yours are taking the same trip. The best way to get started is to contact your area technology dealer. You can usually find those by going to the technology manufacturer’s web site.

For Trimble or SITECH dealers, go to and click on SITECH Locator.

You can read many stories about why and how customers made the decision to implement technology, and what their experience has been, at