Concrete Contractor Overcomes Extreme Layout Challenge

By Jeff Winke | September 28, 2010

Imagine setting pilings for an expansive structure that has the proportions straight out of Batman's Gotham City. That's exactly what Joseph Testa Concrete Contracting is tackling with a massive manufacturing production facility being built in Cheswick, PA, about 10 miles north of Pittsburgh.

The building features 84 pile caps that are 5 feet thick and measure 13 feet by 7 feet. “We're talking 100 tons of steel and rebar and pouring in excess of 3,500 cubic yards of concrete,” states Anthony Testa, president of Joseph Testa Concrete Contracting. “This is a large, complicated job.”

There are several reasons for what may seem like comic book exaggerated-size pilings. First, the building is big, approximately 400 feet by 122 feet. The pre-engineered building needs to be wind- and vibration-resistant, and the structure will be supporting a 200-ton overhead traveling crane. Plus, the sandy soil conditions necessitate deep pilings, 60 to 80 feet deep. Each pile cap requires nearly a 500-pound bolt set, with each bolt weighing approximately 85 pounds and the top plate weighing 110 pounds.

Technology Provides Advantages

“We would be way behind schedule and struggling if we were not using Trimble technology,” Testa says. The company uses the Trimble LM80 Desktop office software, the palm-size LM80 Layout Manager, and the SPS710 Robotic Total Station with LM80 Layout.

Established in 1976, Testa's company is an early adopter of layout technology, purchasing its first mechanical total station about eight years ago. “You know, my father, who started our company and who passed away 10 years ago, would have laughed at the idea of the technology we're using today,” Testa says. “But we're doing exactly what he did – namely, using the best available tools to get the job done.”

Of the 15 employees Testa has working for him, four are proficient with the technology. Testa says that over the years his company has become very comfortable with the way in which the LM80 Layout Manager and LM80 Desktop software integrates with the systems used in the field. “There's a level of comfort and confidence knowing you have the job right there on the desktop screen and the hand-held device.”

Seamless Flow

This project, just like all the others, started when Testa received the building site plan as a CAD file that was imported into the desktop office software. “With the software, I created a digital replica of the building footprint from the blueprint before going out to the site to do layout,” Testa says. “I like this part because in the past, on more than one occasion, I've found errors that the architectural or engineering firms have made that would have cost me big money, if we had acted solely on what was provided.” Specifically, the desktop software allows the user to import CAD files and to check for errors by applying coordinate geometry functions such as distance, angle and closure computations.

From the office PC, Testa uploaded the file to one of the four layout manager hand-held devices the company owns in order to perform the layout tasks at the site. “With the LM80 Layout Manager and the SPS710 Robotic Total Station with LM80 Layout, I was able to confidently send one guy out to the site to seamlessly establish the control points and plot the layout and perform measurements – all in a fraction of the time and with less personnel than if we did it the traditional, manual way,” Testa said. “We laid out all the excavation lines, and the concrete forms and anchors.”

For Joseph Testa Concrete Contracting, the project's concrete foundation work is coming together ahead of schedule. “With the Trimble systems, I have complete confidence that the project will be done accurately and on time,” Testa stated. “To be honest, we're able to complete our layout work three times as fast over manual methods. It would be awful without it.”

Editor's note: Jeff Winke is a construction writer based in Milwaukee, WI.