Topcon 3D Technology Puts Arkansas Earthmoving Contractor Back in Control

By Mike Anderson, Senior Editor | September 28, 2010
Topcon machine control

Machine operators, such as Lance Cox aboard a Champion motor grader, can determine precise location at all times with the 3D system's in cab display.

Topcon machine control

Lance, left, and Matthew Cox join father Larry on the site of what will soon be a multi-field sports complex in Heber Springs, Ark. A third son, Jason, also works with the Cox Construction crew, while family matriarch Connie handles office duties.

Topcon machine control

The land in Heber Springs, Ark., on which a multi-field sports complex is being built naturally has numerous slope changes. Here, earthmoving contractor Larry Cox stands on a low point, checking grade with his satellite receiver rover.

Topcon machine control

Finally at work on a multi-field sports complex in Heber Springs, Ark., this Champion motor grader operated by Cox Construction leaves behind a smooth grade, thanks to 3D machine control.

Topcon 9168 machine control box

The Topcon 9168 control box, above, displays detailed elevation data for the jobsite. This data is imported via a compact flash card, shown being inserted, below, into the top of the control box.

Topcon machine control

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.

Uplifting song from the '70s or not, the tune no longer holds, well, any water for Larry Cox. It doesn't have to, thanks to the earthmoving contractor's decision to upgrade to a 3D machine-control system. Rain be damned, he and his crew never again lose an accurate “view” of the jobsite.

The patriarch of Cox Construction in Heber Springs, Ark., Cox can only shudder at the thoughts of the situation he, his three sons, and his four other on-site employees would be in otherwise.

Not long after Cox Construction got to working on the earthworks, storm drain and water trunk line for what in small-town Heber Springs is a major, legacy-type project — a multi-million-dollar sports complex — the skies above opened up. That was the late summer of 2007.

“It's been terrible,” says Cox. “It went to raining the first of September, and we've worked two or three days a week, or none at all, up until about two weeks ago. I think we've worked two weeks' straight this time.”

He was speaking almost a year to the day after he and his crew got to work on the job, which had already been delayed at the start while the project's owners absorbed a 90-day waiting period to obtain an endangered species permit. Cox was originally to begin work in May 2007.

“We lost all that summer,” he says, “and then it went to raining. I think the completion date, with all of the rain days, is right now the end of October. With my part, I'm about 75-percent complete . . . and it's been a year.”

A homegrown Arkansas product, Cox has been working construction since 1967, and with his own business since 1972. “He's lived and breathed this business for 40 years,” says friend and equipment supplier David V. Dow. And, as such, Cox thought he'd seen it all.

“This is the worst,” he says. “I have never seen it rain like this. It's a total of somewhere around 35 to 40 inches. We got out yearly rainfall the first two months of this year, and last year we went over probably by 10 inches.”

As Cox spoke, north-central Arkansas had finally returned to the sunny “99-degree days” of mid-summer norm, and some spots on the 40-acre Heber Springs jobsite were finally drying up, but not them all. A future soccer field was still covered in water, and “we've got a parking lot cut out and all of the topsoil's stripped off of it.

“It's just a nightmare.”

Time to move

After Cox became a successful earthmoving bidder on the Heber Springs sports-complex project, he decided it was time to make the machine-control equipment upgrade for which he had enjoyed an ongoing dialogue with Dow at Trench Safety and Supply.

“He came back to us and said, 'I've got this 2D system; I'd like to step up to a full-blown GPS system now,” recalls Dow, whose company, a Topcon dealer, promptly facilitated Cox with a Topcon GR-3 satellite receiver base station, GR-3 survey rover, and a 3D machine-control system for his Champion 720 motor grader.

Dow, who has authored a soon-to-be-published “A-to-Z” book on machine control, points out that two- and three-dimensional systems both measure the distance between a grade reference and the earthmover's cutting edge. But whereas a 2D system does so with a string line or laser beam, 3D systems measure from the GPS and GLONASS satellites, compare that information with the project's digital terrain model (DTM) and make adjustments accordingly.

Cox has since added, in the past few months, the GPS and GLONASS machine control to one of his two tractor-and-pan combinations on the Heber Springs job. It's part of the catching up his family-owned-and-run operation is trying to do.

“We're running two tractors-and-pans (18-cubic-yard combos) out there and the grader cannot keep up with them to keep grade,” says Cox, “so we decided to put the machine control on the one pan so that he knows where he's at all the time and he can help grade. The pan can do it faster than the grader.

“I wish I had it on all of them.”

Weather delays aside, Cox has his mind made up on 3D, not even through the first project.

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