Old dogs, new tricks: Nelson Civil Construction boosts output

Nelson Civil Construction is leveraging the experience of its employees with advanced GNSS-based grade-checking technology and boosting its productivity by more than 50 percent as a result.

Darryl Gibbons is a third-generation construction professional who recently sold his family business only to start up again from scratch.

His new company, Nelson Civil Construction (NCC), services the top of the South Island as a principal contractor on residential and industrial subdivisions, and as a subcontractor for roading work. Darryl’s seven employees operate the company’s graders and excavators.

Darryl and his crew were looking for ways to improve their efficiency on site. They wanted to reduce downtime and increase productivity so they could finish their current jobs faster and take on more.

This situation prompted Darryl Gibbons, NCC’s owner and General Manager, to realise that the company needed to increase its efficiency by employing more advanced tools on the job site. But his seasoned employees — who started out in the industry with string lines and boning rods — shared some anxiety around adapting to new site technology. Would they be able to use it, or would it “go in the cupboard under the stairs”?

Darryl deliberated for a year before inviting demonstrations for advanced grade checking systems. But as soon as he saw the Trimble SPS Essentials system in action in a demo by SITECH New Zealand, Darryl hesitated no more.

He was impressed by the system’s performance and capabilities, along with recommendations from colleagues in the industry.

“General feedback from local surveyors was that it’s a top-of-the-line piece of kit,” says Darryl.

But it was the system’s user friendliness that proved the decider — Darryl himself was checking grades with the system within the first half hour of the demo — and he purchased the Trimble SPS Essentials Kit right away.

The cost-efficient Trimble Site Positioning System (SPS) Essentials Kit Darryl invested in features a cable-free Trimble SPS985L GNSS rover. A Trimble SPS855 GNSS base station supports the rover. The Trimble Essentials Kit system enables NCC to measure points, check grade, and navigate to points of interest.

Every member of the NCC team learnt how to use the system in less than three days — even those who still resist email and texting technology.

In particular, the SCS900 field software was very intuitive. For example, cut and fill are displayed simply as easy-to-interpret up/down icons on the screen. But employees also noticed that using the system was physically easier to use than their traditional methods, and it left them feeling less fatigued at the end of each day.

Unlike straight edges and tape measures, a GNSS-based system does not require bending for long periods or kneeling, so now employees can keep their minds on the job, not on discomfort and tiredness. The job site is better for health and safety overall, as grade checkers can now measure surface heights away from the excavator’s swing area.

“With the Trimble system, any time we do anything, we’re saving,” says Darryl.

NCC has improved its productivity and profitability with the Trimble system. Now they can enjoy instant site information which enables the team to confirm accuracy and address minor issues immediately, minimising downtime.

This means NCC can achieve more each day and finish jobs faster. The employees perform their own basic positioning work, so the company relies less on external surveying services for minor tasks, which saves time and money.

NCC is typically responsible for services such as water reticulation, telephone reticulation, deep to medium drainage, and footpaths (sidewalks) on new subdivisions.

They use the Trimble system to provide instant grade information, which enables them to maintain accurate progress reports, confirm construction accuracy against a subdivision’s design, and check grades for their machine operators. If grade isn’t checked on a timely basis, work can be delayed or errors introduced, resulting in costly rework.

Now NCC can also more readily respond to site conditions. For example, when the weather is fine, work can begin regardless of whether the surveyor is available. The job site is also safer for employees as they can check surface heights away from excavator arms.

The improved accuracy of the Trimble SPS system enables NCC’s excavator and grade operators to complete tasks in just one pass without rework; saving time, person hours, and the costs associated with machine use.

“Realistically, I don’t know how we survived before; we’ve changed the whole way we do things,” says Darryl.

“We’ve sped up every job by about 50 percent or more. For instance, trimming of subgrades for footpaths would normally take 10-12 hours, but now on some jobs we’re knocking them over in 15-20 minutes.”

Darryl also says that 300 square metres of footpath usually demands 30-40 person hours and 12 hours with a digger. If the work is then discovered to be 50mms too high or too deep, NCC needs to correct the problem. Now, with an advanced grade-checking system, rework isn’t necessary because the results are accurate at the first pass.

Before adopting a GNSS grade-checking system, NCC was spending $12,000-$14,000 per month on surveyors, who were frequently unavailable when needed. The surveyors were also reluctant to travel to the job site for small tasks such as replacing a survey peg.

“Now we get instant information with our Trimble SPS Essentials system,” says Darryl.

Darryl is now in total control of his job site, but he doesn’t plan to stop at grade-checking. Instead, he is eyeing up the productivity gains his small company is sure to achieve with an on-machine grade control system.

“It’s the way of the future,” says Darryl. “Everyone knows it. If us old buggers can do it, anyone can.

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