Like their colleagues around the world, two contractors in Northeast Florida are constantly searching for the most efficient way to do business.
And because they both concentrate on land clearing, site work, excavation, and utilities, their prime focus of efficiency centers on earthmoving. Both have learned recently that efficiency gains go beyond buying the right machines, hiring the right people, etc. It means using the latest technology, and both have discovered that the Caterpillar AccuGradetm GPS grade control system puts them at the cutting edge of earthmoving efficiency.
AccuGrade uses a patented dual combined receiver and antenna system to provide machine operators increased precision on even complex design surfaces. The receiver, along with a cab-mounted radio, collect positioning data from satellites and an off-board GPS base station. The system uses that information to calculate the position of the tractor blade relative to the project's design plan.
Southern Development Corporation
Brett McKnight remembers the day almost eight years ago when George Sayar started Southern Development Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida.
"I hired on as - and still am - the company's general superintendent. We wanted to be a good, small company of about 15 employees," he laughs, knowing full well Southern's employee count hovers around 150.
McKnight's role puts him in charge of all Southern field operations. A self-admitted "old-school" veteran of the business, McKnight is quick to laugh again when he starts to consider how things have changed in the "field" where he's spent decades. And the biggest change, he's quick to note, is the most recent - the Caterpillar AccuGrade GPS grade control system on half of the company's track-type tractors.
"AccuGrade has changed the way we do business," says Sayar, the company's president. "We're more efficient, we're quicker, we're able to do more with our machines, and we've seen a tremendous improvement to our bottom line.
"We researched other systems and picked AccuGrade because it was leading edge technology and we had an excellent partnership with our Caterpillar dealer (Ring Power)."
Sayer says the company is billing more each month because it can get more work done.
"We're more productive. AccuGrade can make a mediocre operator an excellent operator. Because of that, we've widened out ability to hire operators."
"Old-school" McKnight is quick to agree.
"We had operators who said 'we don't need this' because they were worried about the computers. I guess I agreed with them and to be honest, I didn't want it to work. But after two days, the operators were mad if we put them on a machine without AccuGrade."
He says operators are "happier" because AccuGrade has made their life less stressful. "They're not fighting the machine all day."
McKnight tried the system and while he found it hard to sit on his right hand, AccuGrade made a believer out of him.
"It gets it right in one pass, not two, not three," he boasts. "It seems like before that we were hitting a stake every 10 minutes. That meant waiting for the survey crew and moving dirt again and again. Now we've been able to cut down on the ground crew."
McKnight says AccuGrade paid for itself in just one job by cutting 30 days off a 180-day schedule.
Sayar, too, notes savings that exceeded all expectations and plans to add AccuGrade to every one of Southern's track-type tractors.
"We've increased our final-grade production by anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent. I'd recommend AccuGrade to anyone - except my competitors, of course."
Vallencourt Construction Company
Mike Vallencourt's father started Vallencourt Construction Company shortly after World War II. Today, the company is a $40 million-plus operation that "provides the entire package to developers."
With 200 employees and a fleet of dozens of machines, the company is nothing like the firm that specialized in clearing land and building Victory Gardens in the 1940s. But Vallencourt is quick to point out that today's pace of change outstrips anything in the past.