As a company, Trimble got its start by making GPS commercially available and it’s now the global leader in industrial technology. Trimble integrates tools, technology and information generated with multiple data sets, to give users a complete picture of their workspace. Together they create a common platform to manage construction workflows from design to construction and finally to life cycle asset management.
One of the highlights of the conference was the off-site expo, where Trimble demonstrated a fully autonomous compactor. A path plan was programmed for the compactor within a selected boundary, identifying the ratio or path count needed, the machine calculated the optimum path and then completed the task. Trimble also demonstrated a single-task automated excavator digging a trench and a remote-controlled dozer working on the same site. Data from all three machines was transmitted to the field office and sensors on the machines allowed them to safely work together.
Contractors have been hearing about the benefits of autonomous machines for a long time including better precision, less error, a safer work environment and reduced costs. Compactors were an easy choice for automation because of the repetitive nature of the work and the difficulty steering articulated machines in a straight line.
As Fredrik Akesson from Dynapac explained, “The machine does the steering. And just by reducing your unnecessary overlaps by 20%, you gain 20% efficiency - just like that. That pays off pretty quickly.”
Not every job is easy to automate, “When we look at automation, there's some things that we can automate - some things that we can really make a difference on,” clarified Cameron Clark, Earthmoving Industry Director for Civil Infrastructure Solutions. “But there's other things that just don't make sense to automate. So, for a contractor, let them do the hard, tricky things, things that take a lot of mental power while the automated machines do the trenching or compaction.”
Trimble is also helping automate drilling and piling with their Groundworks System. At the off-site expo, a Vermeer PD10 with automated GPS-based machine control demonstrated how solar farm installers are achieving better productivity gains. Solar panel racks arrive at a site designed to slip on piles with a couple of bolts but one out-of-line, out of rotation or incorrect pile depth changes the installers into fabricators and takes more time.
“With machine control, we have a bullseye bubble, we get close, hit a button where it automatically centers over the point and orients itself,” said Eric Crim, Product Manager for machine control systems in Trimble’s heavy and highway division. “Hit another button and it starts – it will get its inclination and drive to the appropriate depth and then stop.”
It's a Journey
For contractors who don’t think automation is for them, Trimble is working hard to meet them where they are comfortable. “We've been on this path to autonomy for a long time, I remember when I first started, and we were doing the first 3D blade control. That's autonomy, just a different level of automation,” recalled Clark. “Autonomy is a journey.”
Grade control is the first step towards autonomy and Trimble is making it easier for everyone to make the leap, no matter their size. “We've got solutions that are really scalable. And the customers can come in wherever they need to on the journey, and then you can add stuff to it as they grow,” said Clark.
At ConExpo/ConAgg 2023, Trimble is releasing a new product called Siteworks on Machine which allows the contractor with a Rover to get dynamic guidance. “So they can go and stake out something, create a surface, slap that same piece of kit on the machine and run – really easy and really fast,” explained Clark.
Public Sector Owners Utilizing Technology to Manage Assets
Data generated from construction projects can be overwhelming and once a project is over, that data usually ends up in a box somewhere.
“There are these data sets that, when I need them, they’re not accessible to me. So, we have it, but it's in a closet. Owners actually call that dark data,” explained Chris Bell, Vice President of Industry Strategy and Portfolio Marketing for Owner and Public Sector Clients at Trimble. This data could be used to track assets and provide valuable insight to capital programs but instead, sits in a dark closet, isolated and without value.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) recently embarked on a plan to digitize their project data using a common data environment (CDE). “I think the brilliance in the strategy is that all of the lifecycle phases of an asset - design, bid, build, operate and maintain - point to the common data environment and say, ‘we provide information in each of those phases that is really important to that asset’,” said Bell.
Caltrans uses Trimble’s Quadri as its common data environment which they call Caltrans Asset Lifecycle Management System (CALMS). Using this software, they are able to connect data from esri®, AutoDesk®, and TopoDOT®, which over time will create a “future-fluid Digital Geospatial Ecosystem (DGE) that dynamically represents California’s physical world,” according to Aaron Chamberlin, Senior Innovation Engineer and Mark Counts, Senior Innovation Surveyor for Caltrans. The Caltrans physical world includes cadastrals, roadbed, structures, roadsides, utilities, hydrology and environmental concerns.
A CDE can include documents like building information modeling (BIM) workflows, project contracts, estimates, reports, material specifications, and other information relevant to a project’s design and construction processes. They are used on many construction projects, including heavy civil and infrastructure projects as well as building projects. Common data environments are especially useful for large-scale construction projects that involve a complex web of stakeholders and rely on the exchange of large volumes of data. A CDE facilitates this exchange by providing everyone from designers to contractors to owners easy access to real-time project data.
CalTrans is the first public owner in the United States to attempt to create a CDE across all their projects for the entire lifespan of the assets. This data can then be shared across departments within Caltrans, other government agencies and design and construction partners.
“And now we've started to develop a digital twin of our world,” said Crim. “And then you can actually couple in the world of LIDAR scanners and put in all your assets. ‘Where are my lampposts? Where are my manhole covers? Where are the transformer boxes?’ These are the things that others have to monitor and maintain. Traditionally it’s done by a guy driving around in a truck with a notepad and checking them every once in a while. Now you have a digital twin world and you can start thinking about how to manage your assets better because it's at your fingertips.”
The monitoring group at Trimble is also helping people make more informed decisions about their assets – particularly where there is a risk to the infrastructure or public safety. Data from sensors, whether it is from GPS, total stations, geotechnical, or weather stations can be aggregated into the Trimble 4D Control software suite.
According to Riley Smith, Marketing Director for Monitoring and Tunneling, “The people we work with in monitoring are geotechnical engineers, civil engineers and surveyors, who are trying to make more informed decisions regarding structural health and potential risks that might exist by combining and analyzing this sensor data.”
Monitoring is being used on everything from weeklong projects like drilling next to a rail track that requires timely decisions to prevent risk to freight and passengers, to long-term projects like measuring for structural deformations of a tunnel or movement trends of a dam over many years. In the past, a person in monitoring had to wear many hats – electrician, IT expert, surveyor, geotechnical engineer – to install and deploy the systems. Today, Trimble is making that easier by utilizing advancements in IoT, communications, and software,
“The industry has moved towards helping monitoring professionals set up and deploy these systems faster and easier, because it can take a lot of time,” explained Smith. “Now it's easy for a contractor or surveyor to do it themselves.”
A new module for the rail industry was recently released that highlights the push towards simplifying deployment. “The reason we developed this new module was motivated by talking with monitoring professionals in the rail industry. The big feedback we got from them is the data and the reporting that they have to do around the rail track - the geometry of the track and how it moves - is very complex,” Smith said. “And a lot of them are manually programming and manually creating different spreadsheets to do that, as well as deploying the system on a track.”
Trimble is using a simple track as-built system coupled with their monitoring system to measure and automatically monitor the existing track. Everything feeds into the Trimble software that then outputs the reports, calculations and alarms needed. Set up that used to take two to three days is now done in hours.
Having Fun, Giving Back
While the priority was learning, Dimensions+ also included unique experiences for attendees beginning with a keynote address from Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.Wozniak reflected on the changes in the technology industry since he built his first computer in in 1971. The indoor expo featured two dog parks, one with live dogs for those missing their canine companions and one with Spot, the robot from Boston Dynamic with Trimble’s X7 3D laser scanners attached.
Attendees had the opportunity to participate in Trimble Gives Back, assembling hygiene kits for people in need in the Las Vegas area and in war ravaged Ukraine. On the final night, everyone was invited to customer appreciation event at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, to tour the facility and participate in passing, catching, punting and other football related activities.
Dimensions+ may have had to pause during the pandemic but that doesn’t mean Trimble stopped innovating. It was impossible to see all of the new equipment and software, hear all of the session and learn about all of the clever ways people are using the technology but those that attended came away with a sense of wonder at where the construction industry is headed.