When Larry Hood founded Hood Contracting Inc. in May 1997, he didn’t expect that 26 years later the firm would have 20 employees, and that both his son and grandson would be working alongside him. Located in Trinity, Alabama, the company headquarters is about 30 miles west of Huntsville, Alabama, one of the hottest construction markets in the country. Huntsville was recently named among the top five of the country’s most prosperous metros in 2023.
Instead of focusing exclusively on site-prep work, Hood Contracting has grown by expanding their services to include curb and gutter work, utilities, and asphalt paving. “We do a little bit of everything when it comes to preparing a site and getting it ready for construction,” says Kevin Hood, whose title of office manager belies the multifaceted role he holds within the company. Kevin has spent the last 23 years working with his dad and handles many aspects of the business, including most of the estimating as well as the engineering layout work.
Technology Helps Solve Labor Challenges
Kevin Hood’s interest in GPS machine control began about three years ago, when he started seeing the technology deployed on area jobsites. His first venture into machine control began with the purchase of a Leica 3D system installed on a Komatsu D39PX-24 Dozer in 2020. It consisted of two CGA60 GNSS antennas with an 8-inch MCP80 machine control panel. Working with a Leica GPS rover, the dozer solution calculates the lift, angle, and tilt of a dozer’s six-way blade, allowing the operator to angle the blade, while the system’s hydraulic interface automatically controls lift and tilt. Dozers equipped with this technology can be used in fine grading applications that would normally require motor graders, reducing the need for an additional machine. The system helped Hood Contracting complete a large residential subdivision project that included street work and house pads with multiple grade levels and site plans.
According to Kevin, machine control technology has helped the company continue to grow despite a shortage of experienced heavy equipment operators. “It’s harder to find operators today, and this technology helps bridge that gap,” he says.
When Kevin assigned a newly hired operator to prepare a building pad using a dozer equipped with Leica machine control, he was impressed by how quickly the operator got up to speed. “How many of these have you done before?” he asked, because the site was right on grade. “This is my first one,” said the new operator.
“That really made us a believer,” says Kevin. From that point on he knew he would be able to hire less experienced operators.
“It’s like you have a teacher with you in the cab. It’s constantly telling you where you need to be. It helps you learn much quicker.”
Braxton Hood, Kevin’s 21-year-old son and grandson of founder Larry, is one of those inexperienced machine operators who have easily adapted to machine control. “It’s like a video game for him,” says Kevin. “He’s taken to it really well.”
“It’s like you have a teacher with you in the cab,” says Braxton Hood. “It’s constantly telling you where you need to be. It helps you learn much quicker.”
The technology is so helpful that it’s now seen as a necessary part of the job. Kevin Hood says les experienced operators are reluctant to go to a project where they don’t have machine control or a model because they rely on those elements for assurance that their work is correct.
Kevin’s father was initially skeptical about the technology, having operated heavy machinery his whole career without it. However, his viewpoint has changed. “Once I saw that this equipment was really reliable, it struck a chord with me that if you put in the right data, it’s going to be right every time,” says Larry.
Outstanding Support Keeps Hood Up and Running
Support from Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, was instrumental in getting Hood Contracting on board with machine control, especially for Larry Hood, who had experienced some frustrations with other equipment installations in the past. “We have been fortunate to have good support,” says Larry. “If we run into a problem we can’t solve, it’s only taken a phone call to get going again.”
We saved a ton of time with Leica machine control,” says Kevin. “I no longer have to go out and put stakes up.” Operators don’t have to get out of the cab to check the grade.
“We get it done right the first time,” he adds. “If we have to go back and do things two or three times we’re losing money, instead of making money. “
In 2023, the company added Leica machine control to a Komatsu PC210LC-11 excavator to install storm drainage, sanitary-sewer pipe and water mains on subdivision projects. The excavator system consists of two CGA60 GNSS antennas with an-8-inch MCP80 Machine Control Panel. Kevin appreciates the flexibility and portability of the Leica grade control system. “If a machine goes down, we can move it to another machine and keep on working,” he says.
Mastless System Provides Convenient 6-Way Blade Control
The company recently tested Leica’s on-cab GNSS system for 6-way blade dozers. Kevin Hood enjoyed the convenience that comes with not having to install the masts, and the freedom to work near trees and other obstacles without worrying about the masts being in the way. “On flatter pads and streets, the mastless system works really well,” he says. “It performs exactly like the mast system.”
“You don’t have to worry about getting hung up on a tree or dirt falling and hitting the mast,” he adds. “You get full line of sight.” The only applications that Kevin wouldn’t use mastless technology on are projects where extremely precise measurements are required, such as airport runways.
In the cab, Kevin appreciates having three views available on the MC1 display. “On one side I have the 3D overhead view. In the center I have the blade view from the back and then a side view,” he says. “It also gives you the cut and fill on each corner of the blade.”
While Kevin Hood is just getting up to speed on Leica ConX, a cloud-based collaboration tool that allows users to manage their connected construction projects, he’s looking forward to the potential time savings. “I will be able to upload plans to all my machines remotely instead of having to physically upload files to each machine,” he says.
Three Generations Agree
Having three generations working in the construction business could bring challenges, but Hood Contracting capitalizes on the strengths of each generation. Leica machine control technology is something they all agree on. It’s helping a new generation of operators quickly gain the skills that took previous generations years to develop, and it’s helping experienced operators become great. That means greater productivity and profit for this growing business.