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How Machine Control Technology Can Help Mitigate Your Skilled Labor Shortage

When your best heavy equipment operator retires or moves on to another company, it can be a challenge to replace that person with someone equally as skilled, and costly if the replacement can’t perform at the same level. If you haven’t already faced this situation, it’s likely you will. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor approximately 50,800 openings each year are projected over the next decade.

The good news is that improving the productivity of less skilled operators may be easier than you think thanks to machine control technology.

Machine control transforms a beginner operator into a good operator and a good operator into a great operator. This significantly widens the pool of candidates for heavy equipment operator roles.

With Leica Geosystems machine control technology, for example, earthmoving equipment operators can finish jobs in 25-75% less time. Results vary based on the machine type, jobsite, and type of materials you are moving, but a 50% improvement in the time it takes to complete a job is common.

It’s also easy to implement. The latest Leica machine control technology is so user friendly that heavy equipment operators get up to speed very quickly; most operators can master what they need to know within a half day of training. During that time, they will learn how to verify if the machine is in spec, operate the on-screen display that depicts the 2D or 3D model of the site, double check the control points and confirm the grade surface is accurate.

At least twice a day, site supervisors or grade checkers should verify the graded surface and control points to be sure they are to plan. Behind the scenes, machine control technology is at work.

How machine control works

Machine control integrates sensors, computers, and communication networks to enable automated machine operation. It starts when the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS/GPS) sends signals with positioning data to a GNSS base station, or, increasingly, an RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) correction network, on the ground. The base station or RTK network corrects the data and sends it to GNSS/GPS receivers on the heavy equipment, which guide the machine to follow the pre-programmed 3D model. The machine control technology automatically calculates the position of the bucket on the excavator or on the dozer or grader blade, adjusting it up to 20 times per second as needed. Once the operator places the machine in automatic, the machine does its work without further intervention.

Operators love the technology because it greatly reduces the stress of the job. Contractors love it because it can accomplish the grade in fewer passes, increasing productivity while improving yields and safety. In a skilled labor shortage, it allows you to complete more work at a consistent level of quality with fewer people.

Machine control is raising the bar for civil contractors

Machine control technology is becoming the standard on a wide range of earthmoving equipment including dozers, graders, excavators, loaders, scrapers, and rollers. It’s used on pavers and cold planers as well as drillers and pilers. And it’s not only being used on large machines; increasingly, machine control is being added to skid steers and small excavators.

Designed with an open platform, Leica Geosystems machine control technology works well with all heavy equipment brands, making it an ideal solution for mixed fleets. The technology can also move from machine to machine, provided each unit is set up with brackets and cables.

Ultimately, however, seeing is believing. The most common feedback we hear from new adopters is, “I should have done this a long time ago.”
While machine control systems are an investment, costs are more than offset by increases in productivity. The loss of productivity from a shortage of skilled heavy equipment operators is minimized with machine control technology. Once the technology is implemented, you can factor your savings into lower bids with the goal of winning more jobs.

Wondering if machine control can help you overcome your skilled labor shortage? Contact our experts today to explore your options.

About the Author

Tim Jochec is a technology sales consultant for Four Point Solutions LLC, the Leica Geosystems dealer for the state of Texas. He previously served as regional manager for Leica Geosystems heavy construction in the South-Central U.S. With more than 20 years of experience selling and supporting 2D and 3D technology to heavy highway contractors and survey companies, he thrives on helping customers improve their productivity and profitability with construction technology.

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