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It’s fairly common to pick up a construction magazine, go to an industry conference or trade show, or click on an email link and find a story about large construction companies finding efficiency and cost savings by using technology on some of the world’s most impressive highways, airports and other civil engineering and construction projects. What is lesser known, however, is that small contractors are one of the fastest-growing segments of the market adopting intelligent construction technology.It is an understatement say that today’s construction technology is much easier to use than solutions offered in the past. The user interface (UI) of construction technology like machine guidance, GPS solutions, handheld GNSS data collectors or even modeling software has been completely revamped and built on familiar operating systems like Android. In the case of grade control, the in-cab devices themselves are also more user-friendly and often include large, touch-screen displays, more intuitive menus and simplified navigation systems that reflect how operators work. Although making construction software more user-friendly is a big driver of adoption, it is not the only one. There are many factors making intelligent construction technology more accessible to small contractors – or contractors of any size utilizing compact equipment. 

Getting it Done with 2D 

Grade control technology is often the entry point for a contractor considering a technology investment, and the simplest way to get started is with a 2D system. 2D grade control systems are available for a wide variety of compact equipment types, including mini excavators, compact loaders and skid steers. This technology is ideal for leveling parking lots, building pads or sporting fields where everything runs on the same slope. 2D grade control systems are also easy to rent, install and try-before-you-buy. Even better, a 2D system often sells at a low enough price point and provides high enough returns to pay for itself over a single season. 

Achieve More with 3D

Once a small contractor begins to see the value of a 2D grade control platform, the next step is often an investment in a 3D system. With 3D grade control options on compact machines, material yield savings is the fastest way to gain a full return on the investment. Many contractors report thousands of dollars saved in the first few months of using 3D machine control. In addition to using less material on each project, there are also significant savings in eliminating surveying and staking costs across projects. Another big benefit of 3D machine control is the ability to make operators much more autonomous on the jobsite, which is particularly important for small teams. 

'Automatics' Improve Production

"Automatics" features continue to gain popularity with users on a wide variety of machine types. Now available for some machine control platforms for excavators, autos provide a significant boost to usability. These next-generation options allow operators to achieve grade at a very consistent rate and keep them on grade without needing to slow down to avoid over or undercutting. This added functionality improves excavation efficiency over standard machine control systems and traditional methods that rely on stakes and grade checkers. 

Leveling the Playing Field 

A 2017 report by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) demonstrates that owners, inspectors and construction contractors reported significant productivity gains from intelligent technology when using GNSS, GPS rover, mobile devices and automatic machine guidance systems. In fact, the report shared an example of the time required for earthworks measurement on one project decreasing from three people working for five days with traditional tools, to one person working for one day with tools equipped with GPS technology. This is perhaps even more important for small contactors than it is for large companies. With intelligent tools, small contractors can now bid on – and win – projects that used to require large teams of people.

Broadening the Scope

In addition to machine guidance, small contractors are benefiting from a wide variety of construction hardware and software tools. From creating models, to tracking trucks and equipment, to generating bids and reports, technology solutions for the construction industry are becoming easier to buy, learn and use. Small contractors are taking advantage of access to these resources, which are making them better equipped to take on larger jobs, expand their services to include new types of jobs and to be overall more competitive with their larger counterparts. 

Gone are the days when intelligent construction technology was only available to the largest contractors with the largest budgets. As usability continues to improve and cost continues to come down, small contractors will continue to see more gains from their equipment through the use of technology.


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