When it comes to GPS machine control systems, contractors tend to fall into two camps: those who fully embrace the technology to align their equipment and site plans, and those who pitch their tents on the “survey stakes and measuring tapes” method.
Volvo is helping bridge the divide with its Dig Assist machine and grade control system. Dig Assist brings entry-level simplicity through its smart tablet, the Volvo Co-Pilot, which can be used as a standalone system, or can plug and play with industry leaders like Topcon.
Case in point is Kozik Brothers, Inc., one of the largest commercial and residential site contractors in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area and one of the first customers to add Dig Assist to their Volvo excavator fleet, which they integrate with the Topcon 3DMC system.
“Dig Assist is our machine control/machine guidance system that is standard on all medium and large Volvo excavators from the EC220E up to the EC550E. All the sensors and all hardware are mounted from our Volvo factory,” says Jenny Olsen, product manager with Volvo. “You can upgrade to a 3D GPS system, like Topcon, as part of a factory build or in the aftermarket. We support the four main constellations of GPS, which gives the system very high accuracy.”
The average Kozik project is 50 to 70 acres, divided into multiple phases, with 40 to 60 home lots completed per phase. They are first on site to open the ground and install sanitary sewers, water, gas, electric lines and stormwater management drains.
“The schedule for our projects is very tight to get the sites prepared so that the subcontractors can pave the roads and have the lots ready for the developer to sell,” says Anthony Ferderbar, underground utilities installation foreman with Kozik Brothers.
Kozik has Topcon software installed on its equipment, along with an external Topcon base station and radio. Operators can move between machines, access real-time project elevations and installation lines, and know where the other pieces of equipment are working.
Keeping things simple and familiar for operators is the goal. On both EC380E excavators, an Android tablet called the Volvo Co-Pilot, centralizes the Topcon and Dig Assist apps on one screen so operators can quickly flip between programs.
“I have had a lot of experience running dozers with Topcon, and when I switched to excavators with the Volvo Co-Pilot, it was just back to doing what I always did. It’s basically the same interface,” says operator and foreman Bob Woods.
Adds Ander Foor, OEM business development leader for Topcon, “The excavator can run like any other Topcon-connected machine; it’s the software they know and already use. We’re bringing GPS technology to the masses. It can be used by commercial and residential site developers building roads and subdivisions all the way to smaller contractors digging foundations.”
Dig Assist is offered in three package levels. Dig Assist Start provides site leveling and profiling slopes. In-Field Design uses GNSS and RTK navigation technology to provide inch-accuracy for excavation jobs like digging trenches. The 3D version enables access to industry-leading solutions suppliers, like Topcon. Design profiles can be imported from external sources, such as civil engineering design plans. Customers can also add the semi-autonomous Volvo Active Control system. Volvo Active Control uses electro-hydraulics and the machine’s computer to prevent the operator from over digging and keep the bucket on grade automatically.
Bob uses Topcon when creating laterals, the tie-in points for underground house utility lines.
He switches to Dig Assist for creating drainage swales, shallow diversion channels that blend with the environment to encourage natural irrigation. “Because a lot of our 3D models don’t show us grades for swales, Dig Assist allows me to put that percentage right on grade. It’s quick and accurate. You don’t have guys doing things twice,” Bob says.
The system also makes switching between buckets very convenient by storing the parameters for each bucket (capacity, type, dimensions) as a ‘recipe’ that the operator can easily select. “We have pipe crews who have up to 15 buckets – different widths, depths, rock teeth, all these variables,” says Bob. “Each is programmed into Dig Assist, so when we swap buckets, there is no need to recalculate or worse yet, guess. The information is all there.”
User experience was top of mind at every stage of the development. The Volvo Co-Pilot’s display has high contrast, large numbers, and vivid colors with pinch-screen zoom, just like a smart-phone or tablet. Operators can quickly gather the information they need from the screens without eyestrain or having their attention distracted from the work in front of them. Considering an operator could spend eight hours in their cab “office,” that usability is appreciated.
Kozik’s local Volvo dealer is Rudd Equipment in Pittsburgh. Tom Airgood has worked with the team for over a decade and introduced them to Dig Assist. “Kozik has over 62 pieces of equipment in their fleet, half of which are Volvo. They have tremendous confidence in our products, solutions and support. Dig Assist allows them to do jobs quickly, and efficiently and keeps them at the top of their game in the market,” he said.
Dig Assist, Volvo Construction Equipment’s machine and grade control system, brings entry-level simplicity through its smart tablet, the Volvo Co-Pilot, which can be used as a standalone system, or can plug and play with industry leaders like Topcon. Watch how Kozik Brothers uses both systems on large residential development site near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.