Grade control systems are indispensable to operator productivity

Published: 30 April 2020 - 8:45 a.m.
By: PMV Staff

The market for machine control systems in the Middle East, despite their proven performance, efficiency, and safety benefits, has lagged that of the machines themselves. There are two major reasons for this disparity: a general lack of awareness among buyers and poor marketing by heavy equipment dealers.

Machine control systems for off-road equipment are not packaged, marketed and sold, for example, like advanced driver assistance systems for on-road vehicles. Not every heavy equipment dealer is keen to recommend a system that can reduce the number of machines on a jobsite by increasing the productivity of each machine and operator. Furthermore, contractors in this region have never been too concerned with the cost of labour as it remains low.

However, this mindset is changing with customer education, enabled through the efforts of construction technology providers such as SITECH Gulf, a part of the Mohamed Abdulrahman Al-Bahar group of companies and the authorised dealer of Trimble machine control systems in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. The partnership among SITECH Gulf, Al-Bahar (Caterpillar) and Trimble provide customers with a combined offering of the machine and control system.

John S. Taylor, chief operating officer, SITECH Gulf explains the shift in customer perception and behaviour: “Since 2012 when SITECH Gulf was established, we have been educating the market, proactively. We faced resistance from contractors, initially, because they were used to doing things a certain way and it had worked for them in the past. It was through product demonstrations on various heavy equipment brands and comparison studies that we managed to acquire customers. With more exposure to machine control systems at global exhibitions such as Bauma and CONEXPO, customers have started demanding them with the purchase or lease of machines. During the last two years, it’s been encouraging to see tenders for heavy equipment specifying machine control systems.”

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Over 90% of Trimble Earthworks grade control systems for excavators supplied by SITECH Gulf in the Middle East has been used in marine construction. Dozers and graders also now have significant market penetration and constitute about 50% of machine control equipment in the field.

The GCS900 3D grade control system for excavators uses two GNSS antennas and solid state angle sensors to measure the precise 3D position of the teeth of the bucket. With accurate, 3D positioning of the bucket, the system guides the operator to quickly perform complex tasks and simplifies finishing slopes.

An optional submersible enclosure (AS456) provides a water tight seal around the angle sensors, allowing the machine to be used for wet construction with far less assistance from divers and surveyors.

“Dredging companies opt for the Trimble Earthworks platform for obvious reasons - tracking the position of the excavator bucket underwater without the need to send divers and surveyors. The Earthworks platform is common for land and marine applications; the difference is that sensors used in marine applications are made waterproof for submersion,” says Taylor.

Currently, less than 5% of earthmoving equipment operating in the Middle East have machine control systems. The low adoption rate makes it more feasible for retrofitting compared to factory integration. Customers can opt for a one-time investment or lease the Trimble Earthworks system from SITECH Gulf.

“Our rental business is well established, and leasing is more economical for short-term projects. Trimble Earthworks is compatible with all brands of heavy equipment. It takes about 1-2 days to retrofit an excavator with the Earthworks system, depending on the excavator model. Basic operator and familiarisation training can be completed in a few hours. In addition, we provide a trainer to supervise and support operators on sites for a few days after the installation,” says Taylor.

Having established itself in the marine construction business, SITECH Gulf is working on increasing the adoption of machine control systems for land construction.

“We are open to trials and partnerships with serious customers and keen to do more product demonstrations on earthmoving equipment. Our studies indicate that the average productivity of excavators equipped with the GCS900 3D system increases by 150% or 2.5-fold and diesel consumption reduces by 50%. Who wouldn’t want to see that!” says Taylor.

How a Danish contactor boosted operator speed and accuracy with Trimble Earthworks

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Between 2016 and 2019, Danish contractor M.J. Eriksson tested Trimble Earthworks excavator automatics on the Roskilde Fjord in Denmark, a 10 kilometer, dual lane highway that includes a 1.4 kilometer bridge.

M.J Eriksson wanted to evaluate the productivity and accuracy improvements of Trimble Earthworks by comparing the performance of two excavator operators, one with 17 years of experience and the other with beginner to intermediate experience.

Both operators used Trimble Earthworks on a Cat 329 E excavator, and they were required to follow the same design, which was to shape the side slope of the road approximately 25 meters wide, meeting a tolerance of +/- 3 centimeters. Operators worked first without using Trimble Earthworks, and then once with the system activated. Measurements of 40 control points were taken after each round using a Trimble SPS930 universal total station to verify accuracy.

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By using Trimble Earthworks, the very experienced operator was 41% faster and had a 75% increase in accuracy, and the beginner/intermediate operator was 28% faster and had a 100% increase in accuracy.
The results clearly show that both very experienced and less experienced operators benefit from using the Trimble Earthworks grade control platform. While a less experienced operator can´t generally handle the machine in the same smooth way as an experienced operator, with help of Trimble Earthworks, new operators can complete their jobs faster, with greater accuracy and with a higher-level of confidence, saving significant time and money on the job site.

To learn more about Trimble machine control systems, visit

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