Accurate site positioning, 3D modeling, data syncing and more productive earthworks, keeps project costs low and profits higher per job
Founded in 1963 by James Christopher Balls, JC Balls & Sons specializes in earthmoving and bulk excavations in the East Midlands, England. The company also has a large fleet of heavy machinery for rent as well as a concrete plant.
JC Balls & Sons was looking for a way to gain a competitive edge as the company worked to expand its business and take on larger earthworks projects.
Trimble® GCS900 3D Grade Control System, Trimble SPS855 base station solution, Trimble TSC3 Field Controller, Trimble Business Center-Heavy Construction Edition (HCE)
- Reducing work for grade checkers saves £1000 (GBP) a week on projects - money that can be used to create new jobs and grow the business
- 25% less rework needed for bulk to finished earthworks - less machine run time and diesel used
- Less time spent traveling to and from project sites; managers and site engineers can survey and sync design and data from the field
- Contract manager can spend more time in the office working on bids and winning new business
- Faster payouts - accurate volume reports from Business Center-HCE shows the progress of dirt moved
When James Christopher Balls started his business more than 60 years ago with a single JCB3 loader, he probably never imagined his company would grow into one of the most successful rental fleet and contracting companies in the East Midlands, England. Today, JC Balls & Sons employs more than 100 people and operates a fleet of more than 30 machines and 50 trucks. The company also offers contracting, engineering, survey and recycling services.
Several years ago, JC Balls & Sons began looking to expand its contracting business and find ways to take on bigger earthworks contracts, such as installing drainage systems, concrete work, and earthworks for civil engineering and general construction projects.
“We started looking to GPS as a way to gain a competitive edge,” said Dane Potts, contract manager for JC Balls & Sons. “I had experience with Trimble from another organization, so when it came time to get everyone on board, I knew the benefits would be significant and it would change our business.”
The team adopted the Trimble GCS900 3D Grade Control System for two dozers and three excavators. For data prep and building 3D models, JC Balls & Sons selected Business Center-HCE from Trimble.
Two Trimble SPS855s were acquired to be used as base stations to provide GNSS corrections on site. For smaller project sites they use the Trimble Internet Base Station Service (IBSS). Potts explains that the system has been extremely useful on smaller project sites because it provides highly accurate GNSS for site positioning and machine control at a low cost. It essentially broadcasts Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) corrections from the base station over the Internet.
Potts explains that the site positing systems have significantly changed the way JC Balls & Sons runs its business. The company offers engineering reporting service to its customers relying on Trimble TSC3 Field Controller and Trimble Connected Community to sync the data from the field to the office. For instance, the engineering team can now survey a site and calculate the most cost effective way of carrying out the earthworks operations. Using Business Center-HCE, they provide full visual reports, including cross section drawings, on the existing and proposed ground contours. The company can also give accurate reports on the progress of earthworks on a particular job site, which allows for better cost forecasting and faster payment.
“Many of our engineers go out to survey and check volumes on a daily basis,” said Potts. “Now, rather than having that engineer come back to the office and input those values, he can go to one jobsite and then another and he can survey and sync data right there. And, because we get paid on a volume basis we now have real-time accurate earthworks reports from Business Center-HCE.”
In August of 2014, JC Balls & Sons was hired as the primary contractor for a major 18-hole golf course in Staffordshire, located in West Midlands. Scheduled for completion in 2018, JCB Golf Course will be a 7,150-yard Par 72 championship golf course covering 240 acres. The company was hired to complete bulk earthworks and construct the course to design. The scope of the project involved moving 600,000 cubic meters of material, building drainage systems, top soiling, and roads on the site.
Early on, the golf course architect shared a hand-drawn sketch of the JCB course. From there, Potts was tasked with creating a workable site model that could be read by the Trimble GCS900 systems. He used Business Center-HCE to create and adjust 3D models for excavation and grading work. Potts explains that he liked the fact that he can easily make changes to the design plan, and it enables faster and more reliable earthworks planning. Once design changes are made, Potts uses Trimble Connected Community to share the 3D design files and sync with the on-board CB460 control box to guide the machine operators.
“Business Center-HCE and 3D machine control allow us to make real-time design changes with confidence,” said Potts. “The architect might take a look and say ‘let’s change this fairway, I want this green lower, or this slope more drastic,’ and we can do that quickly in Business Center-HCE.”
Used on the dozer and excavator, the machine control system allows operators of varying skill levels to work faster, more consistently, and with less rework. He explains that in traditional golf course construction, he would need two or three site engineers and surveyors to set and reset stakes. And, navigating around those stakes as a machine operator can be a major challenge.
“In the beginning of the JCB Golf Course build when we were really learning the Trimble system, we marked out the extent of the topsoil strip, staked out and set pegs on the boundaries,” said Potts. “But after that, the project has required no staking or marking out; instead our operators followed our design using the machine control system. We’re so sure of the technology, we’re no longer factoring in staking costs for most projects. The system pays for itself.”
Potts believes his technology investments have helped his team excavate more quickly and reduce rework on earthworks projects by 25%, resulting in less machine run time and diesel used across the board.
Building on this success, in 2015 JC Balls & Sons was hired to build a drainage pond for a housing development project in Hucknall, north of Nottingham. The massive drainage ditch required a V-cut and moving approximately 30,000 cubic meters of rocky soil. Traditionally, this would have required pounding stakes in every 10 meters, adding up to more than 100 stakes.
“We had to dig a watercourse through rock essentially, which would have taken forever to stake out – and it would have cost a lot of money,” said Potts. “Instead, we were able to use the excavator with the Trimble GCS900 to start excavating to a level from day one. There was no banksman to aid the driver, which provided even more savings and safety on the site. We finished in just three weeks and saved almost 25% of time in digging because we weren’t always waiting to check the excavating position and volumes.”
The technology is also contributing to JC Balls & Sons being more competitive in earning new business. Without the consistent need for grade checkers, he is able to submit more competitive bids than many of his competitors. He estimates he saves at least £1000 (GBP) a week by reducing the need for grade checkers. Over the course of a year, those savings can add up to £50,000 or more – money that Potts can use to reinvest in the business.
“It’s great because the technology is helping us be more accurate and more efficient on the job site, and those cost savings mean we have more money to spend creating new jobs, going after more projects, and growing the business,” said Potts.