GPS and Civil Construction, Site Conditions; Need to Know Series

GPS and Civil Construction, Site Conditions; Need to Know Series

As an author and business owner I have learned a lot over the past many years. The business owner wants to know exactly what I want and nothing more. I am busy and when I ask you the time, don’t tell me how to make a watch. The author embraces articles done as a series. Our industry is complicated and information delivered is digestible bites is better than drinking from the fire hose.

I hope all of you have seen the increases in business we have over the past year. Growth is slow in some markets; but we will take anything we can get. Along with these business increases is the entry of new technology buyers and new staffers that need to run the equipment. Couple this with the usual musical chairs nature of our industry and you have people that need to learn how to efficiently operate your technology.

I thought about calling this “Back to Basics” but there is nothing basic about our industry. You come to our magazine because you want to learn more, not take a step back. Let’s get to work;

Site Conditions

This broad brush stroke of a term will address what you need to know about the site. Proper order dictates we start in the office with the model but we are seeing more issues in the dirt so I will start there.

Base Stations and Topography

One of the biggest issues with field equipment is the environment. In this case we are discussing the elevation change and how you can deal with it. With good cell signal the issue becomes less significant, a lot of machine control is being done using cellular data and GPS on the machine. When it is necessary to run a traditional base and radio setup, here are some guidelines:

  • Get as high and unobstructed as possible. That is easy to say but some planning will help. It is not unusual to initially work what will be the highest finished elevation of the project and get that area close to grade then set the base. Radio range might not necessitate the location be in the center of the site. Radios can go a long way when higher and mostly line of sight to the equipment.
  • When the job is linear like a highway, repeaters are easy to set up and use. I often find that users may try to economize on thinks like repeaters and better radios, take the big picture approach. The equipment is used for a long time on multiple jobs, amortized over many projects the cost becomes secondary to ease of use.
  • Solid and Repeatable Base Location is desirable for any job lasting over a few weeks. No need for pretty here, practical rules the day. A concrete base with a wood or metal pole to attach the GPS and radio antennas. Make certain the GPS antenna is able to be places in the same 3 dimensional location daily. The easiest method for this is a threaded rod the antenna screws on to daily.
    Security is also an issue, I have been on a job site where a truck pulled up and the base station along with a tripod was grabbed and the thieves drove off. Granted the GPS and radio were located at the edge of a busy road and not fixed to an immoveable base, the shiny equipment was a temptation. The ease of daily base setup needs to be a reality. Tripods are OK, concrete is better. Get good at making a solid base antenna location and you will save 30 minutes a day.
  • Power the base with a good battery. Solar charging is a good option for appropriate locations. Solar technology has come a long way and a good AGM, (Absorbed Glass Mat) battery and 100 watts of solar can make it so you don’t need to cart a heavy battery home for charging.


For many years readers have known that I was cautiously optimistic about telematics. Things are working right and I have become a big proponent of improved job site communications. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Projects can be monitored remotely by any interested person who is granted access to the data. I am not sure what will be more profitable, saving time driving to far flung jobs or getting daily production numbers. This alone should be your reason for entry into the power of the system.
  • Data Sync and remote assistance are time savers as well. We regularly transmit updated files to our clients in the field. When someone has an issue, we can see their screen and help to fix problems and keep the job moving. Equipment vendors and dealers can log into machines and troubleshoot issues remotely. This speaks to the advancement of the technology, more features create more settings. We see people saving time and becoming more efficient because the machine and the machine control can be accessed remotely and kept at optimum operating efficiency.
  • Machine tracking may seem like big brother watching to an operator but it is indispensable to owners and managers. Equipment only makes money when it’s working. The best way to find out who the good operators are is to see production first hand, until now that meant a trip to the job. When the boss shows up, everybody is busy. With remote tracking the true picture comes into focus.

We are off to a good start. The base is set up properly and we have telematics installed. Next time we will localize the site and verify control.

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