by Jeff Winke
February 28, 2012

If you are still trying to decide if machine control technology is worth the investment, consider Greg Haight’s story, the president of H&H Enterprises in Steamboat, Colo. Haight believes that “in ten years, if you don’t have 3-D GPS machine control technology, you’re not going be in business.” 

Haight started his company more than 30 years ago as a part-time job while studying engineering in college. “It grew into a full-time job, and I started adding people and machines,” he says. The company grew to about 10 employees and a small fleet of equipment. 

Currently, H&H Enterprises has five employees, including Haight. “I’ve placed an emphasis on achieving quality results, which I believe I could better control by remaining small,” Haight says. 

“With so few of us on the payroll, we all have to be flexible and be good at a lot of tasks—all of us are equipment operators and can each run multiple pieces depending on what is needed on a project.” Clearly, everyone must take complete ownership for the quality of the work performed.

Haight’s interest in engineering has played a role in the company’s early adoption of technology, which has ensured the construction company’s growth, even during an economic downturn.

Machine Control as a Marketing Tool

The H&H Enterprises construction season in Steamboat runs from May through October. The company completes site prep on projects with Xcel Energy Hayden Station, a coal-fired, steam-electric generating station located in Hayden, Colo. Their projects range from custom homes and gentleman ranches that can be 15,000- to 20,000-square feet to large commercial projects.

The Hayden Station project provides a good example of how machine control technology has been indispensable to H&H Enterprises’ success. “If we did not have machine control, it’s unlikely that a small contractor like us could have competed to win this project,” Haight believes. “It is a complex project involving roadwork and reshaping the bottom of a 28-acre settling pond. Due to new technologies in the power plant, this particular pond was not being used on a daily basis, so Xcel is required to follow regulated procedures to abandon it and return it to a natural meadow.” The pond has 5 feet of fall and a clay bottom that needed a 6-inch topsoil lift before being seeded.

In their presentation to the power plant, H&H Enterprises explained how they could be more efficient surveying the site and creating the site-plan design using machine control technology instead of relying on a traditional survey crew. “Using technology, we were able to significantly cut the cost of the project,” Haight says.

After winning the Xcel Energy Hayden Station project, Haight called his local dealer to place an order for a GPS base station, a rover, and two grade control systems for 3-D machine control on his heavy equipment. And he asked for a crash training course. 

“As a smaller company, we have always tried to get machines and attachments that would cut down labor and increase productivity while giving our customer a better product,” Haight adds. “We had grown from a transit to a laser, then from a single slope laser to a dual slope laser. So, when this project came along, it was the right timing and the right project to adopt 3-D machine control—we knew it would benefit our customer, and it would benefit us.”

Haight had placed a bid on the Hayden Station project with assumptions—mainly that the technology would do everything it claimed to do. It was a gamble, but he assumed they could learn the technology quickly and thoroughly enough to fully use its capabilities. 

“Plus, we want to be recouping our investment through higher efficiency, increased productivity and lower production costs,” Haight says. He also knew that he could move his systems from machine to machine, including any rental pieces necessary.

Reaping the Rewards of 3-D GPS Technology

Did it work as planned? “Yes, it did,” Haight reports. “The technology has elevated our company to a higher level—we can confidently bid and win bigger and more complicated projects than we ever could.”

According to Haight, their business philosophy involves getting the most from existing resources—both machines and people. 

“I’ve always looked for ways to save time and improve results. The (machine control) technology does both,” Haight says.

For example, H&H completed an approximate 5,000-foot haul road with subgrade of 60- to 90-feet in most places, and they needed to account for back slopes, etc. The machine control technology allowed their crews to visualize the tasks they needed to accomplish and to assess progress at any given point. “That level of efficiency, that’s pretty hard to relay to somebody who isn’t familiar with the 3-D process.  It’s not just in that final grading. It’s not just in being able to grade without stakes. It’s the whole phase of being able to take the controller out and visualize what you have and getting in the machine and being able to drive the project and see where you have cuts and fills,” Haight says.

For many companies, the transition to technology can be intimidating and a bit scary. Haight is amazed to see that some larger companies aren’t embracing this technology. “In our case, we had a job already. We had a time frame, a contract, and the job had to be done.  It was, again, finding out the most efficient way to do the project, which made it easier for me to jump into the technology.”

H&H Enterprises finished the Xcel Energy Hayden Station pond project on time, even though the scope of the project grew significantly. According to Haight, there was approximately 40 percent more subgrade than originally specified in the contract. “Because of the (machine control) systems, we completed a much larger project more accurately within the original time frame—you can’t ask for more.”