Thompson Excavation Ltd: Surveying the Benefits of a New, Earthmoving Paradigm


Equipped with what is likely the first fleet of Komatsu intelligent Machine Control (iMC) equipment in the United States, Thompson Excavation Ltd. is reaping big benefits in terms of getting the job done faster and more efficiently with fewer people needed at the jobsite. Everyone, from company owner to machine operator, is excited about the new technology, which has cut the time required on some projects by 30 to 40 percent.

”With the Komatsu iMC equipment, we can offer more value to our clients. The equipment allows us to add value because it is faster, more productive and more efficient,” said Scott Thompson, owner of Thompson Excavation and Thompson Concrete based in Carroll, Ohio. Thompson Excavation recently purchased a Komatsu PC210LCi excavator, as well as D51i and D61i dozers to add to their fleet. The company’s PC210i excavator was the first of its kind to be used in the United States.

Komatsu’s iMC equipment is the first to fully integrate machine control into the system, greatly enhancing automation versus a regular machine with an aftermarket GPS unit. Using integrated Topcon technology, the entire project can be modeled in 3-D so the excavator or dozer knows the grade and slope of the project, the location of corners and edges of building pads, and the depth to dig. There is no overcutting and no need to place thousands of stakes at the jobsite before work begins.

The result is a big savings in time and money, according to Nate Worthington, operations manager for Thompson Excavation. “As far as the excavator goes, it increases production by 30 to 40 percent for utility work,” he said. On a recent storm sewer project in New Albany, for instance, an operator using the PC210i was able to lay 300 to 350 linear feet of pipe a day, compared with the 200 feet a day the company had estimated when bidding on the project.

The iMC dozers are able to fine-grade pads or roadways in 30 to 40 percent less time than with a conventional machine and no GPS, he added. ”Anything you have to cut to a certain elevation, the production efficiency is amazing.”

Site supervisor Wesley Worthington used one of the intelligent dozers at the Preserve at Winchester Crossing, an Ardent Communities townhome condominium development in Groveport. ”It generally takes me a couple of days to cut the road in and to do parking spots, but the total time with this was less than a day,” he said.

Overall, that project, which included grading streets, twelve building pads and several garage floors, took two weeks, about half of the time originally allotted, said Woody Mohler, survey manager for Thompson Excavation.

“As long as the job has a CAD file and you can create a model for that, these machines can do any job—road work, building pads, residential or commercial buildings. There are no limitations,” Nate Worthington said. ”The work is more efficient with the program making it easier to cut grade on-grade the first time.” Work gets done in fewer passes and no time is wasted on checking the grade.

”When you are digging foundations, once you have the model established, you don’t need to have an extra worker checking grade or giving line,” Worthington said. ”Both the excavator and the dozer give you line and grade for everything you do, so you don’t need a surveyor. There used to be thousands of stakes on a jobsite, now the only stakes we use are at control points. If you lose a stake, the machine can give you the elevation and you can reset the stake. You don’t have to call the surveyor.”

“The advantages of the iMC system were obvious from the first project we used the iMC equipment on,” Mohler said. The project was for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, rebuilding an embankment on the dam at Dow Lake in Strouds Run State Park near Athens. The embankment involved a variety of compound slopes and grades. “As far as survey work on my end, I went to the job site half a dozen times, compared with 50 to 60 times to set and reset stakes. On the front end of that, it takes a little more time to generate the 3-D modeling, but it is well worth it versus going out and setting stakes over and over.”

The D61i was moving more than 2,000 yards of dirt a day on the project, building in the slope as it built the embankment, creating the contours and elevations required without a surveyor or grade stick on site. ”In my opinion, using the iMC dozer cut the cost of two people off the labor force that whole time,” Nate Worthington said.

The Komatsus have also proven beneficial in terms of meeting EPA regulations requiring sediment ponds at developments the company works on. ”Before, we had to stake around the pond and make sure it was built to plan specifications. Now, once we build the model, the dozer or track hoe can look at the screen and build it all. We don’t have to check grade or stakes; the machine won’t go where it shouldn’t. One or two passes is all it takes,” Worthington said.

Operators like the machinery because it takes the worry out of being precise on the job. They don’t have to check grade every as often, and that means once any operator knows how to use the system, he can do as well as an experienced operator, Worthington said. ”You can use a less experienced guy and not have the inefficiencies you might otherwise experience. You can’t put a dollar figure on it, but the fact a less-experienced operator can see his productivity almost double by virtue of this technology is an obvious benefit.”

Scott Thompson started the excavation company in 1999 to complement his concrete business. While the companies work together on some projects, the excavation side has grown into its own business, doing projects such as site development for large residential builders. Thompson Concrete is one of the largest concrete companies in Central Ohio, and Thompson would like to become one of the excavation leaders in the region as well.

”One of the keys to the success of our business is empowering the talented people who work here with the best equipment the industry has to offer. We are excited about this technology. It gives us an advantage that helps us deliver significant value to our customers,” Thompson said.

Columbus Equipment Company president Josh Stivison and sales representative Rich Durstapproached Thompson about the iMC machinery before Komatsu formally introduced it. After seeing a presentation on the D61i at ConExpo, Thompson and his Operations Manager Nate Worthington were interested enough to be the first company in the U.S. to try the dozer and ultimately buy it.

Thompson admits he is not usually an early adopter of technology because he wants to be sure the technology is proven before he invests. However, he was confident in the iMC equipment because GPS is established technology and because he had the assurance that Komatsu and Columbus Equipment would stand behind the entire system, no matter what.

That said, the Komatsu iMC dozers and excavator have both exceeded expectations, according to Nate Worthington, who flatly declared, ”We will never buy another trackhoe that is not an intelligent machine. An intelligent machine can be used for so many different things. We are planning on purchasing only iMC machines in the future.”