Leamington Spa to Romford in 5 seconds

Civil engineering and groundworks specialist providing earthworks and laser levelling services at Broxhill Sports Centre.

If your boss gave you the choice of travelling a minimum 5 hour round trip in the car, or to make that journey in 5 seconds at the click of a button, what would you choose?

Well, for engineering surveyor, Gareth Price and his team at civil engineering and groundworks specialist, O’Brien Contractors, that choice has become a reality, thanks to director, Mick O’Brien, whose investment in 3D machine control and Trimble Connected Community software, has dramatically reshaped the business.

In order to understand how the solution works, Finning News took up the offer from SITECH UK and Ireland’s Zoë Adnitt, to visit Mick at a new sports pitch project in Romford and then travel to O’Brien’s head office in Leamington Spa, all in one very long day.

The project itself involved the creation of a brand new 3G sports pitch and a multi-use games area (MUGA), constructed next to an existing sports centre. With very tight tolerances required to meet the exacting standards for the pitch, before the job was secured, the surveying team carried out an in house survey, modeled the whole project in 3D and then monitored it throughout the earthworks programme, as Mick explained:

Having proven the benefits of machine control on previous sports pitch projects, we have now gone to the lengths of setting up a new specialist division for this type of work.

“So in practical terms, our first aim with any project is to try and ensure that no material leaves site, eliminating the need and cost of truck movements. This is achieved by recycling good quality soils and designing in features like earth bunds to use material that would normally be classified as inert waste.

“Our challenge throughout this process is that we have to stick as closely to our design as possible, but you never truly know what you will unearth or how materials will compact, until you actually start doing the job.

“This is why you have to be on top of a project from day one. Typically before GPS enabled 3D machine control, we would have had to send a member of our team down to site on a very regular basis, which is a costly exercise when a round trip is 5 hours. This was the reason that prior to our investment in this technology, we tendered for jobs much closer to our base in Leamington Spa.

“This was obviously quite restrictive to our growth, especially in the more specialist sports pitch market. So by using two-way communication through the Trimble technology using the GPS network, the machines are able to tell us what they have been doing and we can see the daily progress onsite at the touch of a button.

“Equally, we can see the all important levels being achieved and therefore continually update our calculations around material movements, settlement and compaction. This means that Gareth, our engineering surveyor, can make relevant adjustments to the 3D model from his desk, delivering changes to the individual machines onsite, at the touch of a button, via the Trimble Connected Community.

“So what would be a round trip of at least 5 hours to our latest Romford project to upload a file from a memory stick or complete a survey using older techniques, is a 5 second file click and drag process, which is then sent through the cloud.

“In commercial terms, this approach has totally changed our capabilities and more importantly for the customer, changed the way a project is delivered. Our customers get a 3D design matching high quality finish, reduced truck movements, which pleases the local residents and a faster job, at a fixed competitive price.

“It really is a win win for both parties and a transformational journey from regional to national contractor for our business, I honestly don’t know how we could run a profitable job without it.”

So if you’ve got an earthworks project you’re looking to start, click here to talk to us about how we can help you generate cost and efficiency savings.

Compactor machine control as O’Brien Contractors increase capabilities


Since its formation in 1958 by Tom O’Brien, the father of current directors Peter and Mick, specialist civil engineering and groundworks company O’Brien Contractors, based in Leamington Spa has been at the forefront of embracing new technology.

For Peter and Mick O’Brien, a focus on developing the use of Trimble machine control systems since the late 1990s, has seen the business grow its capabilities across its mixed fleet of excavators and dozers.

Having recently trialled the latest machine control technology on a compactor with Trimble solutions provider SITECH UK and Ireland, Mick O’Brien has a clear focus on how O’Brien Contractors will continue to take advantage of the technology to maximise productivity, as he explains: “From the very early stages of machine control, we recognised the commercial advantages it could offer us as a business, investing time with Trimble to develop the early solutions.

“It has been this long term journey, now continuing with Trimble dealer, SITECH which has seen us build our fleet to incorporate six dozers, twelve excavators and more recently trial the latest in compactor technology.

“For me, most people looking at machine control tend to focus onsite, whereas through our experience we know the real value lies in preparation in the office, prior to starting a job. This is why a few years ago we employed a dedicated machine control specialist. From tender stage, he liaises with our estimating team to work out volumes and look at the overall project, to see where value-engineering opportunities exist, carrying this work through when the project starts.

Even though this is a lot of investment in time before you are even awarded a job, it ultimately contributes towards a greater understanding of the project which leads to improved planning. With clients also wanting us to react very quickly when we are awarded projects, our machine control expert has the capabilities to model the earthworks required and feed this information directly into the machines, even when they are on route to site.

“So instead of engineers being dispatched to do the setting out, the machines can be operating within minutes of arriving at the job.  Even if the earthworks models change as the project moves forward, we can send the updated drawings and technical data straight to the machine.

“Of course the key to making this work is the interaction between operator and machine and this is why our expert is also tasked with training and supporting our drivers, with help from SITECH. Interestingly, you may think that machine control would be harder to introduce to older operators, but this is just not the case, as our most experienced people are in their 60’s and have found it very simple to make the transition.

“Having recently worked with SITECH to trial a compactor with machine control, I can definitely see how we can continue to expand our machine control fleet and capabilities. But for me the next step is all about utilising two-way communications, by receiving and processing data from individual machines activities.

“For our business this will be extremely important, as our clients expect us to report on site progress and this can be done in the future without leaving the office. For example, in the last 12 months we have kitted out eight excavators with machine control and can now receive data from the machines activity.

By knowing just how much of the workload each machine has achieved and the time taken, we can plan activity much better, keeping the job on track. Equally because of the partnership we have with SITECH, for certain jobs, we may choose to hire in equipment for the duration. The benefit of this approach is that we can still integrate these machines with our head office, by hiring equipment from SITECH and fitting it to the hired machine.

“I definitely think we will now see much more demand for information on earthworks from main contractors, especially as more people are challenged to meet carbon targets. In my opinion, even when you compare older machines with newer fuel efficient models, if you get machine control right and therefore the job right, it will have a much bigger impact on fuel efficiency than simply operating a new machine.”