Look around and you’ll see innovation is alive and well in the construction industry, particularly in solar field construction. Not only is this a new segment of the construction and energy sectors, the tools and technology used to build these hubs of solar energy are improving.
In an effort with two of its equipment partners, Carlson and Vermeer, the RDO Integrated Controls team had a vision for how they could make a key part of this specialized construction job more accurate and efficient – and they did something about it.
To meet the need for a fast, accurate machine to install piles for solar panel racking, Vermeer developed the PD10 pile driver. Meanwhile, Carlson had been offering positioning, monitoring, and reporting software solutions for a variety of equipment and industries.
As a dealer of both Vermeer machines and Carlson solutions, the RDO team began to recognize the opportunities of paring the PD10 with a GPS offering from Carlson.
While the PD10 did its job – and did it well – the process of post-driving on solar projects was a bit time and labor-intensive. Solar field projects vary greatly in size, some requiring a few hundred piles, others requiring a few hundred-thousand piles. It’s also a process that allows little room for error with a traditional method leaving too much room for error.
A New System
The traditional pile-driving method for construction of a solar field has three main steps:
1. Prior to the project start, a surveyor stakes the area and designates the locations for every pile.
2. String line is continually – and manually – placed along the way to give the pile driver operator a gauge for remaining aligned.
3. After all piles are placed, the racking system that will eventually house the solar panels is brought out and fitted on the piles.
Depending on the racking type and size of the project, one rack could be placed on several piles, a point that, according to Tom Potter, Regional Sales Manager for RDO Integrated Controls, really demonstrated the need for absolute precision in pile placement.
“These racking systems don’t offer much flexibility in adjustment,” he said. “The piles are plotted out to fit within the area of the racking systems. If even one pile in a group is slightly off in placement, the rack may not fit.” Not just horizontal alignment, Tom explained height of the piles is key too in allowing proper mounting for the racking system. In either situation, if a pile is out of alignment or driven too deep, it’s a very time and labor-intensive process to fix.
The RDO teams realized that marrying the PD10 pile driver with a GPS system not only would eliminate the time and efforts of a manual survey, and the potential for human error, it would create a process that was repeatable and consistent across an entire field. This would open opportunity for cost savings in reduced labor required after piles are driven – because all piles would be accurately placed, it would be easier for laborers to do their jobs.
While the benefits seemed clear and obvious, Tom and the team knew the bottom line would be the real driving factor – no pun intended – in selling this idea of a joint system to Carlson and Vermeer. So, they calculated the average costs savings of using this system to be approximately $2.85 per pile. Furthering their case, discussions with partner Vermeer dealer in Australia, the team discovered the costs savings were closer to $8 per pile there.
“Considering these solar fields vary from a few hundred piles to a few hundred thousand, it’s easy to see how the cost savings add up and how quickly RTO can be recaptured.”
After thorough discussions with team members on the RDO Equipment Co. side, Tom was ready to bring the idea to Vermeer and Carlson. Both were open to the idea, and collaboration, design, and engineering – which included Vermeer opening up the PD10’s CANBUS technology to Carlson and RDO Integrated Controls – began. Several rounds of testing followed and the system was ready to go to market in December 2016.
A Perfect Pair
The PD10 now features the option to integrate any GPS system, and Carlson has officially launched its system, PDGrade Machine Guidance for Pile Driving. Designed specifically for use with the PD10, the product combines specialized software with a GNSS sensor.
While the RDO teams have successfully marketed and sold several systems already, before they ramp up efforts to introduce this system to more solar customers, they all agree there’s tremendous value in other Vermeer dealers offering it first. One of the major reasons why is the system offers a new way of doing a task on a type of project that’s still fairly new itself.
“In our industry, very few people want to be the first to try something. It’s not that they’re resistant of the technology, most simply don’t have the time to feel like they’re testing something new,” Tom explained. “But what contractors might not realize is that our system has been extensively tested. As more dealers offer the PD10 and PDGrade system, we feel it will demonstrate to customers that it is ready to get to work on the jobsite.”
When that time of greater adaptation arrives, the RDO team will be ready. They’ve spent numerous hours and efforts on training to be sure they’re 100% poised to support the system for all customers. They’re also ready to pass on that knowledge to dealers.
RDO Integrated Controls has the exclusive rights with Carlson to sell the PDGrade system in North America. Vermeer dealers interested in offering the PD10 with PDGrade system are encouraged to contact the RDO Integrated Controls team.
Want to learn read more about Drone and Pile Driver Solutions for the Solar Technology Industry? Click here for another article, or click here for more information on solar solutions from RDO Integrated Controls.