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Hammett Excavation's Tech-Forward Approach Saves Time and Money on the Job Site

by: Debra Wood
Hammett Excavation uses a John Deere 850L Dozer on a subdivision project.
Hammett Excavation uses a John Deere 850L Dozer on a subdivision project.
The Hammett team works on the preparation of a subdivision in Dallas.
The Hammett team works on the preparation of a subdivision in Dallas.
Hammett Excavation prepares a subdivision site using a John Deere 850L Dozer.
Hammett Excavation prepares a subdivision site using a John Deere 850L Dozer.
Darin Stroud, Vice President of Hammett Excavation
Darin Stroud, Vice President of Hammett Excavation
David Wilder, RDO Account Manager
David Wilder, RDO Account Manager
A pioneer in using GPS-controlled equipment, Hammett Excavation continues to embrace technology to increase production and document progress on the job.

“Technology has changed us into what we are today,” said Gaylon Hammett, CEO of Hammett Excavation in Dodd City, Texas, explaining how the firm has expanded.

In addition to having machine control systems on nearly every piece of equipment the company owns — dozers, excavators, blades, motor graders, and skid steers — Hammett Excavation also uses drones to track progress and determine the amount of work performed and LIDAR to accurately depict the job site. Most of the Topcon integrated controls came from RDO Equipment Co. in Irving, Texas.

“We have to stay one step ahead of the competition,” Gaylon said.

Matt Stromberg, Technology Account Manager for RDO Equipment of McKinney, Texas, has observed exponential growth in the use of machine control technology, allowing owners to bid and run an increased number of projects, including larger-scale jobs.

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“We are seeing more use of this technology,” said Michael Miller, General Manager of Construction Equipment Technology for RDO. “It is almost to the point now that you are not competitive without it.”

Technology Makes a Difference
Depending on the job, Gaylon said that the GPS machine control reduces the need for surveyors once the job has started, makes as-builts, and can save the company up to 25 percent in time and money.

“Inefficiency costs money to companies,” Stromberg said, explaining that moving the same dirt more than once negatively affects the bottom line. “Machine control allows the operator to get close to grade, and the last cut can be automatic. The machine will take over and do it correctly the first time.”

On a recent job, clearing and grading for a new Dallas suburban development with about 200 lots, Hammett also performed moisture conditioning to stabilize the soil for construction of the homes. It entailed undercutting the soil as recommended on a geotechnical assessment of the job site. In this case, Hammett excavated to 10 feet below finish grade of a house pad. Then crews installed 6-inch lifts and compacted the soil until they reached the final grade.

“Moisture conditioning is better than injection, because you bond the dirt together,” Gaylon said. “GPS shows your lines and cuts.”

Hammett Excavation has not placed any stakes at the Dallas site. The company relies on the machine control working off of an uploaded model. On the subdivision project, Hammett ran John Deere 850 Dozers, John Deere 470 Excavators, and multiple haul trucks.

Darin Stroud, Vice President of Hammett Excavation, said in a video that at first, he was skeptical about using GPS, but the equipment soon proved how valuable it was.

By going from working the old-fashioned way to working with machine control, Stroud estimates the technology increased production by 60 percent to 70 percent on this recent project.

Benefits of GPS Technology
Stroud said that the equipment is simple to operate. A new employee can learn to use it in about an hour and start operating the equipment like an experienced professional.

“RDO had training and showed us how to use machine control, and that really sold us,” Gaylon said.

Hammett Excavation found that using GPS technology has led to more precise estimates and fewer change orders, something appreciated by customers. Clients also appreciate receiving weekly load counts and reports about how much dirt Hammett has moved.

“One client actually told us, ‘We do not have to go look at the job, because we know where you are,’” Gaylon said.

Hammett Excavation will offer clients alternatives to hauling away extra dirt, such as raising the entire site by a fraction of an inch.

The GPS-guided machines are accurate to tolerances of 2/100s of an inch, needed on highway projects.

Hammett Excavation mainly relies on John Deere equipment, but it also runs Komatsu and Caterpillar equipment, adding technology to the machines as needed. Additionally, the landfill division uses the technology for three different certifications.

“GPS also helps us track our equipment,” Gaylon said.

From Hug-and-Haul to High-Tech
Harry Hammett founded Hammett Excavation in 1963, with a minimal amount of equipment and a small crew, but poised for growth.

“Basically, we were a hug-and-haul company, moving mass amounts of dirt,” Gaylon said. “We still are that way, but now, everything is high tech.”

By 1983, the company employed about 30 people, including Harry’s son, Gaylon. About 20 years ago, RDO lent Hammett Excavation a GPS-equipped unit while working on a subdivision project in Oklahoma City. The next day, Miller sold Hammett the company’s first GPS-equipped machinery.

“I demoed it for a day,” Miller said. “Harry wrote a check right there at the job site.”

After the demonstration, Gaylon recalls his father asking where the GPS equipment went and how the company could get it back to finish the job. He quickly paid for a new unit to take advantage of the technology’s benefits.

Gaylon recalls Harry saying, “Why am I paying for that surveyor when I could be paying for that dozer? I can be much faster in production with the [GPS-equipped] dozer. Let’s start putting it on all of our equipment.”

In the following two years, Miller sold Hammett Excavation a GPS system every month or two. Using GPS-equipped heavy equipment “was the best thing we could ever do,” Gaylon said. “When my father saw it work, he was all in.”

Harry retired in 2005, with Gaylon taking the helm. At this point, he had 25 years of experience at the company, having worked in a variety of positions. He continued to grow the business, currently with about 300 employees and branching out into Oklahoma, Arkansas, and other places as requested by regular clients.

Gaylon’s son, Kaleb Hammett, now works for the company in the trucking division. He aims to carry on the family business.

Hammett Excavation now offers trucking, highway, landfill, subdivision, and commercial operations. Company values include integrity, quality, and collaboration. When an issue arises — as often happens in construction — Gaylon aims to take three solutions to his customer and let the client choose the best option. Gaylon said that approach fosters clients’ confidence in Hammett Excavation.

“I want to get jobs based on the quality of work we do,” Gaylon said. “We are the most [technologically]-advanced company out there.”

Innovative Solutions, Lasting Partnerships
RDO Equipment began operations in 1968 in Casselton, North Dakota, when Ron Offutt bought the John Deere dealership. RDO sells John Deere and Topcon equipment.

Offutt “grew it from a small operation to one of the largest dealerships in the world,” Stromberg said.

According to Stromberg, some customers deploy the machine control technology to grow their businesses, while for others, the time saved offers owners a chance for a better work-life balance.

RDO also can provide machine control for brands of heavy equipment other than John Deere, through its Topcon dealership.

“The technology had changed the way we do business,” Miller said. “Customers get comfortable with us, and it becomes a partnership. Technology is an integral part of our entire business.”

RDO offers three types of support, which Stromberg considers extremely important to customers. More than 30 technology-trained people man the RDO Solutions Center and can answer questions about the machine control equipment and model building or can arrange for service. The team can successfully handle about 90 percent of the calls that come into the center, Miller said. The other 10 percent receive a service call.

RDO Account Manager David Wilder, who has worked with Hammett Excavation for 10 years, partners with technicians and technology experts — like Stromberg and others — to ensure customers receive effective, ongoing training so they can understand how GPS technology can improve their consistency and productivity.

The equipment company also offers training for new purchases and individual support from the RDO team, including Stromberg.

“We spend time with the customers, making sure they get the full value and use of the equipment they bought from us to increase production, minimize downtime, and maximize profit and the bottom line,” Stromberg said.

RDO now operates a network of more than 80 stores in 10 states. It continues to help its customers increase profitability with technology. In 2024, the company aims to increase its customer base and expand its clients in the heavy civil marketplace.

“We build customers for life, and we play to win,” Stromberg said.

Photos courtesy of RDO Equipment