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Digging in with Propeller: Sheckler Excavating’s Improved Landfill Earthmoving 

| 11.04.2022

Propeller Aero & Trimble

Sheckler Excavating is using Trimble Stratus, Powered by Propeller. Trimble, the global leader in positioning technologies, was an early partner of Propeller. Our teams work closely together to deliver Trimble Stratus survey-grade drone data solutions for the heavy civil industries.

Located in eastern Ohio, family-owned Sheckler Excavating provides a wide variety of services including earth-moving, utility work, reclamation, cement stabilization, and site work to customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Jersey. With more than 40 years of earth-moving experience, Sheckler is committed to providing quality work on time, while maintaining high safety standards for their workers.

Nicole Sheckler has worked for the family business for eight years and began by building GPS models and setting up sites when their company began supporting the oil and gas industry. She also prepared bids and managed takeoff reports. Today, she is in charge of  Trimble Stratus, powered by Propeller for the company in addition to her other duties.

Bringing Propeller onboard

Nearly four years ago Sheckler began building landfill cells for customers, and during the building process, they needed to know how many yards of dirt they moved each month. While they could get those answers via manual topography or using their GPS equipment, it was very difficult to do when digging 100 feet down into the cell. Nicole explained how Sheckler came to consider using a drone for surveying and later adopt Trimble Stratus, powered by Propeller.

“When we first thought about adopting Propeller it seemed way out of our league,” Nicole shared. “But once we got a grip on it, it didn’t seem as scary. What made us decide to purchase it was that we had an upcoming job that was big enough (100 acre site) that it made sense for us to try the platform. With a site that size, you can’t topo everywhere, and it would have costed a fortune to survey. We were moving dirt a half a mile from where the landfill cell was. So, by the time a manual survey was complete, we would’ve already moved more dirt and our measurements wouldn’t be accurate.”

Before using Trimble Stratus powered by Propeller, Sheckler based their measurements from truck load counts, which didn’t always provide the accurate data they needed. “We used to have somebody counting how many trucks were hauling out each hour,” Nicole explained. “You can make a fairly good estimate doing that. But, if a driver made 10 rounds the first hour, they may not make 10 rounds an hour over the next seven hours, in which case you would be off. Today, using Trimble Stratus powered by Propeller, we know at the end of each month exactly how much dirt we’ve moved.” 

image courtesy of Sheckler Excavating

Sheckler also employs site balancing on their jobs whenever they can, trying to always use the material onsite, whether it’s cut or fill, so that they don’t have to import or export material. Nicole uploads CAD files to Propeller and uses the pdf overlay feature, which allows her team to understand each month how much more dirt they need to move around the landfill cell. She’s also been able to fly some sites pre-project to learn how much material is there without having to hire surveyors to examine the site.

Today, Nicole flies their landfill sites at least once a month. “We’re now building our fourth landfill cell,” Nicole said. “We fly it every month, compare the surveys and report the data back to our customers. They ask to see our topos when they’re planning new cells, and Propeller has really helped with our yardages. We can accurately measure the stockpiles and inform our customers how much dirt is in each one.”

image courtesy of Sheckler Excavating

Keeping customers up-to-date and protecting workers

Trimble Stratus powered by Propeller also helps Sheckler keep their customers informed regarding how much dirt they are moving by delivering precise data. “Propeller generates a great report that we send out each month, outlining certain information our customers want to see. We’re able to answer their questions and can accurately show them the progress we’re making toward their desired dirt elevations at the landfill.”  

Worker safety is a priority at Sheckler and surveying with a drone fosters a safe worksite. Walking around an active landfill site to survey manually can be dangerous. For example, Sheckler’s latest cell maintained three different dump sites their trucks traveled between, ranging from 20 feet from the cell to a half mile. “With our drone, I can stand just outside our office trailer onsite, set up AeroPoints and fly over the landfill cell. Nothing is at risk and nobody’s moving around trying to avoid trucks and excavators,” Nicole commented.

Working with Propeller

Sheckler’s onboarding experience with the Propeller Platform was smooth, and Nicole has found the software easy to use.

“The user interface for Propeller is pretty intuitive, and I’m able to figure it out,” explained Nicole. “Some other takeoff platforms we’ve used in the past required us to do six steps before you actually get what you want. Propeller is much more straightforward and everything you need seems to be right there. On an occasion where we might have a small issue, I’m able to call someone and if they don’t answer right away, they call me back in about five minutes. The customer service end of it has been great! I can’t say I have any complaints.”

image courtesy of Sheckler Excavating

Accurate data processing

Sheckler uses the Propeller Corrections Network during their surveying and feels very confident they’re receiving accurate data. Nicole shared a story about how the Propeller team caught an error in Sheckler’s data. “On one job they (Propeller) called out an area that should not have moved six inches. Turns out we had not touched that area, so it was a good catch on Propeller’s part. You could tell something was off with our survey points. It’s nice to know someone is really looking closely at your information and ensuring the data is as precise as possible. We’re definitely getting the accuracy we expect.”

Nicole has advice for earthworks and construction companies considering a drone surveying solution. Not only is Trimble Stratus powered by Propeller easy for her to use, but data processing turnaround time has been ideal

“It takes us only about 2-3 hours to fly a large, 100-acre landfill site. After we upload all of our data to Propeller, it takes about 24 hours for us to get everything back, which is really helpful. To anyone considering drone surveying, I’d tell them to just do it! You’re considering it for a reason, and it will really help your business.”

Are you considering a drone program, but would like to learn more about how this technology can enhance and expand your business? Locate your nearest dealer.

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