Rock to Road

Getting the most out of automatic grade and slope control systems

Attend the education session “Taking the Voodoo Out of Automatic Grade & Slope Control”at CONEXPO-CON/AGG.

December 18, 2019  By AEM

Dec. 18, 2019, Milwaukee, Wis. – Automatic grade and slope control systems for pavers provide paving companies with a broad range of benefits. These include improving grade and slope accuracy; increasing productivity; helping with smooth transitions, controlling mat thickness and yield; and lowering costs related to grade and slope re-work.

In addition, these systems decrease operator fatigue related to manually controlling grade and slope.

Todd Mansell, product application specialist with Caterpillar Paving Products, observed many construction businesses do not take advantage of technologies such as automatic grade and slope control systems because they have technophobia – a fear of advanced technology or what appear to be complex devices. Not only are they overwhelmed by the idea of introducing technology into their organization, they don’t know how or where to begin.

There are companies which have purchased these systems – at a cost of $30,000, $40,000 or more, that do not reap a good return on their investment because “they are not taking full advantage of the system’s capabilities or are not using the systems at all,” he notes. “I’ve seen instances where construction companies have just set them out behind the shop.”


Mansell, who has been has been involved in the paving industry for 30 years and with Caterpillar Paving Products for eight years, does a considerable amount of paver training each year with paving crews. “Consistently, far less than half of those taking the training understand how to setup automatic grade and slope control systems to get the results they want, and even less than that know how they work.

“There are companies that put on these systems because a manager in the organization told them to. The assumption is that everything operates automatically once the ‘go’ button is pushed. That is true, provided the system is setup properly at the start of paving.”

Effective training in essential

To get the most benefit out of automatic grade and slope control systems, effective training is essential, stresses Mansell. There are many different brands of these systems available today, but they all operate on the same principles and they all do the same things, although a little differently.

In general, straightforward visual displays and touch screen controls allow the operator to easily configure the system and make necessary adjustments for grade and slope, he explains. This prevents the paving of too little or too much material, and greatly improves pavement smoothness, joint matching and tie-ins to existing pavements.

Properly positioning the sensors

“One the single biggest things that operators don’t understand about automatic grade and slope control systems is the importance of properly positioning the grade sensors, contact ski and sonic averaging ski,” says civil engineer Mansell. “Sensor position is critical to the end result.

“If these sensors are not properly positioned, you are going to have a rough ride rather than a smooth one. If you are matching lanes, the only way to get a perfect joint match is to have the sensors in the right place, otherwise you’ll end up with an uneven lane match.”

Poor ride from improper sensor position is what often leads to the automatic grade and slope system being tossed out behind the shop because the crew blames the system, he adds. In reality, it is just a lack of training on proper setup.

On many DOT paving jobs, there is a bonus pay or a penalty if contractors don’t meet certain smoothness requirements on a road, he says. When they are properly setup, automatic systems will do 10 times better than any human being in smoothness and slope and grade control.

Achieving maximum ROI

The only way to achieve the maximum return on investment from any automatic grade and slope control system for a paver is “to fully understand how the particular system operates and to know how to set it up appropriately for the specific job,” emphasizes Mansell.

To learn how to feel comfortable setting up and using automatic grade and slope systems over a wide range of applications to achieve exceptional results, attend the “Taking the Voodoo out of Automatic Grade & Slope Control” education session at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This session, being conducted by Mansell, is scheduled for Thursday, March 12, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. More information can be found at

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