Steely Determination: Geiger Takes Technology Approach to Meeting Fast Track Mill Construction

Customer Profile: Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Geiger Excavating, Inc. was established in 1996 by Jay Geiger. At that time, the company had seven employees. Today, the company employs 130 people, with services that include site grading, utility installation, building and equipment foundations, soil stabilization, and demolition work for the commercial and industrial sectors. Geiger Excavating, Inc. is a leader in site grading, utility installation, building and equipment foundations, sheeting and H-Pile installation, building demolition, and more. 

Business Challenge: Prepare 2,600-acre site in Texas for new steel mill including roadways, railways, foundations, utilities, and storm drainage  
 
Solutions:

  • Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform
  • Trimble GCS900 3D Grade Control System
  • Trimble WorksManager Software
  • Trimble Business Center
  • Trimble Stratus
  • Trimble TSC7 Controller
  • Trimble Site Positioning Systems

Benefits:

  • Improved communication/transparency with customers
  • Optimized grade control
  • High accuracy deep foundations

When complete in summer 2021, the new $1.9 billion steel mill complex in Sinton, Texas will incorporate the most advanced mini mill in the world, according to Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI), one of the nation’s top steel producers. Along with its 3-million-ton electric arc furnace steel mill and coating lines, it will be the world's largest thin-slab facility. As the largest SDI project, the mill is designed to produce three million metric tons of high-quality flat steel per year for customers throughout Texas and Mexico. 

Situated on a 2,600-acre greenfield, the steel production campus incorporates about 19 miles of roadway, 20 miles of railway, and two million square feet of building space with associated utilities and storm drainage—all built on a tight 18-month timeline. 

With this fast-track timeline, the Sinton project requires a skilled site development team with a large equipment fleet capable of working efficiently, all while coordinating with crews who are simultaneously erecting the various structures, including the steel mill.  

SDI looked to long-time construction partner Geiger Excavating, Inc., also a Fort Wayne company. Geiger Excavating has provided earthwork, site grading, soil stabilization, demolition, and utility installation at various industrial facilities for SDI since the late 1990s. 

When asked about the Sinton project, Jay Geiger, President and Founder of Geiger Excavating, said, “The sitework alone required the movement of more than 3,000,000 cubic yards of dirt, considerable storm drainage systems, and several very deep foundations.”

Adding to the complexity, the design of the campus and the associated structures was ongoing throughout site development. Jay said, “Flexibility and fast response were key to meeting our customer’s needs on this project—it’s a job uniquely built for our expertise and technology-enabled workflows.”

GPS Enabled
Jay founded Geiger Excavating in 1996 and has since grown the company from seven employees to over 100. In that time, the company has become the go-to contractor for many large industrial site development projects, and Jay believes, it’s the scope and scale of those projects that pushed the company to continually advance.

“We were one of the first to use GPS on dozers in our area because we could see the productivity advantages from the first demo,” said Jay. The company has since expanded its technology-enabled methods.  

Today, Geiger Excavating has the Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform on its excavators and the Trimble GCS900 3D Grade Control System on its dozers. Foremen, project managers, and superintendents rely on the Trimble Siteworks Positioning System with a TSC7 Controller to track progress. The team also relies on Trimble Business Center for takeoffs and to generate surface models for the dozers and excavators. At the recommendation of SITECH of Indiana, they recently implemented Trimble WorksManager software to send designs to the field wirelessly and remotely support and manage their software and hardware. 

Also, in 2020, the company invested in Trimble Stratus software for mapping and analytics and a Propeller PPK drone to survey and manage large projects, such as SDI’s massive Texas mill project.  

For the Sinton project, Geiger Excavating called on long-time partner SITECH of Indiana and new partner, SITECH Tejas in San Antonio, Texas, and the equipment rentals from the local South Texas-based Cat dealer. 

Jay said, “The service we’ve gotten in Texas has been as good as what we would have gotten back home. As soon as we rent the equipment, the SITECH rep in San Antonio was here installing and calibrating our grade control systems. If there’s an issue, he is here. It’s been a great relationship.” 

Surface Support
When asked about the benefits of technology on a site the size of the Sinton-based steel mill, Jay is quick to emphasize the ability to eliminate stakes. 

Jay explains, “I know it sounds basic, but on most site development projects, we are responsible for staking. I estimate that the amount of money that we would have had to spend staking a job as the mill project paid for every GPS system times two. And that’s not even considering the efficiency provided by grade control which essentially eliminates undercuts and overfills, or the value of the rovers for the foremen.”

The system has also been invaluable for digging trenches along the new rail lines, which range in depth from 6 feet to 15 feet, and building foundations, which could be as deep as 50 feet. 

“Many don’t realize that on a campus job such as this, there is often as much work on the inside the buildings as outside on the grounds,” added Jay. 

For instance, the mill structure is big enough to hold two 190-ton capacity DC electric arc furnaces, a single strand CSP plant, a high throughput vertical liquid bending caster with a casting speed of 19.7 ft/min, a six-stand finishing mill, and other steel production systems.

“Of course, trenches and foundations are no problem for our skilled operators and GPS-guided equipment. We tell the dozer to go four feet down, and it does it,” said Jay. To counteract the potential loss of signal in these deep holes, the Geiger Excavating team relies on a repeater positioned near the area of work. 

One of the biggest challenges on the fast-track mill project has been design changes. Kolby Geiger, Operator, and Foreman for Geiger Excavating, explained, “Especially in the early days, things were changing on the fly around the site. The engineer might reroute a ditch that is already in work.” Again, the technology-enabled systems with direct connections to people and equipment on the jobsite proved invaluable. 

Grant Chafee, Geiger Excavating’s Estimator, and Project Manager, agreed, saying, “Keeping current files is a full-time task on a job like this where the design is still evolving. Small changes can be transferred in minutes, while others require a new surface model—but all of it can be done digitally and very quickly with WorksManager.”

The connected nature of people and equipment has helped to manage projects as well, even when the parts of the project team are a thousand miles apart. Grant recalls one instance where he needed some ground shots to better assess conditions. “We had an inexperienced operator using one of our rovers, but because of the connection, I was able to walk him through the process from my screen in Fort Wayne.” 

Recouping Investment
The SDI complex of buildings spans around 1,000 acres of the site and includes a concrete batch plant, administration building, engineering building, and of course the enormous steel processing mill. 

There are also several mini-projects ongoing throughout the campus—and it’s up to the Geiger Excavating crews to work with other vendors to develop areas as needed. For instance, one SDI partner co-locating on the site needs sitework for a facility that includes slitting lines designed to produce 30,000 tons of steel a month.

Grant’s drone surveying skills, speedy data processing, and Stratus analytics have proved particularly beneficial on these mini-projects. In one case, the original topo map of a 64-acre portion of the site seemed off. 

The numbers just weren’t adding up right, recalled Grant. He hopped on a flight from Indiana to Texas with a drone in hand and flew the site in question in about 45 minutes. He said, “I was back in Indiana for dinner and when I got back to the office in the morning, the file was waiting for me in my inbox.”

Turns out the original topo of the site was off in some spots by as much as 2.5 feet. The Geiger Excavating team expects to use the Trimble Stratus software on other projects for other processes including volume calculations.  

Jay recalled, “We were able to make the adjustments before our crews began work, saving considerable time on rework. That one verification paid for the drone and the data processing easily.”

Geiger Excavating has recently expanded Trimble Earthworks to dozers. Jay concluded, “To me, it’s a no-brainer to invest in technology such as drones for surveying and 3D grade control.”

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