Intelligent Machine Control: How It Works and Why We Use It

Make no mistake about it: Intelligent Machine Control has been a game changer for the construction industry. Since Williams Civil Construction adopted this technology five years ago, it has transformed how our team gets jobs done. Our job sites in Bozeman, Big Sky, and Billings have never been more efficient, accurate, and safe. But what is Intelligent Machine Control? Continue reading to learn what it is, how it works, and why it’s become a major asset to our building projects across Montana.

How it works

Intelligent Machine Control is part GPS, part 3D Modeling— but for dozing, grading, and excavating. Here’s a brief breakdown of how it works.

Kevin Amberson (superintendent) operates a dozer equipped with Intelligent Machine Technology.

Let’s start with Matthew Kalmanson, our Survey Manager. The initial design process is quite similar to Building Information Modeling (BIM). Beginning with an engineer’s 2D site design, Matthew creates a 3D model of every layer or phase of construction. Unlike BIM, this model will serve as the map by which our machines will doze, grade, and dig materials on a job site. After exporting the model into a readable file type, the model is moved to a thumb drive and plugged into a machine such as a dozer or grader. From here, the machine will interpret the information into a set of commands.

On the job site, using the technology requires two people: one on the ground and one in the machine.

The worker on the ground operates the GPS rover — a pole with a receiver on top that contains the 3D model — that provides the machine with a positioning of itself in relation to the mapped job site.

Then there’s the operator in the machine — and this is where Kevin Amberson comes in. Kevin is a Superintendent who regularly operates machines integrated with Intelligent Machine Control technology. For a large building project like the new Bozeman High School, this capability enabled Kevin to accurately move massive amounts of material without the need for grade stakes, hubs, or repeated double-checks.

To better illustrate its use, let’s focus on just one machine: the dozer. Using a computer interface, Kevin was able to automate the lift and tilt functions of the dozer blade according to the measurements provided by Matthew’s model. This allowed the superintendent focus on the pace and direction of the machine as the dozer blade operated automatically. As a result, the Bozeman High School job site moved efficiently and the work was done accurately.

Why we use it

As you might have guessed, Intelligent Machine Control saves a lot of time and improves the quality of our projects.

The technology has transformed our planning and pre-construction efforts. Matthew’s 3D models allow us to see potential issues ahead of construction by identifying flaws in design or discovering incorrect calculations. In this way, we can avoid unnecessary risk and costly errors.

Our recent road construction for Bridger Heights is a good example of its impact. From excavation to mounting to grading, Intelligent Machine Control helped us significantly. As recently as five years ago, this project would have taken up to three weeks to complete. The process would have required Kevin to read grade stakes, to put hubs in the ground, and to run lasers to ensure the grades were within an inch of accuracy. With Intelligent Machine Control, the project took us only a week — and within a quarter of an inch of accuracy. In all, the project required much fewer man hours and less equipment. But most importantly, it mitigated mistakes and made our job site safer.

Bill York (foreman) and Justin Hultman (operator) strategize the installation of cistern cells for a golf course irrigation system at the Yellowstone Club.

Where we use it

From roads to foundations to underground utilities, Intelligent Machine Control has aided us in major projects across Montana.

This technology is especially useful in mountainous regions, where slopes must comply with OSHA standards. Our current project with the Yellowstone Club — a golf course irrigation system through the Madison Range — depends on Intelligent Machine Control to ensure our rovers are grading slopes accurately and safely. Our superintendents are also using the technology to effectively plan the installation of cistern cells, piping, and a pumping system.

As mentioned earlier, Intelligent Machine Control has also played a significant role in our construction of the new Bozeman High School. Dozers, graders, and level bests — each machine guided by Matthew’s site models — zoomed back and forth across the school’s foundation. The project is now nearing completion: on time and on budget.

2020 has a full slate of projects that will leverage Intelligent Machine Control. With major commercial and residential projects in Bozeman, Big Sky, and Billings, we expect dozens more excavations and grades completed with unprecedented efficiency and accuracy.


Intelligent Machine Control has made a huge impact for Williams Civil Construction and the industry as a whole. However, there’s no need to be intimidated by this technology. As we’ve explored in another article, heavy equipment operators are in high demand. By adopting Intelligent Machine Control, Williams Civil Construction has stayed at the top of our industry — while employing a continually growing workforce. While we can improve through technology, the most significant improvement is through people.

Looking to join our team? See our current openings here.


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