In Control with P Quinn Construction

Awesome Earthmovers recently met up with P Quinn Construction – one of Europe’s most in-demand golf course contractors. Owned by Pat Quinn, the company is based in the West Midlands but operating across Europe and occasionally further afield.

Pat and his wife Grace run the company who specialise in golf course construction and have worked on some of the most prestigious course around the world undertaking maintenance works through to the full build of 18 holes. “We work either as a main contractor or alongside some of the most respected names in the golfing world on the larger projects.” Pat explains: “It can be a very tough environment with extremely tight deadlines to work to, but also a very satisfying one when you see the completed course, and occasionally, get to play on them.”

For an outsider, golf courses just look like a nicely manicured pieces of grass. Whilst the fairways require little more than good underfoot construction with adequate drainage, the tees, greens, water features and bunkers require a lot more work to keep them playable all year round. “Sadly, it’s not just a case of putting in a few drains and levelling some soil.” Pat comments: “There’s a lot more work below the surface that has to go in to ensure the water drains off properly, the ground keeps its shape without any sinking or movement and that the undulations designed by the architect that give the hole its playing characteristics remain true.”

Traditionally, the construction of tees and greens have been undertaken using an excavator with the operator working closely with an engineer monitoring the levels and gradients of the ground every meter. Obtaining some of the complex shapes required by the course designers has meant the time-consuming job and resulted in several people on the ground working around a machine that is constantly moving. With the advent of tilt rotators taking over from a standard tilting bucket and making the job easier, the requirement for a person with a staff taking levels was still required. 

Whilst machine control technology has moved on to provide contractors with cost saving methods of following coordinates, the golf world has been slow to pick up on this until recently. “It has been a very traditional undertaking for the build up of surfaces.” Pat comments: “But with new technologies coming to the fore, the ability to couple GPS systems to both the tilt and rotate function, we thought it was about time we explored the possibility of adding this to our fleet.”

The Quinn fleet has predominately been sourced from Doosan with 14 and 16-tonne machines being favoured. The latest additions though are from the Hitachi stable with a soon-to-arrive Zaxis 130-7 joining a new Zaxis 160-7, both with Engcon tilt rotators. What makes the new 160-7 stand out from any other machine in the UK is the addition of Unicontrol.

Not yet a household name, Danish technology company Unicontrol produce one of the market’s most user-friendly 3D machine control system for excavators, wheel loaders and other heavy equipment. Formed in 2019, their journey has been full of exponential growth and expansion into 25 countries and over 1000 3D systems sold worldwide.  

Working in close collaboration with local contractors, the team at Unicontrol found a need for a user-friendly and straightforward 3D machine control system combining an intuitive interface, well specified, and delivered to the customer at a reasonable price. 

“We looked at all makes of machine control including Unicontrol.” Pat states: “We found many of them to be overly complicated and overpriced for what we needed. I do understand there is a requirement for some of the features within many of the systems, but there is no alternative level of specification.  It’s either 2D or full spec 3D which you have to pay for, and ultimately don’t use. What I liked about the Unicontrol system was that it’s designed to be used. There’s nothing complicated about its set up, nothing complicated about how I access it or how it interacts with the machine. For me, and many users, its simplicity will be the key to its success.” 

We caught up with Pat at the prestigious Royal Wimbledon Golf Club where he was working alongside one of his regular clients, MJ Abbott. Abbott are a regular contractor to the golfing world with Pat having members of his team working alongside them on an almost constant basis. This project saw the team rebuilding several holes at the club with Pat and his Hitachi working on the construction of the new 18th green.

Following the clearance of the existing green, Pat’s job was to build up the new green in very specific layers including a drainage layer and rootzone material prior to the final finish and seeding works. Abbott are already a GPS convert using Trimble earthworks to complete their operations. The same design is sent to Pat’s Unicontrol system where the entire area of the new green can be seen. Using the high-resolution screen mounted in the cab, Pat is able to select his buckets from a pre-determined list of attachments calibrated for the system before accurately forming the contours of the green. 

Supplied and fitted through Unicontrol’s Southern dealer Surveytech, the 3D system has a combination of receivers and sensors to calibrate the position of the machine with the information relayed to the screen in the cab for Pat to work to. “It’s a very responsive and accurate system.” He explains: “Once we had the design uploaded, I was able to build the first green in under a day.  Not only did this cut down the time usually taken to do such a job, but I was able to do it single handedly with the surveyor only having to check the work a couple of times in the day. I was able to complete the job quicker and safer, but it was also accurate which meant not having to return over the finished ground. If this is how we can complete our jobs, both myself and my clients will benefit massively from having Unicontrol on my machine.”

Whilst having the machine control ability at his fingertips, Pat was concerned about the reliability of the product but was assured that the components were all robustly designed and mounted with the software heavily tested on site. Back-up, however, is always an issue and both Unicontrol and Surveytech are keen to explain that the product not only benefits from screen sharing to remotely address issues, but a robust network of engineers is trained to assist should any issues occur.

In conclusion, does the market require another machine control provider? In short, yes! There have been countless comments saying that the market leaders are expensive, over complicated and in some cases, not meeting market expectations for customer service. With the arrival of Unicontrol and their cost efficient, operator friendly and high specification system, could we see even more contractors taking the step into machine control? I would certainly like to think so.