Machine Control Explained - Part 1

Machine Control Explained - Part 1

An overview for new users as well as experienced operators

What is machine control?

Quite simply, machine control involves accurately positioning equipment and machinery using technology.

Different machine control systems and positioning tools have been around for years, starting out as basic 2D laser control and evolving quickly into the 3D positioning we have available today. Machine guided construction is becoming more accessible, user-friendly and affordable while adding significant benefits and cost savings to projects.

How does it work?

Machine control has a range of applications, including paving, milling road resurfacing, excavating, surface grading and other site work.

GPS receivers are mounted on the outside of machines and, depending on the type of machine and application, additional sensors are used to get positioning to the cutting edge of the bucket, blade, mill etc. A separate GPS receiver is set up as a base station on the ground to provide RTK (real-time kinematic) corrections to the machine via UHF radio or 3G cellular network. The exact position of equipment and attachments are then calculated and transferred to the control box in the cabin.

While integrated or OEM systems are available from some machinery manufacturers, there are key areas to consider before choosing a system. The key factor here is system flexibility available (or not available) with an integrated system where there isn’t a requirement to use it on that machine all of the time, therefore limiting productivity and system flexibility.

Instead, it is becoming increasingly popular to fit multiple machines with 3D ready base kits (sensors, cables, etc) and moving the control components between machines as they are required. This allows for maximum system utilisation and greater return on investment.

Flexible systems such as the aftermarket Topcon machine control systems are also upgradable depending on the application and tolerances that are required. While GPS is accurate enough for the majority of bulk earthworks, there are scenarios where tighter tolerances are required which can be provided through the Topcon mmGPS or LPS (local positioning system) solutions.

“The way in which the Topcon 3D-MC² machine control system allows us to work – quicker and more cleanly – also means that at every lift, even intermediate lifts, the job looks really impressive. It’s very accurate and the technology virtually eliminates mistakes; and remember these are big machines we’re using to complete often really fiddly tasks.”
~ Matt Mead, Civil Contractor, Owner of Earthwork Solutions


  • Exaro Contracting running Topcon Machine Control
  • Higgins using Topcon Machine Control on the Waikato Bypass
  • Earthwork Solutions D39EX - Komatsu Dozer with Topcon 3D-MC² machine control system
  • Topcon GX-55 in-cab display
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