We speak to Dave Gerding, Caterpillar’s paving expert, on how to overcome the challenges of meeting quality and production deadlines while facing a dearth of skilled workers and the difficulty in finding and retaining them.
“If this is a question that’s kept you up at night, you’re not alone. As a soil compactor specialist for Caterpillar, part of my role is to talk with contractors just like you all over the world. Along with jobsite safety and quality of work, I can tell you without a doubt, most are concerned with the lack of a skilled labor force today. There seems to be a general trend that it’s getting harder to find and retain good people to operate construction equipment,” said Dave.
“In fact, a 2019 survey done by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 81% of US contractors said they were having a hard time filling positions. But at the same time, 75% of those same contactors responded that they planned to add to their labor force in 2020,” he explained.
What does a new soil compaction technology have to do with helping you address your labor force issues, and address safety and quality issues at the same time?
“If you’re like most contractors, you probably put your newest or apprentice operators on your soil compactors. But you also know that compaction is vital to your overall job quality and pay! You are putting a lot of trust in your new/apprentice operators to complete the compaction process correctly. And you are most likely rotating different operators on and off the same compactor throughout a shift. Those factors leave you with a lot of room for inconsistent results and those inconsistencies can lead to expensive retesting and rework if you fail compaction tests,” said Dave.
What’s the solution that can help with this?
“Enter Cat® Command for Compaction, a new semi-autonomous technology for vibratory soil compactors from Caterpillar. Command for Compaction is an operator assist technology that automates the compaction process. Different from some of the other Cat Command products for construction which are focused around the remote operation of a machine, this compaction technology takes initial inputs from the operator and then executes the process based off those inputs. The operator is still present and in the seat of the machine but after they’ve told the system where to compact and how to compact, the machine will take over from there,” said Dave.
“There are three easy steps to using Command for Compaction. First, the operator must tell the system WHERE to compact. They do this either by using the machine to physically record a boundary or they can load a previously recorded area. There are no site design files to load or any back-office work needed, all the operator must do is use the record/pause buttons as they drive around the area they want to compact,” he explained.
“After the area is recorded, the operator then tells the system HOW to compact. There are only three inputs needed – the number of passes to make at each amplitude setting, the machine speed and the required overlap (how much one compaction lane overlaps onto the previous compaction lane),” he added.
“The very last step is to simply place the system in AUTO. The operator should ensure the area is clear and safe before doing so. After being placed in AUTO, the Command system will take over control of the machine’s speed, direction, steering and vibration. At this point, your operator has become more of a Safety and Compaction process monitor than a traditional operator. Command will execute the entire compaction process as input, but the operator can still control certain aspects like changing frequency, amplitude or speed as needed,” Dave explained.
So how does this automated compaction process help operators with labour, quality and safety concerns?
“Good question, glad you asked. Because the machine is executing compaction, your level of confidence that a new/apprentice operator will successfully complete the task should go up. And because control of the machine is automated, you won’t require a very skilled operator to obtain consistent compaction results. And if you are rotating different operators on the same machine or turnover is a key issue for you, Command for Compaction ensures a consistent process, no matter who is in the seat,” said Dave.
“Speaking of consistency, one of the leading contributors to inconsistent compaction quality is poor coverage. If your operator cannot make the correct number of passes with the correct amount of overlap over the entire area, the chances of failing a compaction test are increased. This concern grows as you have wide areas or jobsites requiring a high number of passes to obtain compaction. In a study conducted by Caterpillar, it was concluded that Command for Compaction can increase area coverage by up to 60% versus a novice operator! That very well may be the difference between you passing or failing compaction in a given area. By ensuring you’re compacting at the correct speed, getting the correct number of passes and a consistent overlap, you’re setting yourself up for more uniform and predictable results,” Dave added.
“On the subject of jobsite safety, remember that the compactor is working during a busy phase of the project with a spreading operation it’s following, and people on foot grade checking or taking compaction measurements. Also keep in mind that the compactor spends roughly 50% of its operating time in reverse. Command for Compaction includes an integrated object detection system that will alert the operator both visually and audibly when an object is detected behind or in front of the machine. As this is a detection system, the operator is still the one who decides to keep operating or to stop the machine,” Dave explained.
If you are facing increasing pressure from tighter job specifications, budgets and timelines, you can rely on new technologies like Command for Compaction from Caterpillar to help quickly turn a novice operator into an expert, get more consistent coverage and uniform compaction and even address jobsite safety. All this while taking that important first step towards autonomy without the risk and uncertainty of diving into headfirst.
Command for Compaction has been released for only select markets globally. Cat anticipate release to the Australian market in the near future. Contact your Cat dealer for more information about Caterpillar’s technology solutions.