Intelligent Machines

By
Updated: June 7, 2017
Intelligent machines

As equipment types are increasingly fitted with machine control, the day is not far when an entire construction site is run by machine control-equipped plant. Being able to spread material using the machine control system enables an even coverage across the whole work area.

Words // Joel Seddon

Across the Australian earthmoving industry machine control is achieving higher rates of adoption among a core of equipment, which continues to be the “big three” of dozers, graders and excavators. In this article of Machine Control in 2017, we look at the ever-growing use of this technology on other types of machinery that lay outside the “big three”.

In the past few years, we’ve seen an accelerating trend of putting machine control systems on a wider range of equipment, as contractors and other end-users seek to extend the productivity, efficiency, material savings and time-reduction benefits across their entire fleet.

Equipment that is now being successfully fitted with machine control technology includes:

  • Front-end loaders (both wheel and crawler)
  • Backhoe/loaders
  • Skidsteer loaders
  • Rollers and compactors (both soil and asphalt)
  • Pavers (concrete and asphalt)
  • Profilers and milling machines
  • Supervisor/foreman vehicles

And as more and more equipment types are fitted with machine control, the day will surely come when an entire construction site is run by machine control-equipped plant, allowing unprecedented levels of project planning and jobsite communications.

Let’s start by looking at each of the above equipment types.

LOADERS

Intelligent machines

Designed for applications where materials are spread using a loader before grading machines – dozers or graders – come in for the final trim.

Being able to spread material using the machine control system enables you to get a very even spread across the whole work area.

This is ideal where there’s a lot of material coming in at a regular speed from trucks, and where the productivity of the wheel loader is crucial to the operation.

Markets such as China and India, where the wheel loader is still by far the biggest seller by tenfold over any other machine type, will really drive innovative applications of this technology, which is still currently in its infant stages.

BACKHOE/LOADERS

Backhoe/loaders allow the capability to put a front-end loader system (“bucket” and/ or “grading” options) on the front of the machine, and an excavator system on the backhoe end.

 

Intelligent machines

SKIDSTEERS

You may ask why you would put machine control technology on a machine where the system is worth almost as much as the machine itself.

But we have one customer in Australia who’s done just this – using our top-ofthe- line 3D-MC2 system. They are seeing significant benefits in labour savings, having one machine able to do the work of several others, as well as faster working speeds and improved overall jobsite efficiency.

That means you don’t have to bring in a lot of manual workers to spend a lot of time stringing and boxing out small, fiddly works such as footpaths and bicycle paths, and the like.

ROLLERS AND COMPACTORS

Intelligent machines

Compactors have massive potential in the construction industry. Looking first at self-propelled single-drum rollers – padfoot or smooth-drum – over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of work with them in China on high-speed railway jobs, where they have literally hundreds of these machines on a project.

In Australia, it hasn’t taken off quite as quickly as it has in some other countries, but it is one of those second-tier machines, like a wheel loader, where there are a lot on a job site.

So if you want to get the most out of these machines – and they do use a lot of fuel – 3D GPS can really make a difference.

A lot of the drive towards machine control in compaction equipment is geared towards increasing productivity with regard to optimising compaction time, while at the same time ensuring you have uniform compaction across your work area.

GPS and machine control allow you to map the path of the compactor and enable operators to see if they have been over the work area four, eight, 10 times, whatever is required by the site standard.

That means they won’t over-compact, and at the same time don’t have to keep in their mind the number of passes they’ve done.

PAVERS

3D paving is still a highly under-utilised technology within Australia, especially considering how fast this technology has been adopted with motor graders, dozers and excavators.

Probably one of the reasons that paving has not adopted the technology so quickly is that the machine is a very sensitive beast.

It’s a little bit different to other equipment types in that there is a lot more going on with it, along with a lot more machine-specific controls.

But, in saying that, the results can be spectacular.

It is more often used in high-precision jobs, such as airports and concrete-treated base laying for high-speed highways and the like, so it is generally not a technology that can work on every job every day or month of the year.

Jobs where it works well are those where you have to be spot-on with your vertical and horizontal accuracy.

You can undo a lot of good work done by your machine-controlled graders or dozers by not paving as accurately and efficiently as you could be.

In a more specialised paving application, Topcon released a number of 3D paving systems for various brands of kerb-and-guttering machines, with NSW contracting company JK Williams the first to introduce it on their Gomaco Challenger III slipform paver in 2012. Since that time several more systems have been deployed around the country.

Since having machine control fitted, the company reports improved efficiency and time savings as they no longer have to set out string lines and the operator can work without the help of a groundsman.

PROFILERS AND MILLING MACHINES

Profilers and milling machines have been using laser systems for years, but they are now really moving into 3D technology.

Particularly on highways and major arterials there has been (and is) a lot of re-work – rather than new work – done in America and Europe.

Rather than building new roads, there is a lot of resurfacing happening, so 3D milling in conjunction with 3D paving has really been pushed into the market in recent years and is starting to get traction with machine control.

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

I think we are still some years away, but the time will come when every piece of earthmoving equipment on a project will have some form of GNSS-based 3D machine control or indicate system.

Once we see 3D machine control on all plant across a site, the focus will be on integrated systems, seamless communication and centralised design control.

New advances in telematics solutions such as Tokara Link are already seeing this come to market, with project managers, surveyors and machine operators able to communicate and send and receive design updates wirelessly and get up-to-the-second updates on all systems across the site.

Such technology can also be used to remotely diagnose and support machine control products, reducing call outs and downtime.

All manufacturers are doing a great job at trying to future-proof as much as possible with current technology and adoption levels. As demand for fully integrated systems increases, led by the likes of Komatsu and Caterpillar in Australia, it could get to the stage where we are supplying full network infrastructure for a site throughout, say, the three years of the project.

We are closer than you may think.