Machine control technology that 10 years ago was installed only by the innovators and early adopters is now coming as standard on an increasing number of machines. Here, we explore what that means for the Australian earthmoving industry and how open platforms will enable greater productivity.
A whopping 95% or more of new motor graders sold in Australia now come complete with some form of factory-fitted machine control. This clearly demonstrates how widely accepted and in-demand the technology has become, with the majority of major projects in this country requiring machine control across a broad spectrum of earthwork tasks.
Now a staple on large sites throughout the United States, Europe and Australia, we are now witnessing the technology gain momentum in the developing world, particularly in South East Asia and South America.
Original Equipment Manufacturer or OEM integration confirms acceptance of any type of technology into the mainstream. There was a time when car stereos were retrofitted to the car as add-on technology, nowadays not only would you never see a car without a stereo but it is also common to see iPod or iPhone chargers and Bluetooth as standard in many makes and models.
Caterpillar, Komatsu and John Deere have led the way in OEM integration, starting with motor graders. The benefits of using machine control for fine grading applications are well known and documented, helping to get to grade faster and more efficiently with huge savings in fuel, materials and machine wear.
However, now we are seeing these manufacturers roll out factory-fitted systems across other machines including dozers and excavators, which demonstrates a wider acceptance of the benefits of machine control throughout the earthmoving process.
Komatsu now offers a fully integrated GNSS dozer and GNSS excavator range called Intelligent Machine Control (iMC). Caterpillar’s E-series excavators, M-series motor graders, some D-series dozers and the K-series scrapers all come with integrated machine control also.
John Deere takes a different approach to machine control, installing its own brand of 2D cross slope only machine control on its motor graders. This system can then be integrated with after-market 3D machine control solutions from leading machine control suppliers. As for dozers, the company is meeting that challenge with its new 700K SmartGrade dozer, introduced at World of Concrete 2016. It combines Topcon’s new 3D-MCMAX grade control product with a host of refinements John Deere has added to the dozer and blade control technology.
The most exciting and recent development in factory-fitted machine control is that we are now seeing the machine manufacturers open up their platforms and machine components to more than a single machine control supplier.
Caterpillar is the first company to open its machines to more than one technology supplier, many of its dozers and graders can now be fully integrated with not only Trimble machine control systems, but Topcon solutions also.
This enables full use of the machine’s joystick buttons for design offsets and auto/manual switching directly into Topcon’s 3D-MC software, as well as a connection to the electronic hydraulic lines for automated control of the blade. In time we can expect to see factory fit machine sensors that are integrated into Topcon’s machine control solutions.
Although machine control solutions can be retrofitted to any machine, opening the machine’s components enables a more sophisticated installation that makes full use of every feature the machine and the machine control system have available.
Open systems provide users with more choice when deciding on the machine and machine control solution that best suits their needs. They enable communication between platforms and lead to increased productivity on site.
By driving this innovation, machine manufacturers are helping to push the industry into more efficient methods of construction. With a greater number of machines running GNSS machine control, comprehensive cloud technology can be implemented to deliver earthworks reporting, machine tracking and live cut/fill volumes straight to the site office.
With the Earth’s population expected to soar to nine billion by 2050, it is critical that we address the gap between construction supply and demand with smarter, more efficient processes. As machine and machine control manufacturers work together to integrate their technology, we can expect to see significant productivity gains across the job site.
New machines are designed to minimise fuel consumption and machine wear, with Komatsu’s Hybrid line delivering 2-3% fuel savings. Machine control technology delivers a huge 40-50% productivity increase by giving operators full control over their position in relation to grade, saving time and eliminating rework. By combining these savings and ensuring the technology is used across every stage of the earthworks process on every machine, the smart contractor will stay abreast of the latest developments at this pivotal time in our industry.
By Joel Seddon
National Product Manager – Machine Control at Position Partners