Machine Control: The 2020 Vision

13 April 2015

Joel Seddon, Position Partners’ National Product Manager – Machine Control, looks at where machine control for the civil construction sector is going over the next five years.


OEM integration

Since 2012, there has been a steady increase in the number of machines in which machine control comes as standard. It is now possible to purchase a dozer with a GNSS (3D system) directly from the dealer, ready to work.

In this regard, Komatsu is emerging as industry leaders with the introduction of its IMC dozer range; which has garnered impressive sales volumes in both Europe and the US – and has just been released in Australia.

This marks a major development in machine control/OEM integration.

Previously, systems would be factory fitted with 2D machine control only, and the step up to full 3D was seen as being too daunting for most OEMs.

In Australia today, 90% of new motor graders sold are equipped with a 2D cross slope system.

Whether you are buying a Caterpillar M-Series, a Komatsu Dash-5 or a John Deere GP series grader, you will be technology-enabled and ready for automated 2D guidance.

Other machines that offer 2D or 3D systems direct from the dealer or factory include dozers, soil compactors, scrapers, excavators, asphalt pavers, curb and gutter machines, slip form pavers, skidsteers and more.

By 2020, I would expect, given current industry developments, that 3D machine control will come standard on most models of excavator, dozer, motor grader, scraper and more. And this will be either direct from the OEM and/or their dealers.

Further to this, a 2D cross slope system will come as standard on all new motor graders sold within Australia and most will be capable to operate 3D as a “plug-and-play” add-on.

Semi-automatic excavation is another feature that will be prevalent by this time, allowing less experienced operators to grade like 30-year pros.

This will enable the operator to move the boom of the machine and have the stick and bucket automatically follow the desired grade.

Komatsu has already experimented with this on a concept machine, the PS210LCi-10, and it won’t be long until other OEMs and technology manufacturers follow suit.

Given the fast-paced developments within the machine control world it is essential that strong partnerships exist between OEMs and machine control technology suppliers.

This is needed to ensure that both are marching forward together in order to deliver their customers continued savings across the job, as well as making machine control more accessible than ever!

Complete site control

As machine control uptake increases across Australian jobsites, the need to monitor and manage machines as they work has become a major pain point for many contractors.

While telematics in the machine control sector has existed in some capacity for over 10 years, it is only now starting to gain traction by providing customers with workflow-altering productivity and efficiency.

This has meant that in recent years, the uptake of this product has sharply increased.

Remote service and support of machines and systems is a huge part of the modern job site.

To allow this, products such as Tokara Service from Position Partners enables technicians and survey managers to observe the operator’s control box screen in real time.

This enables settings to be updated, new design files uploaded and the ability to troubleshoot without having to visit the machine in person.

These capabilities mean related products such as Tokara Link have proven to be game-changing time savers on site.

Site management solutions are also gaining a lot of traction within the machine control market.

The ability to provide contractors with unprecedented levels of reporting, machine feedback and remote access are second to none. 

It is likely that this area will see significant change over the next five years, with products such as Topcon Sitelink 3D Enterprise becoming a major feature across job sites.

Now let’s flash forward to the year 2020.

A machine operator receives a notification on their Apple Watch: a new design is ready and will be uploaded to the control box in the cab within the next 30 seconds.

They are not the only operator on site to receive this notification; another 15 operators have received the same message simultaneously and they also hear the high-pitched ‘ding” to inform them of the new design.

As they work, their blade positions are fed back to a central database while the project engineers and surveyors watch on a real-time digital model of the site, complete with real-time cut fill mapping, proximity reporting, fuel burn statistics, idle time, and anything else the site, project and fleet managers will be looking for.

The industry isn’t far off this now. but by 2020 this will not be the exception – it’ll be the rule.

Complete A-to-Z construction: bringing it all together

As OEM integration and telematics solutions become ever more intelligent, the future will bring greater synchronisation and connectivity between machines involved on a job site.

Expansion to material management and tracking solutions such as DynaRoad mass haul software will enable site managers to monitor the entire site from a single interface, resulting in never before-seen productivity and efficiency gains.

The use of plant procurement resources such as iSeekplant will allow site managers to quickly and source plant in accordance with a mass haul plan directly from Dynaroad, then instantly point them to those who have the plant they need.

And this will be plant that is already equipped with machine control to further increase the jobsite productivity and connect to the site management solution.

In 2020, engagement in a project by technology dealers and OEMs will be earlier than ever before.

They will be present on the “ground floor” of the project and be part of the journey, enabling bid teams, tender teams and estimators to optimise planning to win the job, help to procure all technology and machinery in accordance with that winning bid and then finally support and manage that technology throughout the course of the job as construction progresses.

2020 and the innovation it will bring may seem far away, but it’s closer than you think. Be ready!

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