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Construction : Special Focus | March 2016 | Source : Equipment India

Machine Control Technologies

With the demand evolving for better work and more efficiency in the wake of tighter timelines in infra projects, the scope for machine control technologies is immense.

Delays and cost overruns are the major challenges most of the infrastructure projects facing today. There are many factors that contribute to the delay of a project. One of the reasons can be the kind of equipment used in the project.Efficiency of the equipment plays a major role in the speed and accuracy of the project implementation. If the equipment is not working at the required rate, it can lead to delay in implementation. Also, errors in construction can lead to redoing the entire work as per the stipulated standards, which also causes delay in project completion and project cost overruns. The government has now made it mandatory for timely completion of many large roads and highway projects using standard and efficient construction equipment that meet all the required quality parameters. Control technologies play an important role in monitoring the performance of a machine and control the machine resulting in an optimum performance of the machine which leads to faster construction. Machine control technology helps finish projects/jobs faster, at a lower cost and with much higher accuracy. It is an investment that will typically pay for itself and will save considerable time and money over the lifetime of the machine. With the market becoming increasingly competitive, machine control technologies will sure be an advantage to the user on a long-term perspective, even though he has to invest a little more on the technology initially.

Says Harpreet Singh Wahan, General Manager - Sales & Marketing, Enovation Controls India Pvt Ltd, ¨As we move forward, three things are increasingly playing an important role in how the mining and construction industry shapes up - rising labour costs, stricter and tighter project timelines and ever-rising cost of equipment. All these can be handled well by introducing more control-related technologies in the equipment. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages big time. Safer equipment, more efficient and faster duty cycles, better troubleshooting if things go wrong and comparatively less labour required are few of the advantages. The only disadvantage if you can call it one is an increased initial cost of the technology. Though in due course, it gets evident that it makes better business sense to use these control technologies.¨

¨Across the board, machine control is changing the way construction companies operate. Machine operators work faster, smarter and better with machine control. Although every machine is different, we estimate that companies will see time and cost savings in the range of 20-50 per cent with machine control,¨ says Ryan Kunisch, Director of Global Marketing & Product Management, Civil Engineering and Construction Division, Trimble.

He adds, ¨Machine operators can excavate faster and (carry out) less rework with machine control. With machine control, stakes can be eliminated which improves accuracy and maximises cycle times to reduce fuel and operator costs. Material arriving at or leaving the site can be monitored and every truck can be loaded to maximum payload and accurately record load counts. Machine operators can grade to millimeter accuracy with fewer passes and no manual staking or bluetops. Over and under cutting is reduced. And less experienced operators can be utilised.¨

Amit Hatgine, Senior Application Engineer - Controller Business, ifm Electronic, also highlights the importance of control technologies as he observes, ¨Control technologies are becoming more essential in modern machines as traditional machines are trending towards (becoming) more sophisticated. The various advantages itself explain the need for it.¨

Control technologies on offer
With the demand for efficiency and accuracy in machines is increasing among the contractors and users, major players of control technologies have come out with improved packages on various construction equipment. Says Wahan, ¨Murphy by Enovation Controls offers intelligent equipment displays, machine controllers, sensors, power management modules and remote monitoring on a wide array of equipment. Solutions could be from a simple safety net on the equipment to payload monitoring, data logging to blade control and service reminders to remote monitoring of assets. Most importantly, Murphy believes in Total Equipment Integration which is making all the technology components work together to ensure they make things simple and add value which in turn plays a major role in increasing the efficiency of the equipment.¨

Trimble offers technology solutions that meet the needs of contractors and owners throughout the entire project lifecycle (Refer to box on Newest Solutions from Trimble for details).

Kunisch elaborates, ¨Throughout the Trimble portfolio, a large focus has been on increasing the connectivity solutions to the machine; we have made connectivity standard and included with our machine control products. When a contractor purchases a machine control system, included with the system is a six-month subscription for high data rate communications, access to our cloud-based collaboration platform, and access to our VisionLink telematics solution.¨

He adds ¨Increasingly, our SITECH distribution and end customers are using remote connectivity on and off the job site to streamline processes such as sending and receiving 3D digital designs, production data, and remote support tools. It also allows contractors to use the system of Trimble VRS Now networks and other local Internet base station services, reducing the need for fixed GNSS infrastructure on their jobsites. Also, at Trimble, all of our machine control systems contain a Connected Machine Services data plan that also allows the operator, jobsite, and office personnel to wirelessly receive production data from the machine to help fully understand the production rates associated with the machine control system. This helps the contractor not only perform earthworks more efficiently, but also understand the production and cost impacts associated with that efficiency in near real time.¨ ifm Electronic offers the electronic sensors and controllers for equipment. Hatgine explains, ¨We, at ifm Electronic provide ´Eyes and Ears´, i.e., electronic sensors of machines and we also offer ´Brain with smartness´, i.e., mobile controllers where we can do the necessary engineering and software development required to make a machine more intelligent. ifm mobile controllers and electronic sensors come with rugged design to survive in all environmental conditions.¨

Demand scenario
The demand for machine control technology is growing with the government becoming strict on project implementation, keeping an eye on the quality and time frame. Wahan states, ¨Murphy has been in India for almost six years now and over the years we have seen the demand level go up year on year. Though control technologies today are primarily used in machines that sell for more than Rs 30 lakh, there are instances of proactive equipment manufacturers and a segment of demanding customers which want better control even in a Rs 5 lakh equipment.¨

Hatgine is optimistic about the way the machine control technology applications are growing in the Indian market, as he says, ¨India is becoming a hub for construction equipment manufactures in order to fulfill within India and its neighbouring Asian countries. Most of the Western manufacturers have started manufacturing set-up in India. They are customising their equipment as local requirements and needs. It clearly indicates that in coming years, demand graph will be ascending for control technologies.¨

Govt support
According to Wahan, some paving, road compacting, grading and hauling projects do come with mandatory clauses for use of machine control technology though not the norm. He says, ¨We believe that technology needs to add value. If it has no tangible value to add, it´s then just a luxury. Also, we are a developing country and should adopt technologies that are made for our environment and our people, not totally rely on drop-in solutions that come in from the developed world.¨

Wahan is of the view that the government and its agencies are very supportive on the use of technology in equipment. They constantly demand better work, more efficient work and tighter timelines on infrastructure projects. Machine control technology is a great enabler for all this.¨

On a global perspective, Trimble also sees government support as Kunisch explains, ¨Yes. Increasingly, we are seeing governments around the world include the use of technology in contractual requirements, especially with respect to quality control. Government agencies have already started to see the financial benefit of telematics and machine control technologies, and we expect to see more jobs requiring these technologies as part of the bid specs and requirements in the future.¨ Says Hatgine, ¨We hope that government policies like ´Make in India´ and investment in infrastructure bring more demand for sophisticated machines which ultimately need to use control systems in machines.¨

Current market
Machine control technologies have seen some momentum of growth in the recent past with more projects coming in. Wahan observes, ¨Like I´ve mentioned earlier, control technologies today are primarily used in equipment that sell for more than Rs 30 lakh. Going by that we believe there are close to 35,000 equipment built in India yearly that form the market. In value terms this is easily a Rs 60 crore plus marketplace just for control technologies growing at 10-12 per cent year-on-year.¨ According to Kunisch, the construction industry as a whole is dramatically under-penetrated. On a global basis, market indicators suggest that machine control penetration rates are less than 20 per cent. He adds, ¨Trimble is addressing this by establishing a global SITECH distribution network. SITECH dealers are construction technology professionals with the expertise to help customers purchase - and get the training and support to be successful using - Trimble machine control technology and other solutions focused on providing value at all points in the contractor´s Construction Continuum.¨

Challenges
Wahan responds to the issue of challenges, ¨It´s funny that I get this question many a times. A lot of people underestimate the ´Indian Customer´ to the point of being ignorant. We are a country with our own characteristics and technology providers need to understand and respect them. Acceptance of an increased initial cost and understanding that technology is here to help could be seen as challenges but therein also lay the opportunities. India is a very ´value´ demanding market. We see this in segments like TVs, cars, mobile phones to even the food industry. We pay only when there is an increased value the product brings to us. Why should control technologies be any different?¨

Meanwhile, Kunisch lists the challenges basically contractors face, ¨In general, the biggest barriers contractors face when considering adding grade control technology to their machines are:

  • Awareness of the benefits and capabilities of the technology - many contractors have not been informed of or visited by professionals who are experts in this technology
  • Resistance to changing the way work is done - machine control requires changes to be made to the process in which construction is performed when machine control is used.
  • Not having personnel or staff that can assist with the deployment and management of the technology - there is a perception by new users that technology experts are required to be on the contractor´s staff in order to use the technology.
  • System price - an initial purchase of 3D GNSS-based machine control systems, supporting job site infrastructure, and office software can be seen to be expensive in the eyes of a contractor new to the technology.

Trimble is reducing/eliminating these barriers through the establishment of a global construction technology consultancy and distribution network - SITECH,¨ says Kunisch.

Opportunities
Wahan is fully optimistic on the market opportunities here as he says, ¨We are bullish on India, believe that opportunities exist in abundance and are increasing every year. As always, the demand for improving efficiency and safety will remain the major driver. For Indian OEMs it is the increasing foreign competition - in India and more if they want to go global that is making them look at improving their equipment technologically.¨

Kunisch elaborates with a global perspective, ¨Since the inception of GNSS-based machine control (20 years ago), we´ve seen a dramatic transition from ´early adopter´ contractors that purchased technology because they thought it would give them an edge over their competitors, to an increasing number of contractors in the ´early majority´ that require GNSS-based machine control because it is more standardised in their local markets. This is the ´new normal,´ and they need it to continue to win projects or bid on projects that now have machine control technology called out in the bid specifications. In this case, machine control growth has increased due to an increasing awareness of project owners and government agencies requiring the use of machine control technologies because the efficiency, productivity increases and reduction - and in some cases elimination of - project waste (lean construction) is now accepted.¨

A happening future
Murphy by Enovation Controls is looking to expand in India. ¨Over the next 12-15 months, you would see us as an enthusiastic partner in the ´Make in India´ initiative by the government. We have already over past one year expanded our Application Engineering and Core development base targeting solutions that the Indian customer would find ´value´ in. This year would see several of them being launched into the market.¨ Kunisch finds a major role of jobsite connectivity in the future. ¨Whether this is sharing data locally on a larger site or remote home office, jobsite connectivity is essential for accurate real-time data. Too much time and effort is wasted transporting information conventionally via flash drives or cards.¨

Use of control technologies in India is still at a lesser scale compared to developed markets. However, with mandatory clauses in contracts for use of machine control technology in construction projects will definitely improve the scenario in future.

Control Technologies: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Increased throughput or productivity.
  • Improved quality or increased predictability of quality.
  • Improved robustness (consistency), of processes or product.
  • Increased consistency of output.
  • Reduced direct human labor costs and expenses.
  • Reduces operation time and work handling time significantly.
  • Frees up workers to take on other roles.
  • Provides higher level jobs in the development, deployment, maintenance and running of the automated processes.

Cons

  • Security threats/vulnerability: An automated system may have a limited level of intelligence, and is therefore more susceptible to committing errors outside of its immediate scope of knowledge (e.g., it is typically unable to apply the rules of simple logic to general propositions).
  • Unpredictable/excessive development costs: The research and development cost of automating a process may exceed the cost saved by the automation itself.
  • High initial cost: The automation of a new product or plant typically requires a very large initial investment in comparison with the unit cost of the product, although the cost of automation may be spread among many products and over time.

Newest Solutions from Trimble
The Trimble GCS900 Grade Control System for dozers, motor graders and excavators is a cutting-edge earthmoving grade control system that puts design surfaces, grades and alignments inside the cab. The new GCS900 version 12.7 features GradeMax™ Plus, new technology that increases the overall performance of dozers by allowing the operator to grade faster and more consistently with tighter accuracy. The system uses the Trimble GS420 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensor to detect the current rate of acceleration and changes in orientation. Trimble has also increased the rate at which the GCS900 system drives the valves on the dozer for smoother, more consistent control and rapid recovery of the dozer blade so operators can grade higher quality surfaces at even faster speeds. With GradeMax Plus, operators can grade a wider range of complex surfaces without constraints.

The Trimble CCS900 Compaction Control System for soil compactors with wireless data share provides machine-to-machine communication that gives operators the ability to share mapping data between compactors on the same site in real-time so operators know which areas have been compacted and which areas still need to be completed. In addition, new layer management functionality allows operators to view the layers or lifts other compactors are working on. The real-time display of this information in the cab enables the operator to achieve more consistent compaction while also reducing the amount of under- and over-compacted areas. This not only improves surface quality, but can also save time and fuel. The mapping information is synchronised back to the office for progress monitoring and compaction documentation and reporting, using Trimble´s VisionLink® asset management and project monitoring software.

For Paving Contractor: Trimble has recently expanded its paving portfolio to include a slipform concrete paving machine control solution. The Trimble PCS900 Paving Control System for Guntert & Zimmerman and GOMACO placer/spreader machines further automates the slipform paving train by allowing contractors to use GNSS-based positioning, in conjunction with a base station, to steer the machine and control the machine´s elevation according to the 3D model. This can significantly improve paving productivity and reduce material waste on concrete road and airport surfaces.

For Small Contractors: Trimble recently added a dual GNSS solution for compact machines, such as skid steer loaders. The Trimble GCS900 3D Grade Control System for Bobcat HD grader attachments allows small contractors to work faster and more effectively on complex projects that require digital designs and 3D machine control. Large contractors can also benefit by using 3D machine control to complete the finish phase of projects more affordably and accurately with their Bobcat machines. Using digital 3D models prepared in Trimble´s Business Center - HCE office software, the Trimble GCS900 system is ideal for footpaths, parking lots and sidewalks. Part of the portfolio of Trimble Connected Site« solutions, the system includes the ability to wirelessly sync files to the machine, track assets and site productivity, and receive remote support or training. The Trimble GCS900 3D system is available as an upgrade from the 2D laser-guided and sonic/slope systems already offered by Bobcat, so customers can easily leverage their initial investment in grade control. The Trimble GCS900 3D Grade Control System for ATI level best grading boxes allows small contractors to work more quickly and efficiently on complex projects that require 3D machine control and digital designs. The 3D machine control on skid-steer loaders can also benefit large contractors by allowing them to complete the finish phase of projects with added precision and at a lower cost. The Trimble GCS900 system is perfect for footpaths, parking lots, sidewalks and other surfaces that require a 3D constructible model, which can be built in Trimble´s Business Center - HCE office software. In addition, the system is part of the portfolio of Trimble Connected Site® solutions, so contractors can wirelessly sync files to the machine, track assets and site productivity, and receive remote support or training.

 
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