Machine control has received a more enthusiastic response in the industry than telematics, primarily because it brings money to the bottom line in a more direct way. But as contractors learn what data is available on telematics systems, they’re expanding their use of those systems as well. The end result is a seamless flow of information between servers in the office and machines and rovers on the job site.
“All the manufacturers are working very hard to be able to create a very good connected site environment,” says Magnus Thibblin, Leica Geosystems, Business Segment Manager for Machine Control in the NAFTA region. “That is what we are all doing. The customers will have a very interesting ride.”
Trimble says it has made two significant improvements in the area of its VisionLink telematics solution for project tracking. The first is the ability to easily transfer data to the VisionLink solution directly from Trimble’s Business Center—HCE office software. This allows the transfer of design information to VisionLink 2D and 3D project monitoring to be more seamless.
Secondly, support has been added to transfer the 3D constructible model to VisionLink in the form of a Corridor Mass Haul analysis or plan for 2D project monitoring. This allows our users to analyze how to best perform their earthworks on corridor projects using Business Center—HCE. This information can then be transferred to VisionLink for near real-time project tracking.
Trimble has made connectivity standard for all the company’s Grade Control Systems. When customers purchase our machine control systems, they now come standard with Connected Machine services. Customers benefit from these Connected Machine capabilities in the following ways:
Wireless Data Sync. Today, transferring design data to machines can be a labor-intensive process. A customer has to get the design data from their data prep technician on a USB stick. The USB stick has to be driven to the job site and/or driven to the machine. The machine has to stop working and the design has to be uploaded into the Trimble Control Box. With Trimble Wireless Data Sync, customers can transfer the design data files directly from the office to the machine over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, without the machine stopping work.
Remote Assistant. This Web-based service offers enormous benefit to both field personnel on the job site and support personnel in the main office by enabling better remote worker training, and immediate technical support to machine operators, site surveyors, grade checkers, and supervisors. Machine operators can resolve everyday issues such as design file versioning and machine configuration for grade control without ever leaving the cab or taking the machine out of production. A dealer support technician or a contractor’s in-house support personnel can take control of the machine’s in-cab display, identify the design file version, view sensor configurations, and access diagnostics to troubleshoot problems. There is no reason to send a support technician to the site to resolve what is often a simple configuration issue.
Project Monitoring. Trimble Grade Control Systems collect and record machine production information in real time. This data is invaluable for the contractor to manage production targets and project costs. The data can be transferred from the machine to VisionLink—a user-friendly fleet management and project monitoring tool for personalcomputers and mobile devices. VisionLink organizes and reports fleet management data, such as machine location, hours, utilization, and maintenance, material tracking, movement, and quantity, as well as machine production volumes and compaction data.
Trimble VRS and IBSS. Many contractors utilize Virtual Reference Stations (VRS) or manage their own Internet Base Station Services (IBSS) to increase the utilization of machines with machine control without having to deploy global navigation satellite system (GNSS) base stations and site radio infrastructure on construction projects. Trimble Connected Machine capability enables a contractor to easily connect to the Trimble VRS Now service or IBSS in their local area and more quickly deploy machines with Trimble machine control to extend the working range of the machine control systems in the project area.
Solutions From Topcon
From Topcon comes Sitelink3D, with which every machine on a job site has Topcon’s grade control system or an HT-30 haul truck module. Topcon introduced the HT-30 at CONEXPO, and it features a small, portable GPS-enabled control box that mounts into the truck cab. As the truck is loaded, data about the load is entered, such as material type, driver, and quantity. The load is then integrated into Sitelink3D and can be tracked for scheduling, rerouted if needed elsewhere, and recorded once delivery is made.
With Sitelink3D, a remote manager can connect to a grade-control enabled machine and control the operator’s GPS system. “You can send new or modified files directly to the machines from a remote location, change offsets, and generally support the machine,” says Mike Wehling, Enterprise 3D specialist with Topcon. “I use it for training. I could get an operator up and running in 10 minutes versus sending somebody out there to teach him the system. We can send design files to the machine.
“This system can be especially useful on big design/build projects, where construction often begins before design is complete,” says Wehling. “With those projects you will typically get a lot of changes, and with Sitelink3D you can easily keep all of your machines updated with the most current information. I can send data to one machine, or to all of the machines, even if they are turned off. When an operator turns on the machine, he will get the data from the server.
And Topcon has another step forward. “Once we have established that connection with Sitelink3D, we can add Enterprise, which adds productivity to the mix,” says Wehling. “Let’s say that you want to move pile A to hole B. “If you take pile A and move it to hole B. Using Enterprise, we can define that task exactly as we bid it: which machines are going to move that pile, from where, to where, when we are going to start and how long it will take. This establishes a baseline to measure our success against. Now Enterprise can use the geo-referenced data provided by the machines to show if we’re making money or not, in real time, before it’s too late.”
Leica Is Simplifying
From Leica Geosystems comes iCON Telematics. The system has three categories of features: Sync, Track, and View. The Sync feature allows a design file, or design data, to flow from an office server to machines and rovers in the field. “When you have a new model that you want everyone to use, you can push that out to everyone so they can use the same model,” says Thibblin from Leica. “If you do some adjustments or you measure something with the machine, or you measure something with your rover, you can push that to another machine or to another person on the site, or you can collect it in the office on the server.”
“With the View feature you can connect to a machine, from a remote location, in real time,” says Thibblin. “So if you are Leica Geosystems, or a dealer of ours, or the head surveyor for the contractor, and you have an issue with the machine or you want to help the operator, we can view the operator’s screen remotely, in real time, so we can see exactly what he is doing. We can take over his screen, and we can teach him, or we can help him, or we can fix his problem. And that can be done from anywhere.
“The Track feature is basically giving us the historical data of where the machine has been and of course where the machine is,” says Thibblin. “The good thing is that it is using a background of a Google map, but of course you can add the functionality of the design data of the project as well. And then you can see exactly where the machine is. You can also see when it started, when it stops, and then of course you can find out why it stopped. And you can make sure you know the uptime of the machine and then you can do some evaluation of efficiency.”
Leica’s iCON Telematics permits one to do reports on uptime and to compare the productivity of one machine to one or more others. “Basically you can see where the machine has been and its uptime,” says Thibblin. “Those are the foremost things you can do.”
In terms of machine control, Leica Geosystems is setting new standards for ease of use, says Thibblin. “We are simplifying more today to make sure that you don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to operate all the functions of a machine control system,” he notes. “When a company buys a 3D dozer or a 3D excavator, often they use only 20% of the possibilities. So we’re making sure that the features and functions are easier for the end user or construction surveyor.
“We have a Dual Mast solution for Six-Way blades that we released about a year ago now,” says Thibblin. “But that’s not the real kicker. The kicker of it is that we are using an SP Technology sensor, which means speed and precision. That’s a sensor that is actually helping us to be able to very precisely measure and control the movements of the blade at very high dozer speeds—to make sure you have a smoother ride for the blade. So basically all in all, you are performing much better with the system because of this SP Sensor. We need to be able to provide systems that are accurate at high speeds. You could say that this is a very good high-speed system.”
Progress at Cat
“Caterpillar has been using Product Link, our telematics system, to help customers manage the health of their machines for over 15 years,” says Dave Stafford, a market professional at Caterpillar. He says Product Link is about providing timely information that helps the customer to make informed decisions to improve in some aspect of his business. More and more Caterpillar customers see the benefits of the automated and often-analyzed data from Product Link compared to the manual way data has been historically compiled.
“We are continually improving in the area of the connected work site,” says Stafford. “As more customers begin to adopt this capability and the more unique customer job-site challenges we face and solve, more innovations occur. Today we have the ability to provide what we call 2D productivity data. Basically this is automatic tracking of load counts and cycle times. This can help the customer understand the efficiency of his operation and can tell if the fleet is optimized.
“In addition, along with our technology partner Trimble, we also have the ability to provide 3D productivity data. This takes data from our 3D AccuGrade or Cat Grade Control systems and radios the data off board to the customer’s office. Progress can be viewed via Cat’s VisionLink website. The data is also viewable when the customer logs in to VisionLink via his smartphone or tablet in the field. Productivity data would include load counts, cycle times, volume calculation, and compaction data. Other information viewable via the mobile device includes machine location, health, maintenance, hours, fuel level and use, and any alerts the customer has set up.
Stafford offers this example of 2D productivity: One customer monitored his operation with these tools and found that his machines on the job were 40% under-utilized. He redeployed several machines to another job site, was able to maintain production rates with the reduced fleet and had a five-figure daily savings. That is not to mention the increase in productivity on the area of the job that those other machines were sent. Automating the load counts is much more accurate than hand tabulation that is typical on a job site. This detailed level of machine utilization is really not normally visible to the customer without the Product Link data.
Another example: A county road commission wanted to know where their motor graders were actually grading the road. Normally in Vision Link (the website where you view Product Link data), you can see the machines on the map and there is a bread crumb trail that tells where and when a machine is in a particular location. But normally in that case, one cannot tell if the machine is working the road or just traveling on the road. The Cat dealer installed switches into the lift cylinders of the blade and connected them to the Product Link hardware. Now, Product Link monitors the machine and when the blade is on the ground and the machine is moving, the customer gets an alert that the road is being graded in that location. This helps the county monitor the productivity of the grader.
Product Link has saved engines from catastrophic failure, because the system monitors faults as they occur. “One time we received a low oil pressure fault into the system,” says Stafford. “The machine was shut down before the problem escalated and for the cost of a new gasket, the engine was saved, instead of the expense of a rebuild.”
Machine Control at Caterpillar
Caterpillar’s latest benefit in Machine Control is innovation through integration, according to Scott Hagemann, market professional at Caterpillar. “From the factory, we now offer a D6T Cat Grade Control offering that uses dual cab mounted GNSS antennas and position sensing cylinders to control the elevation of the blade. While using these built-in components, we optimize the performance for the machine by monitoring the track slip to maintain desired blade loads. This allows the operator to use automatics on the machine from the time he gets it on the job. We also offer 3D track mapping data with this Cat Grade Control solution that allows customers to make timely decisions to keep work on schedule.”
Telematics at Deere
John Deere offers a full suite of telematics systems, ranging from JD Link Locate at the low end to JD Express in the mid-range to JD Link from the factory. JD Link Locate is primarily used for stationary equipment or on trucks—machines where the customer only needs locations and hours, says Jena Holtberg-Benge, director of WorkSight for John Deere Construction and Forestry. Deere sees JD Link Express commonly used for smaller equipment like skid-steer loaders, compact excavators, and some of the smaller wheel loaders. JD Link is installed on more than 100 different models of production class construction equipment at the factory.
JD Link allows contractors and customers to get Ultimate Data, which offers a more sophisticated array of data. “So as an example take a four-wheel-drive loader,” says Holtberg-Benge. “The loader is equipped with a LoadRite type of scale. You would see data associated with that scale coming into JD Link. You would see the loads, the number of loads, the weights, and you could tell the amount of dirt moved. So that really provides depth of data for the large mega-contractors.”
John Deere and Caterpillar both have a mobile app that allows end users to pull up telematics data on their mobile phones. “Ours is the only one that is native to the cell phone itself,” says Holtberg-Benge. “It allows the contractor not only to see locations of the equipment but it gives him alerts and some of that Ultimate Data that I mentioned. Also, we’re seeing some contractors use some of the lower cost devices on other OEM’s equipment, if they have a mixed-brand fleet. And they can see all their data in JD Link. That’s going to be of value, certainly to the large guys who have mixed-brand fleets.”
While Deere has a partnership with Topcon, the company also works with Trimble and Leica Geosystems. “In the last couple of years we have introduced Topcon-ready graders and crawlers from the factory,” says Holtberg-Benge. “That helps reduce the cost of integration at the dealer. So the dealer can order those Topcon-ready machines from the factory, and then they can install the full system at the dealership, or they can work with the Topcon dealer and have them install it. Either way works.
“We have also introduced in the past year and a half the feature that dealers and customers can order the full 3D-MC-squared from Topcon, from the factory, and then the Deere dealer will install that. Some of our dealers are Topcon-certified, and that allows them to install that whole system for their customers.”
Holtberg-Benge says Deere also offers a Trimble-ready grader option. She says that option has been especially popular with larger customers. Furthermore, now a customer can order a Deere 350G excavator to be prepared at the factory for either a Trimble, Topcon, or Leica 2D or 3D grade reference system. Deere is beginning that option with the 350G and will move down the line as they introduce Final Tier 4 models.
Telematics at CASE
As of January 2015, CASE SiteWatch is capable of processing/identifying up to 40 different operating parameters, whereas the original launch version was only capable of 12, says Brad Stemper, solutions marketing manager, CASE Construction Equipment. As equipment continues to evolve, this will expand the amount of data that equipment owners can use to monitor equipment and make strong decisions about how it is used. It also simplifies the effort or system maintenance necessary because users don’t need to make selections. All available parameters are tracked.
Stemper says CASE is transitioning to a new 3G modem that will further improve connectivity compared to the previous modem. It also includes a battery backup so that the system has the potential to transmit if there is a disconnect with the machine’s primary power.
CASE also has expanded the coverage of its SiteWatch telematics service into areas without cellular network coverage through a new partnership with Iridium satellite connectivity. The new satellite service is offered as an option on the existing SiteWatch packages, enabling CASE machines to transmit data from even remote territories when normal cellular connectivity is absent. The new SiteWatch extension periodically transmits all the data managed by the telematics system by satellite, such as positions, status, performance, fuel consumption, and vehicle health conditions at regular intervals, as well as alarm notifications in real time. Customers can easily add the new satellite service to any machine—CASE and other brands—that has SiteWatch installed and an active subscription.
Stemper says that the adoption of telematics continues to improve, albeit at a modest pace. Total industry adoption is still relatively low—but telematics is coming as standard technology on more and more machines. As that happens, contractors are more likely to engage with it. It’s already there, so there is no risk in trying it. Stemper says that since CASE started offering it as part of their ProCare program, more and more contractors engaged with it because it was available to them. With that new engagement, many immediately identified some metric or productivity benefit to the system. Once they identify one benefit, that often pushes them to discover more—so contractors are becoming more versed in the full breadth of telematics capability.
CASE now has a new strategic partnership with Leica Geosystems to provide machine control technologies—both factory installed and aftermarket—throughout its line of construction equipment. The agreement also includes a commitment to shared product development. The agreement enables the full integration of Leica Geosystems solutions and other machine control opportunities from the factory on CASE equipment for those who select it, and customers receive greater access and support to these technologies through the CASE dealer network.Stemper says the adoption of machine control is more extensive than telematics, relatively—but it is still not used by a majority of equipment owners. Similar to telematics, those who are using it are immediately seeing the productivity benefits and fast return on investment that it provides.