To ensure preventive maintenance is performed routinely, electronics enable you to enter service interval information into the in-cab system, which then alerts operators via the screen display when routine tasks such as engine oil changes, air filter changes, etc. are due. Critical performance information is also displayed on the screen, so operators can easily and quickly monitor machine health.
"Electronics allow you to be more precise because of the data it provides," says O'Keeffe. "You don't have to rely on tools such as pressure gauges, which if used incorrectly, can have variances. Now you can look at a screen to get accurate readings. All the information is at your fingertips."
For example, on Volvo loaders, the in-cab system constantly tracks fluid temperatures, pressures, etc. and alerts the operator if any levels become unsafe or detrimental to the machine. "The operator can either observe low-level warnings such as 'low washer fluid' and fill at his convenience, or idle the machine in the case of, say, high axle temperatures," says Tullo. "In extreme cases, such as low oil pressure, the machine will go into a 'limp mode', where it will not allow high engine speeds until the machine is reviewed or repaired. This prevents engine seizing or otherwise extreme damage to the machine."
Electronics can also save time in diagnosing and treating problems. "An operator can relay code information displayed on the screen in the cab to a service technician," O'Keeffe explains. "The technician can be prepared to fix the machine and get it up and running quickly, as opposed to having to go back and forth between the machine and the shop to get the right tools and repair equipment."
Many in-cab diagnostics systems can be taken a step further. Wireless technology can be used to transmit data from the loader to a computer or other electronic media where, say, the equipment manager can monitor the machine via a secure web site.
With JD Link, it's possible to identify information as detailed as which gears a particular machine spends the most time in. It can also tell how often, for example, a machine has overheated and when it last occurred.
"It gives you information that may be able to help you avoid a catastrophic event on a major component, which could then minimize any collateral damage within systems," says O'Keeffe. "It really opens up a whole new opportunity to better understand what's going on with your machine to get the most life from it as possible."
The beauty of these wireless programs is that machine health can be monitored remotely. "We've heard of stories where the dealer salesperson will get to the office and see that one of his customer's machines needs an air filter replaced," says Gidaspow, in reference to Komatsu's Komtrax system. "He can call the customer and alert him to that fact before his day even begins. So before the owner even knows there's a problem, the dealer can send someone out to try to resolve it."
The Product Link system uses satellite technology to provide two-way information flow between machine onboard systems and the Caterpillar network operations center. "Multiple types of information can be collected and tracked - from machine location and service meter hours, to health and productivity information," says Pumklin. "Information is accessed by a subscription to EquipmentManager, allowing contractors to optimize asset utilization, reduce security risks, improve maintenance management and implement before-failure repair strategies. The result is more uptime, lower operating costs and a higher return on equipment investment."
Care Track is Volvo's solution to satellite machine tracking, where information can be viewed by owners to ensure high performance, proper operation and even set barriers and perimeters for where the machine can operate. Owners can allow dealers to help them maximize uptime by understanding when a service is due and when maintenance or repairs may be needed. Owners can then take a proactive approach and plan downtime.
Using Care Track in parallel with Volvo's MATRIS (Machine Tracking Information System), the owner can also download information for a specific machine that includes its entire history, such as fuel consumption, shifting patterns, idle times, etc., from a desktop. "This system not only helps resale values, but Care Track coupled with MATRIS allows convenience and consistent performance," says Tullo. "It can help you train operators, log maintenance issues or even optimize productivity of your operation.