"The operator doesn't have to work as hard during the day," says Scott. "He can actually respond faster to what he may see needs to be done or what correction needs to happen [because] the machine is more responsive. The bottom line is he's more productive at the end of the day."
A slightly less quantifiable, but equally valuable benefit is reduced lead time for newer operators to come up to speed with these machines. "They're not as complicated," says Drescher, "so the learning curve is a lot shorter."
Although Drescher emphasizes the importance of having adequate "dirt-moving knowledge" to be truly proficient with a dozer, he believes today's technology makes it easier for operators of all skill levels to concentrate on the task at hand.
"It is easy to say that a less skilled operator today can operate a machine a little easier than they could in the past," he says. "And a very good operator can make it operate even better, because they don't have to worry about the pressure of getting to final grade as much, since they have onboard systems like grade control or pressure-sensing hydraulics that allow them to get to those tolerances a lot quicker."
If an operator can focus less on the functions of the machine, it means he or she can devote more attention to getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. "You can maneuver where you want to be more quickly and get there faster, and you can start working quicker compared to past units," Drescher states. "All of these things combine to make dozers more nimble than past machines and overall more productive, because you're working more and positioning less."
High-tech Blade Control
As with other dozer operating systems, there has been a continuing evolution in implement controls. Perhaps nowhere is this seen more clearly than on large, high-production models.
For example, Komatsu offers dual tilt and pitch functions on its largest crawler tractors. "You can equip the machine so you can pitch the blade forward to make a more aggressive cutting angle when you start to doze, then change the pitch of the blade again during the dozing cycle and slowly move it back to more of a carry position," Les Scott explains.
Through the carry process, the blade is laid all the way back - acting almost like a scoop shovel - to enable it to carry a much larger load out front, Scott continues. Once you reach the dump area, you can then pitch the blade forward with the push of the blade control button and eject the dirt off the blade.
Caterpillar takes this even further with its Auto Blade Assist, which is essentially an automatic blade pitch control. According to Bruce Unger, you simply push a button to indicate you're in the loading/carry/spreading cycle, and the system automatically adjusts blade pitch and/or blade height, depending on how much automation has been built in. "In the case of Auto Carry, it will automate blade height during the carry part of the cycle," he says.
When operating a dozer in manual mode, an operator can make up to as many as 60 corrections per minute, Unger points out. "When it's in Auto Carry mode, an operator will typically create only one or two corrections per minute," he states. "It allows the operator to take his hand completely off the joystick, and it will control the blade throughout that portion of the cycle."
Admittedly, such advanced blade control systems are targeted to mining and other high-production applications. Yet, as demand for more sophisticated controls continues, you may start to see at least variations of these systems funnel down into smaller machine sizes.
"There are various bits and pieces that we are considering taking out of Auto Carry and utilizing in smaller machines to help reduce operator fatigue and help improve productivity and efficiency of the machine," says Unger. "We see it progressing down and mutating into other variations of the same theme."