Antennas are removed to prevent theft. "I can't leave it on the equipment," says Garrett. "So we are constantly putting it on and taking it off. That is when we seem to have our problems."
"We remove the antennas every night. There is a lot of wear and tear involved with the wiring harness," Eklund agrees. "Our challenges are mainly with the connections. We stock extra parts."
Van Rooyen Earthmoving has had similar experiences. "Over 95% of our problems are with the cables that run from the dozer to the GPS antenna on the blade," says Van Rooyen. "It is wear from the cables we take on and off every day. We work 200 days a year, and those cables are connecting and disconnecting 400 times in one year."
Van Rooyen has taken proactive steps to minimize downtime. "We have learned over the past two years to stock those cables," says Van Rooyen. "So sometimes, we are not down for more than an hour."
Occasionally, the contractor has experienced failures with antennas on the blade. "If an antenna fails, we are getting one from Toromont Cat within 24 hours. That is one of the reasons we waited to install Trimble GPS systems on our equipment," Van Rooyen states. "Once Toromont Cat became the authorized dealer, we knew with Cat's parts backup history, we would have some reliability there." He stays in constant communication with Toromont to make sure it stocks parts that might fail in the future, such as spare antennas.
In addition, the systems often contain onboard diagnostics to help troubleshoot problems when they do occur. "Leica grade control systems have onboard diagnostic utilities and/or data logging to help operators and/or technicians troubleshoot the system in the event there is a problem," says Reynolds Boyd, Leica Geosystems.
Factory vs. aftermarket
Many machines now come from the factory pre-wired for grade control systems. "Equipment manufacturers realize the demand for control systems is increasing, and are offering more machines pre-wired today than ever before," says Lodge. "The advantage is the plug-and-play is preferable to the downtime needed to install hydraulic valves, brackets and cabling."
Factory installation carries both advantages and disadvantages. "Factory installation offers the advantages in the integration and consistency," notes Taylor. "However, factory installations also have drawbacks - the main one being that the components and sensors are then not portable between machines from different manufacturers."
Trimble has addressed this issue with what it calls Trimble Ready. Machines with this configuration are designed to have the integration and consistency of factory-installed systems. However, as Taylor points out, "Unlike traditional factory installs, the main components and sensors can still be easily moved between different machine types and machines from different manufacturers. Customers can now order Trimble Ready machines from Caterpillar, Deere and Volvo."
Factory installs have other limitations. "Factory installed grade control systems offer the benefit of cleaner installation," Reynolds comments. "However, they may require service from the machine manufacturer, as opposed to a third party." But in terms of serviceability, the systems are comparable. "There is virtually no difference between the reliability of a factory installed vs. an aftermarket system."
Aftermarket installations may also allow for a more customized grade control installation. "Operators can choose where they prefer to have displays mounted," says Reynolds.
Sukut Construction has utilized both factory wired and aftermarket systems. "We have two Caterpillar AccuGrade systems and around 11 or 12 Trimble systems," says Eklund. "They are generally interchangeable." But the Trimble system is not tied into the Caterpillar computer as with the AccuGrade unit. "The Caterpillar system looks for certain things, like parking brakes."
Van Rooyen Excavating has had positive experience with aftermarket systems. The contractor currently has Trimble GCS900 systems installed on its equipment. "All of our systems are aftermarket, but they were set up by Toromont Cat," says Van Rooyen. "To actually install the system on the machines, it takes about three to four days."