Although there have been many successful applications of global positioning systems (GPS) technology to the machine control and guidance (MC&G) systems used in graders and other precision earth-moving machines, part of the technology's story has always been that the GPS systems are typically added after they leave the equipment manufacturer's facility. Caterpillar Inc. is changing all that by rolling out new lines of earthmoving equipment with factory-installed GPS and other advanced MC&G technologies.
As GPS-enabled machines continue to gain acceptance and expand in terms of the number of successful applications, demand for all machines, aftermarket and factory-installed, is growing. In Minnesota, for example, at the Department of Transportation, 80% of grading jobs for the state's 2006 projects are bid with some type of MC&G, according to Lou Barrett, the Transportation Program Supervisor. She says the state even encourages use of GPS-enabled equipment by providing base stations and digital 3-D models of the state's grading projects.
Caterpillar is by no means new to GPS. The company has nearly 100 GPS patents in the MC&G space, which have been filed over the past 10 years.
What makes Caterpillar's new generation of machines different is what happened to them long before they left the factory, when a small army of the company's engineers poured over ever detail of hydraulic, electronic, and other machine systems that enable the MC&G, then integrated those systems in ways that are optimal for the different types of machinery into which the are manufactured. "It's not a one-size-fits-all approach," says David Pinaire, Productivity Solutions Manager at Caterpillar.
Part of this story about performing the design and systems integration work in house is just now emerging further downstream as contractors and dealers are beginning to see differences among the two types of machines. As the new GPS-enabled machines designed by Caterpillar engineers now begin making their way off the assembly lines and out into the field with what's called the AccuGrade Ready Option (ARO), they are working side by side with after-market MC&G machines. Dealers and operators that maintain the machines are beginning to notice differences in equipment reliability.
Feedback from the field Chris Goss at Hoffman Construction (Black River Falls, WI) has purchased Caterpillar ARO graders and other Caterpillar machines with factory-installed GPS systems. He has also purchased machines with aftermarket, GPS-enabled MC&G systems. He believes that, for contractors, the systems work with similar accuracy and productivity. "They are very comparable systems," says Goss.
But what's not comparable is how dealers feel about servicing the two types of machinery.
As the MC&G specialist for Ring Power, a Caterpillar dealer throughout Florida, Greg Hasty talks with many contractors about their equipment. "For contractors, there's a big difference between servicing a grader that has a factory-installed MC&G system versus one that's been retro-engineered by a third party."
Hasty recalls a recent example of a third-party MC&G installation. "The person told the customer the problem with his machine was the alternator and then sent him to us," explains Hasty. "But when we sent our service team out to the site, the alternator checked out fine. Now, the contractor has to waste more time going back to the third-party." He adds that with a factory-installed MC&G system, at least the customer knows who to call with a problem.
Another difference Hasty sees with a factory-installed MC&G system is the integration of electronics with hydraulics. He points out that Caterpillar's ARO has several quick-disconnects built into the machine, so it's easier for him to mix different tools a contractor may want to include, such as GPS-, laser-, and ultrasonic-based technologies that help guide the graders in different circumstances.