Travis Adair is a GPS specialist from Altorfer Cat (Cedar Rapids, IA). He works on graders, tractors, backhoes, and other equipment. As the GPS specialist at the dealership, Adair sees a big difference between machines that have factory-installed GPS systems and ones that were installed as an aftermarket product.
"We used to have to weld plates onto the dozer blades, and then do the wiring. The whole process would usually add up to about three days of downtime for a contractor," explains Adair. "The factory-installed units are plug-and-play, so now it's just a couple of hours to get it all ready."
Caterpillar's plug-and-play components include the GPS mast, the receiver, and the display box. "Putting the receiver on the mast requires no tools," notes Adair. "And if something isn't working right, we just unplug it and plug in a new one."
Adair appreciates Caterpillar's factory-installed GPS unit on several levels. "In addition to cutting installation time for us, we have to stock fewer parts, only essential stuff now," says Adair. "It's also easier for the mechanics servicing the equipment," he explains. "They plug into the Cat ET system to diagnose electrical and electronic issues."
Mike Hasslbauer from Empire Machinery (Meza, AZ) has several reasons he prefers machines with factory installed and integrated MC&G systems. "They come ready to go, so you don't have to haul them into the shop," he says. And like Adair, he also likes the ability to troubleshoot the machines with Cat ET. "It's convenient to plug into the machine and see the all firmware for sensors and other components," he notes.
Mike Lavato from ML2 Earthwork in Phoenix, AZ says that as a contractor he also prefers factory-installed systems. "The factory-installed GPS systems have sealed electro-hydraulic valves. When retro-engineering a MC&G system recently, we had to break those valve seals from the factory, which resulted in on-going hydraulic fluid leaks."
What makes factory-installed different? To make AccuGrade ARO Machines convenient to set up, operate, and service, engineers at Caterpillar carefully designed many components and sub-systems into the machines using 6 Sigma quality programs, before the machines every started down the manufacturing stream. The integration of electrical, electronic, hydraulic, communication, and GPS systems by many different engineering specialists at Caterpillar is critical to creating the automatic blade control systems, but it also is important when it's time to service the machines.
System integration that goes into Caterpillar's ARO machines includes the on-board electronics and hydraulics systems, all of which have been optimized for specific machines by Caterpillar engineers that collaborate with other Caterpillar engineers. Following quality program guidelines, the control systems are integrated into the machine hydraulics for maximum consistency, performance, and reliability. Caterpillar engineers test and validate each different product line on proving grounds and in physical test areas under extreme conditions that might include large changes in temperature, vibration, shock, and voltage. Operation and service manuals are then written based upon maximizing equipment reliability and safety given the results of the tests and collaboration with other engineers.
On the electronics side, MC&G controls are integrated into the machine controls and levers for reliable operation and precise control. Custom-engineered power modules provide clean, filtered DC power to system components. Wiring harnesses and cables are routed during assembly at the factory, when it's easier to install such devices for improved wear protection and better reliability.
Systems integration within Caterpillar's engineering departments also includes the Controller Area Network (CAN), which give the machines their plug-and-play capability. It allows components to be quickly and easily added to or removed from machines. The use of common connectors and standardized components also provide a flexible system design that can be upgraded later.
The integration of multiple systems into the machine cabs and control interfaces increases the operators' ease of use and ergonomic comfort. Systems integration also has ramifications for safety. Caterpillar machines include a safety interlock (park brake, system health, idle time) functions to increase safety. The safety interlock feature is built in for added protection during automated operation.