By Scott Hagemann: Construction & Digital Technology, Caterpillar Inc.
Just for fun, I test-drove a new car the other day and tried out the parking assist feature. It was pretty slick. I’m a decent parallel-parker, so I probably could have done the job in about the same amount of time. But it sure was easy to let the car park itself.
The jury’s still out on whether driver assistance features will become more common over time, but I’m guessing they will. I think you’ll see more operator assistance technology on construction equipment, too. In fact, some manufacturers are already offering it, introducing automated grading systems that control blade and bucket movement, but don’t require a full-blown investment in GPS infrastructure.
Some new dozers use assistance technology to control blade angle. The operator sets an angle on the monitor, then the system holds that angle while the machine moves over the ground. The height of the blade is still controlled manually, but it’s no longer necessary to make constant adjustments to the angle. The result is faster, more efficient grading with less fatigue, rework and fuel.
On excavators, assistance technology is used to control certain boom and bucket functions. The operator enters a target digging depth on the monitor, selects “auto” and starts working. When the bucket gets close to target, the technology takes over, automatically adjusting boom movement and bucket roll to maintain a constant bucket angle through the dig. Again, the result is quick, accurate, cost-effective grading.
What’s the impact on the operator?
Our customers tell us that assistance technologies make virtually all operators, regardless of their skill level, better at their jobs. An individual using Cat® GRADE with Assist, for example, can hit target grade about 45 percent faster than someone who doesn’t have the technology and 22 percent faster than someone who’s using a guidance-only system. There’s much less over-digging and the final finish is smoother and neater. Plus, the system is so simple it can be learned in about an hour. And because the operator has assistance, there’s less fatigue over the course of a shift.
What’s the payback period?
Every site is different, but big cost savings are generated when work gets done 45 percent faster. We’ve seen contractors recoup their investment in Cat GRADE with Assist with one big job. Many others receive a full payback within one year.
Do you need it?
I may not actually need a car that can park itself, but if I were a contractor, I’d be looking at machines with assistance technology. In the right application, it can help you improve productivity, control costs and address the skilled labor shortage without a huge capital outlay for 3D infrastructure. Talk to your Cat dealer to find out if this technology is a good fit for your business.