Construction equipment manufacturers have placed an emphasis on developing technologically advanced and efficient excavators that are designed to be more productive. This includes developments in how heavy equipment is controlled.
Automatic excavator technology is designed to control depth of excavation automatically as well as the angle of the boom, stick and bucket at all times, while following the site plan.
For example, the Topcon X-53x Automatic Excavator system has been a game changer for a project building 24 lakes in a home construction site called Brentwood Lakes in Naples Florida. The 3D modular system provides automated depth control in order to dig to grade in flat, stepped or sloped applications. In addition, the machine learning-based calibration system is designed to be easier, faster and less error prone.
“In the old way of digging a lake — when you thought you had your slope pretty close, you either got out and checked it with a story pole and then got back in and realized you were two-tenths off and cut two more tenths off and then checked it again. So, every time you had to get out and check it, you were stopping your work,” says Al Ruiz, superintendent, Tomahawk Construction. “With the Topcon system, we actually have the ability to not stop production and continuously just keep producing as we move on.”
Advantages of Automation
With an automatic excavator system, any design-grade surface can be dug once a grade or trench design is loaded onto the machine's onboard Windows-based computer display. Alternatively, the operator can build their own design in the field.
The intent is to keep the operator on grade, even when working on complex jobs, while saving time and reducing costs. Complex grade surfaces can be achieved faster and more productively, and novice machine operators can dig and achieve the required results -- another step in technology helping to fill the skilled labor gap.
Yet, according to Andrew Montgomery, foreman, Tomahawk Construction, the Automatic Excavator system can make even seasoned operators more productive. “It's a great tool — it makes you better,” he states. “I'm pretty good I think, but I can't build them as fast as what the GPS can… and it definitely helps speed up our process. It won't let you dig past grade. So, it'll stop you. You can actually let go with one hand and you can pull with your left hand with the automatics on. It'll lock the bucket in place.”
With Automatic Excavator, as the operator begins digging within a chosen "working window" or depth range, the machine will, if preset, take control and dig to the design grade. The customizable joysticks are designed to work as the primary interface for the system, reducing the need to refer back and forth to the display. Cycle times are expected to be faster and more accurate.
"There's an old saying, ‘if you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards.’ And you know, in this day and age, if you're not using it, you're behind the eight ball and there's absolutely no way that you can be competitive with people that are,” says Ruiz. “It's simple. It's a horse and buggy vs. a Corvette. And that's the best analogy I can give you — Topcon is the Corvette, the old ways, horse and buggy.”