Crawl into the cab of any current generation earthmoving equipment and you’re likely to witness fewer blind spots and better sightlines to the work tools. Glass areas have increased and hoods have been reshaped. This emphasis was born from the reality that enhanced visibility to the work tool and jobsite surroundings results in increased productivity as well as jobsite safety.
“Big and small alike, visibility is a big issue, not only from the machine, but the surroundings, as well,” says Lonnie Fritz, market professional, Caterpillar. “To improve that, it really starts with the cab — improving visibility from the cab by increasing the surface area of the glass. We put a lot of time and effort into our cabs. That is where the operator is going to live for eight or more hours a day. We need them to be safe and comfortable.”
Over time, the size of equipment on the jobsite has increased and engine compartments have grown to handle aftertreatment systems. “One of the biggest challenges with visibility and today’s heavy construction equipment is the physical size of the machine,” says Aaron Kleingartner, marketing manager, Doosan Infracore North America. “As components get bigger and the machines scale up in size, the operator must have an understanding of the physical size of the machine and how much space is needed to operate the machine.
“Additional tools like mirrors and cameras can help operators improve their all-around visibility,” he continues, “but it is still up to the operator to understand the machine’s capabilities and the surrounding area.”
The best designs feature “built-in” visibility. “We try to design the visibility within the machine itself,” says Ashby Graham, JCB North America general manager. “We don’t want to rely on add-on visibility too much (cameras, mirrors, etc.).
“That being said, we do have rear view cameras in some of our larger machines — large excavators, wheel loaders, some of the telehandlers,” she acknowledges. “We have the rear view cameras just for that additional visibility and productivity. If an operator can see what he is doing, he is going to feel safer and be more productive.”
Modern design tools make it possible to greatly enhance visibility. “All-around visibility is extremely important and we spend a significant amount of time on it,” says Gordon Miller, director, John Deere construction engineering. “We use the latest computer-aided design tools to ensure our equipment has optimized visibility. These tools include virtual reality and physical evaluations.”
These tools are used to optimally place components. “This applies to mirror locations, hood sightlines, control placements and a multitude of other components,” says Miller. “One of the biggest challenges is the size of the equipment.”
Camera Technology Becomes Standard
Devices such as cameras add an additional level of “visibility” and improve jobsite safety, especially on larger machines. “We have a vast product line. Most of our products come standard with rear view cameras,” says Fritz. “The optional technology is the 360° visibility.”
Camera technology virtually eliminates blind spots. “Rear view cameras are becoming more common in the industry, and like other technology, the quality is constantly improving,” says Andrew Dargatz, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment. “Our D series excavators feature the rear view cameras as standard on all models. Operators can also choose to add a side camera to provide greater visibility, which is often blocked by the boom when operating.”
The company also offers the Case Max View monitor that uses imagery from two side cameras and the rear view camera to provide a 270° aerial view around the machine. “This gives the operators a better view of their complete surroundings when operating,” says Dargatz. “This technology helps to address operator fatigue and improve operator confidence in their surroundings to improve production speed and efficiency.”
Similar to many automotive camera systems, many OEMs offer 360° visibility around the machine as images from several cameras are stitched together.
“Safety on the jobsite is an absolute necessity,” says Michael Fuller, marketing product and training specialist, Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas. “That’s why Hyundai developed our All-Around View Monitoring (AAVM) system.” AAVM was introduced in 2015 on HX series excavators, and the system’s availability was recently announced for HL900 series wheel loaders.
The AAVM uses the company’s proprietary imaging software to display multiple 3D and 2D views of the operator’s working environment, including a 360° bird’s-eye view. But cameras are only one of the technologies that can alleviate blind spots.
“Included in the AAVM system is the IMOD (Intelligent Moving-Object Detection) system that senses and warns the operator with on-screen flashing arrows and an alarm when objects come within either of two selectable ranges — 6.5 ft. or 22.9 ft. — of the machine,” says Fuller. “The image is integrated into the Hyundai color touchscreen cluster-monitor in the excavator or wheel loader cab.”
Starting in 2018, Doosan offers a standard rear view camera on all of its heavy construction equipment, including crawler and wheel excavators, wheel loaders and articulated dump trucks (ADTs). “On our articulated dump trucks, the rear view camera can function like a backup camera to supplement the view from the mirrors,” says Kleingartner. “The ADT camera can help improve productivity for the operator when backing up the truck to be loaded by an excavator or a wheel loader.
“Specific to excavators and wheel loaders, the rear view camera aids operators with their view around the machine,” he continues. “LCD monitors allow operators to view the rear view camera image while still seeing machine information on the monitor.”
Caterpillar uses the WAVS (Work Area Vision System) on larger equipment. WAVS offers the operator views from up to three closed-circuit cameras viewable on a 7-in. LCD color monitor. It is integrated with the machine for automatic views prompted by machine motion; when the machine is placed in reverse, for example, the system is automated to provide the pre-determined view. The cameras’ internal heaters remove condensation, snow and ice. Installation is quick and easy with any 12- or 24-volt DC system.
“Wheel loaders, excavators, trucks and other Cat products have optional 360° view technology,” says Fritz. “Specifically, Cat Next Generation excavators offer cameras and processing technology that stitches multiple views together to provide a 360° bird’s-eye view.
“The technologies increase safety and productivity, giving the operator increased awareness of his or her surroundings, thus minimizing operator fatigue,” he notes. “It allows them to relax a little bit and have a greater focus on the task at hand. In doing that, they end up being safer. They are focused more on the loaded wheel loader bucket that is up in the air and where they are going to spot that truck vs. always looking behind them while the bucket is raising.”
Deere is also adopting additional vision technologies. “We continue to incorporate more cameras into our products where appropriate,” says Miller. “Some products also include a rear object detection system (RODS). These systems provide the operator with more information with regards to the work site environment, but also have limitations that must be taken into account, such as dirt, dust, solar glare, lighting and harsh weather conditions.
“We continue to investigate and evaluate other technologies for further enhancement,” he adds. “Despite the emergence of new technology tools, operator alertness in the field remains and will continue to be the best way to prevent collisions in the field.”
Avoiding Contact with Machines and Workers
Collision avoidance technologies have been migrating onto jobsites, as well.
“As more of these technologies become readily available [and] user friendly, you are going to see more of a mandate on them,” Fritz predicts. Their main benefit is making sure everyone works safely during their shift. “From cameras to RFID, whether it be aftermarket or factory equipped by Caterpillar, there is a major focus on this technology because it has a proven impact on jobsite safety and leads to increased productivity and efficiency.”
Machine connectivity may become an important collision avoidance tool. “While it is not currently available today, something that could be in the near future is the ability for heavy construction equipment to communicate with each other to avoid collisions,” says Kleingartner.
Wearable technologies have also emerged on construction sites, helping machine operators identify the position of workers.
“Wearables coupled with cameras are a very proactive approach in driving safety,” says Fritz. “Not only is the operator empowered with visibility from camera technology, but also detection of objects and personnel from Caterpillar’s Detect for Personnel technology under the Cat Connect Suite of technology solutions.”
Cat Detect uses RFID technology to notify operators when any personnel are within a specified distance of a machine. “The Detect antenna on the machine itself is recognizing and picking up the RFID receiver being worn in a vest or being worn in the hard hat of a worker who is on the ground. Audible alerts are sent out to not only the worker, but also the operator.
“Statistics are showing the advantages that these wearables bring,” Fritz explains. “The Cat detection system takes it to the next level of semi-autonomous object detection. It gives you more visibility and more awareness and understanding of exactly who is around you. We see customers continue to adopt our Detect technologies, as well as our camera technologies exponentially.”
The current technology has proven reliable. “With Cat Detect for Personnel, there are no false alarms,” says Fritz. “It only detects personnel with an RFID. It offers high accuracy and repeatability detecting personnel, whether they are upright, crouching or lying down. If that machine is detecting and notifying the operator of their surrounding environment, there is definitely somebody within that working radius in the geofence of that machine.”
OEMs spend a lot of time scrutinizing sightlines. “It’s all about increasing cab to ground visibility, as well as to the work tool,” says Fritz. “If you look at [Caterpillar’s] track-type tractor, we have narrowed the engine compartments. On the Next Generation excavators, we are increasing the surface area of the glass. We have lowered the front profile of the machine’s cab so the operator does not have to sit up or lean forward to look down over the floor of the machine to see the work tool.” The company also improved visibility on the right side of the excavator.
Bigger windows with better placement translate into greater visibility for new Hyundai excavators. “The HX series cabs have a very low sightline at just 18.5 in. from the base of the lower front glass — not to mention that the thin profile sightline comes in at only 1/2 in. wide [between the upper and lower glass],” says Fuller. “This is especially useful when a worker is down in a ditch or when an operator is performing trenching applications.
“Also, the large right-hand side, one-piece window has a teardrop base, allowing the operator to see the outside edge of the right track as well as the ground,” he points out. “Left-side visibility in the HX series is enhanced by a two-piece sliding window with a thin 1/2-in. profile in the cab door. A total of three large 6” x 9.5” mirrors allow the operator to see down both sides of the machine.”
Case G Series wheel loaders feature a redesigned cab for increased visibility. “The G series design changed operators’ forward view when operating with a redesigned front windscreen — the traditional three-pane front windscreen being replaced with a single large curved windscreen,” says Dargatz. “This new windscreen improves the continuity of the operators’ visual field and reduces potential blind spots during operation.
“The G Series also removed the instrument panel from the steering console and transferred those tools to a standalone high-resolution anti-glare LED monitor,” he adds. “Removing this instrument cluster gives the operator greater visibility down to the loader arms and bucket. The new LED monitor also allows operators to program the optional rear view camera with camera overlay. The rear view camera can be programmed to remain on at all times or to activate when the machine is put in reverse.”
Even paint schemes can help with visibility. “Starting in 2018, new Doosan wheel loaders feature a paint scheme update to the loader’s lift arms,” says Kleingartner. “We switched from our highly recognizable Doosan orange paint to a charcoal. Darker colors tend to blend in with a background, while brighter colors, such as orange, are more likely to stand out. So, the lower contrast of the charcoal lift arm with the background allows the eyes to shift focus to the background, which provides the optical perception of improved visibility to the work area.”
On its single loader arm design skid steers and compact track loaders, JCB already claimed increased visibility. “The single boom designed machine gives you a 60% advantage in visibility over a traditional twin-arm skid steer,” notes Graham. “You have literally nothing obstructing your view on the left-hand side.”
Now JCB is improving that visibility further with the launch of seven Hi-Viz models. All of the Hi-Viz models feature a new JCB Powerboom loading arm, which has a 50mm lower profile than in the previous generation. This improves the view across the boom to the operator’s right-hand side. In addition, a new front screen with lighter frame offers improved forward visibility, helped in part by moving the wiper motor to the left-hand side of the window.