Putting Technology to Work on a Mixed Fleet

Caterpillar says you don’t have to invest in different machine control and guidance technology for every brand you own, thanks to interoperability

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Caterpillar Inc.

By Scott Hagemann, Senior Market Professional, Grade Technology, Caterpillar Inc.

By now, you’ve heard the advantages of machine control and guidance technology: Up to 50% increases in productivity and efficiency, fewer operator inputs for more repetitive accuracy, no grade checkers for a safer jobsite. And that’s all great, you might be saying, but I run a mixed fleet and can’t afford to invest in different systems for every brand I own. Good news: Thanks to interoperability, you don’t have to.

What’s interoperability?

It’s a big word for a pretty simple concept – getting different brands of technology and equipment to interact and communicate with one another seamlessly.

What components are involved?

There’s a host of technology components involved in machine control and guidance: satellites, antennas, receivers, IMUs, radios and displays, just to name a few. Trust me when I say you don’t need (or want to bother yourself) to know the details of how they all interact. Here’s what’s important:

  • The base station: It provides the reference signal on your jobsite. The base station gathers location signals from satellites, makes the necessary corrections and then sends a position to your machines, so they can achieve golf-ball-size accuracy.
  • The machine: It uses the two antennas on the top of the cab to determine its location from the satellites.  Since the satellites are moving, the machine gets corrections from the base station to maintain the tight location accuracy.  Then the IMU’s on the machine then determine the blade or bucket tip location in reference to the GNSS antennas.
  • The digital design file: Usually created in AutoCAD software and converted into one of two machine control languages (Trimble or Topcon), it lays out the entire plan for the jobsite. The design plan appears on operators’ in-cab displays, so they know exactly where and how to work.

Interoperability allows you to pair any brand of base station with whichever machine control brand you prefer.

What’s the benefit?

The No.1 advantage is cost savings. There’s no need to invest in purchasing new base stations or data collectors — if you’re a Trimble fan, you can stick with Trimble on all your equipment. If you're a Topcon fan, you can stick Topcon on your equipment.

Another benefit is a shorter learning curve. Think about your phone. Are you an Apple or Android user? If someone forced you to use the other brand, you’d figure it out — but it would require some time and trial and error. The same is true with machine control and guidance technology. Your operators get comfortable with a certain brand — they know how to use it and what to look for. Letting them keep using that same brand eliminates the learning curve and gives you more productive time on the job.

Want to know more?

A great way to dive deeper (but not too deep) is to check out this free 30-minute webinar. It covers the basics of the hardware and software involved, answers a number of common questions and walks through examples of how interoperability can make your jobs more productive and profitable.