New Control Technology Gives Motor Grader Operators an Edge

Cat® 140 GC motor grader Operating a grader isn’t just one job on a worksite. It’s actually many jobs — steering and turning, maintaining the blade height and angle, managing speed and power — all at the same time. That’s no small task, especially for less experienced operators.

As contractors face shortages of skilled workers, equipment manufacturers are introducing new automation technologies that make motor graders easier to operate. So operators at any level can get more work done faster.

“Finding skilled operators is one of the biggest challenges for customers,” says Eric Kohout, product and application specialist for Caterpillar. “We’re always looking for new ways to help them get as much out of that machine as possible.”

“You’re seeing a lot of development effort put into the technology front,” says Nathan Repp, product marketing manager for Komatsu. “A lot of upgrades are being applied to the motor grader. It’s one of your finish tools, one of your most important pieces of equipment. Providing those operator aids is going to be a trend that continues.”

“Innovation is what’s key,” says Grant Van Tine, solutions marketing manager for John Deere. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of new automation features. Simplifying controls for common tasks to reduce fatigue and improve accuracy is a big trend. It’s an opportunity to develop technology that makes it easier for our customers to operate motor graders.”

CASE 856C motor graderMachine Control Options

Grade control technology can help contractors finish jobs faster and with greater precision than ever before. But it also requires a significant investment. Providing flexibility and options for machine control helps contractors make smart equipment purchase decisions.

“C-Series graders offer factory-available machine control-ready systems for all of the major suppliers in North America,” says Nathaniel Waldschmidt, product manager for CASE Construction Equipment. “Customers aren’t limited to one supplier. It puts the power in their hands for what they prefer. If they’ve used a system in previous equipment and are comfortable with it, we give them that option.”

“CASE not only gives customers the flexibility to choose any supplier, but we also offer the ability to scale up control system components over time. They can buy a 2D solution and upgrade to the components they need to create a 3D system later. That can take a new operator and turn them into a world-class one.”

“Customers are pushing for more integration of technology and machine control,” says Van Tine. “That’s why we developed our SmartGrade™ option, the industry’s first mastless grade control system for motor graders. It integrates all components into the machine, eliminating additional masts and cables from the moldboard that are vulnerable to damage or theft.”

“You want the right option for the right customer,” says Kohout. “The ability to add what’s needed to get equipment up and running — either direct from the factory or retrofit-capable — is very important. Everyone’s really excited that Cat motor graders are now available with Cat Grade 3D, a 3D GNSS integrated mastless system. It’s also equipped with E-Fence. This exclusive feature prevents the moldboard from contacting the tires, ladders and fenders, and prevents the top of the circle from contacting the linkbar.”

komatsu gd655-7 motor graderBlade-Control Automation

Maintaining the height of both the leading and trailing edge of the blade is one of the most challenging skills for grader operators to master. New technology automates this task, making it easier for the operator.

“This year, a 2D cross-slope control system will be included as standard equipment on the Komatsu GD655-7,” says Repp. The cross-slope system automatically maintains the cross-slope angle, so operators don’t have to monitor both ends of the blade. “You can match an existing angle and keep it as you move the blade up and down. And for machines out there currently, we’ll offer a field-installed kit to install the cross-slope system on existing equipment.”

“We’ve also added features like auto-articulation, which combines front steering and rear articulation,” says Van Tine. “This reduces the number of inputs operators have to manage, so they don’t have to steer and articulate. Blade flip allows operators to automatically rotate the blade to a set position at the end of a pass. And machine presets combine selectable functions that can be operated by pressing a single button.”

“Options such as stable blade and auto-articulation help grader operators be more productive throughout their entire shift,” says Kohout. “That’s true whether they’re less experienced or have spent years behind the controls.”

john deere 772gp motor graderAutomated Hydraulics

Another area where motor grader manufacturers have focused is automating the hydraulic system, giving operators greater control for precision grade work.

“One thing that’s important to almost any operator is the ease of control and responsiveness,” says Repp. “With Komatsu’s new GD655-7 model, we implemented electro-proportional control. Instead of having mechanical linkages, we’ve gone to electronic servos operating those valves. Our controls also include a closed-loop hydraulic control system. For each individual circuit, the pump will sense the demand and adjust to meet it. It offers responsive flow on demand for fingertip precision with very low effort.”

“We have an intelligent hydraulic system,” says Waldschmidt. “The load-sensing hydraulics automatically put the power where and when it’s needed without operator input. This allows them to be more precise on the job at hand, rather than worrying about how the machine’s going to react.”

Motor Grader Operating Tips

The most important thing, for new and experienced operators alike, is to take advantage of what the new automation technology has to offer.

“Sometimes with experienced operators, it can be hard to adapt,” says Van Tine. You’ve learned a certain way, and when things change fast it’s a lot to take on. The new technology and features are designed to help not only the new operator, but the experienced one, as well. Whether you’re talking about reducing commands or combining tasks into fewer functions, automation allows operators to focus on the task in front of them instead of controlling the machine. It can help any operator of any skill level be more productive.”

motor grader controls“I’m always learning things when I go out in the field,” says Repp. “Just try it. Nobody drives a manual clutch vehicle anymore. Use the technology. Let it do what it’s capable of doing. Don’t do things the way you’ve always done it if the machine can help you do it better.”

“This technology is here to help you,” says Kohout. “Operators need to learn on the job about material management. Cat Grade 3D will help new as well as experienced operators achieve grade faster and more efficiently.”

“You can be an operator for two years or 25 years,” says Waldschmidt. “As machines and technologies change, it’s important to know your machine — all of its functions, features and controls — so you can utilize that machine to its full potential. That’s only going to make you more effective on the jobsite.”

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