Taking Advantage of Loader Technology

Technology in loaders is advancing, allowing for increased production and easier operation at the construction site. This builds on the overall trend that construction equipment is bursting with tech innovations, opening up new opportunities for leveraging data in unique and beneficial ways.

Construction operators that want to know what is coming on equipment, such as loaders, in the future simply need to look at what is happening in other industries. Often, the technology that becomes common on the equipment usually started in the automotive realm.

Advances in Automation & Machine Monitoring

In speaking about wheel loaders, Craig McGinnis, product marketing manager, Komatsu America Corp., says, “Similar to automotive, we expect new propulsion technology such as electrical/diesel hybrid, hydro-mechanical, and full electric to play an increasing larger role. Like all machines, increases in automation and tracking should continue to grow—we already have full auto-dig.”

Telematics has been a game changer for construction, and has its roots in the automotive industry. A study by IHS Market highlights that the telematics systems market will be $6.7 billion by the end of 2023. This is driven by continued innovation in connectivity and safety technologies. Embedded telematics solutions are often used for safety and security features of telematics services. This technology is being used in construction equipment as well as automotive vehicles.

Some features that are different in construction deal with monitoring the equipment. James Bretz director, Uptime & Connected Services Region Americas, Volvo Construction Equipment, says machine monitoring and operational reporting software is benefiting contractors—and telematics makes that possible.

Leveraging Technology on Loaders

Technology on loaders provides operators with a better way to manage the job—although the first step is to identify what the technology is and how it can best work out at the construction jobsite.

Telematics is often referenced as a tool to use, although McGinnis of Komatsu says besides telematics or any tracking systems for fuel, production, idle time, etc., there are two other systems that can provide big value for operators. The first are scale systems, which are tied to telematics for accurate load weights and increased production. The second is auto dig for less experienced operators to produce consistent results. Those are the top three most useful pieces of technology to have on loaders, according to McGinnis.

The next step is to identify how to best implement the technology out at the jobsite and how to encourage operators to best leverage the technology. Oftentimes, the best option is to purchase something new.

With regards to the benefits of implementing new equipment, McGinnis says, “Take your pick: less fuel burn, better emissions, increased operator comfort, improved productivity, tracking, and telematics. Also, you can do more with less. While machines are getting bigger and more powerful, you can also replace an older, larger machine with a smaller one with no production loss.”

However, at the end of the day, whether the technology is leveraged on new or old equipment, the biggest benefit is having access to the data that the equipment produces. The challenge is there is often too much data for an operator to wade through out at the construction jobsite.

Bretz of Volvo Construction Equipment suggests that providing a machine monitoring and reporting service for contractors that reduces the noise from telematics data can help, as it only provides actionable, valuable information to contractors, which will improve uptime and reduce operating cost.

Once the information is in the hands of the operator, the good news is using newer tech on loaders at the jobsite can provide many benefits to the construction industry overall.

“They are all building blocks that tie the entire jobsite together,” explains McGinnis of Komatsu. “The importance of (being able) to monitor an entire fleet on one site, or region, or nationwide to a customer’s bottom line cannot be overstated. If predictable, repeatable production is how you win in the marketplace, automation is a proven way to remove some of the variability.”

Loaders of the Future

Going forward, there are many features that don’t currently exist on construction equipment—specifically loaders—that operators could benefit from in the future.

Bretz of Volvo Construction Equipment points to self-diagnosing and self-correcting machines. This could include automatic software updates and machine function adjustment based on conditions. “Autonomous functions are a few features on a wish list,” explains Bretz.

As the evolution of construction equipment continues, construction companies—specifically operators out at the jobsite—could be the driving force for new innovation in the equipment.

When it comes to reasons for upgrades, McGinnis says, “Customers demand it. When they look at other equipment, or their own cars, they start to expect the same from their loaders, especially when spending 8, 10, 14 hours in the seat. Margins are decreasing and job cycle times are getting shorter. Customers need all the production advantage they can get to stay competitive. Finally, the EPA requires it from an emissions standpoint.”

The new innovations and advancements in construction equipment—specifically loaders—are vast. As the tech becomes available on all equipment, contractors will have to make important decisions regarding the future of their fleets and how their operators will leverage all the data.

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