The Excavator of the Future

Increased government spending on infrastructure is driving new technology to be placed on excavators. Infrastructure development is of prime importance in any country, as it is directly proportional to the economic growth of a nation.

At the same time, technology has evolved in the construction industry and the need for connected devices has increased in recent years. This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes into the picture. IoT in construction equipment for remote monitoring is gaining in popularity.

With the IoT, the performance of excavators is expected to improve, and offer access to more data than ever before. This will help in monitoring the performance and efficiency of the machine.

The Future of Excavators

Contractors and heavy equipment owners need data to work in the background. Tech on excavators in the years ahead will mirror systems on other vehicles on the market today. Just look to the consumer sector.

Steve Shoemaker, chief engineer of excavation division, Caterpillar, says, “The same enabling technologies that are changing the automobile will impact the excavators. Cameras, sensors, and machine-monitoring systems will improve the operator’s ability to do his job, make a safer machine, and improve the total lifecycle costs of the machine for the owner.”

Along with these advancements, having telematics on the equipment will bring excavators into the future, as this enables a number of benefits as well.

Willy Schlacks, co-founder, EquipmentShare, says, “Telematics allows contractors and heavy equipment owners to manage dozens of pieces of equipment all in one place. Telematics also increases productivity, reduces costs, and arms contractors and equipment owners with the data necessary to predict and prevent downtime and maintenance.”

Equipment data collected by telematics has started to lay the foundation for automation and the future of the construction industry. Schlacks continues, “By aggregating large amounts of equipment data over long periods of time, telematics solutions help power artificial intelligence and the predictive analytics required for automation.”

Telematics, cameras, and sensors will work together to enhance how operators use excavators in the future. The data allows contractors and fleet owners insight into their equipment and its performance. Through a single platform, contractors and fleet owners can track the location, health, and use of their equipment in real-time, all in one place.

What the Operator Needs

Excavators will also migrate toward being easier to operate and thereby enabling new operators to quickly become proficient on the machine. Shoemaker explains, “Semi-autonomous operations will continue to enable higher levels of productivity with the machines.”

Building on this, the technology such as cameras and sensors also enable improved visibility for the operator, and make the site safer. Shoemaker adds, “Also, we are working on ways to improve serviceability and daily maintenance so there is not a need to climb on the machine.”

With the influx of data that excavators will provide to the operator and project manager, reading, and storing that data is becoming essential.

Schlacks explains, “Today we are increasingly seeing construction companies integrate cloud-based software to shift their data from silos to one centralized platform. This gives the entire team access to real-time project data—from human resources information to daily logs and requests for information—on any Internet-connected device. In result, teams can make quicker, more informed decisions with the data.”

Waiting on Full-Scale Tech Adoption

One reason that the adoption of this technology in this equipment is slow is because most construction equipment is very costly, especially tracking excavators, which require high initial investments. It is not financially viable for many construction companies to buy new equipment for projects that are of a low scale or budget and are of short duration. As a result, the trend toward construction equipment rental is gaining momentum. Which means that some excavator equipment manufacturers do not know how the new technology is being received by the industry since the equipment does not get purchased at a steady rate.

Still, the benefits associated with autonomous equipment is driving the use of the technology forward, opening up new opportunities for operators.

Shoemaker says, “Productivity on the construction site has been elusive for many years. As the excavator migrates towards autonomous capabilities, our customers can expect to see gains in their profitability in both total cost of ownership, direct fuel costs, and time to complete jobs.”

This move toward more autonomous equipment is changing the construction landscape, and it is beginning to be rolled out today.

The first place that automation will take hold is with heavy equipment operated in controlled environments, such as mining, agriculture, and off-highway construction vehicles, explains Schlacks. Unlike building construction sites, controlled work environments allow automated heavy equipment to operate with set procedures and with very little deviance from task.

For other segments of construction, full automation will take longer to flourish, because there are simply too many unpredictable elements. Lack of project structure, coupled with constant changes and compliance updates, make for an environment that’s too complicated for automation to adapt to.

For now, contractors have access to excavators that assist the operator with the task at hand. But in the not too distant future for excavators on the jobsite, it promises something else altogether.

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