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Machine control for Excavators

Machine control  for Excavators

If you’re in the construction industry, chances are you’ve given at least a little thought to whether or not investing in machine control is right for you. From there, knowledge and adoption of the technology varies greatly across the industry. While early adopters and super-users are finding ways to grow their businesses and expand their service offerings using machine control and related technologies that connect construction jobsites, much of the industry is still inching slowly toward adoption.

Although machine control has a longer history on dozers and motor graders, one of the more recent uses for machine control is on excavators, where the system puts the job’s design in the cab, at the operator’s fingertips, and then guides the bucket or attachment to a precise location. Using machine control on excavators allows contractors to complete jobs more efficiently and with greater precision. But for many, questions still remain about the options, cost and learning curve of making the move to machine control.

Getting started
Machine control systems use a combination of GNSS, inertial and laser, or total station technology to accurately position the excavator’s bucket in real time. Using an in-cab display, the operator can then see the 2D or 3D design surface, grade or alignment inside the excavator. Following the design, the operator can cut to grade or dig to desired depths quickly. 

Many contractors who are new to machine control start with a 2D option. Solutions start in the $10,000 range for a single, 2D machine control system for an excavator and can go up to $50,000 with 3D systems that provide greater flexibility and functionality. While return on investment calculations are often anecdotal, many contractors report an initial payback on the system in much less than a year, and most find that they are 25 percent to 35 percent more efficient with machine control. 
2D laser-based systems offer a lower cost of entry and the flexibility to expand and upgrade down the road. 2D systems are ideal for trenching underground utilities and for site preparation, such as foundations, footings, septic systems and landscaping. 
3D machine control options deliver increased productivity, enabling operators to perform complex tasks more quickly. 
Most machine control systems show live cut/fill indications in the cab, allowing excavation to be done in a safer, stakeless environment – even at night or in poor weather. This cuts the cost of stakes or stringlines dramatically, while also greatly reducing rework. Used on an excavator, these systems also allow lesser skilled operators to work faster and more consistently, freeing up more experienced operators for bigger jobs. 

Solutions for all sizes of contractors
Across the industry there is a push to provide technology solutions that meet the wide range of needs for both large and small contractors. Larger contractors can benefit from using excavators equipped with machine control on projects such as bulk earthmoving for land reclamation, dredging, road construction and site development work. 
Machine control also makes it easier for contractors to find more uses for excavators, such as on finish grading of jobs. Less travel time and coordination of machines across multiple job sites can save a significant amount of time and money for both large and small contractors. New machine control developments are also making excavator attachments more effective. Machine control options for tiltrotators, for example, make the excavator useful in more applications. 

Working with a dealer
Although machine control technology is designed to be easy to use, contractors should never underestimate the importance of a good local partner. Today’s construction sites are more connected and more high tech than ever before, and most contractors want technical support to be no further than a phone call away. In many cases, construction technology dealers are some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry – often coming from either technology manufacturers or from a background in construction before working as a dealer. Working with a dealer that understands your business and can help you apply innovative technology to solve challenges on the job site will save a lot of stress and deliver the largest ROI overtime.

Looking ahead
Although machine control is already changing the way excavation work is done, the evolution of machine control technology is far from over. There is a push from both users and manufacturers to make intelligent construction technology more user-friendly and on par with other electronic devices today, with bigger, touchscreen displays, for example. Contractors want machine guidance and GNSS solutions that are simpler, faster, easier to use and support, and less costly. 

Although the transfer of 3D designs from the field to the office is seamless with the right technology infrastructure, the industry is also moving toward the use of infield design tools to further simplify the process of getting the design in the cab. Expanding the tools available to technology managers and an easier upgrade path for those interested in moving from 2D to 3D will also continue to improve adoption of machine control technology across the industry.

Company info

935 Stewart Drive
Sunnyvale, CA
US, 94085


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