Astec Data Suite connects equipment from crushing to paving
Aggregate businesses are often diverse and have divisions spanning segments that stretch from the quarry to the construction site. As digital technology develops, those businesses are seeking ways to connect tools and use collected data to improve their operations.
Astec Industries introduced a new division, Astec Digital, at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 to develop technology that will span the length of the rock value chain. Its target is to produce a digital platform that provides information and data collection through accessible, unified tools.
With connected solutions developed by Astec Digital, users will be able to monitor, control, and optimize operations across multiple segments, improving their overall efficiency.
Vertical integration crosses over operating segments
Astec Industries manufactures equipment for all aspects of rock processing, from crushing and screening tools through asphalt and concrete batch plants to road rehabilitation and asphalt paving. Many businesses that work with Astec are vertically integrated and use a combination of machines across their operating segments.
"They'll have a quarry, and at the quarry, they may have a plant for recycling asphalt or concrete. Then they'll have an asphalt plant close to the quarry. They might have a ready-mix concrete plant. From there, they'll take the asphalt, put it in a Shuttle Buggy, and pave a highway," described technical sales director Dave McCracken.
Technology has made its way into each link of the chain, through telematics, machine controls, or monitoring. The challenge is that existing digital tools operate individually, rather than being connected.
"We have multiple digital systems right now depending on the segment and the piece of equipment. If you have one encompassing digital platform, then that one customer would not have multiple systems to deal with - it simplifies solutions," McCracken said.
Acquisitions drive Astec Digital development
Astec formed the base for Astec Digital with two recent acquisitions – Grathwol Automation and MINDS Controls. The addition of technology and solutions from those two companies has given the new division a strong starting point.
"We have some real areas of strength to build from. Our ultimate goal is to connect our entire product portfolio and provide connected solutions for our customers and really for the whole value chain," described Eric Baker, vice president and general manager of Astec Digital. "We will have to prioritize and grow in those areas as we go, but ultimately that will depend on what provides the most value for our customers and where they can use insights to drive profitability."
Under the Astec Digital banner, the goal will be to connect fixed and mobile equipment throughout the Astec fleet in a standardized manner to simplify and optimize technology use, while providing useful, actionable information to businesses.
"We all have data overload. Customers want insight and actionable information, but ultimately, it's about what makes them more efficient and prevents downtime - moving from reactive to proactive," Baker said.
Product suite provides data analysis and optimization
The first offering to combine technologies under the Astec Digital banner is the Astec Data Suite. A collection of digital solutions that provide data-based knowledge and optimization across multiple product segments, Data Suite focuses on four areas: controls and automation, telematics, data and process intelligence, and robotics.
In asphalt and concrete batch plants, for example, the Astec Data Suite has blended Astec's control knowledge with technology from MINDS to provide operators with a control system that is modular and easy to configure while remaining reliable and accurate. Easy to learn and capable of remote access, the system collects data during operation that moves up to higher-level business management tools for further analysis.
Data Suite tools can manage plants at multiple sites, track material use, generate tickets and invoices, and produce performance metrics dashboards. It also can monitor jobs and tanks in real time. This approach makes it easier for managers to review critical information using a single point of reference.
Telematics under the Astec Data Suite allows for remote machine monitoring wirelessly and enables service teams to address problems remotely when needed. A common user interface makes the system easy to use, providing insight into the health of key components.
Data analysis and diagnostics reduce downtime
Remote diagnostics and maintenance are valuable parts of Astec's digital offering and are an area that will grow across the platform moving forward.
"In asphalt and concrete, you have a perishable product. Being able to get a machine back up and running more quickly than having to send a technician out or being there physically is a huge advantage and makes the machines more profitable and successful," Baker said.
For crushing and screening equipment, data analysis that monitors operating parameters ensures that the correct maintenance takes place on time, reducing the likelihood of unexpected downtime, McCracken noted. Tools that automatically adjust the operating parameters of machines, such as cone crushers, ensure they are generating the correct product while responding to changing conditions as needed.
Sustainability can also be improved using integrated digital offerings across segments. More efficient asphalt plant burners cut emissions, while data analysis that improves efficiency on mobile equipment means it burns less fuel and produces more per gallon of fuel used.
Moving forward, Astec will continue to put an emphasis on development of an overarching common platform that can tie together all its digital tools, while adding more functionality to existing offerings.
Predictive analysis will be one near-term focus, Baker said. Using data collected through Astec Data Suite to determine the potential for breakdowns on individual machines, owners will have the knowledge they need to avoid downtime before it happens.
"The ultimate goal is making sure people don't have unexpected downtime – if a part is going to fail, they can plan to get it fixed over a weekend or when they're not working," Baker described. "I can see us getting into that quickly."