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Inside Innovation: Earth movers of all sizes get automated

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Earth movers of all sizes get automated

New product announcements from the leading manufacturers of earth moving equipment are pointing solidly in one direction — improved efficiency through advanced automated controls and communication software.

The impact of increased technological innovation will not be confined to larger machinery either. Bobcat, a company known for its range of compact equipment, has already made several new announcements over the past few months. For example, the company’s MaxControl now allows operators to use an app on their iPhone or iPad to control a compact loader from over 300 feet away. This in-sight remote system is not only available on new Bobcat loaders but can be retrofitted to the company’s M2-Series loaders.

Wireless communication for monitoring and maintenance is also part of the technology evolution already underway. Bobcat’s R-Series compact excavators and M2-Series skid steer and compact track loaders are incorporating software they call Machine IQ. This allows data to be communicated from the field, helping managers assess equipment utilization and anticipate future maintenance. Through the Bobcat Owner Portal machine location, operating hours, fuel levels, maintenance alerts and even theft monitoring can be communicated to an owner’s or rental dealer’s base computer or mobile device for proactive response.

Compact machines are becoming more intelligent too. Although known primarily for their large machines, Caterpillar has released a number of Smart Attachments for their D3 Series of skid steers and compact rack loaders. These automatically allow the carrier machine to recognize the attachment and adjust their controls to match the task. They also now offer a touchscreen control system called Command for Compaction on its B-Series vibratory soil compactors. Operators can set a few parameters without the need for design input or back-office assistance, hit “auto”, and simply monitor the work from there. The system controls forward and backwards motion as well as vibration. By delivering consistent and precise overlaps through its overlap and pass count control, the company says novice operators can reach high levels of proficiency sooner.

Meanwhile, new features on large equipment are increasingly focused on semi-robotic sensing and automated control.

Komatsu has introduced proactive dozing control, allowing operators to use automation any time, whether for general site clean-up, backfilling trenches and more. The system also recognizes terrain variation in real time at the tracks, rather than through the blade, by using a combination of a GNSS positioning sensor and an inertial measurement unit. The system can then calculate the exact position of the dozer and where its tracks lie on the ground. The information is gathered, stored and is available when the machine revisits the location, remembering the terrain characteristics previously created.

Other leading manufacturers are busy introducing their own innovations as well. John Deere has a new programmable software platform called SmartGrade, a mast-less 3D integrated grade control that is factory-installed into their line of graders. Features like Blade Flip enable automatic rotation of the blade to pre-specified positions, one of several single-button pre-sets that reduce the number of controls needed to complete repetitive tasks. Caterpillar is now incorporating Trimble Earthworks, a 3D software platform for existing dozers, excavators and other earth moving machines that complements the company’s proprietary suite of automatic machine controls.

Joel Honeyman, vice-president of global innovation for Doosan Bobcat, believes the construction equipment sector has begun to attract the interest of technology developers who made their start in other industries. The result is that every major construction machine manufacturer is busy developing technological advances that are destined to transform the equipment industry. In fact, Doosan Bobcat president Scott Park predicts that the pace of control innovations, intelligent attachments and communications software technology will speed up.

“The drum beat is actually going to be faster,” he said. “You’ll be surprised.”


John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont. based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to

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