The Connected Worksite

By Jay Frost, Director of Machine Control Grading and Technology and Productivity Solutions at Michigan CAT | September 28, 2010

It was quite a while ago when I first heard about a new tool on a Detroit assembly line. A friend told me there was a machine that could insert eight cylinder head bolts into an engine block at the same time, tighten them all to specification, record each individual bolt's torque measurement, and send the results to a computer database. Wow, the glories of a "modern" assembly line — production, measurement and quality control all connected in one process.

If only a machine of such caliber was available for the earth moving and compaction of our own roads and job sites. While a factory assembly line is a controlled environment, a job site is not.

Unlike quarries with their meticulously run job sites, most construction sites are not controlled in a manner that would lend itself to assembly line precision. Although humanly possible, that sort of precise measuring and recording just is not very practical without teams of manpower armed with stopwatches and clipboards. Besides, even if we could collect the data, what would we do with it? How could we manage it and keep the human data collectors out of harm's way?

GPS Is the Answer

Every day contractors and engineers learn new ways to use global positioning systems (GPS). First we were very satisfied to be able to see an indication of the tractor blade in relation to the design elevation. Then we automated the hydraulic blade control to cut the design to grade better and faster than ever imagined.

Could there possibly be more? To get ahead and stay there, we try to manage progress like we had eyes on every job site. If only there was a Star Trek-like teleportation tool.

The Connected Worksite

The good news is ... there is. With The Connected Worksite we know where our equipment is and where the dirt is, right from the job site, truck or office.

How is this possible? Two-way data. The same Trimble base station radio that sends RTK correction signals to the CAT AccuGrade machine GPS receives live machine information as recorded by the AcccuGrade CD700 machine display. With AccuGrade Wireless, you just simply connect the Trimble SPS851 base station radio to an Ethernet-based VPN network and voila, The Connected Worksite is born.

In minutes AccuGrade Office software can transfer your engineer's latest design changes directly to each machine. It's as easy as click, drag and drop. There are no memory cards, no driving, no stopping of the machine, and no distractions to the operator.

The not-so-secret recipe includes a high-speed radio. In fact, machines using the Caterpillar Computer Aided Earthmoving System (CAES) software will update the display on each machine as well as in the office. From office to machine, machine to office, and machine to machine, now it is a Connected Worksite.

With AccuGrade Office and The Connected Worksite, personalized settings for each machine and operator are all prepackaged and electronically delivered to the machine in the blink of an eye. Even better than that is being able to remotely capture onboard computer screen images that can simplify and speed up those occasions where your dealer or company GPS manager needs immediate diagnostic and troubleshooting information.

Recorded Terrain

As the AccuGrade machine GPS system moves, it can record terrain as well as speed, direction and much more.

Real time production efficiency can be enhanced with bright and colorful in-cab operator feedback that illustrates where material needs to be cut or filled. Best of all, modifications can be done on the fly. This is particularly helpful when balancing a site so there are no "birdbaths." After all, with fuel and repair costs so high, why re-grade large portions when you could just make sure that the few spots where that blade load became a little heavy gets cut to grade? With cut/full mapping, the extra material is highlighted in bright red right on the in-cab display. Your operator can also make use of additional tools like coverage mapping. They can choose how many passes are needed for proper compaction of the distance between passes for efficient ripper production.

Your GPS managers can certainly appreciate the benefit of downloading current machine records of radio latency to determine if and where to set up a repeater radio.

Recording Production to Track Progress

With the ability of the CAT CD700 display/computer to record terrain, each corner of the blade or drum performs much like a survey tool. The current elevation is recorded five times per second, and with AccuGrade Wireless and The Connected Worksite you can be immediately transmitted and imported to AccuGrade Office. You can then apply filters for individually tailored cut/fill volume reports right in AccuGrade Office Production, Compaction Module, or export the surface points to a spreadsheet or any other modeling software.