Advances In Construction Technology

Sept. 28, 2010

Construction technology is an interesting term that can mean anything that relates to the industry. In this instance it is being used to reference the growing application of electronics and wireless communication to the earthmoving world.

The application electronic technology goes back at least 40 years when the big controversy for equipment manufacturers was, "Do we use gauges or lights on the instrument panel?" On much of today's equipment you can select what you want on the instrument cluster monitor and in the language of choice.

Construction technology is an interesting term that can mean anything that relates to the industry. In this instance it is being used to reference the growing application of electronics and wireless communication to the earthmoving world.

The application electronic technology goes back at least 40 years when the big controversy for equipment manufacturers was, "Do we use gauges or lights on the instrument panel?" On much of today's equipment you can select what you want on the instrument cluster monitor and in the language of choice.

It was only a few years ago that GPS was first used to guide a dozer's finishing touches on a project. Today a number of manufacturers have pre-wired their equipment so that machine controls and GPS systems can be added after the initial purchase.

"A term you will be hearing used more frequently is telemetrics. It's not new. Telemetrics is a technology that involves the automatic measurement and transmission of data from remote sources. The process of measuring data at the source and transmitting them automatically is called telemetry. The two terms, telemetry and telemetrics, are often used interchangeably. In general, telemetrics works in the following way: Sensors at the source measure either electrical data (such as voltage or current) or physical data (such as temperature or pressure). These are converted to specific electrical voltages. A multiplexer combines the voltages, along with timing data, into a single data stream for transmission to the distant receiver. Upon reception, the data stream is separated into its original components and the data are displayed and processed according to user specifications.

"In 1912, the first telemetric application in Chicago used telephone lines to transmit operational data from a power plant to a central office. Because telemetry was originally used in projects like this, the first telemetry systems were called supervisory systems. In 1960, the interrogation-reply principle was developed, which allowed a more selective transmission of data upon request.

"Modern-day telemetrics frequently uses wireless communication. Telemetric applications include measuring and transmitting data from space flights, meteorological events, wildlife tracking, camera control robotics, and oceanography studies. Videoconferenceing and the Global Positioning System (GPS) are also considered to be telemetric technology." (Source:

Qualcomm has developed several telemetric products. The one most interesting to our industry is GlobalTRACS. GlobalTRACS is an equipment management system that automatically collects, wirelessly transmits and manages critical operational data — giving the contractor the ability to manage the equipment, not just track it.

The system tracks engine hours; GPS location; user-defined management and maintenance reports; multiple maintenance profiles and notifications; virtual fences and after-hours security alerts; driver directions and instructions; critical machine-health monitoring; easy back-office software integration; message delivery; and ruggedized construction.

Zonar Systems is another telemetric company but it specializes in over-the-road truck operations. Zonar Systems is in verified visual inspection technologies, helping companies capture, communicate and analyze information about the condition of their vehicles and other assets. Its products use radio frequency identification (RFID), wireless communication, web-based applications, and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to enhance fleet utilization, safety, compliance, and employee satisfaction.

Zonar's High-Definition GPS system (HD-GPS) captures data every time in four dimensions, instead of the traditional three, and at a sample rate of one second. This can be integrated with other company systems.

HCSS has launched an integrated GPS feature that significantly expands the capabilities of its resource management software, The Dispatcher ™. Managers can now make better decisions based on accurate information from the field, helping them utilize equipment more efficiently, lower fuel costs, reduce cycle times, minimize theft, and identify underused rentals.

In addition to cycle-time analysis, the integrated GPS feature shows where equipment is currently located, where it has been, how fast it's been going, and meter readings of how long the equipment has been running. The meter readings, coupled with The Dispatcher's maintenance scheduling ability, help improve preventive maintenance on equipment. It can integrate with other company software.

Gomaco and Lieca — Stringless curb and gutter paving have become a reality. Gomaco and Lieca use a 3-D machine control system to simplify concrete jobsite logistics, reduce costs and improve quality. The system puts the owner's 3-D designs directly on the machine and controls height and steer, slope and draft of the paver automatically.

It allows operators to be self-directing and eliminates the need for layout and staking personnel. Using this approach, pre-production planning is kept to a minimum.

PaveSmart, as the system is called, uses Leica's TPS and GPS; is compatible with data from a wide range of design and CAD systems; and is also compatible with major GPS base station systems.

Some of the obvious advantages are that the system makes sense of digital data, directly from the designer's survey equipment. A definite big plus is that it eliminates staking out and stringline setup errors since no stakes and stringlines are required.

Truck site access is a lot easier since drivers don't have to watch for the stakes. It allows for jobs in narrower work corridors and eliminates waiting for the surveyor to check grade and make certain stakes have been moved. The system is ideal for highway work as it improves safety.

The system is designed for curb and gutter, barrier, and monolithic and sidewalk paving projects.

Curb and Gutter: parking lots, residential subdivisions and commercial developments.

PaveSmart 3D takes the owner's CAD plans directly onto the job site. Your operator simply sets up the position sensors, picks the required task, enters any working offsets if needed, and you're ready to go to work. The system even brings the machine automatically onto line and grade, ready to start paving — a faster and smarter way to work.

Barrier: restricted access, "live" highway possessions, urban and narrow-corridor or zero-clearance projects.

Project logistics are made much simpler when you can throw away the stringlines. Get your concrete trucks in and out faster, with no risk of damaging the stringlines and stopping production. Site safety and setup time for stringlines are also big concerns for projects surrounded by live traffic.

Monolithic and Sidewalk: Pave any shape in any configuration.

The system is as flexible and reconfigurable as your machine. Simply attach your new mold, set the new machine information into Leica PaveSmart 3D and you're ready to go back to work.

Some of the PaveSmart's features include improved accuracy. According to Leica PaveSmart 3D delivers grade and steer accuracy to millimeters with All-Trac Steer and All-Trac Grade.

It uses a combination of slope sensors, total station and/or GPS data to continuously calculate the position, height, orientation, cross-slope, and draft of the mold as it is working. It automatically regulates all points of the mold relative to the 3-D design, and allows offsets to be adjusted "on the fly" by the operator.

The Gomaco GT3200 single-track-steer, the Gomaco GT3600 with front steer, the GT3600 all-track-steer, and the Commander III are all designed and progammed to use the PaveSmart system.

Caterpillar's Accugrade — Most new models of excavating/dozing machines are being offered with an AccuGrade Ready Option (ARO). A machine equipped with ARO has all of the wiring and mounting brackets installed where they are protected and will perform reliably. The ARO fully integrates the automated blade control with the machine. Part of that integration enables a lockout system that keeps the blade from moving when the operator isn't at the controls.

As part of that integration, new models of machines that often are assigned finish grading tasks are designed to perform precisely when controlled by AccuGrade. For example, the M-Series motor graders have electro-hydraulic blade control that enables the system to react quickly and precisely to automated control inputs. Similarly, the new D6K tractor has electro-hydraulic blade controls and electronically controlled hydrostatic drive.

Other machines, too, are now available with AROs. Many of the Cat tractors now have AROs, and the new Cat excavators and most of the backhoe loaders also have AROs.

The second major thrust that Caterpillar is taking to implement GPS-based machine control and guidance is training. Cat has identified the distribution of GPS-based systems and training of customers as a bottleneck in applying this productivity-enhancing technology. As a result, Cat has put a great deal of effort into training dealer personnel to sell and support machine guidance systems. In North America, Cat has trained 1,500 salespeople, 300 product support people and 120-plus technology specialists. More than 200 hours of curriculum have been developed for web-based training and instructor-led training.

John Deere and QUALCOMM announced an alliance to create an equipment and machine monitoring and information delivery system that will be sold across North America by certified John Deere construction and forestry dealers.

JDLink automatically collects, transmits and manages information about where and how construction and forestry equipment is being used, as well as critical machine health data for superior equipment utilization, improved productivity and increased revenue. The system leverages QUALCOMM's GlobalTRACS® equipment management system to provide customers with vital information about equipment location, machine health and service status. Additionally, it issues special alerts to notify customers if equipment moves outside pre-set boundaries.

Four levels of service will be offered with JDLink. The Standard level will provide owners with machine location status, machine service hours and location monitoring capabilities. The Advanced levels of service provide customers with the Standard level, plus dash indicators and fuel and equipment utilization information via engine load monitoring. The Ultimate level of service expands upon these offerings by adding current and stored monitoring of component pressures and temperatures, and fuel consumption, as well as transmission gear selection and full-featured diagnostic information retrieval. The Direct level enables customers to download machine operating history and diagnostics directly to a laptop. The Advanced, Ultimate and Direct levels of service will be available in 2007 on select models of John Deere construction and forestry equipment.

Topcon's new 3-D steep slope add-on kit gives control on more job sites. The new 3-D steep slope add-on kits for motorgraders from Topcon Positioning Systems (TPS) gives contractors a wide-range sensor that allows 3-D use of these machines even in steep applications.

The slope sensor allows for precise measurement of up to 100-percent cross slope whenever needed by a Topcon System Five 2-D or 3-D application.

"We've found that this type of technology is needed as more and more contractors are using 3D-GPS+ motograders in applications with steeper slopes," said Jason Killpack, Topcon senior product marketing manager. "Topcon created the new kits, which have a wider range slope sensor than the standard add-on kits, to provide superior accuracy and response on more job sites and applications."

The new kit is compatible with all System Four, System Five and 9168 control boxes and features a temperature-compensated sensing element to enhance its use in any weather condition.

Interesting application

Grant Garrett with Garrett Excavation, Inc., of Hot Springs, Ark., bought a Topcon 3D-GPS+ system to put on a single bulldozer six years ago. Today the company has a full complement of 3-D and 2-D machine control systems, GPS rovers and base stations, total stations, and all types of laser instruments. He firmly believes that "Without GPS capabilities, we wouldn't even be in business. Satellite technology provides us the competitive edge we need to continue to grow out business every year."

Since last fall, a 15- to 20-man Garrett crew has been "attacking" a 122.5-acre plat in West Little Rock, moving massive amounts of dirt for a multipurpose development. The largest and hardest part of the job was a 50-acre section in the middle of the development dedicated to a 200,000-square-foot church.

Garrett's crews relied on two CAT D-11 dozers and a D-9 to do the major earthmoving chores. "We slapped GPS+ on the D-9 and one of the D-11s and got to work."

The initial church pad portion of the job was located on a former dairy farm. The hilly site presented its own special problems: Some areas required more than 30-foot cuts; others needed fills of more than 25 feet.

Garrett solved the problem of moving more than 170,000 yards of dirt in a short time span. The crew finished the work in less than 30 days. (The total job will entail moving more than 800,000 yards of dirt.) In the rough grading phase, crew members ran the three bulldozers side by side using the two Topcon-equipped GPS-controlled dozers to set the angle and depth of the cuts; the third dozer shadowed the movement of the other two with amazing results.

The result was a 57-foot-wide, 9-foot-high "wall of dirt" moving across the pad site. "I've been around dirt work all my life," Garrett said, "and that even impressed me."

Due to the contour of the site, the "shadow" dozer operator "eye-balled" the blade position in relationship to the position of the other blades of the GPS+-equipped dozers. When the machines were close to final grade, the two GPS+ dozers were used and "we were within 0.10-foot consistently," Garrett said.

The church pad was finished three days early. "Without using GPS technology, the 30-day limit to finish the pad would have been impossible," he said. "But using satellite positioning, ingenuity and the right people on the crew gave us a big productivity edge."

Komatsu's KOMTRAX provides not only location and hour meter updates, but additional invaluable information regarding machine health and productivity.

The system was designed to give owners the information they need to make strategic business decisions regarding machines and their operations.

KOMTRAX relays basic and critical performance data from a machine to the owners' computer as well as to the local distributor. Owners receive detailed information in easy-to-read daily, monthly and annual reports about both basic and more advanced aspects of machine performance.

Lists and charts are great, but they don't mean much unless owners can easily adapt that information to more efficiently use their equipment. Because one key way to lower costs is to reduce machine idle time, the KOMTRAX system has a feature that differentiates between idle hours and actual working hours.

KOMTRAX has been standard on most Tier 3-compliant Komatsu machines since early 2006 which have provided revealing analysis of machine idle time statistics for thousands of machines. According to those data, 20 percent of 20-ton class excavators idle more than 50 percent of their service meter hours, and the average idle time for this machine class is 36 percent of the time. But some operators idle far less. By using the data provided from the remote monitoring system, 20 percent of the operators have reduced idle time to fewer than 20 percent of operating hours.

Over a machine's life, idle time typically accounts for nearly 20 percent of the machine's total fuel burn. By eliminating 50 percent of non-productive idle time, fuel costs can be reduced by 10 percent. And, in today's environment of rising fuel costs and increased concern about global warming and diesel engine emissions, this kind of reduction is significant.

Reducing idle time saves on fuel costs, but one of the main hidden costs of excessive idle time is reduced residual value of a machine. For example, if two machines actually work 600 hours per year doing identical work, but one idles 40 percent of the time and the other idles 20 percent of the time, these machines will accumulate service meter hours at a different rate. After five years the machine that idles 40 percent of the time will register 5,000 hours, while the one idling 20 percent will have less than 4,000 hours. All other things being equal, the machine with fewer hours is obviously worth more. In addition, the lower hour machine likely will have avoided two maintenance intervals, translating into less downtime for maintenance and more time to move dirt.

Reduced idle time translates into greater operator productivity. Measuring idle time, observing operator behavior, goal setting, and regular operator feedback are keys to reducing excessive idle time. Because KOMTRAX measures idle time, users with multiple machines doing similar work can compare machine-to-machine idle times for insight into how much improvement is possible. Observations of operator behavior and noting when machines are idled are critical pieces of information to set meaningful idle reduction goals. A monitoring system that provides monthly idle time reports can be an effective way to reinforce and reward good operator behavior as well as identify training opportunities for those operators who are slower to change excessive idle habits.

Glacier Computer, a designer, developer and supplier of rugged industrial PC-compatible devices, introduces its Magnum series of computers. Specifically designed for use in the construction industry, the Magnum can be mounted in a variety of work environments and applications. Engineered to withstand shock, vibration, dust, and moisture, the Magnum can be mounted into cranes, dump trucks, backhoes, graders, and onboard forklifts. Additionally, the Magnum can be mounted outside in a fixed location and used as a time clock at a temporary work location.

The Magnum is an Intel-based PC traditionally configured with either XP Pro or XP Embedded. An array of standard I/O allows for attaching numerous peripherals, including portable printers for producing work orders and employee ID card readers. Wide area network cards and GPS accessories provide easy data transfer from the work site and constant vehicle mapping and location data.

Unlike traditional laptop solutions, the Glacier Magnum is a sealed unit with no fans or vents. The unit can operate in the most intense environments, including extremes of temperature, shock, vibration, and moisture. Each unit has a touchscreen and high-bright display for ease of use with even a gloved hand. All units accept and easily run traditional Windows software applications. There are a variety of processor, DRAM, and both rotating and solid-state hard drive options.

Glacier's Magnum series of computers are HALT tested, have passed thermal and reliability testing, and have an MTBF of nearly 40,000 hours. Built to Mil-Spec standards, these computers have an IP 64 environmental rating.

Trimble's The Eagle Eye Obstacle Detection System alerts drivers to objects hidden in vehicle blind spots up to 20 feet away. The system features a series of sensors mounted around the truck and an alert module that provides visual and audible warnings of hidden obstacles.

The DriveSafe system automatically records speed on turns, starts and stops in relation to vehicle's status. In addition, GPS positioning monitors average road speeds, and scores are assigned for each maneuver so driver behavior can be compared to the fleet average. As a result, early adopters such as Maricopa (see Trucking for Construction Special Section) aren't just working to prevent accidents, they are taking steps to actually improve the quality of their driver's decisions.