Site Connectivity - Positioning & Machine Control’s next Technology Step

Our world is getting smaller. Connectivity is literally in the palm of our hands. Wireless and wired networks are everywhere as access through them expands.  Advances in software, especially simpler user interfaces, make it possible for even grandma to get in on the action, video chatting with family across the globe. Connectivity is here to stay.

While this technology boasts a high ‘cool’ factor, there are tremendous economic benefits for mining, construction, landfills and other industries in the realm of positioning and 3D machine control. Industry leaders agree.

“The adoption of information technology around the world from airlines to banking has revolutionized the way they work,” says Roz Buick, Ph.D., Business Area Manager, Heavy and Highway Construction at Trimble Navigation. “Up until recently, construction has been a technology laggard. We have now moved into a different phase due to increasing competition in the challenging economic environment within the industry and the general pervasiveness of technology in all aspects of our lives.”

"What we're talking about is being able to have the elements of a PC in every machine and connect all the machines to the job trailer, home office or global command center via a wireless network by Internet (WiFi), cell phone, radio or Bluetooth technology,” says Topcon Positioning Systems President Ray O’Connor. "This ability for machines to talk to each other, to quickly capture, store and retrieve machine data--fuel usage, engine temperature, various productivity factors, available materials, machine service needs--just about any information a job supervisor, project manager or company owner needs to realize maximum productivity will be available at their fingertips in real time.”

Improved Decision-Making
The ability to remotely monitor each machine or asset offers unparalleled decision making capa
bilities. For example, a site superintendent can monitor machines in real-time, realizing which machines need service, which machines need fuel and how to better allocate material based on per machine productivity. For example, lets consider a large, open pit mine. There can be dozens of dozers and other machines scattered across a mile or more. They are constantly moving. This technology allows a fuel truck to see all machine locations and navigate to the machines with the lowest fuel first. The time savings can be remarkable.

Solid Waste Landfills are adopting 3D Machine Control at an increased rate. The fundamentals are similar to construction and mining with application centric features such as compaction, pass count and density. “It is important for landfills to monitor compaction and density in real time,” says Carlson Software’s President and Founder Bruce Carlson. “Optimizing air space is critical to profitability and with remote monitoring, both operator and landfill managers can make sure compaction is achieved in the most efficient manner; under or over compaction costs money.”

Carlson adds, “traditional methods include aerial photography that is expensive and less accurate partially due to these being surveyed monthly, quarterly or even yearly. Tighter restrictions and profitability demand real time information. This can increase the life a landfill by years. This benefit along with the fuel savings go along way towards lowering the operation’s carbon footprint.”

Applications are Endless

There a
re many opportunities to save money if one is willing to be creative. For example, I was visiting a coal mine outside of Brisbane Australia last May 2009. The site uses 3D machine control in their dozers and shovels and all are connected via a mesh radio network. But in addition to the machines, the mine has installed wireless nodes on their light plants, (mines usually work 24/7). As the sun began to set, the mine manager activated all the light plants, even checking their fuel levels, all performed remotely. The savings of driving to each light plant and not running them unnecessarily gave the site an estimated savings of $200,000 the first year alone.

Add to these applications the benefit of safety. If all assets are “connected” machines know where other machines are through proximity warnings. Visitors can also be monitored when they enter a site. Warning and watch zones are established allowing many eyes to monitor the entire area. And if an accident does occur, the connected site allows for historical playback which can point out a description of what when wrong, a total rewind. Historical playback is also beneficial for analyzing why one machine is productive and another is not.

What can connecting a site do for your company?

• Reduce unnecessary travel time and fuel costs
• Keep operators in the field where they are most productive, and reduce machine downtime through remote machine diagnosis and increased utilization time
• Ensure all machines and site workers have the correct data as soon as it is available
• Ensure site workers are kept in synch with each other and in line with design changes from the engineer or data preparation team, and eliminate mistakes and rework caused by using wrong or out of date information
    –Control files –Surface files for volumes and laid material thickness checks
• Manage and organize project data over the lifetime of a project
• Notify machine operators when design updates have been loaded into the machine control box
• Maintain firmware and software updates for the machine sensors and control box, keeping them up to date and eliminating incompatibilities between components which could affect machine performance
• Real time production and soil compaction information is available from machines and site workers as soon as a task has been completed
    –Provides an up to the minute status of progress against schedules and status of cut/fill or compaction on each layer being constructed
    –Reduces the need for site measurement operations through use of production data from the machines on site
    –Better utilization of personnel and equipment assets

What can connecting other assets do for your company?
 Improve equipment and personnel productivity and efficiency
• Check and control subcontractor activity
• Determine equipment utilization by project and by asset
    –Hours –Fuel burn rate (emissions control) –Idle time –Working time
• Review and manage load counts, cycle times and utilization in order to optimize performance
    –Estimated arrival times, travel times, and on road times for permitting requirements
• Plan maintenance schedules, increase operating life and avoid unscheduled down time
• Warn when unplanned events occur
    –Out of hours ignition –Unplanned leaving a Geo-fenced area
• Manage operator or driver compliance
    –On road speeds –Uninterrupted hours of operation

The benefits for connecting machines and assets are clear. These solutions take productivity analysis, safety and management to a new level. Whether you are a small contractor, landfill or large mine you will find value. Embracing technology that ensures such results are factors that win contracts and ensure survival.

Reference links below:

Randy Noland
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Additional Company Links:

Mobile-Net - Complete Global Telematics Solution

Rajant Corporation - Mesh Technology

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