Integrated OEM 3D Machine Control vs 3rd Party Retrofit

Like we didn’t see this coming?

If you’re familiar with in our industry, you have likely witnessed the trend of technology migrating from innovative, retrofit positioning systems developed by leading technology companies to being accepted by original equipment manufactures (OEM) who integrate the technology deep into the machines during manufacturing. 2D paving systems are a good example, once more prevalent outside the OEMs. While I would like to think we are quiet smart to envision such trends before they occur, the truth is, it is predictable and logical. There are hundreds if not thousands of technology examples outside our industry.

I may be stretching my next analogy (and showing my age) to provide another example, but 8-track tape, cassette tape and then CD stereo systems with high fidelity speakers were not originally offered when you bought a new car. (this is a shocker if you are under age 35) I remember ordering a new car back in 1983 specifying no stereo. The stock audio systems were no where near loud and cool enough for my taste. I went down to the local “car stereo” dealer and order an add-on, $3500.00 Alpine system with Polk-Audio speakers so I could enjoy Aerosmith, Molly Hatchet and Led Zepplin as if I were front row at a live concert. The automakers did not realize this at the time. It was the innovators offering a higher performance choice. Once they plowed the field, so to speak, the market embraced new technology and then expected a great stereo system as standard equipment. The last car I purchased in 2010 included a navigation system with DVD, USB media interface, Bluetooth and a 7 speaker surround sound. I am not sure who makes any part of the system. Thank you to the innovators, then the early adopters then the market that created the business to drive the inclusive decision by the OEMs.

The economic benefits of 3D machine control, positioning and the connected job site far outweigh those of a loud, high performance stereo system, (although I think I was able to land a date or two w/my stereo system I may not have otherwise). This trend has been and will continue to drive positioning systems deep into the heart of heavy equipment and their applications until they perform as machine “bodily functions” in ways we have yet to realize. We will see OEM systems on smaller and smaller machines as the volumes continue to drive down pricing. This will be standard equipment.

I attended Bauma 2013 last month in Munich Germany. The worlds largest construction show (over 500K in attendance) and was the venue Komatsu chose to unveil its new Intelligent Machine Control (iMC). I was fortunate to be invited and attended the press conference.

The Japanese manufacturer has teamed up with Topcon, an existing technology partner, to produce an automated controls system, which is built into the machine at the factory.

The initial roll-out of its intelligent machines include the D61EXi/PXi-23 dozer and a prototype PC210LCi-10 excavator. The North American launch is in June at Komatsu America’s Cartersville, Georgia facility. More machines are likely to be upgraded to iMC over the next couple of years.

On the dozer, the system not only senses the machine’s position and cuts to grade, it also detects the load on the blade and will automatically reduce the cut to prevent track slip. 
In integrating the system as a factory fit, all instrumentation has been removed from the blade as is typical with a retrofit system with the antenna relocated to the top of the cab for improved protection and accuracy, while stroke-sensing cylinders are used to determine the blade’s position.

The system can be used for all types of dozing work, be it rough cutting or finishing, as it automatically switches between the two modes as the cut approaches grade.

The operator can select one of four dozing modes and three load settings and, during operation, the blade lowers until it meets the target surface or until the blade load reaches a maximum. Before the blade overloads, it is automatically lifted slightly to virtually eliminate track slip while maintaining forward momentum.

According to Komatsu, this maximizes productivity, minimizes track wear and allows novice operators to work as productively as experienced operators.

With the PC210LCi excavator, the operator digs as normal without looking at the monitor for grade information. The instrumented machine will not cut below the programmed grade. This reduces the time needed for finishing flat bottom trenches, grading batters and the like without slowing the any preliminary excavations.

According to Komatsu president and CEO Tetsuji Ohashi, productivity gains with intelligent machines could be in the region of 40%, depending on the operation, and payback of the on-cost should be achieved within a year.

Click the graphic for an overview and live demonstration at Bauma.
While Komatsu is among the latest announcing factory install machine control systems, other OEM’s with similar and various machines and applications have been moving in this direction with their own products and alliances for some time.

In April 2002, Caterpillar and Trimble began a joint venture, Caterpillar Trimble Controls Technologies LLC to develop advanced electronic guidance and control products. This brought about a Caterpillar branded system,Accugrade, that was in essence, a step beyond a retrofit system with a wiring harness and connectors “optioned” at the factory upon special order. This facilitated installation of key components aftermarket.

In 2008 a second joint venture between Trimble and Caterpillar was announce that among other things, combined the expertise into a single distribution channel. Here is an excerpt from that press release:

“Trimble and Caterpillar announced a second joint venture in October 2008. The new company, VirtualSite Solutions, will integrate the deep expertise of both parent companies in the areas of product design and software development to transform the way contractors manage their businesses. The joint venture will create information rich worksites allowing customers to more efficiently and safely manage their equipment fleets, reduce operating costs and improve productivity in the area of fuel consumption, maintenance, worksite productivity and fleet logistics. Additionally, a new distribution channel will be established to bring these technologies to customers and other users. The new dealer distribution channel will be branded SITECH, and it will be the outlet for products and services for the aftermarket. Trimble will have primary responsibility for managing the SITECH dealer relationship.”

Wirtgen Introduces AutoPilot ™ for 3D Slipform Paver Control
An innovative 3D control system for use with the Wirtgen SP 15 and SP 25 concrete slipform pavers was introduced at World of Concrete 2012 in Las Vegas, and is a user-friendly, cost-effective control system for poured-in-place, offset-concrete profiles, such as curbs or safety barriers.

The new AutoPilot™ from Wirtgen America, Inc. is a GPS-based system that ensures highest precision and optimum efficiency in slipform paving, regardless of whether straight profiles, highly complex curved paths, or closed profile configurations need to be placed.

The AutoPilot enables fully automatic, high-quality paving at extremely tight radii.

The proprietary Wirtgen 3D control system gives construction companies a distinct competitive edge, as it bypasses the need to establish a digital terrain model. That’s because programming of the profile path or profile configuration is completed on site.

The new AutoPilot optimizes the rapid completion of diverse profile shapes, such as curbs, curb and gutter, safety barriers, sidewalk or single lanes.

There are many benefits to OEM factory installed systems. I applaud Komatsu, Caterpillar, Deere, Wirtgen, Atlas Copco and other OEMs for adopting these solutions. Their endorsements will accelerate market acceptance like nothing else. Lets face it, positioning systems need machines to position. They also need data to feed the systems. This is good for everyone, especially the customer working to increase profits and make project deadlines.

This retrofit market will continue to thrive for years to come. This is partially driven by the huge market of existing machines that exist without installed positioning systems. A retrofit system will boost production older machines. Another factor is that the majority of positioning system sales occur for retrofit machines and that is where the expertise in resources lie. The talent pool to execute the technology is limited and these experts are in high demand. But the endorsement by OEM’s will create a new demand for more experts.

Whether you are a positioning expert or positioning provider, the future is very bright as we grow this market together.

Next challenges will be to insure standards and compatibility among mixed fleet, mixed GNSS and mixed data streams....

References and partial list of OEM solutions and alliances
Intelligent Machine Control-Komatsu


Integrated Grade Control-Deere


Atlas Copco

Atlas Copco integration video

Trimble Company History

Topcon Positioning Systems®-announces-north-american-alliance-komatsu-america

Note: This list of OEM’s that are providing positioning systems whether in partnership with positioning providers or with integrated, branded systems is not representative of all systems. Due to time restrictions I have included some of the latest and most obvious systems. Please feel free to email me personally at editor [at] with other system mentions and references and I will be happy to review and add to this article. We all win when we work together to grow the market.

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