Developing earthmoving machines that deliver fuel savings and greater efficiency through improved engines and control systems is a focus for construction equipment manufacturers.
The past year or two has seen a wealth of new technology come to market, as companies respond to stricter levels of emissions legislation.
Known as Tier 4 Final in North America, Stage IV in Europe and Tier 4 in Japan, the regulations have been designed to reduce pollution from construction machines and have posed key challenges for the industry.
Not least of these tests has been in designing equipment that delivers greater productivity, while at the same time meeting tighter environmental controls.
As Caterpillar said at the launch of its latest Tier 4 Final/Stage IV compliant equipment ranges (see this month’s Equipment pages), another significant factor for machine development is improving fuel efficiency.
The company said customer feedback had ranked making savings on the cost of diesel as the key issue for contractors. This is often the single largest site expenditure around equipment,. Caterpillar said it can make up around 30% of equipment operating costs.
With increased pressure to deliver projects to tight budgets and timescales, such efficiency savings have become increasingly important.
Paolo Fellin, Caterpillar’s global sales and marketing vice president for construction & infrastructure industries, said developing machines that increased productivity was key.
He said the company had developed its Cat Connect integrated technology solutions to improve machine efficiency was at the heart of its equipment strategy.
This includes electronic grade control systems, which use computer-based mapping of terrain for efficient machine operation, as well as payload management, which uses electronic sensors to accurately monitor hauler loads.
Mr Fellin said that there were several other core areas that Caterpillar had applied technology into its earthmoving machines, including developing new transmissions that delivered better performance through improved fuel consumption.
He added, “We have worked on equipment management, in which we have connected machines together so that there are (web-based) links with dealerships so we can better manage those machines through monitoring the time they are idle - so customers can improve efficiency in the field.
“But the area where people really get excited is when they see technology taken to their jobsites, with features like payload management and grade control, where customers can see how technology can save them between 10% and 30% in productivity.”
Caterpillar, as with other manufacturers, has also paid attention to how its lower emission equipment could operate if sold on from its original area of use in the EU, North America or Japan, to operate in emerging markets, which have less stringent (or no) emissions legislation.
This has led to the development of de-tiering kits. These allow the removal of the exhaust after-treatment systems, which are highly sensitive to the poor quality fuesl which are often used in lesser regulated countries.
Other manufacturers are also engaged in their own programme of technology improvement. For instance, South Africa-based Bell has added payload management to its latest haulers.
Meanwhile, Thierry Deschamps, Doosan’s vice president for product management, said the company had continued to upgrade the core features of its construction machines. He said the Doosan’s focus had switched from one of previously meeting pure demand for volume of machines, to implementing key efficiency saving technology.
This is being seen with its 5-series of excavators, which have wireless CoreTMS fleet management system monitoring and exchanging machine performance data via satellite.
He said, “We have to listen to the voice of the customer in having more and more technology features in machines. We need to be reactive to the market, as we cannot say what is going to happen.
“What we have seen is that cycles of product development are getting shorter than they ever did before and we are now moving to make changes for the Stage IV emissions laws that have come in, which is a challenge.”
He added that the company is actively examining features such as payload management and preparing for proposed Stage V emissions legislation due in Europe for 2019.
Among the most notable developments with earthmoving engine technology has been the introduction of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems.
This has been applied to a number of machines through injecting exhaust system with exhaust fluid (DEF) to reduce emissions by converting nitrogen oxides (NOx) into a mix of nitrogen, water and a small amount of carbon dioxide.
The introduction of such systems and other aftertreatment solutions including diesel particulate filters (DPFs) - designed to remove particulates from machine exhaust and enabling equipment to meet stricter Stage IV/Tier 4 Final emissions standards, has created its own set of maintenance challenges.
This has included regular service intervals for cleaning or replacing DPFs to avoid them becoming clogged with ash. Although DPFs burn off soot as part of their regular use – a process called regeneration – there is still some build-up of solids over time.
The maintenance period varies depending on equipment, but DPFs could require attention every 5,000 hours of use or so.
In day-to-day use regeneration of DPFs is either passive, which is to say the exhaust stream is hot enough to burn-off soot, or active, which requires a periodic injection of fuel to into the exhaust to burn this material.
The key for manufacturers has been to build systems where work isn’t interrupted and the operator is not necessarily aware that regeneration is taking place. The bigger objective of course is to reduce the maintenance requirement for these new after treatment systems.
Mike Cullen, Perkins engine product manager, said the company had invested in research and development for engines that would require as little maintenance as possible.
He explained that this included devising an engine range for use in equipment such as wheeled loaders and excavators that featured integral control systems developed to maximise operating efficiency.
He said, “With aftertreatment systems such as DPF and SCR that are fairly new to owner-operators who may not have had machines with such technology before, they may feel there are some risks with something that is new.
“Which is why with our 1200 series, which is fitted with a DPF filter, we have tried to limit the amount of maintenance that is required. We have designed a service-free filter for it that will last the lifetime of the engine – so the operator will never need to service it.”
The construction sector has seen many manufacturers offer telematics that use GPS for tracking machines, which is fed back along with performance data. Volvo’s Care Track remote machine management solution, for example, has integrated vehicle tracking into existing on-board electronic diagnostics systems.
Its system has the ability to monitor the position of machines, operating hours and service reminders. It also offers a geo-fence option in which machine operators can use a website interface to map out specific areas where equipment is permitted to work.
In addition, if the machine is removed from a certain area, notification can be sent via text message or email to authorised personnel. It also allows approved working times to be entered into the system to enable greater level of operating monitoring.
GPS and other surveying technologies is also finding increasing use in machine control applications. Topcon’s European construction business director, Ulrich Hermanski, said the high levels of accuracy required for machine controls meant using GPS was something that “you could not live without” when operating effectively on sites.
Mr Hermanski explained that one of the biggest problems many companies faced in the early years of GPS had been a lack of availability of coverage. In Topcon’s case, he said it had made an early decision to use Russian GLONASS satellites to ensure the fullest range of global operating.
He said, “The use of GPS is becoming more and more common within construction beyond those who were early adopters, with its use in some form within every machine.
“This has been seen with our joint venture with Komatsu for a machine which offers an integrated system of intelligent controls that use GPS, which is a big move on from them being entirely separate systems. “Our 3D-MC really is a game-changer in terms of its ability to save money for construction companies.
“It works through using the 3D modelling from designers used by contractors to create automatic computer-based control of how machines are operating their blades and other attachments. So, providing the original modelling specifications are supplied correctly, the scope for human error is much reduced.”
Monitoring and control
Mr Hermanski added that one of the company’s latest areas of focus has been its Sitelink system, which works in tandem with GPS through computer-based monitoring and control of construction sites to improve the efficiency of projects.
In his opinion, the timely and effective delivery of construction projects was of critical importance, and the use of tablet-based apps and smart phones in addition to GPS-based technology was having a significant impact.
He added, “In construction, it is often the case that around 20% that is spent on a project amounts to waste. We want to be able to control that using GPS and 3D modelling software to bring this down to near zero. It’s this kind of waste that is unnecessary.
“At present, somewhere between 8 and 10% of companies have adopted GPS-based systems within construction machines – in surveying it is now pretty much 100%.”
He continued, “The challenge now is to build relationships with machine manufacturers so that the level of growth that we are seeing continues. It has been a very good year for us, with links such as those we have developed with Komatsu working well – it is things like this that people are really talking about within the industry.”
The company’s link with Komatsu has involved installing Komatsu excavators and dozers with its machine control systems to improve their productivity.
Valentin Fuchs, programme manager for 3D sensors and field machine control at Leica Geosystems, said that in addition to providing aftermarket products, there had been a growing demand for developing factory-integrated complete solutions using GPS, something it does with Case.
He said, “There’s a lot of systems integration for GPS use within machines that we are able to provide some very elegant solutions for. This has meant that a lot of operations that were previously done by radio communication are now done with on-board displays within machines.”
One of its latest products, the Icon GPS 80, has been developed for a range of machine controls applications.
Mr Fuchs added, “The focus of this receiver generation was on dynamic performance in typical and difficult GNSS environments. We increased equipment uptime and productivity because it’s extremely important to our customers on site.”
Machine design principles
One of the first steps in developing any new construction product is in developing initial concept designs.
Companies such as Liugong have acknowledged that developing machines that not only efficient, but are visually appealing as well, is of increasing importance.
As director of the company’s industrial design division, Gary Major, said there had been a number of challenges the business had faced in terms of design. This includes developing the overall
Liugong brand through creating distinctive designs.
Mr Major said, “Today’s end-users are far more design savvy than their predecessors, so aesthetics is a hugely-important factor.
“Engine emissions have changed components such as powertrains and the particulate filter assembly, growing their size enormously. Because of that, engine enclosures are now huge, which creates challenges in meeting machine sightline requirements, which in turn impacts the overall aesthetics of machines.”
However, he added that a move towards composite materials has allowed designers greater freedom to explore bolder possibilities.
From improvements in machine control, through to advancements in the physical design of earthmoving equipment, the development of machine is clearly continuing to evolve and make the most of key technology breakthroughs.