CETA promotes machine control to UK equipment owners
By Murray Pollok11 November 2011
Four UK machine control and automation specialists - MOBA Mobile Automation UK, OnGrade, GKN Technik and Halomec - have formed the Construction Equipment Technology Alliance (CETA) to promote mobile control technology in the UK. Murray Pollok reports from the association's open days held at Uttoxeter racecourse in June.
It was the absence of a major UK construction show this year - the SED exhibition having been closed down - that prompted MOBA Mobile Automation's Alastair Brown and his counterparts at CETA to create a two-day event to demonstrate their latest machine control products.
The event, which attracted around 150 people over the two days, wasn't just about showing their latest designs, but part of a wider effort to encourage the take-up of machine control products in the UK construction market.
"The UK is seriously dragging its feet", says Mr Brown, who has been managing director of MOBA's UK subsidiary since it was formed last year, "In Scandinavia, 3D excavator control is on 85% of machines - in the UK it is the other way round." The same is true for paver levelling control systems, he says.
The four companies will "work to help develop each others' business, and to promote on-board plant automation systems", says Mr Brown, "All four members sell advanced technology that brings efficiency and safety improvements to mobile plant of all kinds."
Nick Ground, managing director of GKD Technik, another of the CETA companies - and who happens to be the current president of the UK's Construction Equipment Association (CEA) - tells IRN that the four companies working together "can do what we couldn't really do individually. We are like-minded technology companies coming together. CETA is about promoting technology - certainly the UK doesn't promote technology on site the way other countries do."
Among the four companies there is some overlap on products, but they are generally focusing on different but complementary technologies. These include 2D/3D excavator control systems, weighing devices, safety products such as proximity alarms, incline warning systems and overload monitors, and other specialist products such as automatic lubrication systems and safety cameras.
Although CETA is an alliance for the UK only - and one that is open to recruiting other members in the future - its promotion of technology to increase productivity, quality and safety has relevance for all markets.
All four companies demonstrated new technology during the open days. GKD Technik managing director, Nick Ground, tells IRN that "our product focus is on safety, monitoring and control, principally for excavators because they are quite regulated for lifting or under site based regulations."
In the spotlight at Uttoxeter was a new Incline Alert for mini and micro excavators that is designed to protect users, particularly inexperienced ones, from overturning the machines. It allows owners and users to input pre-set slope limits depending on the make and model.
"It protects the operator and the owner, especially for machines rented to the DIY sector with inexperienced operators", said Mr Ground. It will cost around £500 per machine (that's the price for a low volume order) and it takes just an hour to fit.
The alert uses a "sensitive and accurate" pitch and roll angle sensor mounted on the excavator or plant body, with a visual display inside the cab. The alert is triggered when the machine angle is beyond the defined limit, causing an external alarm or beacon, or linking to a third party GPS device to give a remote warning. The system can also indicate overturns, with a flashing red LED on the display that can only be turned off by an authorised engineer.
Mr Ground says the alert could be ‘mobile', and switched between machines, but he says it is better to fit it permanently.
GKD also showed a new wireless system to prevent overloading of rail-mounted excavators used for tandem lifts of sections of rail. The system communicates between the two machines, telling operators if the other excavator has entered an unsafe position, and it will automatically stop machines if necessary.
GKD is now looking at expanding its offering in the aerial platform market. It already does some work with specialist aerials use in the rail sector, where platforms are mounted on rail bogies, but Mr Ground wants to expand the aerial platform offering.
"We're thinking about wireless hotspots for data logging", he says, giving one example. This would make it easy for mechanics to download operational data, particularly records of basket overloading or other incidents that can be are important for rental companies and owners to have.
For MOBA Mobile Automation Ltd - UK daughter to the German company - the CETA open days were an opportunity to show the latest offerings from the head office.
Alastair Brown, managing director, tells IRN that "for us, machine control is a big opportunity. Pavers, dozers, excavators - they can all benefit from these systems."
In Uttoxeter the company was demonstrating a selection of its products, including the new MOBA MCA 1000 Compaction Assistant - mounted on a Bomag BW 138 AD.
"It tells the driver how many passes he's made in each place", says Mr Brown, which helps to prevent either over- or under-compaction. It is targeted at rollers and is ideal for the retrofit market. Mr Brown says a next step for this kind of system is to coordinate compaction information between two rollers working on the same site.
Also on show was the new PAVE-IR, a system for asphalt paving machines that will detect thermal segregation on newly laid asphalt, a prime cause of failures in roads. As well as providing a real time assessment of the thermal profile of a newly laid surface, the system will log the data for quality control purposes.
Also demonstrated were 2D and 3D excavator control systems from Novatron, the Finnish company of which MOBA in Germany has a minority shareholding. MOBA sells these products outside the Nordic region.
Alastair Brown acknowledges that selling control systems in general to rental companies is a challenge, since few think that they can charge more for the equipment. However, he is talking to rental companies about renting the systems alone directly to end users.
"It is something that people should be doing, but just aren't yet", he says, "People should be using this kind of technology when things are tough - it will make them more competitive, more profitable and more efficient."
OnGrade is less than two years old and is already selling a broad range of mobile automation equipment, including the Dig Pilot wireless excavator guidance system from Norway, the XW range of dynamic weighing scales for material handlers, and a new ZoneSafe proximity alarm that it has developed with UK RFID specialist Avonwood Developments.
It was the ZoneSafe system that was generating a lot of interest at the CETA days where the system was shown on an Hitachi excavator owned by McArdle, the big-name UK earthworks contractor and plant hirer.
Gary Escott, OnGrade director, tells IRN that ZoneSafe comprises a system of antennae fixed to machines that detect RFID tags carried by workers. If someone gets too near a machine it triggers an audible warning inside and outside the cab.
The system, as well as warning staff and the operator, will also log when and where alarms were set off, and identify the worker. This can trigger further training.
McArdle is trialling the alarms on its machines working on a major contract on London's M25 orbital motorway (the Section 4 widening contract in Essex). John Wellard, general manager, McArdle Contracts, speaking to IRN in Uttoxeter, says the trial use of the system on 20 of its machines on the M25 had demonstrated that it "changes attitudes to the proximity to machines within days."
"We're on a trial at present, but managers are fully in favour of expanding it. We are getting interest from our clients, the ultimate clients, who are tired of plant and human accidents. I think this is a big step towards changing behaviour."
McArdle has fitted the RFID tags to all of its employees working on the contract.
OnGrade's Gary Escott says ZoneSafe will cost around £3500-5000 per machine to fit and will be generally appropriate for excavators and other machines above 12 t in size.
McArdle's John Wellard thinks the investment is not excessive; "The system may last for two machines. And if it prevents one man being injured then all the costs evaporate." He said the ultimate plan would be to fit ZoneSafe on all 70 of the company's fleet of large earthmoving equipment.
Founded in 2006 by Julian Athawes, Halomec now represents in the UK three mobile automation companies: Loadrite, the New Zealand company that produces load measuring and weighing systems; Lincoln, the automatic machine lubrication supplier; and Netherlands-based safety camera company Orlaco.
The Loadrite products comprise automatic weighing systems that can be used with excavators, wheeled loaders and conveyors in applications spanning waste handling, mines, quarries and heavy construction.
Mr Athawes highlights the X-Weigh excavator weighing system, which tells operators exactly how much material has been loaded onto a dump truck.
"Previously, drivers just estimated the volumes visually", says Mr Athawes, "If you overload a dump truck you could blow two sets of tyres, which is very expensive. Now, we give operators the means to load it optimally."
The X-Weigh system will cost as much as £8-10000, although less expensive models, such as the L2180 scale for wheeled loaders, will cost closer to £3000. He says that with a set of hauler's tyres costing upwards of £2000 "it makes your £10000 investment look like a good one."
In addition, the system allows companies to make operations more efficient; "If you can optimise the cycle times, it can pay for itself in a matter of weeks."
Customers so far have mainly been end users, including Tata Steel at two sites in the UK where rail wagons are being loaded, and by Hanson for its quarries. In the rental market, Liebherr Rental in the UK has this year bought Loadrite systems for ten of its 556 and 586 wheeled loaders.
Mr Athawes tells IRN that for the rental market it would be possible to fit the systems and remove the in-cab indicators when they are not being used. "It has to be for the right customer, for a long term hire project."