Control technologies in infrastructure equipment are picking up fast with more infrastructure and construction projects in the pipeline, and the execution period and quality norms are getting stringent.
Monitoring and control technologies in infrastructure, construction and mining equipment has become one of the priorities in the industry these days as the government is pressing for quality and speed in project execution. Many such conditions are mandatory in tendering process, and contractors are now looking for more technology-driven equipment. Monitoring and control technologies are becoming imperative to make the equipment efficient and productive, thus making project execution qualitative, time-bound, and economical.
With machine control technologies, it is possible to finish projects faster and with much higher accuracy. Says Samip Desai, Director, MOBA Mobile Automation India, 'It is an intelligent investment that will pay for itself in just a few jobs. It will save considerable amount of time and money over the lifetime of the machine. Machine control technology has endless advantages including: Accurate job in first time itself; Greater productivity; Better quality; Lower operating cost; and Increased the efficiency of operator.
According to Harpreet Singh Wahan, General Manager - Sales & Marketing India, Enovation Controls, machine control technologies bring three things to any equipment - better information, better control and better safety. He explains further, 'An integrated equipment would be intuitive to use, and the operator would be at all times well informed about the health and status of the machine and the job, which helps in preventive maintenance and lower down time - thus better information. Performance and efficiency monitoring along with user assist systems make working on job sites easier, boosting efficiency - thus better control. Equipment interlocks and set point based control and safety shutdown ensures that the machine and the operator are safe - thus better safety.'
According to Bipin Jirge, Managing Director, ifm electronic India, machine control technology largely depends on the application to be automated. 'For most of the medium or larger machines, the latest technologies based on bus systems combined with industry 4.0-oriented technologies like IO link definitely makes sense also from the point of view of wiring costs, commissioning time as well as get us the huge amount of data from devices, which can give us far better process parameter knowledge than traditional technologies,' adds Jirge.
The industry has witnessed many developments in the recent times to improve the productivity and accuracy of work. Says Desai, 'The major advantage of machine control is it makes inexperienced operators good, and good operators even better. With the increased focus on the quality of work now machine control offers solution for every machine use in infrastructure. Also, recording the entire process is another advancement, which helps in further improvement in the process.'
According to Wahan, most new developments in machine control today are around Assisted and Complete Machine Control for specific work. He adds, 'Depending on the requirement from the operator the machine can either be totally controlled or technology can assist the operator in doing his job better. With our extensive range of Intelligent Displays, Hydraulic Controllers, I/O Modules, Sensors and Power Modules, Enovation Controls plays a major role in Equipment Integration for OEMs.'
According to Jirge, many of the equipment are now being controlled by controllers and user interfaces based on CAN bus technologies. 'This gives large saving in harness costs and also gives us possibility for modular system design,' he adds.
Products and solutions
MOBA offer solution on two categories: some focused on controlling parameters like levels, temperature etc, while others designed for documentation of work like compaction, thermal profile etc. Desai elaborates, 'Some of our sensors like basic Grade and Slope (in sensor asphalt pavers) comes as an inbuilt feature, but there are many systems that are available for upgrade option to increase the productivity with better riding quality like the BIG SONIC SKI for sensor asphalt pavers which not only helps in copying the profile without string, but also helps in removing the undulations. Similarly, we have levelling systems for graders and intelligent compaction systems for compactors which can help the contractors achieve great results. Major products from MOBA include: MOBA BIG SONIC SKI for undulation-free paving which helps in improving the riding quality; compaction assistance system that helps in avoiding the under and over compaction; and grader levelling automation system.'
Wahan elaborates on Enovation's solutions, 'Murphy works primarily with OEMs as we believe that technology when inbuilt into the equipment package is much better integrated with the functions of the machine. Our systems make the equipment perform better, be more user-friendly, be more productive and most importantly safe to use. We also offer integrated solutions like Forklift weighing (WAS), Drill Assist Systems (DAS), Self-Levelling Systems and other solutions that improve efficiency on the work site.'
Jirge states, 'We can provide the controller solutions and related system components like displays as well as sensors for OEMs as well as for end users.'
An added cost?
For any added features, there is an added cost. But this cost can be recovered soon with better productivity and control on the work site. Desai says, 'In a competitive market like ours, cost is indeed a very important factor. With tight competition in bidding process people always feel hesitant to pay extra but we have to understand that these systems are not 'additional investment', but 'smart investments, which justifies their cost once they are used in a projects. The return on investments is really quick because of better productivity and control on the jobsite.'
Wahan responds to the question of whether machine control technologies is an added cost or not, saying yes and no. He explains, 'There is always a segment of end users who are affected by an upfront cost. Over the past couple of years, though there is an increasingly bigger segment of users that look at lifecycle cost as the way to decide if a particular technology is needed or not. Once the equipment is safer, has less downtime and assists in better production û These outweigh the initial investment over the life of the equipment.'
He further adds, 'Murphy by Enovation Controls has been working with several major Indian OEMs now for around eight years and we see that machine control systems are brought into India and sold without the necessary modifications. This becomes a big deterrent as the end-user probably needs 60 per cent of the features but are forced to pay for all of them. It is important that technology needs to be modified to local preferences and be on a need to use basis.'
Jirge however, doesn't think controller solutions as an added cost. 'In fact, controller based solutions can actually save, for example, fuel costs,' he adds.
Desai observes, 'With the increased focus on quality and tight deadlines for the projects we feel machine control is the best available option. Everyone agrees that as a tool in the hands of a worker makes his job efficient, this is the modern day tool for the operators and stake holders have started understanding that machine control is providing better efficiency.'
According to Wahan, the next 3-4 years should be big for machine control. 'A 15 per cent year-on-year growth is achievable. With the next level of emission that equipment would need to meet, expected around 2021, we strongly believe there will be much better days ahead from then on. Till a couple of years ago, electronics was viewed as a luxury, but now the shift is towards seeing it increasingly as a necessity to do the job well.'
Jirge says, 'With automation levels increasing, demand for controllers on the machines will only grow. Users are becoming educated in this aspect and this is encouraging.'
According to Desai, one of the major drivers for the machine control technologies is the requirement of better, fast and accurate work expectation by the authorities. 'Also, with the increased awareness among the user and benefits of technology the market is moving in positive direction. Magazines like yours also play an important role in publishing such relevant information so that it reaches the right people.'
Wahan says, 'The government has been proactive in introducing quality measures on job sites but it needs to possibly regulate the sites more than it has today. Focus should be on quality of the job being done and the safety of the equipment and personnel. Moving to better emission norms should also be a priority as this would play a major role in improving work site conditions and reducing air pollution in cities.'
Jirge explains, 'The growth drivers for controller technologies are: Long term operational cost reduction; Safety aspects of the machine; More features in the system which makes the operators job easy; Closer control of machine operation with the help of telemetry; and better maintenance planning. I can say, more can be done from government side to encourage machine automation from the point of ease of operation for operators, safety aspects as well as long term operational cost reduction.'
Going forward, use of machine control technologies is expected to grow considerably due to the increasing construction activities and infrastructure development with stringent quality and time-bound execution norms in place.
'Most new developments in machine control today are around Assisted and Complete Machine Control for specific work.'