With the world shrinking and the end-user more demanding, control technology today is increasingly seen as a necessity.
Machine control technology helps the operator do the job in real-time basis with accurate information of job specification from data in the cabin monitor. This leads to savings in both, project costs and time, as faster completion of tasks translates into less fuel required for the job.
Project controlling and monitoring systems help in completing construction projects as per schedule within the set budget level. Incorporating advanced machine control technology to an equipment helps make the machine more productive and fuel efficient. All these translate into considerable savings for companies investing in this technology.
Roshan Purohit, Regional Sales Manager-SAARC, Trimble Civil Engineering & Construction, says, ´From our experience, we see up to 50 per cent enhancement in productivity while at the same time improving the quality of the product.´ Trimble is the inventor of machine control technology, providing solutions for Grade Control Systems, Site Positioning solutions, Paving solutions and Drill positioning systems. The company also provides retrofit solutions and also offers systems to equipment manufacturers as a factory fit option.
According to Deepak Nehru, National Business Development Manager, Leica Geosystems, efficiency is governed by the manner of operation, frequent servicing and maintenance, working conditions, replacements of moving/shearing/wearing parts. He elaborates, ´Machine control solutions can and do influence the impact a machine can have on the overall work detail of a job-site. The major variables of a construction job-site that machine control solutions effect are time-line, fine grading or paving with expenditure/saving, man-hours on-site, fuel consumption, and safety on job site. Fine tuning of these parameters in turn, shows enhanced productivity in a job site. For eg, with machine control solutions installed on a slip form paver, more volume of work can be done. The job site is completely free of physical hazards like string lines, which converts to safe working environment. It works day and night with machine control solutions. With automation, the job site needs less and less manpower. Eliminating redundancy and need to re-check work, and considerable savings can be done with the fuel consumption of machinery.´
Leica Geosystems offers
PaveSmart 3D, an advanced paver control system for concrete slip form machines, asphalt finishers and milling machines. The iCON portfolio offers customers tailor-made hardware and software solutions for all positioning and measuring tasks in road and building construction. This includes iCON excavator system, dozer system, grader system, wheel loader system, and box blade system.
Harpreet Singh Wahan, General Manager-Sales & Marketing-India, Murphy by Enovation Controls, comments on the advantages of using machine control technologies,´Machine control adds three things to the equipment: Better information, better safety and better control. Based on the job, the equipment is designed to do, all are important. An integrated equipment would be user-friendly to use, the operator would be well informed about the health and status of the machine and the job; this helps in preventive maintenance and lowers down time - thus better information. Equipment interlocks and set point based control and safety shutdown ensures that the machine and the operator are safe - thus better safety. Performance and efficiency monitoring along with User Assist Systems make working on job sites easier, thus boosting efficiency - thus better control.´
Enovation Controls plays a major role in Equipment Integration. ´With our extensive range of Intelligent Displays, Controllers, I/O Modules, Sensors and Power Modules, Murphy works with the OEMs in making their equipment perform better, be more user-friendly, be more productive, and most importantly, safe to use,´ Wahan explains on the offered solutions from Enovation Controls.
He further adds,´We also offer integrated solutions like Forklift weighing, Drill Assist systems and other solutions that improve efficiency on the worksite. In India, we work with a broad range of customers ranging from mining to construction, special vehicles to defence, material handling to industrial stationery. In almost all cases, our controllers and displays are inbuilt into the system and form the core technology platform in the equipment. In some cases where payload monitoring, weighing and efficiency monitoring are offered (like in drills), they are an upgrade solution.´
The cost effect
Introduction or incorporation of any technology bears cost. How is the user industry looking at this? Says Purohit, ´Machine control being in very early stages, there are still user apprehensions on its use and initial purchase price always draws some debate in the Indian market. However, once the RoI is realised, we are sure this will be a thing of the past.´
Nehru strongly believes cost is a deterrent in adopting these technologies. He opines, ´The current pricing segment for machine control solutions puts them at par (or thereabouts) with a new machine. The technology being in its nascent stage, a vast customer base is lacking who can validate and confirm the benefits reaped from automation. In this scenario, the customer evaluates the value of the merchandise.
Customers come to look at machines as an asset. For them, the machine is a source of continuous revenue; if not active in a project, they can rent out the equipment and still earn money and machine control system alone cannot justify this scenario as it is an add-on accessory, but once used to its fullest utility, it brings more value in terms of profits.´
Nehru says the customer who is now hesitant can be nurtured to become eager. The reluctance can be converted into demand through successfully completed projects that have shown improved returns for customers. ´Small streams join together to make a big ocean. Few happy customers pull in few more customers; they succeed and bring more customers. Not long after that, a fraternity develops and the general market perspective of expensive investment changes to necessity. Where we have few today, we will have many tomorrow.´
Wahan feels cost is a deterrent, at the same time, it is not as he explains, ´There is a segment of users who are impacted by an upfront cost. There is though increasingly, a bigger segment of users that looks at life-cycle 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 - these outweigh the initial investment over the life of the equipment.´
Control technology: A luxury or necessity?
Many equipment users are still hesitant whether to use control and monitoring technologies, which is an add-on to the machine cost. And they are speculative about the real benefit and returns on the investment. ´Like any new technologies, machine control will also go through different adaption phases and will not be considered as a luxury, but a tool to drive significant value proposition in a construction project,´ says Purohit.
According to Nehru, ´Projecting the machine control solution as an affordable, bankable necessity is pivotal. In our kitty, we have 3D paving project, 3D excavator system and a 2D grader to follow. These customers are our corner stone who provide reference to all future prospective customers. For the uninitiated, yes! Machine control solutions are an expensive commodity since our prices rival against those of a brand new equipment. For those who have used our machine control systems, they can think of no other system. It is safe to say that tide is turning. Working closely with the governing agencies, we are aiming to incorporate such technologies in feature as a clause, which in terms will benefit both, government for quality roads and contractors matching time line and deliver better product with low maintenance cost.´
Wahan speaks from his experience, ´About six years ago, when we started in India, electronics was viewed by the major segment of customers as a luxury or as something only to go to, when they need to export the machine. With the world shrinking and the end-user more demanding, control technology today, is increasingly seen as a necessity.
The increase in awareness of the advantages that control technologies bring to the equipment also drives the move from luxury to necessity.´
Are the customers here fully aware of the various aspects of machine control and monitoring solutions? According to Purohit, the customers in India are not aware enough of the advantages of using machine control technologies. ´But, we see the awareness growing very rapidly,´ he feels.
Nehru is of the view that awareness about new technology is an outcome of aggressive and broad scale marketing. He says, ´For us, our first customers who understand this technology and its benefits also had an exposure of 3D machine control technology globally. Working with them was seamless as all parties were unified on a same intellectual wavelength. For future market and to cultivate customers for the future, we promote these success stories as a reference. When a client or customer has proof that the system in fact is easy to use and delivers all the promises, they see the benefit of investing in the technology.
Focus on training
For any technology new to the market, training and awareness to customers is imperative. A trained operator who is fully aware of the technology can use the technology to its optimum, and thus, be more productive. Purohit says, ´We have offered trials at contractor sites. As well, we have user conferences every two years in the US, where we invite customers to participate.´
Nehru elaborates, ´To cater to our existing customers, we undertake extensive and exhaustive training sessions on their job site to teach topics ranging from installation, calibrations, operation, safe working protocols etc. The structure of this training programme is to award independence to the customers´ survey team and make them self-reliant for all things concerning machine control system. We provide continuous and uninterrupted off-site support to address issues of any and every nature that crop up on a job site. If deemed absolutely necessary, a field engineer visits the job site to sort out the niggle.´
Wahan explains on the training initiatives offered by his company, ´Educating customers on the latest technology available, is part of what we do. Enovation Controls, every year, conducts around seven to eight training programmes for our customers, their sales force, their engineering teams, and in most cases, their end-user. The effort is towards training them on the latest technologies available, how it can add value to their equipment and mostly help the end-users and equipment operators overcome the initial fear of handling technology.´
On the government initiatives and announcement in the Budget on skill development, he comments,´The initiative is great, but what comes in the way is lack of availability of the latest technology to experiment and learn from. We play our small role in working with some colleges on giving exposure to the students, but that´s just a drop of what needs to be done. Reading material in some cases need an upgrade and we are seeing that happen. So overall the efforts put in should show results in the next three to four years´ time.
Stressing on the importance of machine control technologies, Purohit says, ´Machine control is a necessity to stay in a competitive market and we expect a strong adaptation.´
Nehru is positive about the future of machine control technology and its adaptation in the Indian market. ´Indian infrastructure is booming with a lot of new road projects coming in. And as the government wants to complete and improve the road construction and its quality within the given time frame, it becomes important for contractors to cope up with the deadline to match. With conventional methodology, it is not achievable. So contractors have started looking for such technologies now, and I am sure in the coming years, it becomes an essential parôt of their project requirement. We can say that the next half-decade is ripe for cultivation. Initial spade work of creating product awareness is achieved.´
He further adds, ´Making the product available at attractive pricing is vital to reel in new customers. Direct translation from paper to site is achieved. What the customer reads on paper, he can see it being achieved on site. Being aggressive, being bold, and being accommodating will augment in a wide market share for the future.´
Wahan is also positive on the growth prospects of control technologies in India as he says, ´Control technologies for construction, mining, material handling and special vehicles should grow at least at about 15 per cent year-on-year (Y-o-Y) for the next couple of years. 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. From 2022 to 2025, this industry should grow by 25-30 per cent Y-o-Y.´
With the government focusing on faster project implementation, without compromising on quality, the demand for machine control technologies is bound to grow in future.
- Sudheer Vathiyath