AUTONOMY MAY BE THE FUTURE, BUT “ASSIST” IS NOW
Self-driving cars may get all the attention, but the reality is semi-autonomous — or driver-assist — features have become mainstream in the automotive sector. If you’re driving a late-model vehicle, chances are it can parallel park itself with the push of a button, keep you inside the lane lines if you get distracted or brake automatically if a deer crosses your path. Heavy equipment usually trails the automotive industry by about a decade, so it’s no surprise we’re just starting to see similar “operator-assist” features becoming more popular on construction equipment. Here’s a quick look at some of the top assist tools and the benefits they can bring your operation:
Automated blade and bucket control
Common on dozers, excavators and motor graders, these technologies help decrease errors and improve accuracy — making grading faster and more efficient. Another bonus: They also reduce operator fatigue. On a dozer, the operator controls the height of the blade manually, but the system holds the angle. That results in better surface quality when building pads, spreading truck dumps, or working on slopes or embankments. Similarly, on an excavator, the operator sets depth and slope and activates single-lever digging. That automates boom and bucket movements, which again leads to more accurate cuts. On a motor grader, after the operator sets target cross slope in the cab, the system automatically controls one end of the blade.
Depth and slope guidance
Another grading-assist feature for excavators, this type of system provides operators with precise, real-time bucket positioning relative to the desired grade right in the cab. It’s ideal for maintaining accurate grades and slopes in excavation and trenching applications — reducing the number of passes, cutting down on errors and saving you time, fuel and materials. Because it’s like having a grade checker right in the cab, it also can reduce or eliminate the need for personnel on the ground, making for a safer and more cost-efficient jobsite.
Lift assist is a popular tool on excavators because it helps operators stay firmly grounded when picking and placing heavy objects like pipes, manholes and trench boxes. Sensors detect if the load is within the excavator’s safe working range, then visual indicators on the monitor in the cab guide the operator during the lift. If the machine approaches its maximum safe working load, an alarm in the cab alerts the operator.
Don’t worry, loading and hauling operators aren’t left out when it comes to assist features. Onboard weighing systems allow wheel loader, excavator and truck operators to track payloads in real time on a display in the cab. Knowing precisely how much material is in the bucket or truck means they know when loads are filled to target, so they can avoid over-loading (which can lead to fines and additional wear on machines) and prevent under-loading (which wastes money).
Even safety features like rear- and side-view cameras and CCTV camera systems fall into the assist category. They help operators reduce blind spots and enhance their view around all sides of the machine. Taking that a step further, some safety systems work by placing RFID tags on ground workers’ safety vests and hard hats, as well as fixed objects on site, then alerting operators via an in-cab alarm if they get too close.
If you’re struggling to find skilled operators for your jobs, assist features like these can make a big difference in helping new employees get up to speed quickly with fewer costly mistakes and less risk of accidents. And even if your crew is an experienced one, there’s always opportunity to get the job done faster, safer, more accurately and with less fatigue. Want to learn more about exactly what operator-assist features are available and how you’ll benefit? Talk to your local Cat® dealer.