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Technology To Go

What's new in on-board computing technology used on haul trucks, loaders and other mobile equipment? What upgrades are coming down the road? More importantly,

Neal Lorenzi

What's new in on-board computing technology used on haul trucks, loaders and other mobile equipment? What upgrades are coming down the road? More importantly, how will these technological advances help aggregate operations save money? Rock Products recently posed these questions to manufacturers in the mining sector. Their answers reflect a beehive of activity in the areas of load-data measurement, telemetry and GPS, with more refinement on the way.

The key question may be: how does the quarry operator sort through all this technology and make it work to the best of his or her advantage? Aggregate companies operate on a cost-per-ton basis. So, anything that can be done to increase operational efficiency of mobile equipment will help the quarry operator save money. With a wide range of electronic devices available, the possibilities of upgrading operations through improved monitoring, measurement and analysis of equipment appear to be endless.

Al Cervero, senior vice president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, says that mobile equipment manufacturers are in different stages of delivering telematics, the ability to conduct remote measurement and reporting of equipment data. Some companies that have been offering GPS and wireless technology just now are putting this technology on machines in a quest to improve preventive maintenance and support. Tools are being developed for the entire chain Û customer, dealer and manufacturer. As a result, wireless technology continues to improve operations and reduce costs.

Monitoring engine performance has reached a new level, Cervero says. Anything that happens on the machine (provided the dealer, manufacturer and customer are working together on the information system) is readable from anywhere in the world. The question becomes: ÎHow does the customer want to use that to improve efficiency?Ì

One possible application is determining why hydraulics on a haul truck are not performing at 100 percent. It depends on the time and expense the customer wants to put into it. Manufacturers continue to provide customers with the technology and an understanding of what they can do with it. The large fleets are definitely taking advantage of these systems.

Right now, the industry is trying to learn how to translate data all the various systems provide into process improvements, according to Ken Calvert, director of product support systems, Komatsu America Corp. We all have become enamored with the technology and the ability to measure and wirelessly communicate anything that moves, or creates pressures, currents or time-able elements, he says. The resulting data proliferation is staggering and can cause confusion as to what's doable.

To avoid confusion, managers need to keep their focus on their key performance indicators and constantly challenge the data to help them improve. For example, the root cause of downtime could be lack of operator training, when everyone's first inclination is to question the maintenance practices.

Of course, as they say, the devil is in the details. What follows is a summary of the latest advances in onboard computing technology from various manufacturers.

Caterpillar is developing technology designed to link customer sites. In the aggregate market, the focus is on collecting and using machine data to increase uptime and lower customers' cost per ton. Two of the latest tools are Product Link and VIMS. Both are integrated within Caterpillar machines, and are connected to electronic control modules (ECMs) and various machine sensors. Both can be ordered with new machines, or retrofitted onto existing customer fleets.

Product Link is the on-machine hardware that utilizes satellite technology to enable information flow between on-board systems and a Web-based software application called Equipment Manager, says John Thomas, the company's product specialist. It provides GPS machine locations, hours, geo-fencing capabilities, and connection to ECMs that monitor machine health and performance. Customers can configure automated notifications Û via e-mail or cell phone Û for key personnel, alerting them to potential machine abuses or equipment fault codes.

VIMS collects data and stores it for future download. The system also can transmit data off the machine to a remote location. Of course, data is useless until it's turned into information, Thomas says. VIMS does that instantly. It sends messages to an in-cab display that keeps the operator informed about current machine conditions. It also provides basic instructions so the operator can take action in potentially dangerous situations. In some cases, it can automatically govern machine performance.

John Deere's new K-Series wheel loaders feature this onboard computing technology: LCD color monitor, tire-pressure monitoring controller, joystick steering controller, sealed switch controller with keyless start, rear-object detection sensor, and telematics known as JDLink.

JDLink monitors engine fault codes and provides histograms of engine load factors to the customer, says Jahmy Hindman, Deere's product marketing manager of wheel loaders. This is useful in determining machine efficiency. The operating temperature history of engine coolant also is provided to ensure early detection of related causes.

In addition, JDLink can track the location of a machine. A geo-fence can be set up to provide an e-mail, text message or phone alert to owners and equipment managers when the machine is moved outside defined boundary.

We find that quarry operators use JDLink to determine how effective a machine is in a particular application, Hindman says. For example, if a 7-yd. loader (844K) in a load out situation is idling 50 percent of the time, perhaps the same job can be accomplished by a 5-yd. machine (744K). The wealth of information available to manage the business with JDLink is changing the way quarries look at their mobile equipment. You can't manage what you can't measure.

John Deere also has added an embedded payload scale to improve measurement efficiency. Loading the truck accurately the first time keeps the truck from having to come back and dump some material, only to be topped off again, he says.

Using controller area network, or CAN-bus, technology, Case Construction Equipment has incorporated productivity monitoring and on-board diagnostics in its mobile equipment. Measuring variables such as fuel use, trip calculations and equipment use allows customers to measure their efficiencies and make adjustments where needed.

The expansion of technology, such as on-board diagnostics and electronic control of engines and drive-trains, has increased the need for a common communication structure between these components, says Michael Unrein, platform marketing manager. The utilization of a controller area network allows the on-board components to communicate with each other.

According to Unrein, most machines designed with CAN-bus systems incorporate instrument panels that allow on-board diagnostics. This allows operators and service technicians to view technical specification on the dash of their equipment. With the addition of GPS technology into CAN-bus, off-site diagnosis and monitoring is possible. From a large fleet equipment manager to an operator that owns one piece of equipment, on-board technology is being used to monitor and diagnose equipment faster and easier than in the past, he says.

Payload meters are now standard on Komatsu mobile equipment. These meters can measure individual load cycles as well as weight and load cycle components, including loading time, travel time loaded, travel time empty, and empty waiting time. The system is designed to help quarry operators maximize loads and minimize travel times. Inefficiencies, such as bottlenecks or under-loaded trucks, can be managed and costly over-loaded trucks and excessive travel speeds can be avoided, says Calvert.

According to Jeff Powell, Liebherr's general product manager of earthmoving equipment, many OEM's are offering factory-fitted GPS systems that allow the quarry operator to track hours, location and service intervals, as well as tie-ins to the machine's CAN-bus. This allows the measurement of calculated fuel usage, engine water, oil temps and transmission temps. It also enables service technicians to view machine error codes from remote sites.

In addition, a movement promoted by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals, Powell says, will prompt all original equipment manufacturers to configure their data so that it can be easily imported into dealer and customer business software. As a result, data from different OEMs will look the same when a customer downloads the information from the mobile equipment.

Liebherr has made recent advances in load-data measurement, he says. Scales are being integrated into the machines from OEMs; weight measurements are then sent via the GPS system to a customer's business software. As for monitoring engine performance from remote sites, more information from the on-board computer is now transmitted via GPS systems. Thus, the quarry operator and service technician can quickly record and analyze variables such as fuel usage and machine overheating problems.

Yet, keeping track of equipment location on-site is the main use of GPS systems. It provides operators with precise locations, so they can better utilize their equipment and minimize hauling charges, Powell says. By being able to track a machine's utilization, the customer can determine how effective his fleet is for a specific job or overall jobsite. This information helps him determine what pieces of equipment should be added or removed. This also allows the contractor to determine the headcount needed to run the mobile equipment most effectively.

By tracking fuel usage, they can determine how efficient a machine is, especially if it is older, and calculate if it is more cost effective to purchase a newer, more fuel efficient model to replace an older unit. Also, since fuel is a direct expense, it can be more easily tracked to allow customers to negotiate a fixed fuel price from a supplier.

Volvo Construction Equipment has developed a machine-tracking information system (MATRIS), which offers on-board computing and sensing. According to Eric Yeomans, region product manager, a quarry operator now can access the location of the machine on a GPS map, see real-time machine data, and set up a geo-fence and time-fence. As a result, he can obtain a daily use report (telling how many hours the machine was in operation), service reminders, wear-part reminders, machine utilization variables (fuel consumption and idling), performance and productivity reports, alarms and warnings, and error codes.

Other improvements include cameras and collision-avoidance systems. The main improvements to today's on-board cameras are the high-quality pictures on color monitors, Yeomans says. Some mobile equipment incorporates a rear-vision camera into the operator's display/monitor. Collision-avoidance systems (based on GPS technology) are especially important for working in tight, confined areas and busy jobsites. Both reduce the risk of accidents. Yeomans says that the need to verbally communicate with quarry personnel is diminishing because most information now can be accessed through telematics; more often than not, this information is more accurate than verbal communications.

Leroy Hagenbuch, president of Philippi-Hagenbuch, says that many of the advances in on-board computing, telemetry and GPS have focused on the bottom line and vehicle health, but have neglected, to some degree, the health and safety of the operator.

More emphasis could, in the future, be placed on operator safety and productivity, he says. Other than air conditioning, a sound-reducing cab enclosure, a soft seat and a fancy radio, has there really been any focus on vehicle operator comfort and vehicle interaction/safety?

Hagenbuch suggests using the latest monitoring and measuring technologies to implement these initiatives.

  • Monitor operator performance. If an operator continually registers extra vehicle forward and reverse operations to haul each load, perhaps he needs more training or is having visual difficulties.
  • Monitor operator alertness, especially in multi-shift operations. Look for the steering wheel continually being turned erratically in one direction.
  • Monitor near-miss, potential collisions. Look for hard, erratic braking.
  • Monitor seat belt use and whole body vibration. Look to see if the operator is subjected to a ride like a roller coaster.

Manufacturers agree that further technological advances in the coming year will be tied to Tier 4 compliance, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate aimed at cutting emission levels on construction, agricultural and industrial diesel-powered equipment by 90 percent. In addition, the new rule will remove 99 percent of the sulfur in off-road vehicle diesel fuel by 2010, resulting in dramatic reductions in particulate matter from all diesel engines. By EPA's estimate, diesel fuel currently contains about 3,000 pars per million of sulfur. The new rule will cut that to 15 ppm.

The industry is definitely preparing for Tier 4, says Komatsu's Ken Calvert. The release of Tier 4-compliant products will be accompanied by the next generation of on-board computing and monitoring equipment, which will provide precise measurements for operating data such as fuel consumption and operating loads.

In the next year, advances will be made in engine-controller technology in order to meet interim Tier 4 emission requirements in North America and Stage 3B in Europe, adds John Deere's Jahmy Hindman. Additional sensors and computing power will be necessary to meet these new regulations.


Neal Lorenzi is a freelance writer and a former editor of Rock Products.

In jointly published articles, Concrete Products and Rock Products examine vehicle-mounted and dispatch office hardware contributing to productivity gains from the aggregate pit to the slab-on-grade pour.