Five excavator technologies to improve projects

Manufacturers of excavators have been making their machines faster and more efficient for over a decade now.

Manufacturers of excavators have been making their machines faster and more efficient for over a decade now. However, in the past few years, there has been an increase in demand for specific features from excavator users. 

#1. You can get to grade faster

Ryan Neal, market professional and product application specialist for large excavators at Caterpillar, says that 2D grade control has been a game-changer. The operator simply selects the target depth and slope, and sensors and onboard processors provide real-time guidance on the distance to grade. That eliminates all of that getting out of the cab to set up stakes and lasers, oftentimes cutting an operator’s productivity in half.

Matthew McLean, product manager for GPE products at Volvo Construction Equipment, says that 2D indicate systems have exploded in demand over the past two years. This is because contractors want to save time. Recently, there has been a challenge finding skilled workers, so companies are looking for new technology to help.

"A newer operator might not be as fast, but they'll be on grade because the monitor screen in the cab will let them know both visibly and audibly," McLean points out. "Volvo's system, Dig Assist, is also designed to be easy to use, which is why we've made it standard on our 22- to 55-ton excavators. On virtually all other models, Dig Assist is an option."

#2. Machine that digs and grades at the same time

Volvo's Active Control system is now standard on five excavator models: the EC220E, ECR235E, EC250E, EC300E, and ECR355E. The Active Control system helps you dig when you are within 4 inches (10 cm) of the object you are trying to move. You do this by pulling back on the joystick.

Active Control is a system that helps operators avoid digging too deep. It also helps control the bucket angle and tiltrotator. Operators can choose to have the system control back grading and normal grading. Finally, swing control and swing fence help operators dig and load more efficiently while avoiding obstacles.

Caterpillar has made its swing-control technology, 2D E-Fence, standard on its excavators. This safety system uses data from position sensors to automatically stop motion when the front linkage reaches the operator-defined boundaries.

#3. Calculating the weight of materials

Neal from Caterpillar points to one other game-changing technology that has come to excavators in recent years. This technology is called Cat Payload. It uses cylinder pressure data and machine sensors to continuously calculate material weight while the excavator works.

Neal recently visited a contractor in the Boston area. The contractor was using a Cat 395 Excavator to dig a foundation. Neal says, "The contractor said they loaded 136 trucks and were within 2% accuracy on all of them. That almost brought a tear to my eye."

#4. More production - less fuel needed

With the right equipment and technologies, improved productivity can also result in reduced fuel costs. Doosan excavators feature two innovations that can help you save on fuel. 

The D-Ecopower system, an option on select models, features an electronically controlled pump, a closed-centre main control valve, and nine sensors that electronically detect and control the precise amount of hydraulic oil required to perform a task.

Doosan Infracore North America's Aaron Kleingartner says, that with metered oil instead of a fixed amount constantly being forced through the system, the hydraulic system output requirements are optimized with engine horsepower. This results in substantial fuel savings and improved productivity. Plus, better feedback through the controls makes the machine easier to operate and gives the operator a more comfortable experience.

A second innovation from Doosan is its Smart Power Control. This technology is controlled by the ECU (engine control unit). There are two systems that work together to improve efficiency while maintaining productivity - variable speed control and pump torque control.

#5. Camera systems

Cameras are now being used to improve excavator productivity and safety. For example, Caterpillar excavators come with two cameras standard, one on the right side and one at the back. A four-camera system is also available for contractors who want a full view of their excavator surroundings. 

Doosan offers a standard rearview camera and an optional side view camera. Operators can view one or both (side-by-side) on the LCD screen in the operator’s cab.

At ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020, Doosan previewed a new camera system that gives operators a 360° view of their surroundings. The five unique perspectives that can be seen from the AVM monitor are the top view, rear view, top-right view, rear-corner view, and 3D view.

Volvo's McLean also agrees that camera systems have come a long way. The company began adding backup cameras more than a decade ago. Most recently, in 2020, Volvo Smart View was developed and has since been made standard on Volvo general purpose excavators (EC140 and larger).

The industry is now working on a camera system that warns the operator when certain movement is detected. Additionally, the future of excavator tech is likely to include increased adoption of things like 3D grade control, remote control operation, and even certain levels of autonomous operation. But as of right now, more construction contractors are making better use of technologies that have been available for years and continually improved.

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