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Working Smarter: Intelligent Machine Control Helps Contractors Improve Efficiency, Productivity

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In the competitive field of construction, improvements in efficiency and productivity can help contractors win bids and make more money on jobs. Over the past several years, equipment manufacturers have made significant strides in improving their offerings to make machines more reliable, robust and versatile. Among them is Komatsu, which recently released their intelligent Machine Control (iMC) 2.0, aimed at enhancing operator performance.

To learn more about iMC 2.0 and its benefits, specifically on its excavators, North American Oil & Gas Pipelines sat down with Komatsu’s Andrew Earing, product manager for 20- to 50-ton excavators, and Michael Salyers, senior product manager in the Smart Construction Division. Here is what they had to say.

What is intelligent Machine Control? What are the essential components?

Earing — iMC is Komatsu’s semi-autonomous 3D machine control technology. It allows our operators to dig straight to grade with a very high degree of precision. One of the key components is the operator-facing monitor, which is a large display that provides detailed information regarding the design surfaces, dig depth and location. Coupled with the display is a suite of sensor technologies as well as GNSS antennas that allow the machine to position itself with a high degree of accuracy.

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Can you give us a brief background of the development and introduction of iMC?

Salyers — Machine control for heavy construction equipment has been around since the early 2000s. But where it really started was on the bull dozer, which was a logical machine to add this type of technology because you’re instructing the hydraulics to either raise, lower, tilt or slope the blade of the dozer. The excavator is more complex. When you are tracking the teeth of the bucket, you need to consider the tilt of the machine, the rotation of the cab, the boom position and the rotation of the bucket. In 2014, Komatsu released the very first semi-automatic excavator system. Since then, we have seen the market embrace this semi-automatic system, and we are seeing more penetration within the market.

What are the technologies that made this possible?

Salyers — The key to iMC comes down to sensing capabilities, especially the stroke sensing cylinders. Stroke sensing devices have been around in other industries, but they haven’t been used in such a harsh environment as the construction industry. Excavators get used in a lot of different applications and environments, some of them are harsh and can really take a toll on the machine. So, the development of the sensor technology and the robustness of the devices themselves to withstand that environment needed to evolve and get to the point where we could actually put them out there in those harsh environments.

How has 2.0 improved on previous versions?

Earing — With the launch of the PC210LCi 2.0, there are a few new benefits. First is the optimized monitor with improved speed and memory that allows for larger file sizes and quicker reaction. In addition, we added our bucket angle hold control that automatically maintains the bucket angle throughout the grading pass. That improves operator comfort and final grading accuracy. Then, we have auto tilt bucket control that allows the machine to automatically tilt the bucket to meet the design surface. These benefits allow the operator to be more efficient and improve accuracy.

What specific benefits does iMC offer a contractor?

Earing — iMC allows a contractor to simply be more productive, specifically by eliminating overdigging. By eliminating overdigging, you reduce the time needed to complete the excavation as well as extra material needed to backfill the trench. We have seen efficiency improvements up to 50 percent and beyond in certain jobsite studies.

How have contractors adopted the use of iMC? What feedback do you get from those using it in the field?

Earing — We have found over the years that technology can be a little intimidating to new customers. But once customers get this into their hands and start using it, they find that the system is very intuitive and the benefits are seen immediately. We see that adoption take place very quickly. An added benefit is that due to productivity and efficiency gains, contractors are able to reallocate support equipment to other areas of the jobsite, allowing them to get in and out of a jobsite much faster.

Salyers — Sometimes we hear that jobsite supervisors don’t want their excavator operators to be artists. They don’t need them trying to do final grading or finish grading with the excavator. But when you add iMC to the machine, it gives the operator that ability to do finish grading more quickly and confidently. In doing so, there is less of a need for the support equipment. It is much more than a system on a single machine, it can improve your entire operation.

Komatsu excavator

How has IMC impacted the excavator market?

Earing — The iMC technology has become extremely beneficial in the market and is almost becoming the standard because of all of the benefits that come with the technology for the excavator and the jobsite. Considering the productivity improvements, efficiency improvements and cost savings, the benefits simply cannot be ignored.

What are the developing trends in excavators?

Earing — One developing trend is the use of auto tilt buckets. Now that we have the ability to control the auto tilt buckets using the semi-autonomous iMC technology, customers are seeing huge efficiency improvements, which make that tool extremely valuable in customers’ day-to-day operations. It has been used in Europe for years now and is now being adopted in North America.

Salyers — Another trend is the connectivity of machines overall, and excavators are part of that. With the addition of positioning technology, we are able to capture position information and as-built information in real-time, and transfer that information to the home office via cellular or Wi-Fi networks. This allows a contractor to make better decisions on how to allocate equipment or make design changes as needed.

What are the key factors a contractor should consider procuring an excavator?

Earing — As customers look to buy or rent machines, they should look at lift and digging performance. These machines are not only used to perform mass excavating, but they also lift and place large objects, such as manhole boxes. So, a customer has to be cognizant of what they are doing on the jobsite and, therefore, how much they need to lift.

Also, a contractor needs to be aware of what attachments they are using and what they may be using in the future. Knowing this can help ensure that the hydraulic system is sized appropriately.

Finally, a contractor needs to consider technology and how it can make you more productive, more efficient and save more money. So, think about your applications and ask your dealer if the technology is right for your needs. In the majority of cases, technology can be applied successfully to the jobsite.

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