Topcon Positioning Group announced advances to its portfolio of machine control solutions during ConExpo/Con-Agg 2020 in March. Tilt rotator functionality for the Automatic Excavator system, mobile and bring your own device (BYOD) display options are among the additions offered by the Livermore, California-based company. While Topcon has offered tilt rotation for several years, now it will allow Automatic Excavator operators to easily swivel or tilt the bucket with automatic boom control for faster, more efficient excavation. Murray Lodge, Topcon’s Senior VP of Construction, talked machine control with Truck & Off-Highway Engineering at the company’s booth during the triennial show in Las Vegas.
How is machine control’s role expanding on the jobsite?
As people start to use an excavator control system, they discover more and more applications where it can be valuable. When you start adding controls to the excavator, it gives it even more capabilities. You’ll have projects requiring digging utilities, digging a water line or a pressure line or you’ve got a road you’re putting in. Well, I need to have a surveyor come out. The surveyor sets stakes and then the grade checker says, ‘Okay, I’ll do an offset and do a line.’ That’s all manual. Now with the 3D control system you can indicate the offset from the start. That operator can say, ‘they’ve given me the road alignment, center lines. I know that the pipe’s going to go in at an offset.’ He can then just draw an offset line without the need for stakes. The system shows him how to steer the excavator for maximum productivity. The operators start to learn, ‘Wow, with this [control system] I can save 30% of my digging time. I can save 100% of the surveying costs.’
Can you explain Topcon’s “building blocks” approach to machine control?
Topcon’s Automatic Excavator came out last year. The tilt rotator is new this year. It is a building-block type of system. You could start off with a simple 2D. You can make it go to 3D indicate, then you can go to 3D automatic. Then, you can add 3D tilt rotator, so the customer can adjust as his business changes or as his business grows. He can upgrade his systems to whatever he needs. You’re not getting a new system every time.
Is automatic control becoming more popular to support operator efficiency?
Instead of just ‘indicate,’ for instance, if I’ve got an operator who’s new, not as experienced – that’s where we automate the excavator. Because you get to the point where ‘I’m digging down deep’ or ‘I’m digging in blind, it’s hard to see or I’m inexperienced.’ The operators that have been doing this for a long time: piece of cake. If you go to Scandinavia, 80% of the excavators have controls systems, whether indicate or automatic. But even those owners are saying, ‘Yeah, my experienced operators can do it. The new guys coming in, they can’t.’ So the adoption is high and people now are saying I need automatic so I’m not having to do all these things at the same time. I’m just controlling the stick and rotation of the cab; now all these other things happen through our automation, keeping it to the grade of where you want to have it.
Another piece now is to make it more versatile; you have these new attachments you can put on your excavator. That bucket now instead of being just perpendicular, I can make it tilt. So, if I’m sitting here and I’m on a slope, if it’s just straight, then I’ve got to move around and do this slope this way. I got to get on top of it. Now I can just stay sitting here on it, and I can tilt the bucket this way. Now I can just start grading towards me.
When will tilt rotation catch on in North America?
You don’t see very many tilt rotators in North America yet. You have tilt in the Northeast in a few areas. Again, it is another one of those realizations, ‘Ah-ha. I didn’t realize what I can do with it.’ They’re used throughout Europe, especially Northern Europe. You go to Australia, New Zealand, they use a lot there. Japan, they use a lot of them there because they’re operating in smaller areas; they’re doing a lot with space limitations. They’re not as prevalent here [in North America], but it is catching on. It won’t be that long until more and more people will be using them.
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