Excavators of all sizes are starting to come decked with the latest technology and features, from ergonomic seating to large screen displays. Are users accessing and getting the benefits of this technology? How can users from all markets make the most of these advances? (Our partners at http://www.vancouverhome.builders rent from our newest inventory each and every time)
Although many operators aren't aware of the ins and outs of control modes, many excavators feature multiple control modes. Some supply varying degrees of power or performance to the machine; these are often “green,” “power,” or “eco” settings. Others affect the amount of control given to the operator. Still others impact the task that can be completed within the mode; for example, “lift mode” or “dig mode.” Finally, some pieces of heavy equipment offer modes for attachments.
How modes work changes from brand to brand, and even from model to model. There is no general standardized pattern for excavator modes. Some excavators offer multiple modes, but the modes are simply numbered or lettered, relying on the operator's knowledge of the machine. Others, such as attachment modes, are programmable by the operator. Even the access point for modes changes from brand to brand; some makers use traditional switches, while others opt for in-cab monitors, and some brands go with haptic controllers.
So, which kind of controls are best for operating an excavator? The biggest factor here is operator preference. Some operators nail down each possible mode and make use of them, while others just go for full power no matter what.
The excavator of the future may not use modes at all; the Gradall Discovery Series has taken a more modern approach along these lines, doing away with modes. Instead, Gradall Discovery Series machines use algorithms to adapt to whatever working conditions are present, just like smart devices adapt.
Autonomous and assist options
In the world of excavators we're not quite flying on autopilot yet, but there are some new and interesting options out there. At the lower end of the spectrum are machines that have simple indicators on their monitors. These guide their users, so that the operator knows how far he or she is getting, but the actual grading and digging is still completely under the operator's control.
There are excavators out there that offer semi-autonomous control, as well as complete GNSS models. However, these are less common. Semi-autonomous control is not as readily adaptable to the excavator because of the difficulties inherent to planning for the complex motion of excavator buckets and their teeth-to-bucket pin dimensions. Changing a bucket means starting over again in terms of autonomous controls.
Still, brands like Hitachi, Komatsu, and John Deere are pushing the pre-installed autonomous packages with the hope that operators will try the technology and like its convenience. Once operators get past their discomfort with autonomous digging, they may embrace the practice more readily.
Big screens and more data
The monitors in excavators are growing, with 7- and 8-inch screens turning into a common sight. Many of these monitors are touch screens, although users frequently feel these are out of place within the demanding environmental conditions of the construction site and, therefore, stick with buttons and more traditional controls.
Like any smart screens, these monitors feature numerous icons which operators need to be familiar with. They also offer the benefit of telematics, a real boon to the rental market and a boost to resale value of heavy equipment.
Today, all OEMs know that ergonomics are a big deal, and all brands are striving to produce more comfortable, healthy options for their customers. However, there is no real gold standard for ergonomics when it comes to in cabin seating positions. Most brands recommend that operators adjust their seat as they see necessary.
Ergonomic seats aren't the only creature comfort in the modern excavator, of course. Additional in-cab storage, pressurized isolation-mounted cabs, high-capacity HVAC systems with numerous vents, increased floor space and cab volume, and improved sound systems with mp3 inputs and Bluetooth compatibility are also available in many machines today.
The latest visibility advances in excavators offer a 360 degree bird’s-eye view—a major improvement over simply seeing behind the machine. Many brands offer motion detection features, such as Hyundai's Intelligent Moving Object Detection (IMOD). More LED and halogen lighting elements are also offered on excavators, including low-light enhancement options.
The bottom line
So, are users taking advantage of what's out there today? How can operators make the most of their technical options? Smart heavy equipment dealers and rental companies will know their machines inside and out, so they can really be sure their operators know how to operate each machine in every situation. If you're looking to get the most out of your machine, reach out to the manufacturer, dealer, or rental agent if you need more information.