Machine control technology has grown exponentially in scope since first introduced, and if you haven’t yet added it to your fleet, you may be missing out on significant advantages. Machine control technology makes it possible to finish projects faster, at a lower cost and with much higher accuracy. It’s an investment that will typically pay for itself after the first few jobs and will save considerable time and money over the lifetime of the machine. In an increasingly competitive market, it may just be the advantage you need as you bid and spec out your next job.
This article will look at 13 reasons to consider adding machine control technology to your current fleet or your next purchase.
1. Do the Job Right the First Time
There may be no more frustrating (or costly) form of downtime than rework. With machine control, you have the power to put in the right material at the right height, or to take the right amount of material out. Rework can be costly as it relates not only to one crew, but also to the upstream and downstream work being performed on the whole site – causing further delay and frustration.
2. Greater Predictability/Control of Job Costs
Machine control technology allows contractors to more accurately estimate the specific amount of time and materials needed for a jobsite. This allows for better allocation of equipment and personnel, as well as better control of material costs. As an example: if you remove too much material from the site, not only have you wasted the time and energy to remove that material, you now need to spend additional resources (time and money) to truck in material that is as good or better than the material you removed. Conversely: why spend the fuel and labor to haul in more material than you need? Machine control lets you more accurately calculate the material costs for any given site.
3. Less Wear and Tear (Maintenance)
Ground engaging equipment experiences more wear and tear the more often it is used. More hours are also piled up on the engine and the machine’s filters and fluids. Blade edges wear down, and dozer undercarriages take a beating each time the machine travels. Machine control technology will generally allow a task to be completed in fewer passes with a grader or dozer, helping to minimize each of these factors while completing the same amount of work.
4. Greater Equipment Utilization/Flexibility
Being able to work more efficiently as detailed in points 1-3 also allows contractors to more intelligently use their equipment. For instance, if a contractor knows that he/she can now complete the amount of work with two dozers instead of three, that extra dozer can then be put to work on another site or elsewhere on the existing site. Similarly, an excavator outfitted with machine control may be able to complete the final grade as part of its work, freeing up a dozer to advance on other work on the site. The technology also helps in equipment sequencing and planning: if you know for certain that the grader will get the grade to where it needs to be on the very next pass, you can ensure that compactor is there and ready to go as soon as the pass is finished.
5. Greater Productivity
As a matter of principle, we prioritize quality over speed (we know many would rank this as #1), but make no doubt about it: you will complete work at a faster rate through the efficiencies afforded by machine control. Each job is different, but it’s not uncommon to see increases in productivity that help justify the investment on the first job it’s implemented on.
6. Lower Operating Costs
Points 1-5 all contribute to the greater theme of lower operating costs. There are many ways to look at operating costs, but all revolve around the common theories of completing more or a comparable amount of work with less effort, eliminating rework, reducing maintenance and fuel costs, and more intelligently utilizing equipment to get more out of your fleet in a given period of time. The intelligence of machine control technology helps lessen the wear on a machine and resources required to complete a job, while also allowing the contractor to get more work out of their equipment in the long run.
7. Improve Operator Performance/Shorten Training Window
Bulldozers and motor graders remain among the more difficult machines to find and train qualified operators for. Machine control technology helps significantly shorten the training window and allows less-experienced operators to achieve similar completion quality as those with more field experience.
8. Excavate with Confidence
Machine control technology outfitted on an excavator becomes a powerful tool for fast and accurate excavation. It can help improve productivity (faster cycle times) because the operator can dig with absolute confidence in mass excavation applications and know that they’re not over-digging. This can be particularly helpful in trenching applications by guiding the operator to the exact grade depth and eliminating the need for a worker to be present in the trench to measure depth.
9. No Re-staking
Depending on the size of the site, many contractors will set aside a whole portion of their budget to account for re-staking to take place throughout the job. Stakes get moved or run over, designs change, etc. This can be costly, often costing tens-of-thousands of dollars. With machine control, the data points don’t change and the design remains constant within the system, unless the design changes – at which point a new design is simply uploaded rather than staking the whole site again. This eliminates costs associated with re-staking – which, in some cases, can alone account for the price of a single machine control system.
10. Fine Trim Work with Compact Equipment
We often think of larger equipment – dozers and graders, specifically – when thinking of machine control. These technologies also provide benefits to compact equipment such as compact excavators, skid steers and tool carriers/utility tractors. For instance, a compact excavator digging utility lines next to a building’s foundation can dig accurately and with confidence, knowing that grade and pitch are where they need to be. A skid steer can be transformed into a powerful final grading tool around buildings and other obstructions, and smaller tractors used in sports field management can be made more efficient in achieving the perfect grade/surface. As a side note: machine control is particularly helpful in golf course construction due to the constantly varying terrain. The ROI metrics on a smaller piece of equipment are going to be completely different compared to a larger machine, but the benefit may still be worth investigating.
11. Greater Data Integration Between Crafts
Large jobsites often resemble small cities, with numerous contractors working in-sync with one another. By sharing and working from a single model of the jobsite, all of the disciplines work from the same plans, and it helps eliminate ambiguities or concerns over changing plans or contractors possibly working from outdated specs.
12. Easier to Integrate at Purchase
One historic resistance to machine control technology was that it was often supplied by a third-party. This has changed significantly in recent years, as many OEMs have integrated the technology and/or partnered with machine control suppliers (such as the new strategic partnership between CASE Construction Equipment and Leica Geosystems). Contractors can now work directly with the equipment dealer and service department they are already familiar with and know that they have the full backing of the machine control developer/expert. Everything can be accomplished in one transaction/process, simplifying adoption for the equipment owner. It’s also going to allow manufacturers to implement machine control into machines earlier in the development process, further expanding capabilities and overall benefit to the customer.
13. Ease of Scalability
Investing in new technology can be an intimidating proposition. Luckily, entry-level systems provide most of the infrastructure needed to allow for future expansion. For instance, a contractor can add a 1D system and, should they choose to evolve to a 2D or 3D system a year later, it only requires adding a few components to get them up to speed.
Machine control provides an extensive list of benefits and ways that contractors can streamline their jobsite, reduce operating costs and become more competitive, whether working on a mass grading project, building a road, digging utilities or completing trim work on a commercial site. If you’ve recently declined machine control as part of a heavy equipment purchase, or have been interested in adding it as aftermarket technology, it might be time to sit down with your equipment dealer and discuss how it can benefit your business.