By Karol Friel, Sales Manager at Topcon Positioning Ireland.
From diggers that can automatically grade to haul trucks that drive themselves, the construction industry is being revolutionised by machine control technology that is offering time and cost savings across projects through enhanced accuracy and streamlined workflows.
With construction and civil firms across Ireland embracing this technology, some are even reporting productivity increases of 20 per cent, meaning machine control is having a big impact on the bottom line as well as the speed and accuracy of construction.
It’s no secret that the industry is facing some significant challenges; there is a lack of fresh talent entering the sector – which is stereotypically viewed as having tough working conditions and less job security in comparison with other industries. In particular, the construction sector has trouble attracting young people and, as a result, there are fewer and fewer operators entering the profession and more retiring meaning the loss of years of skill.
This, coupled with the latest project delays, cancellations and budget tightening due to global uncertainty with the Covid-19 pandemic, presents a particularly difficult environment for construction professionals. However, the demand for new buildings and infrastructure remains high.
To meet construction targets, accelerate recovery post-Covid and tackle the skills gap head-on, the industry is turning towards machine control and related construction technologies to enhance workflows and get back on track.
Reducing errors and working faster
Although it is widely acknowledged that machine control increases on-site productivity, it has not yet become standard on all machines in the industry. That said, the adoption of this technology is gaining momentum across a variety of different types of construction equipment - including graders, dozers and more recently excavators, as the industry begins to recognise the benefits of machine control, and some systems are now offering automation.
Automated machine control automatically moves the blade or bucket to grade by talking to the machine’s hydraulics. Unlike with regular machine control, automated machine control technology places the responsibility for accuracy and speed firmly in the hands of performance enhancing technology. This means that new or less-skilled operators can perform like a professional and even the most experienced operators can work better and faster – effectively increasing productivity, upskilling current operators and those in training and helping the industry to address the skills shortage.
Automation in full swing
When looking at the current construction landscape, however, it is clear that despite its significant benefits, machine control automation is not being adopted across all machines at an equal rate. However, with the demands for productivity increasing and a shortage of skilled operators and time, the construction sector needs to embrace the benefits that investing in automated machine control can bring.
With technologies like the Topcon X-53x Automatic Excavator, by simply pulling back on the stick, operators can automatically control digging depth, boom elevation and the bucket angle – ensuring that they are on grade every time and avoiding over-digging. Automated 3D machine control systems also provide huge on-site safety benefits. By using the most advanced and precise GPS positioning technology and the latest sensors, operators receive real-time, dynamic, on-screen bucket location and design views. In effect, access to real-time designs means that operators can cut more accurately and check against complex designs in the cab, removing the need for someone to check the grade from the trench – a task which carries increased safety risks and made construction sites of the past extremely dangerous.
A future we control
Evidently, machine control has come a long way since it was first adopted by the construction industry over twenty years ago. However, automation is just the first step for this technology. Looking forward, not only will automation control machine angle and depth, but the whole excavation process looks likely to become automated - increasing productivity across the entire construction workflow. Through the use of automated machine control technology, machines will be able to act as sensors – monitoring the progress of projects and sharing accurate reports on productivity.
Undoubtedly, automated machine control looks set to continue revolutionising the construction industry. Offering time and cost savings across projects through enhanced accuracy and streamlined workflows, the technology is helping to combat the serious skills and productivity challenges facing the sector and accelerate the industry’s recovery following Covid-19.
Moving forward, there’s a need to ensure the industry is upskilling the workforce through this technology and embracing the benefits it brings to a project. Fully automated construction workflows look set to be the answer to addressing infrastructure targets in the future and beyond.