Technology: Intelligent automation
How can the earthmoving and construction industries take full advantage of intelligent automation?
Interact Analysis research director Alastair Hayfield says technology has the power to make construction cleaner, smarter and more efficient, but progress has been slow.
“Construction typically lags three to five years behind the automotive sector,” he says.
“The technologies that are happening now in construction were first seen in these segments a number of years ago, but we are seeing a pretty strong adoption of them in construction now that these technologies are becoming more robust and proven.”
There has been a gradual increase in drone use and focus on low emissions within the earthmoving and construction industries.
“At the Intermat exhibition earlier this year, there were a much larger number of companies offering aerial surveying software and drone services than we’ve seen before,” Hayfield says. “This sector is forecast to be one of the largest applications for drones, with commercial unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] used in construction set to be valued in excess of $2 billion by 2022.”
Electrification is also a big trend, but it will take longer to bring to market.
“The introduction of urban low emission zones (LEZs) will supercharge this process,” Hayfield says. “There are now around 200 LEZs, particularly in Europe, so if manufacturers want to continue to operate in major construction cities then they really need to focus on lowemission vehicles.”
Manufacturers really do need to be prepared for a shift in machine design, according to Hayfield.
“A great example is the Volvo prototype excavator EX2,” he says.
“Although still a working concept, it completely replaces the hydraulic system with electric actuators and that’s quite a big departure because every other piece of construction equipment relies on hydraulics.
“A move towards electrification like this does bring with it some design challenges, but as we solve some of these issues it frees up engineers to be far more creative with machine design.”
The challenges associated with electric machinery include reliability, particularly around the battery and overall durability of the vehicle itself, as these vehicles get used in harsh environments.
“Also electrification tends to be more expensive at the time of purchase, so moving the conversation towards total cost of ownership will be important.”
There are also a lot of concerns over how intelligent automation might impact the role of the operator.
“Over the next five to 10 years what we will see is the augmentation of people’s jobs as machines are used to assist, rather than replace site activities.
“For the commercial vehicle market, the driver still has to get out of the cab in many instances and do a job and we’ll see the same for construction, where automation will free them up to do the things they don’t have time for.
“It is more about increasing safety and productivity than about replacing operators.”
A move towards electrification like this does bring with it some design challenges.