Harnessing the power of information

The advent of online streaming services such as Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime have helped to change the way we watch television, even going so far as to fuel a ‘binge-watching’ culture when it comes to our favourite TV shows.

The past few years have seen the digital streaming platforms expand significantly. According to Netflix’s Tech Blog, for instance, its streaming services have expanded from thousands of members watching occasionally to millions of members watching over two billion hours every month.

“Each time a member starts to watch a movie or TV episode, a ‘view’ is created in our data systems and a collection of events describing that view is gathered. Given that viewing is what members spend most of their time doing on Netflix, having a robust and scalable architecture to manage and process this data is critical to the success of our business,” the blog reads.

Utilising and harnessing data and information has had a profound impact on Netflix’s surge into the limelight, and similarly, the global construction industry is realising the inherent benefits of data optimisation. Utilising data is not only helping to inform decisions about infrastructure design, construction and management, but it is also helping improve construction machinery and in turn, productivity and job efficiency.

Trimble, a global specialist in positioning technologies and integrated solutions for myriad industrial sectors, is well versed on the power of data, particularly around increasing construction and earthmoving machinery efficiency and site productivity through improving interoperability of technologies and data.

For Dan Barry, Australasia Regional Manager at Trimble, data has been one of the dominant trends in the construction and earthmoving sector this past year.

“A lot of machines these days collect data and are leveraging it to complete tasks faster. Right now, it’s more about what do you do with all of that information, and that’s a big idea people are playing with,” Mr. Barry says.

“The big thing the industry is facing and striving to achieve is how to innovate the ways in which we translate data from site and machine to office, to make future and forward-making decisions on the automation level so that things can be more cost-effective and the opportunity for innovation is more readily available.”

Optimising this information and turning it into a powerful tool to increase machine and on-site productivity is one key industry trend Trimble has embraced by way of a suite of new products introduced in 2017.

At CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017, held in Las Vegas this past March, Trimble announced its partnership with Hitachi Construction Machinery to develop a new cloud-based platform for civil construction projects – Trimble Connect.

The Trimble Connect software is a cloud-based collaboration ecosystem, which Hitachi Construction Machinery will use interfaces from to develop an intelligent platform for its customers. “Our Trimble Connect portfolio aims to connect all those sensors, people and assets to optimise productivity and reliability, by connecting site, machine and office,” Mr. Barry says.

The platform is interoperable with a portfolio of connectivity solutions, including planning and design software, precision machine control, site positioning, mobile technologies and real-time connectivity. The aim is to further improve integration for mixed fleet customers.

Hand in hand with this data-driven solution is the innovation of machine control for construction equipment – another trend Mr. Barry says has shaped 2017 and has been a significant focus for Trimble.

“This year we’ve had pretty major developments through introducing Trimble Earthworks, which involved replacing our core product in the machine control space,” he says.

In March, the business announced Trimble Earthworks – its newest grade control platform for excavators and dozers.

“Our existing system is pretty well implemented in the engineering and construction markets, so it’s quite a big benchmark to change over from.”

He says the Australian and New Zealand civil construction industries have always been quite open to changes in the machine control space, with many businesses recognising the benefits of new technology in this area. Kobelco, for instance, has already announced it will integrate the 3D machine control platform with its Kobelco SK210LC-9 excavators.

“We do a lot of customer feedback in developing these kinds of products and investing time in figuring out the right user experience. The needs of every operator and every project are different, but we wanted to explore the connectivity we could establish and the breadth of the technology and where it can potentially help improve things. The feedback from the market was around limiting the technological issues they were facing and make their operations as seamless and productive as possible,” Mr. Barry says. “We’d been sitting on our standard platform for a number of years, so we really needed to release something that the industry could actually use now and well into the future.”

Mr. Barry says Trimble Earthworks for excavators is helping to transform machine control with the industry’s first retrofitted 3D aftermarket automatics capability, which aims to help operators create smooth, flat or sloped surfaces more easily.

When the excavator is placed in Autos mode, the operator controls the stick, and Trimble Earthworks controls the boom and bucket to stay on grade, reduce overcut and increase production. By automating excavator operation, Trimble Earthworks allows operators to achieve accurate grade consistently in less time.

Mr. Barry says the most significant change is the movement towards a much faster grade control operating system. “This provides a much quicker user experience in terms of information and sensors and relaying that information to the operator and system, and what is utilised in the cab,” he says.

The Trimble Earthworks grade control application is built on an Android operating system and runs on a 10-inch (25.7-centimetre) Trimble TD520 touchscreen display. Mr. Barry says colourful graphics, natural interactions and gestures, and self-discovery features make the software intuitive and easy to learn. Each operator is able to personalise the interface to match their workflow and a variety of configurable views make it easier to see the right perspective for maximum productivity. “We’re reducing the training time and using 3D rotatable views, coloured touchscreens, which, in all, help to free up time on site and given the operator more time to get on with the job.”

The Trimble Earthworks platform also introduces a new mastless dozer configuration in the platform, which moves the dual GNSS receivers from the blade to the roof of the cab, keeping them safer and potentially saving operators time by reducing the need to remove and reinstall them each day. “It’s Android, which is a big benefit for us to drive streamlined solutions and the customer can download other applications and custom build on top of that app. It’s essentially able to be futureproofed and update seamlessly because it’s Android,” he says. “And migrating from our existing legacy product to a futureproofed one is a large change for people, but it’s one that allows them to get more productivity out of their machines and operation.”

Mr. Barry says another major milestone on Trimble’s Earthworks’ release for excavators is that the technology can be retrofitted on existing machines, which he says has been a highly debated area of the machine with customers and manufacturers alike.

As we head into 2018 and beyond, Mr. Barry asserts that market demand is changing the role of the contractor and what exactly is required on a project, particularly in the machine control space.

“I think it’s beyond us, as technology providers, to cater to a client’s needs. It’s us trying to keep up with their demands,” Mr. Barry states. “What we’re doing from a machine control point of view is trying to get everything ready on a project with a lot of variables involved and we’re trying to remove the variables and the complication surrounding them. We can reach that through innovation in technology, software and hardware.”

He agrees the ‘infrastructure boom’ Australia is currently experiencing is one of the factors helping fuel the advancement of data utilisation in the civil construction space. “With more large infrastructure projects, expectations around costs and productivity have evolved with those projects. We’ve seen that the technology facilitating this kind of data optimisation has been a part of the fabric of the civil engineering side of project construction in Australia and New Zealand for the past eight or nine years,” he says.

Likewise, he notes that the trends moving towards data and information utilisation on sites and through machines is also changing market competitiveness for contractors.

“The market is increasingly requiring contractors to be competitive by recognising their costs, how to bid more effectively and not leave anything on the table. We’re seeing that’s where the machine space is heading – technology is an enabler for businesses to become more competitive.”

Drones or unpiloted aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, is also proving a significant catalyst for change in the civil construction industry, according to Mr. Barry.

He says drones are being used increasingly on large infrastructure projects, particularly for site management purposes. “There are people who are using machines and drones to gather large volumes of information to give them a leg-up, but the key difference is about getting that information to the organisation and translating it and making informed decisions based on it.”

With all of those sentiments in mind, Mr. Barry asserts that industry is moving towards paperless systems and processes and harnessing data in new ways, which will present their own unique challenges in the future. “How do we still make a ‘paper trail’ of information without paper? That’s a significant departure from how industry has operated in the past,” he says.

“It’s really become a case of organisational change in large scale, multifaceted projects with layer upon layer of subcontractors involved. If we can create some level of transparency to the depth of the project and all those involved through data, it will be a benefit to all involved.”

Mr. Barry anticipates 2018 and beyond will bring significant change in the machine control space, and he says there will be more opportunities than challenges.

“At the moment, we’re doing a lot of work in Australia with OEMs and machine manufacturers, and we want to evolve our product solutions so they work across every machine, model and suite of products,” he says. “Looking at government budgets and what projects are being financed on the east coast of Australia and in New Zealand, there are significant opportunities for contractors and businesses in the infrastructure space to really go places and leverage some great projects off of that, and they’re going to need to right machines to do the job.”

Related stories:

Interesting? Share this article