“With more new operators coming into the industry recently, we’ve found the iMC features allow them to quickly gain confidence and be more productive on the machine”.
In 2013, Dynamic Ground Solutions (DGS) purchased the first Komatsu intelligent Machine Control (iMC) excavator in the UK. Ten years later, the DGS fleet now includes 30 iMC dozers and excavators – let’s find out why.
Visiting a DGS site in Houghton-le-Spring in England’s North East, we find six Komatsu machines in use, preparing the ground for the construction of a new Tesco superstore. There is an older PC210LCi-11 excavator, a PC290LCi-11 excavator, two D61PXi dozers and pair or HM300-5 ADTs. The machines are all well looked after, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the PC290LCi is brand new, when in fact it’s approaching three years old. DGS clearly take pride in maintaining their fleet, but what is it that attracts them to the intelligent machines?
We asked Site Manager Dave Everett how his operators get on using the iMC machines. ”The operators are fine with them. The iMC system really helps them during digging operations or pushing out. The system works really well keeping the guys on target, and they all find it very helpful.“
Ian Alexander, time-served operator, and current custodian of the immaculate PC290LCi, continues, “Well, the iMC system helps the operator in a way that no other machine does. It helps you control it. It helps you keep to the levels. It uses the control to keep you within the tolerances of what the plans are. So in a way, the iMC is like a helping hand for the operator in the machine. The Komatsu iMC seems to help the operator more than the other systems that are available, and the guidance is far easier to use and really accurate.“
But how does the system work in the dozers? Driver of one of the D61PXi dozers, Richie Bryce agrees, “The features of the iMC machine makes the job a lot easier. It’s good because you can the team in the office can simply upload the model and you just let it do it itself. It just lets you cut to the target surface and no more. It’s so much easier on you.”
Senior site engineer, Alex Pilchowski has a different viewpoint on the acceptance of iMC machines into the DGS fleet. “You notice it the most when one of the operators has to move into a ‘dummy’ machine that we’ve hired in – one that doesn’t have any of the GPS functionality. If they’ve been working in iMC machine, their first question is always where’s the GPS, where’s the smart side of this machine, how do I put it in auto? They really miss it when it’s not there.“
Helping new operators
With the construction industry continuing to grow, and new operators entering the workplace, can an iMC machine help those new operators to get up to speed quicker? Well DGS think so. They reckon the system is so easy to use that new operators can grasp the basics within a few hours and master more complex functions within couple of days. Alex Pilchowski expands, “The thing with iMC is that it helps you at the beginning to focus more on things like safety, positioning your machine, making sure that you’re aware of your surroundings, so you don’t have to focus on the nitty gritty like ‘am I 20mm high, am I 20mm low’, and trying to get to level just by looking at it. So there’s a lot of safety behind it that helps them out, and also it helps people grow faster.“
Dave Everett agrees, “With more new operators coming into the industry recently, we’ve found the iMC features allow them to quickly gain confidence and be more productive on the machine. They pick it up so quickly, and say they find it really helpful, and that’s reflected in their daily output.”
“You can simply look at the screen and it tells you where to go, and how much to either cut or fill. It’s great for an experienced driver like me, so it must be amazing for the young guys” concludes Richie Bryce.
Adding to skills – not removing them
Using machine control takes all the skill out of the job – it’s a statement we’ve all heard before, but does it ring true for DGS?
Dave Everett doesn’t think so and he’s not alone. “Some people might say that, but it’s actually just about assisting the operator rather than taking any of their skills away. The operator still needs to use their experience and finesse to make the most of it. In fact, we’ve found iMC can be just as useful for even the really experienced operators. By assisting them it makes their job that bit easier, and therefore less stressful. And when you’re up against a deadline, anything to reduce the stress and fatigue of our operators is a good thing.“
“The Komatsu, I think, is one of the better machines out there.” continues Ian Alexander, “It’s a machine that’s easy to operate, its got power when you need it, and smoothness when you need it. Add the machine control technology to that and you’ve got a perfect package. And with the iMC system being factory integrated, it’s all a lot neater and tidier – and to me, it’s more secure. Everything does exactly what you expect, because it was always designed that way.“
The ultimate time-saver
The inevitable question then, is how much time can be saved by using iMC machines? DGS say it varies by site, but as a rule of thumb they gain two to three hours per day, per machine when compared to a non-iMC machine. Dozer driver Richie Bryce comments, “With all the complex models we get asked to work to nowadays, with multiple contours…you couldn’t really do that freehand, it’d take you ages. With the iMC, you can just upload the model and drive the machine to the target layer. It makes even the most complex of tasks, so much faster to achieve.“
Excavator operator Ian Alexander agrees, “Using a machine without GPS takes longer and involves more manpower, more intervening with an engineer. Whereas when we’re on the Komatsu iMC it just speeds the whole job up. Also makes the whole job safer because you haven’t potentially got the men around you surveying the works, you can just be left out there. It’s quicker, safer, and it cuts the job down by half.“
Yet from the perspective of an engineer, using iMC machines has a further-reaching benefit. Alex Pilchowski explains, “It’s difficult to quantify how much time iMC saves, but it’s easily 50%. Because it’s not just the amount of time that the machine takes to complete a task – obviously, it can complete it faster with the smart technology and with the GPS control. But it’s also the fact that you’ve got the engineering and testing side of things. So- when you’ve got operators using GPS guided machines, I don’t need to check things as often, which means that I can get on with other tasks. So you’re also saving my time.”
The benefits of Smart Construction
Smart Construction is a Komatsu software suite, with the capability to capture data in multiple ways. It allows the user to manage manpower, machines and material, but how has is changed DGS’s engineering processes? Alex Pilchowski explains how it works for them.
“Smart Construction Remote is my way of accessing all the machines online so I don’t have to go to a machine to interact with it. This includes uploading designs, changing settings like blade wear; or bucket is attached. So when I get a phone call from another site asking me for assistance, I can log in to Remote, and access the machine. I can see exactly what they’re seeing, and I can change any settings or make adjustments, while also talking to the person on the other end and showing them how to do it. Dashboard is the survey side of things – so that’s the part machine operators won’t see. Our weekly drone survey will be uploaded to the dashboard, and from that we’ll be able to see the levels site-wide.
Then we can take measurements off this, compare it to final designs or compare it to previous drone surveys. Dashboard is a great supporting tool because it’s not just the surveying it assists with. It also tracks what work is being done and how quickly, so it also provides a record of proof, because you have that weekly snapshot. The iMC machines, also record ‘as-built’ data, by which I mean it takes data points directly from the machine, so in between drone surveys, I can see everything that has changed on site. So for example, I can see the changes to our borrow pit since the last drone survey, by overlaying the data captured by the iMC machines as they work in it. I haven’t had to go out and survey that or wait for another drone survey to update.
That data is fed in daily from the machines and it really speeds everything up. An additional benefit, is it provides a safer way of working. For example, when we’re digging a trench maybe six metres deep, I can’t go into the bottom of that trench – it’s not safe. But the machine will pick up absolutely all the data that I need and feed it into Dashboard, without me needing to go anywhere near the trench. Honestly, because I no longer need to go out and survey the whole site every week, Smart Construction frees up so much of my time, it’s invaluable. I can’t imagine working without it.”