by Debbie McClung
June 26, 2012

Learn about new tools that can improve construction machine and operator performance.

 

When it comes to machine management, you must seize every possible opportunity to increase jobsite efficiency and security for your construction equipment assets. Poor machine or attachment productivity directly impacts your bottom line, and theft can even shut down your construction business completely depending on your reserves. Taking advantage of innovative skid-steer and compact loader control technologies can allow you to manage several important operational metrics, such as security data and performance rates.

“On today’s jobsites, owners and fleet managers want to understand their costs to make better business decisions. Loader technologies can help identify opportunities to improve machine and operator efficiencies and protect their investments,” says Chris Knipfer,  marketing manager for Bobcat.

 

Analyze User Statistics

The most common machine management technologies monitor and display standard gauges, such as battery condition, fuel levels, engine oil pressure and hydraulic oil temperature and pressure, as well as digital tachometers and job clocks. While these indicators are critical to operators, new tools are available that provide user visibility. With their ability to track user-specific data, owners can evaluate the root of inefficiencies and calculate resource allocations for projects.

Loaders have continued to evolve with the incorporation of simple, yet sophisticated, electronic systems that provide multiple levels of password-protected access and more in-depth machine and operator performance. Systems equipped with tools to capture user statistics allow job productivity and resources to be precisely gauged. 

According to Knipfer, customers frequently want to know their hourly and annual fuel consumption. He says it has been a difficult parameter to pinpoint due to jobsite variables, such as different operators, attachments and jobsite conditions, but some loaders now include a functionality to capture individual fuel usage, real-time fuel consumption and idle time data.

“Owners can understand fuel consumption per hour by the job they’re performing and then evaluate by operator. They can see which operators are using more fuel and determine if it’s their style or whether they’re operating the machine more than everybody else,” Knipfer says.

With that data, owners can assess a particular type of job and more accurately estimate fuel usage. Seeing real-time fuel consumption also allows them to better understand what aspect of a job requires more fuel. Moving dirt typically translates into lower fuel consumption compared to planing, which demands more work from the machine and more fuel. Owners can also manage labor discrepancies—for instance, if a user logs eight hours of time on a machine, but the data indicates the machine sat idle for three of those hours.

Another advantage is the ability to program control settings, such as high-flow hydraulics or two-speed travel, to prevent poor performance. “If you have an operator who’s kind of a cowboy, and you don’t want him running the machine really fast, you can lock out his password from the loader’s two-speed function and still keep the function available to others,” Knipfer says.

Systems equipped with tools to capture user statistics allow job productivity and resources to be precisely gauged.

Integrate Attachment Controls

Machine management tools can be integrated into instrumentation systems to intelligently monitor attachment productivity. For instance, these systems allow operators to consult their display panels from the loader’s cab to see which blade or gate is active on tree spades and then modify settings to adjust the dig timing. Job clocks and cumulative hour meters compute usage on high-output attachments, such as planers and wheel saws. Owners can also track parameters, such as bit life, maintenance and total attachment life. 

Justin Odegaard, Bobcat’s attachment product specialist, says smart technologies can also protect attachments that are not designed for certain hydraulic capacities. This can help contractors prepare more precise job bids and avoid maintenance costs for better ownership costs. “With these tools, an owner or supervisor can lock out high-flow capabilities to reduce or eliminate the possibility of over-flowing attachments,” Odegaard says.

Grading systems—such as lasers and sonic/slope products—are another attachment category compatible with loader control technologies. The housings of most laser receivers are engineered with indicator lights to inform the operator if the blade is too high, too low or right on grade. Odegaard says operators can use instrumentation switches to adjust the on-grade mark on laser receivers. “This increases efficiency because the operator does not need to exit the cab of the machine to raise or lower either the laser receivers or the laser transmitter,” Odegaard says.

Sonic tracer/slope sensor kits provide an alternative method of automatic grade control on hilly jobsites not suited to lasers. These systems require a control box to make adjustments. “We incorporated all visual indicators and adjustability into our loader’s panel. Not only does this ensure all controls are completely integrated into the host machine, but it doesn’t encroach into the valuable cab space of the loader,” Odegaard says.

 

Prevent Theft

Theft protection is a leading concern on jobsites nationwide. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), $3 million in compact equipment is lost each day to thieves. Many loader control technologies include a numeric keyless pad as a security feature. Only operators with pre-assigned codes can start and run the machine. Knipfer points out that some insurance companies provide discounted premiums on certain coverage plans for the installation of reputable security devices on compact equipment.

“These types of options are a small investment when you consider the amount of downtime that can occur when a machine is stolen. Even if you get it back, it’s going to take a while to find it, you don’t know what kind of condition it will be in, and you may have an increase on your insurance,” Knipfer says.