At a recent launch at the Hunter Plant Operator Training School in Cessnock, New South Wales, Komatsu Australia unveiled its fully integrated Intelligent Machine Control (iMC) technology that has been factory-installed in some of its dozer and excavator models.
The iMC technology suite consists of a 3D global navigation satellite system (GNSS) designed to let operators focus on moving material efficiently without over-excavation or damage to the target surface. This potentially speeds up site earthworks while delivering greater precision and accuracy. Conventional ‘bolt on’ machine control components have been replaced with fully integrated, factory-installed GNSS antennas, enhanced inertial measuring units (iMU+) and stroke-sensing hydraulic cylinders. The GNSS antenna is located on the cab-top of the dozer and is mounted to a handrail on the excavator.
iMC is part of Komatsu’s SmartConstruction concept, which aims to deliver more efficient, productive and cost-effective construction processes. It incorporates a broad range of technology solutions, including drones and remote site management surveillance that can be integrated into the iMC technology.
Aaron Marsh, Komatsu Australia’s technology solution expert team manager, explained that “iMC allows contractors to complete bulk dozing and excavation, along with grading and final trim operations faster and to closer tolerances, with fewer passes to achieve finish grades or excavation profiles”.
Further, because the 3D design data is held within an iMC machine and can be shared between machines, the times required for staking, surveying and final inspection can be greatly decreased and multiple tasks can be completed with a single machine. “The i-dozer and i-excavators require limited operator inputs which allow the machines to maximise efficiencies, increase production and limit the need for re-works,” Marsh said.
Marsh emphasised that iMC was not to be confused with Komatsu’s KOMTRAX remote monitoring system which records a machine’s performance data. “KOMTRAX can now track and monitor what we call the i-Value – the intelligent/integrated-value – so we can see the usage of the automation and technology and act accordingly. iMC isn’t KOMTRAX but in the future we expect to have new technology project/fleet management dashboards that will enhance any quarry business or applications.”
Marsh said issues such as expectations of increased productivity, finite resources, project management pressures, and growing demand for skilled operators, had all contributed to the development of iMC.
“We are constantly working towards enhancing and improving our customers’ productivity – including meeting the challenge of the ever-growing demand for skilled machine operators,” he said.
Marsh said the benefits of iMC and automation are also applicable for the quarrying industry. “They include doing things right the first time every time, reducing rework, highly accurate stroke-sensing technology, minimising the need for surveyors to conduct as-built reporting and eliminating on-site design staking,” he said.
Automatic control systems
The iMC-equipped machines are the PC210LCi-10 excavator and D61EXi-23, D65EXi-18, D85EXi-18 and D155AXi-8 dozers. Their common features include:
- An integrated, factory-installed iMC system.
- Automated blade and bucket control, from bulk excavation to final grades.
- Multiple automated dozing modes, ensuring jobs are finished faster, more accurately and with minimal rework.
- Fully integrated GNSS antennas and stroke-sensing hydraulic cylinders.
- Robust stroke-sensing hydraulic cylinders that use proven sensor technologies for accurate finish grade performance.
According to Komatsu, the dozers’ iMC system makes them up to twice as productive as conventional dozers while reducing the cost of each metre of aggregate moved. iMC automatically controls blade elevation and tilt according to the target design data, enabling the dozers to perform both bulk and final trim dozing in automatic mode from start to finish. Loading of the blade at the start of the cut is controlled through set parameters; during the pass, if the load on the blade increases during bulk dozing operation, the blade is automatically raised to control the load and minimise shoe slip. Once the material level approaches the target design surface, the blade follows it with millimetre accuracy for close finish grading.
Marsh said that in traditional bulk dozing applications, the operator has to make 100 per cent of the inputs, “creating machine overloads, track slip, inconsistent blade loads, and greater fuel burn”. By comparison, he said, iMC can “take anyone and make them efficient. iMC significantly improves bulk dozing in Komatsu’s machines because of the integration and automation in the dozer from the start of the grade to the finish surface, no matter the depth of the cut. Combined with load sensing technology, the dozers maximise the blade load every pass, time after time with little operator input, saving fuel while increasing production”.
The dozers are equipped with four different machine control operating modes that allow their operators to best match performance to the application: cut-and-carry, cutting, spreading and final trim grading. Construction progress can also be checked on an integrated as-built mapping display that collects surface data by measuring actual elevations as the machine operates.
Marsh said the 23-tonne, 123kW engine-driven PC210LCi-10 excavator marked a breakthrough in excavator ‘guidance’ systems (eg an in-cab indicate system). The excavator’s iMC system offers real time bucket edge positioning in relation to the machine and the 3D design surface.
“With conventional excavator guidance systems, the finish quality depends on the skill of the operator,” Marsh explained. “One of the problems customers have had with these systems is speed and accuracy from sensor lag and 100 per cent operator inputs, so operators have had to constantly monitor the system to check they are on design, while also having grade checkers regularly confirm design surface accuracy. With automation, the iMC excavator enables operators to achieve optimum speed to final grade accuracy with minimal operator inputs, while eliminating the need for manual grade checking.”
As the PC210LCi-10’s bucket edge approaches the target surface profile, its auto-grade assist, auto-stop and minimum distance controls all come into play. The auto-grade assist uses the boom to adjust the bucket height automatically as the arm moves, allowing the bucket edge to trace the target surface and minimise over-excavation. The auto stop control halts the machine during boom, arm or bucket operation once the bucket edge reaches the target surface, while the minimum distance control manipulates the bucket by automatically selecting the point on the bucket closest to the target surface. Even if the excavator is not facing a sloped surface at a right angle, the minimum distance control will still follow the target surface.
Marsh said that the iMC excavator represents “the next generation” in construction technology. “It brings the full benefits of the machine guidance revolution we’ve seen over the past 10 to 15 years to excavators,” he said. “For the first time we now see the next step in machine control evolution moving from machine guidance to automation – a massive step forward for what is a key piece of earthmoving technology on any work site.”
He added that Komatsu’s internal studies had suggested the PC210LCi-10 could achieve as high as a 63 per cent reduction in construction time, compared with conventional staking, construction and inspection processes (all manual tasks), and more accuracy in finished surface levels.
Marsh said that the PC210LCi-10 in appearance was largely indistinguishable from the standard PC210LC-10 excavator and its contemporaries. “Due to factory integration of our intelligent machine control components, the only obvious sign that Komatsu intelligent excavators are different from a standard machine are the antennas and in-cab control box,” he said. “All other components are internal, and highly secure from damage, vandalism and theft.”
Much like its counterpart, the PC210LCi-10 is equipped with a 0.39 to 1.1m3 bucket capacity range and a HydrauMind closed-centre load sensing system with maximum pressure 380 bar variable displacement pumps. The excavator’s maximum dig depth is 6620mm, with bucket breakout force of 13,500kgf. In addition to the iMC, the machine also features other cost-effective and efficiency-enhancing features, including Tier 4 engine, six working modes, including attachment economy and power modes, and an updated KOMTRAX system. These additional features can potentially offer reduced fuel consumption (up to 10 per cent when matching the engine output to the hydraulic pump) as well as significant reductions in harmful emissions – up to 90 per cent in particulate matter and more than 45 per cent in nitrous oxide (in comparison to Tier 3 engines).
As with all new forms of technology, Marsh was cautious about how quickly it would be before iMC and other third party intelligent machine control systems become part and parcel of load and haul equipment and are adopted by industry. “Obviously with these highly technical integrated systems, development and testing is key to industry acceptance and longevity of the product, and sometimes this takes time as it moves to the next gen machine systems,” Marsh said. “Komatsu globally will gradually move the technology through the ranges of our dozer and excavator products to meet the demand of our markets.”