Cat, Volvo Invest in Remote Control Capabilities
It’s no surprise to asphalt and aggregate industry professionals that some jobs can be quite dangerous. Imagine being able to remove your workers from danger by allowing them to do those jobs from a safe distance. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are making the opportunity to remotely control and monitor equipment a reality.
According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, one of a handful of the core areas North American OEMs should focus on to take advantage of technology in the construction industry is remote control of equipment. OEMs across the nation and around the world are making investments to ensure that quarry and mining operations can see the full benefits of this new technology.
“The conditions are ripe for original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to accelerate their customers’ ability to capture productivity gains from new use cases,” the report reads. In addition to productivity, these innovations can also improve safety.
RemoteTask, To Start
Although the report identifies the continued potential of this technological trend, Caterpillar, Peoria, Illinois, has been implementing remote machinery control capabilities since 2015 with the launch of RemoteTask.
The remote control system, a partnership between TORC Robotics, Blackburg, Virginia, and Caterpillar, enables operators to control Cat D Series skid steer, multi terrain and compact track loaders from outside the cab, at distances up to 1,000 feet.
“When I use the RemoteTask controller, the machine response is instantaneous,” Cat Instructor Bob Shoop said. “The feel and response mirrors the operator controls of the machine itself. Remote controls I’ve tested previously often had a delayed response.”
With the turn of a key, RemoteTask-equipped machines can switch between manual and remote modes. RemoteTask can be particularly useful for skid steers to clean up spillage under conveyors at aggregates processing plants, a job that could normally present a safety hazard for workers. However, two of the most significant use cases for remote machinery control within the Cat family are dozing and loading applications.
Cat Command Expands Control
Cat Command, first introduced at Conexpo in 2017, allows operators to control dozers and loaders using either a portable console or a complete operator station. Cat recommends the portable console for short-duration activities like road cuts, while the remote operator station offers the same familiar setup and seated position operators are familiar with from the cabs of their Cat dozers.
“The station itself is modeled on the actual cab of the machine, with all ergonomic controls, alarms and features operating as they do in the dozer,” Caterpillar’s media department said.
The system can be used for line-of-sight operation at distances up to one-quarter of a mile or for tele remote operation, with the addition of video and sound from the dozer on site. According to Cat, Command for dozing has proven itself through thousands of hours of operation in mines around the world.
“Remote operation allows dozers to be used in any situation that presents potential safety and health hazards,” Cat officials said. Although there are numerous applications for Cat Command, including high wall and edge work, drainage operations and work on steep slopes, it can also be used for blasting, allowing dozers to continue production without waiting for the air to clear.
Command is also available for line-of-sight remote control of Cat 988K wheel loaders, enabling safe operation in potentially hazardous environments via a portable control console at distances up to one-quarter of a mile. The shoulder harness console features all primary functions within the cab, as well as advanced options such as Autodig.
This option expands remote control operation to tasks such as stockpile feeding or gaining access to materials too dangerous to extract with an operator aboard.
Volvo Pushes the Extremes
Caterpillar isn’t the only OEM investing in remote control operation. In May of this year, Volvo Construction Equipment, Gothenburg, Sweden, announced results from a research project in which a Volvo wheel loader working one-quarter of a mile underground in a mine was remotely controlled from the surface.
Known as the Pilot of Industrial Mobile Communication in Mining (PIMM), the Swedish research project incorporated 5G mobile communication technology and the latest technology in automation to push the limits of remote control of equipment in challenging industrial conditions.
“Volvo CE’s mission statement for the project was to prove that the technology we’re developing internally is applicable in a customer environment,” said Erik Uhlin, advanced engineering program leader. “We wanted to highlight that industrial applications in mobile networks aren’t just something out of science fiction – they’re real. Testing was carried out while production was taking place and that was demanding – but it meant that we were working with real problems, in a real environment.”
Although Volvo’s remote-controlled wheel loader is not yet commercially available, the success of the recent research project provides yet more proof that OEMs are invested in remote equipment control to make the aggregate industry, among others, safer and more efficient.