Striking a balance between simplicity and innovation
Several new launches at bauma 2016 highlighted the need for intelligent machines
Particularly last year there was big talk about the growing preference for low- spec, low-priced construction equipment, better known as value brands, especially by users of equipment in developing markets. But, it is not only in developing markets considering that value brands essentially contribute about 80% of global construction machine sales at present.
In light of this trend, we saw several launches of construction gear in 2015 from premium original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with the down-spec approach ruling the day to offer low-cost models with simple functionalities – pieces of equipment that just get the job done with no extra bells and whistles.
There was talk that this is actually a new product development strategy in the earthmoving equipment environment, aimed at meeting the challenge of the global economic squeeze. Experts argued that increasing complexity and costs of new products placed an increased importance on balancing the upfront costs of equipment and productivity.
We spoke to some major OEMs who, at the time, argued that innovation is habitually defined by sophisticated technologies – but in these challenging economic conditions, it shouldn’t always be the case. Some of the best ideas, especially in today’s designs of “yellow” metal equipment, are very simple, based on a clear and deep understanding of the customers’ needs – a clear balance between simplicity of equipment, productivity and price.
But, a year down the line, this thinking seems to have been flipped on its axis, especially with the new launches that we saw at bauma 2016. In light of the same tight economic conditions in which users of construction equipment find themselves in, rather than looking at simple gear that just does the job, there is continuing expectation for modern construction machinery to help speed up production processes on construction sites. Several new launches at bauma 2016 highlighted the need for intelligent machines. This is where automatic controls integrated at the factory, finding their way into the increasing numbers of construction machines, come into play.
For example, thus Caterpillar showed a new assistance function with semi- automatic shovel control for crawler excavators. Using the CAT Grade with Assist function, the operator references the shovel’s cutting edge to a known height spot, enters a height offset and can begin to prepare the fine level automatically with centimetre-perfect accuracy. This saves unnecessary additional excavation of material and follow-up work.
Komatsu also introduced its new D85EXi-18 dozer with intelligent machine control. Using this, both the rough and the fine levelling can be carried out in automatic operating mode. The system senses and controls the load adjacent to the blade and automatically optimises the penetration depth of the blade.
A visionary cab, the Cab Concept Cluster, shown at bauma 2016 by independent OEM suppliers and scientists, also nominated for the bauma Innovation Award in the Design category, is claimed to set new standards in safety, intuitive handling, driver comfort, maintenance and design.
The argument here is that, as much as users of equipment want a simple solution that gets the job done with no extra bells and whistles, and often comes at an affordable price, there is also new reasoning that the timing of intelligent machines in developing markets is spot on. Users are under pressure to cut costs at every opportunity and these sophisticated machines help them do just that.
But, where do we draw the line between simplicity and innovation? Do we need to argue the case of a simplified machine to justify lower upfront costs, or is it time to go with the digital wave to be able to do things quicker and increase productivity on sites for sustainable long-term gains? Increasingly everything we do will have some sort of digital component, and our equipment on sites is already moving along that route.