Guest Column | July 19, 2021

How Will Automation And Connectivity Improve Heavy Equipment?

By Emily Newton, Revolutionized


Machine connectivity and automation, also known as heavy equipment connectivity, is an increasingly common solution in various fields, including construction, agriculture, mining, waste management, transportation, and beyond. At its core is the constant collection and processing of real-time data, and it requires a capable and accommodating network. Data transfers need an active and reliable connection, so without that network in place, it can’t go anywhere or do anything of note.

The good news is that today’s heavy equipment technology, including smart sensors and data-driven solutions, along with the networks that are needed to support them, is advancing at considerable rates. The rollout of 5G will change the game by extending a reliable and mobile network to places never seen before. It will create a level of heavy equipment telematics far beyond what the previous generation of networks offered.

That advancement alone will introduce many new opportunities in the world of heavy equipment and machinery. What’s more, it will vastly improve how the equipment is used, boost efficiency, and evolve automation applications.

Why Does Connectivity Matter?

Even in its most basic form, automation requires a steady inflow of data. The data may be simple — sudden movements, objects detected in a hazard area, a blockage in the workflow, or a major malfunction — but it’s there. It stands to reason that adaptive automation systems would require access to not just more complex data, but also faster, more precise information.

Cue modern connectivity, which helps ensure the related systems remain connected and communicating with the appropriate networks. It means all of the data being collected and transmitted can be sent near-instantly to a central hub, with prompt feedback, as well. This heavy equipment connectivity empowers incredible opportunities, such as self-driving equipment or heavy machines that can work without human input.

There are several levels of operation to automated systems. They must follow and process basic rules, or algorithms. While they do that, they must collect a continuous stream of performance, environmental, and conditional data to ensure the work is being done correctly, safely, and without complications. Another set of guidelines governs start and stop functions, and may dictate a delay, like if a worker is detected in an operating lane. It can be likened to a self-driving vehicle on an active roadway.

Those vehicles must be aware of passengers, nearby cars, or pedestrians, what’s happening around them, environmental conditions like rain or inclement weather, and so on. At any time, they must be prepared to slow, brake, or halt operation based on what’s going on, or even what might be about to happen — like a potential collision.

To do that and process the incredibly complex and near-endless streams of information, the automated equipment needs reliable access to a core platform. Think of the neural net in a machine learning or artificial intelligence system.

Empowering Efficiency

Whether you’re talking about a robot or heavy equipment technology running on an automated control system, machines can work more effectively than humans. They don’t tire or burn out, and they don’t need frequent breaks — barring a malfunction or mechanical problem. They aren’t generally affected by environmental conditions, either, like extreme heat or cold, excess humidity, and even hazardous elements.

Once you set an automated machine on its path, it continues to carry out the work until its system requires a delay, or until it experiences a failure of some kind.

More connected and automated heavy machinery will lead to higher levels of efficiency and output for just about any operation out there. Of course, it’s not going to happen overnight, and the systems required to support these platforms will need to be established, as well. But every day we grow closer to that reality.

Superior Safety

Conventional equipment calls for a driver or operator of some kind. In recent years, that has improved thanks to remote solutions, allowing operators to move farther back from the machines or project site. Tomorrow’s heavy equipment technology will allow those machines to function without any humans behind the wheel, or behind a mobile or digital dashboard.

This vastly improves the health and safety of work crews, especially in locations or on job sites where there are dangerous conditions. No longer will workers have to be worried about heavy materials falling around them, nor will they be exposed to job site hazards. The equipment is not going to replace human laborers, either. They’ll merely be free to work on more complex and worthy tasks.

Not to mention, a new subset of service opportunities will open up, as the automated equipment needs to be maintained and cared for.

Unprecedented Uptime

Preventive care or maintenance is always better than reactive. Dealing with failures after they occur often creates even bigger problems later on.

A level beyond preventive care is predictive care, with the help of smart data. It involves taking all of the collected information and utilizing it to care for systems, equipment, tools, and components, as early as possible. The predictive models show what can and will happen, and the maintenance teams administer care to prevent it.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The adage is true, even more so when you combine predictive and proactive programs. Incoming data can tell you what’s happening with a vehicle or piece of equipment, and potentially why. Leveraging that data to provide early care can prevent failures or unexpected shutdowns.

The ripple effect of doing so is far-reaching. By saving that equipment, for instance, you lower costs, prevent project delays, boost the safety of workers, increase the longevity of equipment, and more.

Data-Driven Decisions

With more information or more data, it’s possible to make much more informed decisions. The more you know, the better. Enhanced connectivity and automation will breed a level of heavy equipment telematics beyond anything achieved in the past. Performance, environmental, component, locational, and best of all, predictive data, will be available instantly to site and project managers and their crews.

It will completely transform the way these teams work. As that real-time data comes in and is processed, and insights are returned, those crews can make split-second decisions to improve the success and scope of projects. Imagine knowing months in advance that a project is off budget, with ample time to correct it. Or that equipment is slowing down and performance is declining, and why it’s happening.

Alternatively, a predictive model could offer new process or task suggestions to speed up the entire project. The data coming in will shape each project and allow for optimized operations and near-guaranteed success.

Automation + Connectivity = Data-Driven Technologies

The three core components of a smarter operation include heavy equipment technology, heavy equipment connectivity, and heavy equipment telematics. The technology will empower automation, through smart sensors and data processing solutions. The connectivity will provide a network to facilitate data sharing and enable always-on access, anywhere and on any job site. Finally, telematics will be the back-and-forth communication between the systems, including reporting and feedback that drives action or automated machines.

These technologies will usher in new opportunities and a revolutionary level of efficiency for many industries. Crews will see safer conditions, better output and productivity, lower operating costs, and even new processes or strategies which could vastly reduce development times.

About The Author

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.