end user report
Heavy Equipment
By Lynn Stanley, Senior Editor
Markets growing amidst shrinking labor pool
Markets growing amidst shrinking labor pool and other hurdles with the help of technology


utomation, data collection, artificial intelligence and robotics aren’t just for smart factories and job shops anymore. These technologies are migrating to construction sites, crop fields and the design/build of new heavy equipment. Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) notwithstanding, the construction, heavy equipment and agriculture industries are turning high-tech for reasons that sound familiar. The skills gap, a shrinking labor pool, demand for higher productivity and the need for machine-to-machine and machine-to-human communication are some of the drivers behind these changes.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) conducted a survey that revealed respondents are optimistic about growth—particularly in the bridge/highway, transit, rail, power, water and sewer construction sectors—but scrambling to address the work shortage. Fifty-four percent of participants indicated increases in base pay rates for 2019. Sixty-two percent of respondents revealed plans to increase investments in training. Nearly 32 percent of participants reported that their companies will look to purchase labor-saving equipment such as drones, 3D printers and GPS-guided equipment.

Rise of technology

Drones are shouldering a number of tasks on construction sites such as land surveys, aerial site safety assessments, aerial video and photography, and real-time site monitoring. The ability to control drones remotely with tablets, phones or computers makes the technology easily accessible.

The construction industry has also begun to incorporate virtual reality [3D, computer-generated environments] to prevent construction errors and save time and money. In addition to software to manage internal operations and an eye toward sustainability, equipment manufacturers are bringing driverless heavy equipment options to the construction market. Choices range from fully autonomous models to machines that use remote control systems.

Rise of technology

According to Stephen Roy, president of Volvo’s Americas region, construction equipment manufacturers “are starting to mirror Silicon Valley tech firms with advances in telematics [a method of monitoring a car, truck or heavy equipment with GPS and onboard diagnostics to record movements on a computerized map], autonomous machinery and electromobility.” Developments in 5G technology (the fifth-generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks) also support these changes. For example, with the help of 5G’s wireless wide area network (WAN) connectivity, operators are able to run heavy equipment in mines miles underground from a safe location above ground.

Telematics give machines that help to build major structures such as skyscrapers, the ability to talk with one another and with home base. Self-driving machines are being used on closed construction sites with limited personnel on the ground. New battery technologies are being tested to dampen sound from large equipment and reduce carbon footprint.

Crop circles

The agriculture industry is also expected to see innovations driven by AI, machine learning, IoT and data management over the next decade. The Global Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture Market analysis indicates the market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 28.4 percent from now through 2024.

According to a BI Intelligence survey, adoption of IoT devices is expected to reach 75 million units this year, growing at an annual rate of 20 percent. Like smart factories, smart farming uses IoT to help growers reduce waste and boost productivity. Farm equipment is also getting bigger to help farmers cover more acres faster. More farm equipment is being engineered with smart sensors that can collect data on real-time field conditions. Real-time kinematic (RTK) satellite navigation makes for precise seeding and fertilizing.

Navigation systems can also automatically guide grain carts next to combines. Tractors, balers and combines that have achieved ISOBUS, an international standard that ensures compatibility and connectivity between displays, tractors, and implements, means plug-and-play communication among machines is on the horizon.

Regardless of whether it’s a construction site, a farm or a new bridge, technology is the whole game.