Capital Equipment News

Traditionally, there was no substitute for experience when it came to motor grader operation. The conventional motor grader controls of the past weren’t that simple to learn and often overawed new operators. However, leading grader manufacturers have made significant headway in addressing the critical shortage of qualified operators by offering enhanced features to simplify grader operation, writes Munesu Shoko.

Taking control of motor grader productivityIn the past, it was an “art” to learn traditional motor grader controls, but in recent years original equipment manufacturers, through their advanced research and development regimes, have made motor grader operation simpler than in the old days. But, what really made older versions of motor graders difficult to operate?

Yaroslav Chechik, Motor Grader Product Specialist at Caterpillar, says the main difficulty when working on a conventional grader with a set of levers is to learn and remember all the functions of each of them and to multitask. To be more productive, the operator needs to perform several implement movements at the same time.

“It is a tough job when you have eight levers with a steering wheel in the middle of them and the task is to steer, lift the moldboard and rotate it at the same time, especially for the new operators. That is why operating the grader was called an art,” says Chechik.

Dale Oldridge, Product Marketing Manager at Bell Equipment, says previously access to GPS positioning was a costly or non-existent option available in the market, which meant that there was greater onus on the grader operator to have the skill and technique to achieve the desired surface profile in the quickest possible time.

“Improvements in hydraulics have allowed the traditional graders to move to fluid blade movements from the previous mechanical operation. Automatic transmissions allow the operator to engage the grader in a specific gear requirement, which allows the operator to focus only on the blade control with limited need to control the vehicle itself,” explains Oldridge. “Having said that, there is still an element of ‘art’ associated with these machines as the operator does need to control a host of different settings in order to achieve the desired result at the highest productivity.”

Antonio Strati, Graders Product Marketing Manager – CNH Industrial Construction Equipment for Europe Africa and Middle East, agrees that operating a motor grader requires a lot of skill and experience, bearing in mind the need to complete simultaneous operations, for example, to set the controls, while keeping an eye on the angle and height of the moldboard, at the same time.

“The main challenge is to be productive, ensuring good grading results in the process. Traditionally, only experienced operators were really able to ensure a good level of productivity,” says Strati.

Simplified operation

In recent years, OEMs have simplified motor grader operation with machine/control platforms that are simple and intuitive. Several developments have been made in this regard.

Bell Equipment has standardised on the “antler” control configuration, said to be the most common configuration in the market. To simplify the operation of the grader the 8 forward and 8 reverse gears can be pre-set. “A lever on the side of the operator’s station can then be used to regulate the machine’s rpm so that there is no need for the operator to use the accelerator. This leaves the operator’s hands and feet free to control the blade,” says Oldridge. “Accuracy, integration with other land preparation systems and cost savings due to less need for repeat work are the major advantages of this approach.”

Oldridge, however, warns that changing the controls too much can have an adverse effect on productivity and work quality, so Bell Equipment’s focus has been more on vital improvements to the way the operator works, rather than implementing complex changes that may, in the end, make it difficult for the operator to master. “That can have a negative impact on productivity,” he adds.

Strati concurs that a grader is probably the most difficult construction machine to operate. Therefore, as far as the design of this piece of equipment is concerned, the task of the CASE designers is to create a comfortable and user-friendly working environment to reduce operator fatigue and increase productivity – and ensuring superior precision can make the difference.

“On CASE B series graders, the hydraulic control valve has been designed for grading applications, giving operators more accurate control and a better feel of the work performed,” explains Strati. “As part of the product evolution, the layout of the controls has been improved significantly, positioning them within easy reach and make them more intuitive, while maintaining the traditional low-effort 9-lever motor grader controls.”

In addition, CASE motor graders feature a forward-mounted articulation joint and rear-mounted cab. The technical solution allows the operator to keep moving in the direction of travel; the operator is permanently aware of the articulation angle (25° to both sides) and also improves the moldboard visibility because the cab is located further back on the rear frame.

Meanwhile, Chechik says more than 10 years ago, Caterpillar introduced the M series motor graders and it was the first time a grader with no levers and steering wheel was put into production. “All the functions of the eight levers and the steering wheel were combined into two joysticks, which are very intuitive and the new operators get used to them much faster than to the levers,” explains Chechik.

One of the major advantages of the joystick control system is increased productivity and quality of the job. Cat joysticks are said to have reduced the operator hand movement by 75%, which dramatically decreased operator fatigue and increased concentration on the moldboard positioning. “The other very important advantage is visibility – joysticks do not obstruct the view on the left and right side of the moldboard, allowing the operator to work without constantly moving his head up to be able to see over the levers,” adds Chechik.

Continued evolution

Simplified controls are only one of the latest innovations that can reduce the learning curve and simplify what has traditionally been a complex task, but overall, motor graders have evolved, making them easier to operate. What are the other areas where OEMs have improved their motor grader offerings to further make them easier to operate?

Caterpillar offers two different series of graders on the market, K and M. The M series has the joystick controls, and the K series comes with conventional controls – levers and a steering wheel. The innovation that unites both series is the hydraulic architecture, Cat Proportional Priority Pressure Compensated (PPPC) hydraulics. It allows not only to combine different implement functions at the same time without significant loss of speed, but it has very predictable speeds of implement movements.

“Special design equals the speed of extension and retraction of hydraulic cylinders, which is very highly appreciated by the operators, especially when doing jobs where high accuracy is needed,” explains Chechik.

Meanwhile, Bell Equipment’s grader range has increased glass in the cab to improve visibility to the blade and the working area below. “We offer LED lighting, which allows for better visibility. An adjustable antler rack allows the operator to move the control closer or further away so that they can comfortably operate from their suspension seat,” says Oldridge.

Focus on productivity

Productivity with a motor grader has been another key area of focus for OEMs and they have adopted a suite of technologies (Grade Control, for example), either as in-house solutions or through partnering specialist suppliers such as Trimble, to take control of motor grader productivity.

Caterpillar offers both the in-house technology solutions and Trimble 3D grading systems. On Cat M series motor graders, the cross slope was introduced and is available from the factory.

“Cross slope is a basic 2D grading system, which controls one side of the blade automatically, maintaining the desired slope, which is set by the operator. The system is unique by being fully integrated into the machine from the factory. Also, this system is a plug and play solution for the Trimble 3D grading system, all the high accuracy sensors are already installed on the machine, and to equip such unit with a 3D grading system takes less than half a day,” says Chechik.

Thanks to its partnership with Leica Geosystems, CASE offers Site Controls, with up to six different solutions (2D and 3D) to improve the machine performances, allowing automation of the machine’s blade height and ensuring accuracy at the millimetre level.

The CASE Site Control works with sensors, a control unit and a hydraulic interface. It offers several advantages to customers. “First of all, it’s easy to operate, ensures fully automatic height and slope control, reduces stake and grade checking,” explains Strati. “As a result, it translates into less rework, less fuel consumption, less machine hours, improving our customers’ competitiveness.”

For Bell Equipment, its product can be manufactured as Trimble, Topcon or LEICA-ready directly from John Deere in the United States. “We have also partnered with a local company, RONIN, which specialises in these systems,” says Oldridge.

When it comes to the benefits, Oldridge says the levelling systems integrate into the machine control system and, depending on the system being used, can self-adjust the moldboard to either provide a deep cut or shallower depending on the finishing required.

To the future

As motor graders continue to evolve, what could be some of the major areas of focus for future launches? Strati says machine control systems are the future for every jobsite, 2D for the small ones and 3D for the large ones. “As further development we are considering a higher integration with the machine standard controls,” he says.

According to Chechik, one of the areas of focus for the future will be further technology evolution. “It is very important for our customers to be able to track the productivity and condition of their machines remotely, which is already available with Cat Product Link, the functionality of which will be expanded in future,” says Chechik.

Oldridge says it is important to look at what has been done on the global stage where some products have been launched without consideration of what the actual users want. “Different technologies have their places in different markets and it is all about making sure that we are listening to the customer. We do have the option of sourcing the range of GP graders from Deere, which adopt finger controls as opposed to the antler layout,” he says.

“These units retain the steering wheel and the move from antler to finger controls is easy to adapt to for the operator but there is not currently a requirement for this in the South African market. Additionally there is a growing need for simpler and smaller graders specifically for maintenance of South Africa’s significant unpaved road network,” concludes Oldridge.

Contact Capital Equipment News

Title: Editor
Name: Munesu Shoko
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Elmarie Stonell
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108


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