Industry 4.0 – nowadays that is not only a description of a digital future, but also of today’s industry. It describes the interconnection and cooperation between humans, machines, tools, logistics, and products. This also applies to the construction industry and describes the cross-linking and meshing of machinery, vehicles, and devices, so that not only single steps, but the whole working chain and the whole construction site can be planned and realized digitally. The benefits are reducing cost, raising efficiency and precision, as well as facilitating everyday work.
Fleet management for example is already present in many companies and on many sites. That means the positions of machines are known at all times and their operation can be planned precisely and coordinated so that machine operation times can be optimized. Also facts like routes, fuel consumption, or error codes can be checked with one click on the computer from any digital device. This also allows remote support and diagnostics.
All this is helpful for different purposes. For example, schedulers need the current position to organize transport, operation, and workload of machine fleets on different sites. Construction companies also use data for exacting payoff and other calculations. Also service intervals, like operation hours, can be precisely planned using digital information.
Cross-linked machinery is already contributing to more efficiency, higher productivity, and savings on modern job sites. The latest trend is to use drones for surveying the job site and sending the data to a server. This data is used to build a three-dimensional digital terrain model (DTM). With the help of a DTM for example excavators can work exactly according to the plans.
Also first pilot projects for autonomous job sites have been started. For example: Caterpillar started its system “Command for Hauling” in 2012; an operator-free system for dumpers. In this project, until 2020, 45 dumpers are planned to be working autonomously and can respond to calls to the shovel, move into position, and haul to dump points without an operator on board.
Nevertheless, construction machinery manufacturers deny that operators shall be disposed of in the near future. They want digital solutions to help and support the operator and to enable him to achieve better results. One theme is supporting operators by augmented reality solutions, which means virtually expanded surrounding information. But also partly automated solutions will be playing a big role on future job sites.
The nature of the jobs themselves will probably change a lot as operators will start to need a lot more competencies in IT. The simple driving and operating of machines will not be the main aspects any more, but the operation of guidance and control systems will get more and more important. Also service and maintenance will change a lot. Intelligent data analyses can indicate incidents before they lead to costly machine downtimes. Predictive maintenance will display when tools need to be changed because of wear and tear. So maintenance can be planned, timed, and coordinated to the job site. This is possible as sensors record oscillations of tools and this information is plugged into special algorithms to detect wear of tools over time. So companies can react before the machine breaks down, preventing downtime.
3D Printing will also change the markets. Spare parts could be made without long idle time. And just-in-time production also means the reduction of stocks and their costs. This is however, still in the fledgling stages and there will be probably brand new themes and methods that have yet to be imagined.