Smart technology in future operations

By |  June 24, 2016

As we celebrate 100 years of Pit & Quarry and look ahead to the next 100 years, I have to start by thinking what the industry was like when I first entered it.

The Symons cone was still the standard bearer. Mobile phones were not part of our communication network. Plant performance modeling was done by hand.

So, as I try and crystal ball the next 10 to 100 years, I will probably only be as close as a weather person.


Mark Krause

Do I expect monumental technology changes? No. But I do, of course, expect improvements. Although I see little change in machine technology, the industry change will come with sensors, information gathering and mobile technology.

I see, closer than 100 years out, running our plants from our smartphones or a combined smartphone/tablet device. Sensors will monitor all equipment and keep everything running at peak performance.

We will be able to anticipate when a piece of equipment requires maintenance. Parts will be shipped to sites before they are needed, and operators will get invitations to schedule the installation of the parts.

Maintenance will be a contracted item with predictable costs and guaranteed plant availability. “Operating computers” will make adjustments based on the inputs fed from the system. And there will be little human interface with actual equipment.

Product specification and crusher gradations will be monitored by the optical system, and any adjustments to the plant will be made automatically.

Shipments will be easy. As a truck enters a site, the system will recognize the truck, and it will know the product scheduled for the truck and how many tons are required. The system will also know the final delivery point of the material.

Shipments will happen around the clock as a job requires. Loading, scaling and billing will be done automatically and simultaneously without human interface. Oh, and there will not be a human driving the truck.

Safety will not nearly be the concern it is today, as all equipment has sensors that know when humans – the few who are left working a site – are around. The sensors will not let equipment operate when someone is in harm’s way.

Sustainability is not so much about environmental issues as it is efficiency on all levels. Efficiency comes with lower operating costs and optimized production, meaning the plants of the future are likely to be operated by fewer people and will be smaller but smarter. This allows more flexibility in terms of production capacity and diversification. It also means moving from site to site quickly and easily.

Sustainable features include smart lighting panels and power, variable frequency drives, use of recycled materials, and bulk water storage to facilitate re-use and treatment of process water. If any discharge occurs from the site, it is cleaner than the water that was pumped in.

Meanwhile, production will be made more secure and reliable. Plants are being fitted with solar panels and diesel generators to make sure production is not affected by potential power outages. As technologies develop, new machines provide more precision and standardization of processes.

Newer equipment features updated designs, making it easier for plants to meet higher safety requirements. In the future, we are also likely to see more machines that clean and service themselves.

Mark Krause is managing director of North America at McLanahan Corp. He can be reached at

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