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The future of loading & hauling

By |  July 22, 2016

CaterpillarThe last 100 years for the aggregates industry have resulted in large strides in machine and quarry process development, driven by technology, politics, economics, need and good, old-fashioned ingenuity.

The next 100 years will see strides on an even greater scale, and they’ll be heavily influenced by world population growth, additional regulations, world economics and the consumption of fossil fuels and raw materials. The influences will result in developments in aggregates loading and hauling machines as the industry adapts to each new future challenge.

No one has a crystal ball for the future, but we can take a look back, look around at today’s industry and make some bold predictions for the next 100 years.

Loading and excavating

Loading and excavating of materials experienced the largest changes in the past – articulation, operator stations, sizes, bucket capacities – and it is normal to predict these will have the largest changes in the future.

Remote-control wheel loaders are changing the industry today, and I would expect the expansion of single-machine or multiple-machine control from a single control point to not be far behind.

The obvious next step would be to eliminate humans completely from the equation and allow machines to talk to each other, determine what they are, where they are, where and when they need to be next, and track what an entire fleet did in terms of production and fuel – with no human on site, or maybe with a single human monitoring the fleet, yet from 1,000 miles away.

Jason_Hurdis_headshot

Jason Hurdis

Powertrain improvements such as hybrids and continuously variable transmissions provide the same production as yesterday with significant reductions in fuel consumption. Improvements in these systems to increase production and reduce fuel consumption are to be expected. Powertrain will change from diesel engines to electric engines, battery power and solar to eliminate any fossil fuel consumption. Yes, it’s coming.

Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles are exploding in today’s market. It’s easy to predict a single drone flying a site, monitoring machines, ground conditions, material composition and production results, all while making instantaneous changes for lowest cost per ton.

Today, much like 100 years ago, we typically drill holes, fill them with explosives and blow material into a pile for collection. Who’s to say someone won’t improve a laser cutter used to cut steel to cut pieces of limestone into any size and shape needed, thus eliminating any crushing, screening and stockpiling?

Is this far-fetched? Maybe. But who would have thought robots could weld 100 years ago? Or that my kids could play video games in real-time with friends from other countries?

Hauling and material movement

Looking back, the main haul tool for the aggregates industry, a truck, has not changed much. Sure, trucks are bigger, faster, more comfortable and more cost-effective to operate today. But the overall platform has not changed.

Because of this, the next 100 years could see phenomenal changes. Autonomous trucks are just entering the industry today. These trucks and fleets of trucks will operate without operators in the truck. Or, they’ll function with an operator in only one truck. Or, a person driving a pilot car will manage all trucks.

Although autonomy is within quarry walls today, autonomous on-the-road haul trucks are not far behind. Like remote-control loaders, this eliminates the “human factor” and improves efficiencies while lowering costs.

Study the Amazon concept of delivering packages to your door with a remote-control drone or helicopter. Doesn’t it make sense that the aggregate industry move toward delivering any quantity of crushed stone to a road contractor with the same remote-control device, thus eliminating road hazards, delays in material deliveries and reducing costs?

The last 100 years were exciting and resulted in changes to loading, hauling and every aspect of the aggregates industry. The next 100 will prove to be even more exciting and result in fundamental and monumental changes.


Jason Hurdis is senior market professional at Caterpillar. He can be reached at Hurdis_Jason_R@cat.com.

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