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Humans go to extreme lengths in order to acquire supremacy over nature even though the earth still happens to be such a formidable challenge, that it is difficult to imagine what humans are going to do next. Hauling and moving massive loads across land, sea and air has shown amazingly large and powerful vehicles and equipment being engineered and built by humans. There are some truly great works of engineering in building giant equipment to carry out a variety of tasks including those connected to war. The most massive land vehicles ever built are largely made for mining and the occasional war.

The biggest ever crawler transporter and dumper truck

One of the largest ever piece of haulage equipment ever built is the crawler-transporter meant to move space shuttles at Cape Canaveral. The giant hauler is 131 feet long, 114 wide, over 20 feet tall and weighs around six million pounds with a top speed of two miles an hour and it travels at half that speed when the hauling space shuttles. The Caterpillar 797 is the largest truck ever built but to see it in operation one needs to be in a mine. The massive dump truck stands 23 feet 9 inches tall when the dump bodies are down and becomes 49 feet 3 inches when they are tilted up. It weighs 560,000 pounds when empty and can carry over 360 tons of load. That is truly a massive truck.

A massive road train and a gigantic tunnel borer  

The US Army engaged R.G. LeTourneau in the 1950s to build the TC-497 Overland Train Mark II for use in different terrains and conditions such as arctic, desert, sand as well as rough terrain. The TC-497, at 572 feet long, had 54 wheels, four 1,170 hp solar gas turbine engines totalling 4,680 hp. The Herrenknecht EPB Shield S-300 mega tunnel boring machine was built to excavate a road tunnel in Madrid in 2005. Its central cutting wheel is 21 feet in diameter and is surrounded by an additional outer cutting wheel with a maximum excavation diameter of around 45 feet at a time. That’s the biggest tunnel boring machine ever built.

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The world’s first ship tunnel will be built in Norway at a cost of NK 2.7 billion (€ 294.8 million) and will require blasting through nearly 8 million tons of rock. Known as the Stad Ship Tunnel, it is a part of the NNTP (Norwegian National Transport Plan) for the period 2018-29. Upon completion, the tunnel will be 1.7 kilometres long, 37 metres high and 26.5 metres wide and would allow large ships to avoid the turbulent waters of the Stadhavet Sea. The coast of Norway is unique as a maritime landmark for the challenges it poses to shippers and within this region, Stadhavet Sea is the most exposed and dangerous area.

The Stad Ship Tunnel will allow ships to navigate through Stad area more safely. The tunnel, which is expected to pass through the narrowest point of the Stadlandet peninsula, will open in 2023; it will accommodate cruise and freight ships weighing up to 16,000 tonnes. Under NNTP, priority will be given to passenger and freight vessels but leisure boats among other vessels will also be allowed to use the tunnel. For vessels measuring less than 70 metres, passage through the tunnel will be free of cost. Traffic through the tunnel will be regulated by a traffic centre that will set timeslots for vessels to pass through the tunnel to avoid congestion.

The NCA (Norwegian Coastal Administration) is expected to present a pilot project to the Norwegian government anytime now. Thereafter, the Norwegian legislature will formally decide on funding the project up to NK 1 billion (€ 106.4 million) but not before it undergoes the external quality assurance process (KS2). Blasting of around 8 million tonnes of rock will be achieved through conventional methods using underground drilling rigs and pallet rigs. Ketil Solvik-Olsen, transport minister of Norway, noted that ocean currents and underwater topography in the region “result in particularly complex wave conditions”.

Over the years, Norwegian authorities had been planning to build this ship tunnel in the Stad region but it is only now that a project with funding is ready to get implemented. The minister said, “We are pleased that the ship tunnel will now become a reality”. The project manager, Terje Andreassen, expects work on the tunnel to begin in 2019. With regard to the enormous challenge of blasting nearly 8 million tonnes of rock, he reckoned that it would be better to opt for conventional blasting methods to achieve the objective. The idea of such a tunnel was first proposed by the Norwegian newspaper, Nordre Bergenhus Amtstidende, in an article in 1874.

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GPS tracking is increasingly being used by construction site managers to streamline project work and surveillance of resources, mainly equipment that are expensive. It contributes substantially in saving time and money which eventually helps increase profitability. Site managers choose to use GPS tracking for different reasons but mainly they value its ability to offer remote monitoring for equipment maintenance. For heavy duty construction equipment, care and service is a top priority because this is the only way by which investment in such expensive machinery can be optimized by saving time and money.

Today GPS tracking is a completely web-based technology that uses an onboard communication device on every piece of equipment. While the GPS receiver finds out where the machine is located, sensors on the machine send the information to a modem which collects it. The modem then transmits this data to specific users who access it on a website. GPS tracking allows users to track real-time data of their machines virtually anywhere across the construction site and use the information to improve their performance output. It not only enables efficient utilization of equipment and better security for equipment but also optimizes machine use by reducing idling, thereby improving job estimation and planning.

GPS tracking helps automate equipment maintenance in a major way and this is necessary for better maintenance and recordkeeping by speeding up information flow and decision-making. Maintenance is a critical part of equipment management, more so in case of construction equipment. It helps construction site managers create well defined programs to plan equipment maintenance data and then make informed decisions on the basis of such data that eventually helps overall performance at the jobsite.

Site managers today use GPS tracking to schedule automated maintenance alerts, thereby significantly cutting down the time involved in acquiring data and scheduling instructions to achieve optimum utilization of equipment. With such information at their disposal, project managers need not visit the jobsite too often or even make phone calls to obtain basic data such as engine hours, fluid levels or operating temperatures. Moreover, the steady flow of real-time data ensures much higher accuracy of the information which helps managers avoid outdated methods like handwritten instructions.

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Eliminates natural blind spots on heavy earthmoving equipment by providing 360° view all around the machine

In the trucking industry, preventing collisions resulting from operational blind spots has been a high priority in recent years and consequently certain collision mitigation systems were rapidly adopted for use. However, it is the automotive industry that has been leading the way in object detection and collision prevention systems with the induction of integrated camera and radar technology. It is this technology that the heavy duty construction equipment industry has adopted and is making rapid strides in ensuring a much safer operational environment. According to Sean Martell, North America mining and construction sales manager, PRECO Electronics, “This technology is mainstream in the automobile world and I see it becoming more mainstream on heavy equipment very soon.”

Cameras offer the most basic security

The most advanced multi-camera systems offer a full 360° view around a vehicle. In order to check collisions, such camera technology has been widely adopted by the automotive industry for smaller vehicles and then for huge trucks. When it comes to large earthmovers, there are inherently some operational blind spots in almost every machine and the number of such drawbacks can vary depending on the type and make of the equipment. This drawback can be checked to a certain extent with the most basic backup cameras but the heavy duty construction equipment industry has adopted systems offering multiple cameras that allow operators to scroll between viewing screens.

Smart systems are better than single dimension solutions

Henry Morgan, director and CEO, Brigade Electronics, says, “To reduce accidents, object detection must become mainstream and will as the quality of products and their ability to address different risk scenarios improves. Systems will definitely become more intelligent and reliable; better camera detection of moving objects/people/cyclists and linking of cameras to detection devices, as well as RFID and CAN bus, will result in effective collision avoidance.” Here, there are voices of caution like Matt McLean, product manager, Volvo Construction Equipment, who says, “No operator should use only one safety feature in lieu of the others. Cameras, mirrors and object detection technologies are designed to be used together. However, new technologies alone do possess the power to significantly improve site safety.”

Radar technology is the best option

In addition to cameras, there are other options like ultrasonic and radar technologies that are smarter. “The problem with ultrasonic technologies is that they are short range and fail if covered by dirt, mud, snow or ice,” says Morgan of Brigade Electronics. However, it is radar that is proving to be the smartest and most robust. According to Martell of PRECO Electronics, “Pulse and FMCW radar are far more accurate in adverse weather conditions than ultrasonic or laser technology. Radar is capable of penetrating hazards through severe conditions that the other two technologies are not capable of doing. Radar is also much more robust, because the technology is solid-state electronics, and therefore does not have moving parts inside the sensor like that of ultrasonic sensors.”

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The latest innovation in the 3D printing industry, known as Project AME or Additive Manufactured Excavator has been getting a lot of attention from industry stakeholders. The new AME innovation, to be demonstrated at ConExpo 2017, will offer new ideas on the unrealized potential of integrating 3D printing in the production of construction equipment. It has an outstanding design in which the boom has unprecedented integration with the power of fluid as it is printed with smooth fluid flow passages.

There have been many breakthroughs in additive manufacturing but none of those are as important as Project AME because such a process was never successfully tried in the equipment industry before. This is the first time that 3D printed steel was used to produce large scale construction machinery which is a milestone. Right now it is not clear how this will impact the construction equipment industry in the short term but the trend in the medium term seems unmistakable; additive manufacturing or 3D printing will have a crucial role to play in this segment of the industry.

Using additive manufacturing technologies, research teams are working to reduce the overall size of the excavator and making it more efficient. This will provide the machine with a much better cooling system, heat exchanger and a highly adaptive hydraulic oil reservoir. Research teams are also working on the boom and the bucket design with an integrated hydraulics system which will lower the weight of the excavator, reduce manufacturing and subsequent maintenance costs.

Additive manufacturing is here to stay in the construction equipment manufacturing industry. In this case the entire excavator is not 3D printed and only the most integral design components have been manufactured using this method. It would not have been possible for the researchers to make these improvements in the design components without 3D printing since conventional manufacturing methods lack the precision and efficiency needed to pursue such designs.

Additive Manufacturing or AM is a technology that builds 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, which could be plastic, metal, concrete or any other special alloy. AM technology uses 3D modeling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD), machine equipment and layering material. The CAD sketch is critically important and only after it is created, does the AM equipment become operational. Thereafter, it lays down or adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material, etc. in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3D object.

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The way 3D printing technology is progressing it is just a matter of time before it replaces brickwork in buildings considerably if not entirely. At the core of the technology is the infill mechanism that is similar to the extruder technology of a 3D printer. Italy based WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) which is doing pioneering research and development of 3D technology for building construction and various other applications, has developed Big Delta, which is a 12 meter high and 7 meter wide giant 3D printer assembled with 6 meter long modular arms.  All the machine components have a maximum length of 3 meters so that they can be easily loaded on a trailer and transported easily.

The Big Delta can move the extruder with a maximum load of 200 kg although WASP engineers suggest that it works optimally with reduced vibrations when the material load is round 40-50 kg. As per the study by the WASP team, blends of several long fiber-materials can be extruded to create the building walls. This choice of long fiber material is at the heart of the WASP project as they have been convinced since the beginning that mud and straw is the best blend of material that can be extruded by Big Delta. They also suggest that it is not necessary to mince the fiber into smaller pieces as it works much better when long.

These are the first attempts at replacing brick and mortar and there is still some time for them to become technically and commercially viable. As a pioneering initiative in the development of 3D printing technology for building and construction, WASP hasn’t confined its research to just finding a replacement for brick and mortar. Rather, they have recognized the importance of cement mixture in construction work and have used their extruder technology to demonstrate optimum use of cement mortar. A ton of cement generates a ton of Co2 but with 3D printing it can be reduced by more than half through programmed in-fills, using the extruder.

Researchers at WASP have developed a system to produce concrete elements that can be assembled with steel bars and beams as well as construct pillars in reinforced concrete. Today, with 3D printing it is possible to create curved and hollow elements, as well as specific features that would normally require complex wooden moulds for fresh concrete which is costlier. Tests are being carried out on three meter long beams intended to check the mechanical performance of new reinforced concrete mixture. On the other hand, testing of new assembly systems using pre-stressing technology is undergoing development.

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JCB the pioneer of telescopic technology in the world has created another first by combining a skid steer and compact track loader with a telescopic boom. JCB calls this new innovation, Teleskid and it has already created excitement in the industry with its ability to reach 60% further forward than any other skid steer. JCB formally launched the new machine at this year’s Conexpo show that was held in Las Vegas in March. Here’s more from the new machine - JCB has equipped the Teleskid with the ability to dig below its chassis to an unparalleled depth of around one metre making it the only skid steer in the world with that kind of ability. That’s not all; the Teleskid has the ability to reach higher than any other skid steer in the market.

Tim Burnhope, the chief innovation and growth officer of JCB summed up the capabilities of the Teleskid optimally. He said, “Through innovation this machine will surpass the expectations of our customers as the world's first skid steer and compact track loader with a telescopic boom. The JCB Teleskid can reach further forward and lift higher and dig deeper than any other skid steer.” The Teleskid’s forward reach which is 60% more than the nearest competitor, goes out to a never before 2.4 meters while its lift height of four meters helps it reach eight percent higher than any other skid steer in the world.

No other skid steer in the world can combine vertical and radial lift capability like the JCB Teleskid is able to do. Throughout the boom's range of manoeuvre, the user can set and maintain the bucket level as this machine offers a unique bucket-positioning and levelling system. Burnhope further adds, “The JCB Teleskid can do the work of four machines - a telescopic handler, masted forklift, compact loader and a skid steer, all in one easily-serviced machine. The telescopic boom will allow operators to load trucks without a ramp, reach over kerbing and dig below ground, all with clear visibility of the attachment.”

About 40 years ago JCB had pioneered telescopic technology when it launched its telehandler, the Loadall, which is today the biggest selling telescopic handler in the world. Fifteen years later, JCB took telehandler safety to new levels when it launched another innovative product – a single-arm 'Powerboom' skid steer for the first time. Now, JCB has combined both these innovations on a single technological platform and brought out the JCB Teleskid which, comes with a skid steer and track loader as well as a telescopic boom. The machine is available in both tracked and wheeled versions for the North American and European markets respectively. Demand projections in India will obviously lead JCB to introduce the Teleskid here in this country sometime in the near future.

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Developed by Volvo Trucks and PATH (Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology), the new technology is described as partially automated truck platooning. This was demonstrated recently by Volvo trucks in partnership with PATH at the University of California in Berkeley. The demonstration involved three Volvo VNL 670 model tractors that hauled cargo containers at the Los Angeles Port complex and along Interstate 110 using CACC (Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control) technology. It presented the potential for improving highway safety, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing transportation system capacity to various stakeholders.

The three Volvo VNL tractors moving at speeds of 55 mph kept a closer distance than usual of 50 feet from each other in simulated ‘real world’ conditions. Without the intervention of drivers, speed and spacing was maintained with the help of forward-looking sensors and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The technology demonstrated easier handling of common traffic situations through staged and unplanned vehicle cut-ins.

According to Magnus Koeck, vice president of marketing and brand management, Volvo Trucks, “Truck platooning can benefit freight companies and professional drivers alike through safer, more fuel-efficient operations. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is pivotal for platooning systems; it helps reduce the reaction time for braking and enables vehicles to follow closer. Reducing the traveling distance between vehicles not only reduces the aerodynamic drag, but also allows for greater highway utilization, thereby helping to alleviate traffic congestion.”

Wherever a skilled and experienced professional driver is involved, making use of autonomous technology for operations in highways is more effective with platooning systems. It is by far the best option available to truckers looking for automation while operating in highways. However, a much higher degree of automation is possible in environments with limited and clearly defined work dimensions where humans cannot perform. Volvo has already demonstrated a fully automated mining operation with its trucks and this seems to be the best and most feasible application for fully automated vehicles. Other industries like building and construction equipment may also be able to leverage such automation.

Talking about platooning, this may very well be the way to drive on highways in a decade’s time. It began with a project named SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) in Sweden which was supported by EU (European Union) and partly funded by it. Platooning of vehicles as envisaged by SARTRE is basically the formation of a convoy of vehicles with a professional driver leading the convoy. Every vehicle measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the one in front. Vehicles in the platoon have the choice to leave the convoy at any time after following standard operating procedures.

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The construction industry is on the threshold of some exciting new developments that promises to change it for good. The traditional brick and mortar buildings will become redundant in future as they make way for buildings that will be built ten to twenty times faster at much lower cost and offer more durability. These advancements and innovations also focus on harnessing environment-friendly material and techniques that will reduce the carbon footprint of a particular structure. Overall, construction techniques will see more automation and sustainable processes that will not compromise on aesthetics either.

3D printing - the most disruptive new technology

In its present state of development, which is early days anyway, 3D printing enables creation of objects, ranging from a 5 sq cm memento to a 5 storey high building in a time-span ranging from a few seconds to a few hours respectively. It was unthinkable just 5 years ago to imagine constructing a 5 storey building in just a few hours and yet it was already done in the fastest time of 24 hours in China where they built as many as 10 houses in that time. What does the future hold for the construction industry that employs so many people?

Near real feel of the structure to be built, with virtual reality

The construction industry has already been exposed to some basic and simple forms of the technology a few years back. These were used to make digital blueprints, try out design options and plan renovations in existing houses. However, the technology now has progressed further ahead promising more precise imaging and increased detailing. So, if you want to see and ‘feel’ your new house, you will need the interactive, digital mockups of the structure made possible by virtual reality to experience this amazing technological advancement.

From smart phones to smart buildings

Smart technology helps users streamline a number of activities and priorities on hourly, daily weekly or monthly basis. It works on the basis of advanced automation and connectivity and helps users make optimum use of the precious time in their daily lives. Similarly, in smart buildings there are individual devices that can communicate with each other and update the user on things like daily schedules, maintenance needs, and other priorities. The concept is now being used increasingly by building and construction companies. 

Green buildings and use of renewable energy

Use of renewable energy in homes and offices and in many cases even supermarkets and factories has increased substantially with advanced solar roofing products and hybrid power systems. Use of these products reduces the impact of energy use on the environment as they are renewable unlike conventional energy sources like coal, oil and gas. The other advantage is that there is no cost of the source of energy as sunlight and wind along with consumer waste both organic and inorganic, are actually free. The costing actually begins from processing of these resources rather than the resources themselves. Increasing availability and acceptance of products and systems to harness renewable energy has also lowered the cost enough to make them cheaper than conventional energy sources. 

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The speed at which 3D technology is progressing, it is just a question of time before this becomes a reality.  Recently, researchers in Spain created the first ever 3D printed foot bridge which is a milestone in itself although engineers in China have already constructed a four-storey building with 3D printed units or building blocks a few years ago. For those not familiar with digital printing technology it is not really easy to understand how a bridge or a building could be 3D ‘printed’. So, here’s how it works – 3D printing is a process that uses the additive method of making three dimensional solid objects from filament that is driven through an extruder just like you squeeze icing on the cake. The entire process is pre-programmed and controlled digitally from a computer.

3D printing technology could be the future of construction

So, what is an additive process? It is a process wherein layer upon layer of material is extruded or forced down through a die until the object is created. These layers are very thin slices of the horizontal cross-section of the object being made and they are placed one upon the other with very high precision. This is the technology that the researchers at the IAAC (Institute of Advanced Architecture in Catalonia) used to 3D print the entire 12 meter long foot bridge with micro-refined concrete that was driven through the extruder of the printer. Many observers feel this has taken construction technology to a different level altogether and may turn out to be the future of construction.

The 12 meter long and 1.75 meter wide bridge that was designed and 3D printed by the researchers in the IAAC, has been installed at a park in Madrid. Areti Markopoulou who led the team of researchers at IAAC, said “In traditional architecture there is a lot of waste material which you cannot remove, however, with 3D printing you can control where the material is deposited. Usually we are limited to simple geometries in construction because it is difficult and expensive to create complex moulds. With this bridge we were able to experiment with complex forms that appear in nature and we made a design that would have been very difficult by conventional means.”

Other 3D printing projects from around the world

There have been reports about a Chinese company, WinSun, which claimed to have 3D printed as many as 10 houses in just 24 hours way back in March 2014. The company used a mixture of construction rubble and industrial waste, including glass and tailings around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a hardening agent. As in any other instance of 3D printing WinSun used CAD (Computer Aided Design) design as the template and controlled the extruder arm with the computer to place the material. The walls are hollow within, where they have a zig-zag pattern which helps reinforce the wall and also provides for insulation. 3D printed buildings and structures are also said to be coming up in different parts of the world like Dubai and the Netherlands among others.

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