To get a broad-based look at all their company assets, contractors are turning to systems that track equipment location, hours, idle time and much more across the entirety of their fleets.
These systems make use of tracker systems – basically little black boxes – to keep track of and manage not only your mobile fleet but everything else on your equipment list, including attachments, tools and trailers. Trackers can also be applied across your fleet regardless of brand.
Data emitting from each tracker can then be merged with information coming off the machine’s telematics and from other tracker-equipped machines and equipment to give you a more in-depth view of what’s happening with your fleet.
In short, it beats trying keep up with your fleet, attachments, tools and other accessories in an Excel spreadsheet.
Simple to complex
Tracker-equipped systems range in the complexity of information provided and the asset they are designed to track.
Some offer basic location, geofences and theft deterrent for non-motorized equipment. Others can be integrated with a machine’s telematics and a fleet management system to offer a more universal view of what’s happening with a company’s fleet.
These tracking systems are attached to an asset in a variety of ways: magnet, screws, tape, wired in or even welded on. They can run off the battery of a host machine, off their own internal batteries or can be solar-powered. And they can be placed in a variety of locations, depending on the asset and its use.
(And while we recognize that trucks are an important part of a contractor’s fleet, we will cover truck-specific tracker-equipped systems at another point.)
“Our trackers are built to withstand rough construction environments and leverage technologies from cellular/GPS to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and QR depending on the asset type,” says Austin Conti, CEO and co-founder, Tenna. “Our platform pulls all the information from these various devices into a dashboard where, among other things, you can see equipment location, know when it needs maintenance and how it’s being utilized.”
EquipmentShare’s fleet management system uses a combination of trackers and harnesses that it developed to capture data every nine seconds from machine telematics, pulling it into the company’s fleet management app, says Angela Paige, EquipmentShare’s product manager for the fleet application. “This shows you all of your assets, where they are located and how much they’re being utilized,” she says.
Tenna’s new TennaBLE Beacon Steel Puck is an example of a tracker for non-motorized assets. The puck is specifically designed for construction’s heavy use and abuse situations, and it can be placed on buckets and blades. (You can get more information on it and other tracker-equipped offerings in the roundup at the end of this article).
Location, utilization and maintenanceWirelessLink
“The three big use cases for tracking equipment have to do with location, utilization and maintenance,” says Ian Ouellette, vice president of product for Triax Technologies, which offers the Spot-r line of trackers. “Just identifying where your equipment is is important.”
“Trackers help with visibility,” says Moran Minster, marketing manager, WirelessLinks, which offers Piccolo brand trackers. “When you have multiple machines run by multiple employees, it’s hard to keep track of everything.”
Using equipment tracking sensors in addition to machine telematics can offer benefits, Ouellette says. For example, because Triax’s Spor-r EquipTag operates off a proprietary network, it can be used inside a building, a challenge for satellite-based GPS telematics systems, he says.
Pricing on these systems will naturally be dependent on application and scope. Typically, there’s the cost of the trackers, an installation fee and a per-tracker monthly subscription fee that includes maintenance and network services. The scale of the installation will be a determining factor in the subscription fee. Many companies offer financing terms.
Ouellette says these tracking sensors are positioned so contractors can take a crawl-walk-run approach to their adoption. “Start today and evolve as you go forward,” he advises.
TRACKING SYSTEMS ROUNDUP
The following is an overview of some of the products currently on the market, including QR-based systems for tool tracking. We will update this as information comes in and new products are introduced.
Triax Technologies’ Spot-r EquipTag uses the company’s proprietary network to track, log and report operational and performance data from your machines. Data from machines can be accessed via the Spot-r dashboard from any device to tell you where your equipment is located. Combined with data from the Triax’s Spot-r Clip wearable, you can also know who is operating it and if they are certified to do so. This data tells you how much and how often each machine is being used on a jobsite, helping you right-size your equipment fleet.
The non-GPS system allows machine monitoring whether its indoors, outdoors or in dense areas without a clear line of sight to the sky. Triax says this capability allows the system to overcome the traditional limitations of machine telematics.
EquipmentShare’s fleet management system, which uses a proprietary tracking device and harness, connects to the company’s cloud-based fleet management software to provide several data points, including equipment utilization rates, rental equipment data, maintenance history, machine GPS location and operator use.
The platform connects all machines and vehicles with cloud technology — regardless of make or model — to give contractors real-time access to their entire mixed fleet operations. Users can access fleet data from a mobile device or desktop. The hardware can be installed on any machine, vehicle or piece of heavy equipment, regardless of OEM/brand, class or category, EquipmentShare says.
Using GPS tracking, EquipmentShare’s fleet management technology helps users understand where equipment is at any given moment. Tracking hardware communicates to the fleet management technology platform to inform and alert fleet managers and contractors of stolen equipment’s location, and users can track a stolen machine’s GPS coordinates on a map.
WirelessLink offers a range of tracking solutions for heavy, compact and light equipment attachments, tools and trailers. The company’s offering includes the Piccolo ATX for unpowered assets, Piccolo ATX2s for unpowered assets with solar panels and the Piccolo Hybrid for powered assets.
WirelessLink says one cost-effective solution is its solar-powered RFID tag. It can be used with a Piccolo IoT telematics unit installed in a cab or RFID tags mounted on trailers and other assets. The solar recharge capability eliminates labor intensive and time-consuming manual battery charging, Wireless Tech says.
WirelessLink uses its Fleet.Net cloud platform with its GPS trackers; each tracker can integrate with other applications and enterprise systems.
Teletrac Navman Site360
Site 360 enables you to see all your tools, machines and other assets on one system. That includes leased or rented assets.
It provides real-time information on the assets’ location, assignment and usage, sending an alert when the equipment is moved outside of set geographic locations or outside of planned work hours. The tracking system works on all types of equipment and vehicles, from heavy to light.
It provides GPS tracking, engine hours monitoring, idle time management and fuel use measurement in real time. The system’s app is available for iOS and Android systems, enabling drivers, dispatchers and management to access the system from anywhere. The company also recently launched the ST101 Solar Tracker for GPS tracking of non-powered assets.
Track fuel usage and idling trends on your heavy equipment and powered trailers and assets with the IP67 rated Go Rugged ruggedized telematics device. Designed for harsh conditions or external installation Geotab helps you track and maintain your assets and provides key data insights, including monitoring engine hours and PTO usage using GPS technology. Geotab provides advanced dashboard reports and has an open platform for easy data integration.
DPL Telematics AssetCommand Max
DPL Telematic says its cellular GPS AssetCommand Max tracking system wirelessly monitors and remotely tracks off-road equipment and over-the-road trucks. The rugged device tracks runtime, trips, geofences, curfews, rollover and service schedules and allows managers to remotely disable their assets.
The AssetCommand Max features a remote starter disable/enable, addressing safety, theft or nonpayment concerns. It sends real-time notifications of tilt and rollover detections, alerting owners about possible safety or machine abuse issues. Owners/managers also get alerts if a unit is disconnected.
TennaBLE Beacon Steel Puck
Tenna’s TennaBLE Beacon Steel Puck tracking device is designed for attachments that get aggressive, high-impact use. It can also be used to locate other machine parts such as crane boom sections.
The puck is an offshoot of Tenna’s current Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) asset tracker. It features an IP67 watertight glass-filled nylon inner casing to protect against dust, sand and water, and an aluminum-killed steel outer fitting for impact resistance. A welded fitting on the puck gives it a permanent mounting that will resist extreme forces, Tenna says.
The puck tracker sends out regular “heartbeats” every three seconds that are recognized by Tenna’s mobile asset tracking app. When in range, the app automatically identifies and records the location of tagged assets and stores the data.
Geoforce GPS tracking devices
Geoforce offers a variety of heavy-duty GPS tracking devices for construction equipment and vehicles. It shows asset inventory on a digital map using GIS data to locate an asset and tell you how many days it has been there.
It also provides periodic utilization and telemetry reports on the equipment’s location and usage, as well as manages equipment maintenance and tracks engine hours. The company’s service verification module can confirm a received or submitted invoice is complete and correct. The company says its GPS tracking devices can be used with most construction equipment and are built to withstand remote, unpredictable and rough conditions.
Caterpillar PL161 attachment locator
This locator allows contractors and fleet managers to keep up with their buckets, grapples and other attachments online and through their smartphones and tablets. It can track location and utilization across multiple jobsites as well as help you plan for attachment maintenance and replacement.
The lightweight 2-inch by 1.5-inch Bluetooth locator device can be fastened to an attachment or other nonpowered asset and is used with the Cat App, which can be downloaded at the App Store or Google Play Store.
The device comes with mounting hardware of two bolts, two washers and a steel weld plate, and with safety films. The module can also be mounted with adhesive. Cat says the locator module is designed to withstand the harsh conditions of a construction site.
Used with the Trackunit Go mobile app, the Kin’s 2.12- by 1.4-inch devices attach to attachments, tools and accessories. The Kin is designed to connect to the Trackunit RAW (TU600) installed network of devices.
Kin devices exceed industrial design standards PP66K and IP69K and have ultraviolet-resistant and flame-retardant housing, according to the company. The system uses Bluetooth 5.2 and provides up to 430 yards of line-of-sight detection. The tracking devices are powered by a lithium-ion cell that provides up to five years of life in normal operating conditions, the company says.
The mobile app user can also locate devices by visible LED pulses. Low-powered embedded sensors provide movement, vibration and activity detection.
Milwaukee Tool Asset ID Tags
An expansion of the company’s One Key asset-management and tracking platform, Milwaukee Tool’s Asset ID tags track your smaller tools without Bluetooth.
Users simply scan the tags with any camera-equipped mobile device to record time and location information. The company says this provides instant documentation as the tool is transferred from jobsite to jobsite.
Milwaukee Tool offers the Tick Bluetooth tracker for larger equipment. The Asset ID Tags come in two sizes: .69- by 1-inch and 1.5- by 2-inch. They come in sets of 200 and have versions for attaching to plastic and metal surfaces. They are resistant to water and chemical exposure, have UV protection, are scratch resistant and will maintain their adhesion during significant temperature changes.
The Hilti system uses tags and a mobile app for tracking tools and other assets from any web-enabled deice. The company also recently updated its software with a 3.0 version that provides more data about your tools and accessories.
Hilti offers a variety of tags for tracking equipment, including adhesive smart tags and Bluetooth tags, and those made of aluminum or stainless steel for more durable attachment.
The new 3.0 system provides information on how, where and when each asset is used. It also enables remote inventory checks. Hilti says this allows contractors to better manage job costs. They can set up a daily cost per asset for running cost reports for any date range to determine an assets costs at any location. The system also enables setting alerts for service, certification and maintenance schedules.
This tracking system can be used with any brand of power tool or equipment. Its Bluetooth Profession GCC 30-4 TrackTags are compatible with different manufacturers and have a signal radius of up to 100 feet, depending on smartphone model and level of interference from other devices, the company says.
Using the Bluehound Mobile app, users can receive location and other asset information to their mobile device. Tools, job boxes, vehicles and other assets can be managed by showing when they were last seen and which employee was responsible for them.
The system also has an “automatic driver reminder” to remind you of any tools left behind on a job. By pressing a button, your company’s users on the system can be alerted to missing tools or those in need of repair, and you can build invoice reports and keep up with scheduled maintenance.
Don McLoud contributed to this report.
Compact Excavators: Buy Now or Hang On?
Is now the right time to buy a new compact excavator?
While our OEM experts were naturally enthusiastic about buying new, they did offer these pointers on when and how to take the plunge.
Dan Collins of Kobelco says 10,000 hours is about the point when repair costs dictate replacement, but given the typical annual hours on a compact excavator, it can take a long time to accrue that many hours.
“The broken booms and sticks and cracked frames that we saw 20 years ago are long gone,” he says. “Newer machines are more robust, and most of them probably have hours remaining. But they lack the features and technology of the latest machines, and that’s a serious shortcoming.”
He says that in this extremely competitive market, manufacturers race to add features to stand out, and the customer benefits.
KobelcoJay Quatro, commercial product manager with Wacker Neuson, cites the three-point bucket linkage on the its new ET42. “It’s the same linkage as is found on our larger models. The unique kinematic linkage system offers a 200-degree angle of rotation that combines excellent breakout force with a greater range of motion.”
The result is greater vertical digging depth, especially next to walls, and more rotation to keep the load secure before dumping, he says.
Wacker Neuson“In times of uncertainty or in recessions, the strong, diverse and well-balanced companies thrive,” adds Greg Worley, market professional with Cat. “You need to make sure you have the equipment and other resources to meet the challenges.”
He says new machines are always going to be more efficient and versatile than preceding models. These advances bring benefits to all customers but especially those in production applications.
“At this time the only reason to hold onto a piece of equipment,” he says, “is if you have difficulty in obtaining a replacement, especially given the global manufacturing and logistics challenges.”
CatManufacturing processes have advanced. Metallurgy is refined. Bearing design and placement are improved. And, says Jonathan Tolomeo, product manager, Komatsu, clearances are tighter. “Those tighter manufacturing tolerances and the new oils designed to work with them have resulted in machines that should have much longer service life, which reduces total owning and operating costs.”
More versatile than ever
Compact excavators have grown to be among the most versatile machines on the market. There are two sides to this versatility – the attachments and the excavators themselves – and they need to be properly paired to achieve maximum benefit.
“Compact is all about tools,” says Mike Watt, excavator product manager, LiuGong North America. “Nobody wants just a bucket.”
He says no dealer has every available attachment, and finding the right tool may require shopping around. One key to compatibility is pin diameter. “Make sure your coupler or pin grabber is compatible with the pin diameter of the tool you’re considering.” Other key considerations include hydraulic specifications, center of gravity, balance and counterweight, with the latter three all interrelated.
LiuGong“Takeuchi’s compact excavators come standard with three sets of auxiliary circuits,” says Keith Kramlich, national product and training manager, Takeuchi. “This makes application possibilities nearly endless.”
For clearing and forestry, for example, the excavator can have a hydraulic coupler, hydraulic thumb and high-flow mulcher attached at the same time, Kramlich says. Changing attachments can be done from the safety and convenience of the cab.
TakeuchiKurt Moncini, senior product manager with Komatsu, says the PC88 has a thumb bracket and two-way hydraulics. It also has a swing boom and is a minimum-radius machine where the counterweight stays within the tracks. Its improved blade design makes it more efficient for backfilling.
Compact equipment is often seen as a replacement for hand labor, and “any time I can take a tool out of the hands of a worker and replace it with an attachment on a compact excavator, I win,” says Moncini.
KomatsuVersatility has expanded in digging applications, says Kevin Roberts, general manager North America, Link-Belt. “When considering attachments, don’t overlook the wide assortment of buckets.”
At the same time, he says, recognize that the “versatility of the compact excavator is a path out of being pigeonholed as a contractor.”
Sho Aoe, portfolio manager, Link-Belt, notes that versatility applies not only to what compact excavators can do but also to where they can do it. “The ability to work in a confined area is a huge advantage.”
People have been staying home; many will likely continue to work from home and are eager to make improvements to their property. “There’s a lot of work in people’s back yards,” says Aoe.
Link-BeltErik Coyle, product specialist, Yanmar, says attachments are in high-demand for Yanmar. Its models from the SV40 to the SV100 have second auxiliary circuits available; they are standard on the ViO80-1A and SV100-2A.
“Mini excavators aren’t just hydraulic shovels anymore,” he says. “Be versatile in your offerings by having the right attachments for any job that comes along.”
Justin Steger, solutions marketing manger, site development and underground, Hitachi – Americas, offers advice for those considering a new machine.
“A good rule of thumb is to consider the work you’re doing now with regards to lift, reach, dig depth and operating weight and try to spec a machine with approximately 25% more dig depth,” he says. “This will increase the other key specs to provide enough machine to allow room for growth in your business.”
YanmarAaron Kleingartner, product and dealer marketing manager, Doosan Infracore North America, offers further insights:
“Today’s machines are more capable than the previous models in the same size class. Today’s 6- and 8-ton models can do work that would have required 12- or even 14-ton machines not long ago.”
In the end, it all comes down to specs, but don’t assume the specs you need will require the size class of machine you’ve used in the past.
Expanding the boundaries
Some OEMs are redefining the compact excavator.
Mecalac offers two models of wheeled compact excavators below 10 metric tons, the 7MWR and 9MWR. “Among the appeals of wheeled models are roadability and increased stability, especially when lifting over the side,” says Peter Bigwood, general manager, Mecalac North America.
The company also offers three crawler skid-excavators with travel speeds up to 6.2 mph and the ability to mount traditional excavator buckets as well as loader buckets and forks. All models feature Mecalac’s three-piece arm (two-piece boom plus stick). The company partnered with Rototilt to provide an integrated tiltrotator from the factory that retains the advantages of the Mecalac quick-connect.
“We know that Mecalac is a premium-priced machine,” says Bigwood, “but our one machine can do the work of several due to our three-piece arm and, with our crawler skid-excavators, the ability to use both excavator and loader attachments.”
Volvo CEVolvo also offers wheeled models. “Four-wheel drive on compact excavators allows operators to go on- and off-road with greater mobility,” says Darren Ashton, product manager for compact excavators, Volvo CE North America. “They can access hard-to-reach areas but also easily drive these machines between jobsite locations.”
And Volvo’s electric model, the ECR25, uses lithium-ion batteries and a single electric motor to run the hydraulic system. Fully charged, the batteries provide enough power for 8 hours of use in typical applications.
“These quiet, emissions-free machines open opportunities where noise and emissions are important considerations,” says Ashton. Examples include busy urban areas, indoor demolition and tightly regulated food production.
“Early adopters of electric equipment will establish themselves as leaders in this rapidly growing market space,” Ashton says.
Versatility is good, but today’s compact excavators are also better at what they were originally designed to do: dig.
“Owners who are not planning on purchasing new attachments can expand into other markets using standard-configuration machines,” says Patrick Baker, product manager, Kubota Construction Equipment. Those markets can include residential and commercial construction, municipal jobs, hardscaping and landscaping, road and highway work.
“Build a good reputation and solid working relationships in one area and be willing to take chances on new opportunities,” Baker says.
He points out that with the introduction of the U48-5 reduced tailswing model, Kubota now has conventional and reduced tailswing models in every size category from 2 to 6 tons.
KubotaRyan Anderson, product marketing manager, New Holland, says that compared to other compact equipment, compact excavators are especially well suited to use precision tools such as lasers and depth checkers. “These will make you better and faster at the work you already do and will open up new jobs for you where you can use your existing equipment.”
He says that demolition is a growing market and not just large demo projects, such as commercial buildings and malls, but also smaller buildings such as barns and homes. The extent of investment may be a specialty bucket or thumb if the excavator is not already so equipped.
Ways to get into a new machine
While traditional methods remain popular, the market is finding creative ways to help customers acquire new machines.
Hitachi introduced its ZX-tra monthly payment offer on ZX26U-5, ZX75US-5 and ZX85USB-5 models. The ZX26U-5 is available with cab or canopy, while the other two are cab-only. The three models cover a range of machine specs and meet the needs of a variety of customers.
“The ZX-tra Offer features low monthly payments…to provide customers with extra savings,” Hitachi says. ZX-tra is scheduled to run through October 31.
HitachiBuying machines coming off lease or rental is a way to reduce front-end costs while still getting new technology and features and a factory warranty. But the availability of these machines relies on turnover.
“We saw some interesting trends with rental shops last year,” says Jason Boerger, marketing manager, Bobcat. “Most significant was a reluctance of rental businesses to purchase new equipment. That makes perfect sense in view of the volatility on a global scale caused by the pandemic.”
The market is recovering. He says the key to a successful rental business is to control operating expenses, and compact excavators, with their low initial and ongoing costs and ease of transport, support this practice.
BobcatWatt says only 10% of LiuGong compact excavator sales go to end users; the rest go to rental. The company says that rental constitutes nearly 50% of the U.S. construction equipment market and that more than 75% of products priced at greater than $100,000 are rented before they are sold.
LiuGong North America is working with Hitachi Capital to operate the LiuGong North America Dealer Owned Rental Fleet. The program has multiple goals, including the creation of a nationwide inventory of low-hour, high-value machines. The largest compact excavator in the LiuGong line, the 909ECR, is also the smallest model eligible for the program.
Doosan InfracoreKleingartner says rental took a hit in the early months of Covid. The rental market is rebounding, but because rentals were down for part of last year, replacement rates have slowed and OEM sales into rental have slackened temporarily.
Despite fluctuations in the market, the contractor’s rental strategy is unchanged, he says. It includes renting niche machines and using long-term rentals for specific jobs.
Contractors can also consider a rental purchase option. Most rental houses will let the customer move to an RPO at any point in the rental term; it doesn’t have to be a stipulated agreement up front.
“Managing the role of rental to the business is the same as always,” says Kleingartner. “It comes down to profit and efficiency.”
Unique Cab, Greater Lift Capacity Mark Manitou’s New Rotating Telehandlers (Video)
Manitou‘s new lineups of Vision and Vision+ rotating telehandlers deliver greater lifting capacity and a host of features designed to make life easier for operators.
The new telehandlers with 360-degree rotation are designed for such construction tasks as installing structural steel, building renovations and demolition.
The first thing you’ll notice about the new MRT models is the unique cab shape surrounded by glass and with a reinforced, gridless roof. The improved in-cab visibility is how the telehandlers got the Vision name.
The cab is pressurized and insulated to reduce noise. An ROPS/FOPS Level 2 option is available.
The telehandlers can also be operated by remote control from the platform or from outside the cab.
ManitouA new hydraulic pump delivers 31 gallons per minute for the Vision machines and 49 gallons per minute in the Vision+ models. That leads to boom movement that is 50% faster in the Vision machines and more than 30% faster for Vision+, the company says.
Manitou says it doubled the telehandlers’ capacity at max height and boosted capacity at max reach by 25%. Overall load capacity was raised 15%, while overall weight of the machine was reduced 5%.
The Vision models range in lift heights of 52 feet 5 inches to 82 feet for a load up to 9,900 pounds. Depending on the model, engines range from 75 to 116 horsepower.
The Vision+ lineup ranges from 156 to 211 horsepower. Lift heights are between 72 feet 9 inches and 114 feet 8 inches. That upper height is delivered by the MRT 3570, which has a new electric seat that tilts up to 18 degrees for better views of the boom when working at heights.
ManitouManitou added a hydrostatic transmission, which delivers max speed of 25 mph.
Another feature to help operators is five LED headlamps for full lighting around the telehandler and two work lights on the boom head for better visibility when loading at height. The MRTs are equipped with a rearview camera and have a new touchscreen that is 8 inches tall in the Vision cabs and 12 inches tall in the Vision+ models.
The company also made it easier to access the cab, placing entry steps on the sides, front and back, so an operator can get in and out no matter what position the rotating cab is in.
Several new attachments are available for the MRTs, including floating fork carriages, a winch with hydraulic motor and an all-aluminum platform with a load capacity of 805 pounds.
Both Vision and Vision+ models are scheduled to be available to dealers and rental shops by September, Manitou says.
Here’s a breakdown of the Vision and Vision+ lineups’ specs for Manitou’s newest MRT models:
Manitou also made this video of a walk-around of a Vision+ model:
Send In The Rebar Tying Drones: SkyTy Concept Will Have Initial Flight Next Year
The backbreaking work of rebar tying is attracting a variety of technology solutions, including the SkyTy P3 rebar-tying drone robot.
The SkyTy – which is still in prototype stage – uses drones to both map and then tie rebar intersections. It employs a ground station, a nimble SkyTy mapper drone and several “worker” tying drones – how many depends on the size of the project and desired production rates.
The mapper drone is designed to be agile while the beefier tying drone carries the payload of the tying tool and wire spool.
“They are really two platforms that are optimized for two different things.” says Eohan George, SkyMul CEO. “The mapper drone has a lot of optics that are not needed on the tying drone, which is optimized for hopping from between positions. The mapper drone can also fly for a lot longer.”
SkyTy gains cost and productivity scale on larger concrete projects, George says. “It would make sense to bring in our system on a 20,000-square-foot bridge deck job,” he says. For a slab-on-grade projects, which require fewer ties, SkyTy could be used on 30,000-square-foot-and-above projects. “We can probably reduce costs by almost half in many cases and in some instances, a lot more than that,” he says.
Compared with manual tying, SkyMul says using the SkyTy system can lead to an 84% reduction in labor, 2.4-times faster production rates and cost 32% less.
In talking with contractors, George says his team has discovered that not all contractors have analyzed their work procedures enough to understand how much time is spent on a specific process such as tying. “In this early stage, we really like to work with contractors who understand that in depth so they know exactly how to bring in our system into their workflow.”
George emphasizes that SkyTy is not designed to take away jobs. In fact, he says the ironworkers union recognizes it could help maintain production schedules, deal with worker shortages and reduce worker exposure to hazardous situations.
SkyTy in action
Here’s how the concept works: A crew member – or ironworker rodbuster on union jobs – first marks the parameter of the rebar area that needs to be tied. This process takes about an hour, George says. The mapper drone automatically flies over the area, building a map of the rebar, identifying grid spacing and blank intersections.
The crew member then uses a semi-automated interface to verify grid spacing and placement accuracy of the placed rebar, SkyMul says, allowing verification of “hundreds of square feet of rebar in a matter of a few minutes.”
Using the coordinates provided by the mapping drone, multiple tying drones can be deployed to do the actual tying, working in coordination and keeping out of each other’s way.
The SkyTy tying drone uses a gantry system to position the tying end directly over rebar intersections. Using the gantry system, the hopping time between positions is significantly reduced, which in turn reduces the overall time the drones are tying. “You can tie close to four intersections before the drone has to reposition itself,” George says.
Since the tying drones are controlled by what the mapping drone has mapped out, the crew member doesn’t actually fly the drone but rather handles logistics, such as swapping out batteries or changing the wire.
George says neither the mapping nor the tying drones are off-the-shelf. Both the physical drone and the software driving them are proprietary to SkyMul.
Although they are capable of working in sync, the number of tying drones required on even a large job is fairly small, George says.
These multiple drones will not be working side by side, but rather working around each other to accomplish the defined ties. “Even if they are working the same area, they are doing it at two opposite sides to reduce the chances that they’re close to each other,” George says. The drones typically stay 2 to 3 feet from each other.
Right now, each tying drone needs to have its battery swapped out every 25 minutes, tying about 70 to 80 ties on each charge and tying one rebar intersection about every 20 seconds. SkyMul is also working on a more robust battery solution for the drones.
SkyTy will come out in phases as SkyMul works on demonstration projects with contractors.
“Our focus is to operate up to five teams for up to two years to really hone the system,” George says. “We want to be really conservative in the time it takes to get to market and we want to spend as much time working as a service to contractors.”
SkyMul has participated in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation-Corps program, which is designed to help researchers “reduce the time to translate an idea to the marketplace,” according NSI, which has also given the company a $200,000 grant.
Because of this, George says he sees the company taking on pilot services in the third quarter of 2022. “In Q4 of this year we hope to be able to do a pilot release in an actual construction environment,” he says.
SkyMul is now working with a large West Coast-based contractor that has a crew of around 150 rodbusters to explore a demonstration project. George says he’s also gotten interest from contractors building bridge decks and large slab-on-grade projects.
SkyMul has produced this video to explain the SkyTy process:
Compact Excavators: Buy Now or Hang On?
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