Motor Grader Manufacturers

roadscience1116_leadMaking motor graders easier to operate major focus of complex machine’s manufacturers

Pavers and compaction equipment get most of the attention in roadbuilding – they give us the primary beauty of a finished pavement. But, as is often pointed out when we discuss top-notch road construction, the performance of a road is dependent on the quality of the base.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see that motor graders are a bit of the unsung hero of quality pavements – they provide much of the accuracy when it comes to the grade and slope upon which the rest of a roadway is constructed.

While motor graders are viewed as singular in purpose, their functionality is far more diverse, as they are one of the more complex machines to operate. And operation enhancements are where much of the manufacturer’s focus has been of late.

Operator challenges

The general construction labor shortage, and the difficulty of finding and keeping experienced operators, is a top problem for contractors. While nothing will replace an experienced operator, manufacturers have been working to advance the capabilities of motor graders to make operation easier, which would benefit less experienced crews.

“It’s well known there is a lot of turnover in motor grader operators, ” says Luke Kurth, John Deere product marketing manager for motor graders. That factor often leaves a contractor with a skills drain in his crews.

And even if an operator is adequate, he or she could be missing out on features that can step up their performance. “You get a guy that hops in the seat that can run and cut grade, but maybe he doesn’t understand how to run the extra features that are on the machine, ” Kurth adds.

Kurth explains that, in that sense, many of the capabilities of the machine, for which manufacturers have worked diligently to advance, are wasted. Six-wheel drive, he says, is a good example.

“Six wheel drive is going to give you a third more power to the front of the machine, ” he says. “It’s going to pull way more of the blade on the tandem machine. You’d be surprised how many operators get in a motor grader and don’t know to throw on that switch.” Teaching operators that simple step, he adds, will give them a major boost in performance.

roadscience1116_sidebarMachine control

Machine control, however, will probably help an inexperienced operator most in producing better grading results.

“One of the biggest steps a contractor can take to improve motor grader performance is through machine control, ” says John Bauer, brand marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment. “Machine control continues to evolve and offer new ways for contractors to operate more efficiently, and it helps contractors plan for the right materials and the right equipment to do the job.”

Bauer says machine control also offers specific benefits to motor grader operators by cutting down on rework, because it gives them the ability to reach a final grade in fewer passes. This also minimizes maintenance and wear and tear, increases productivity and accuracy, improves planning, simplifys training and reduces the cost and effort associated with re-staking jobsites.

Caterpillar’s Wade Porter, market professional for motor graders, says Cat Grade with Cross Slope is a machine control system specifically aimed at assisting road construction.

“This system is the 2D building block to the more sophisticated 2D and 3D systems that road builders are using every day, ” he says. “It is used in conjunction with these systems, to provide reference points and slope readings necessary for the more complex 2D and 3D to work properly.”

He adds that if these 2D and 3D systems go down, Cat Grade with Cross Slope can serve as a backup to provide slope control until the other systems resume working. It automatically controls one side of the blade, which cuts in half the manual work from the operator.

“Experienced operators can maintain peak efficiency levels throughout more of the work day, while less experienced operators can be more productive faster, ” Porter says.

One corner of the moldboard is controlled automatically, while the opposite corner is managed by the operator. Porter explains that this helps reach target slope automatically during operation, which increases the accuracy and consistency of the bladed surface.

Cross Slope can also facilitate one-handed operation, depending on which blade corner is in automatic mode.

“Grade control has absolutely taken over the industry for some years now, ” says Deere’s Kurth. “Our Grade Pro machines are open architecture, so you can put a Topcon, Trimble or Leica system on them. We have factory-ready kits with all the brackets, the harness, everything you need ready to go. This is where the industry will continue to grow in the future.”

“New technology can sometimes have a bit of an intimidation factor, especially when there are costs involved, ” says Bauer. “Manufacturers recognized this and are making it easier for contractors to implement these technologies, and its only going to get more intuitive.”

Physical control

Last year, Caterpillar launched a technology suite that included Cat Grade and Cross Slope, but the system also added a couple more physical control measures aimed at road building.

“Advanced Control Joysticks were specifically designed for customers that use blade control technology, which is prevalent on almost every road building jobsite in the country, ” says Porter. “Operators specifically asked us to integrate the automated blade control functions into the joystick, so they didn’t have to take their hands off the primary machine and blade controls, in order to operate the automatic controls.”

Stable Blade is another feature Caterpillar added to help with machine bounce, which can be caused by material or underfoot conditions, but also by operator inexperience.

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