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Smart Machines and Sustainability Take Front Stage at CONEXPO 2023

April 24, 2023
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Three years is a long time in the heavy equipment sector, particularly when sophisticated technology plays an increasingly prominent role on Canadian construction sites. In March, 139,000 visitors to ConExpo 2023 saw firsthand how much has changed since ConExpo 2020.

There was enormous ground for visitors to cover – quite literally. At 2.7 million square feet, the show was 11% larger than 2020, and visitors were warned to bring “several pairs of comfortable shoes” to walk the territory occupied by 2400+ exhibits.

“The amount of walking you had to do was pretty overwhelming,” says Rolande Bass, Equipment Manager at Myshak Sales and Rentals in Acheson, Alberta. “If you tried to cover everything in the five days, I don’t think you could do it.”

The quality of the content, however, made the walking worthwhile. At the major vendor booths, visitors were dazzled by smart machine features that help contractors optimize their operations while facing a growing shortage of skilled workers.

“Before the show, I hadn’t thought much about remote control,” says Dave Grenier, Owner / Operator at Grenier Brothers in Edmonton. “I could think of a few applications where it would be helpful, but I just didn’t realize how big a deal it was. Everybody was promoting it, and I was really surprised by how much interest people showed in it. So it’s not a near future thing – it’s something where there’s significant interest in the industry.”

Komatsu’s Smart Construction Remote was a case in point. The solution supports various levels of interaction between the machine and the remote user. For example, a highly skilled operator working remotely can coach on-site operators on proper operation, deliver updates to a work plan, or intervene when there are problems. This allows the company to simultaneously deploy this person on multiple jobsites, resulting in huge productivity gains.

Visitors also saw how Intelligent Machine Control (IMC) delivers new options for helping users optimize their job sites by coordinating their efforts. The system also makes it easier for operators with minimal experience to become as productive as their more seasoned colleagues.

Operator friendliness was also key, as booth visitors discovered as they checked out the cabs of the displayed equipment.

The other big draw was a range of technologies that help contractors reach their sustainability goals. For example, Komatsu’s all-electric PC210E excavator shows how a high-performance machine can operate with no emissions, noise, or engine vibration. Consequently, the machine is not only friendly to the environment but also creates less fatigue for operators.

Smaller equipment is moving in a similar direction. The battery-powered BOMAG BT 60 e-tamper, for example, is sustainable, quiet, vibration-free, and easy to operate. Takeuchi’s battery-operated TB20e mini excavator, the first of its kind, combines sustainable operation and the equivalent power of a diesel machine for smaller excavation jobs.

Sustainability, however, is not just about electrification. “We understand that this is not a one size fits all solution,” says Andrew Earing, Director of Products and Technical Services at Komatsu, “which is why we are pursuing other technologies and energy sources such as clean diesel, hydrogen combustion, and hydrogen fuel cells.”

To help make sense of it all, SMS Equipment collaborated with Komatsu, BOMAG, and Takeuchi to answer questions about product details and how to make the right choices to meet their workload and sustainability goals.

Back to basics

While intelligent machines and sustainability made the headlines, many visitors wanted to evaluate the next steps for their existing fleets.

“You got to see all the different product lines and then talk with people about how they stack up to one another,” says Bass, who was able to discuss his specific requirements with the SMS Equipment support team. “I was particularly interested in zero tail swing excavators, so I got to see and hear directly where the product lines are going.”

Grenier was pleased to learn that Komatsu now offers kits for upgrading non-GPS equipment. ”For me, that’s significant,” he says. “It means that if I decide to add grade control to a machine, I don’t have to go to a technology vendor but can have SMS Equipment look after the whole thing.”

There were also literally thousands of specialty vendors. “There were booths selling everything from grade control technology to exhaust system parts,” says Grenier. “There was a company that makes wireless control systems on Vancouver Island. Even contractors from Alberta were trying to sell specialized services in the US market. It’s a great thing to have that many small and specialized vendors. But it took a lot of time to cover that ground.”

The show was also a wonderful opportunity to meet new people. “There were people from all over the world,” says Bass. “I spent some time with a couple of guys that had a company out in Mississippi, and it was kind of cool to talk with them about the kinds of problems we have in extreme cold conditions. They’d never heard of that. Of all the people at the show, I think we’re the ones who put the equipment to the biggest test.”

The Bottom Line

Shows like CONEXPO 2023 provide a great learning opportunity, but three years is a long time to wait. In the meantime, the team at SMS Equipment keeps customers updated on the latest technology and provides hands-on advice as companies develop their equipment roadmaps to meet the industry’s upcoming challenges.

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