Aggregate producers need to be open to technology

Therese Dunphy

May 16, 2017

During recent years, the way in which a producer can manage his or her business has changed dramatically, and technology is driving many of those changes. In fact, technology was a key theme of ConExpo-Con/Agg, both as part of the show itself and in features of the new equipment being introduced. To underscore this point, editors were even given miniature drones to fly in the drone aviary at the Tech Experience. The pace of technology evolution within the industry is reminiscent of that of cell phones. I remember my first one — which I got nearly 20 years ago — for its resemblance to a brick and its 15-minutes-of-talk-a-month limit. A few years later, I got a much smaller one with a lot more minutes per month. Next came the phone with a tactile keypad and unlimited texting (I loved that one). About a decade ago, the first smart phone arrived on the doorstep. With internet accessibility and more apps than I knew what to do with, it was truly a game changer. Today, I have six iPhones in my household, and they are used for everything from email to food orders to navigation.

Consider the industry parallels. A little over a decade ago, an automated plant was fairly unique. Now, we have wheel loaders with built-in scales, dozers and motor graders with guidance systems, and haul trucks that indicate full loads. Telematics offer the opportunity to monitor machine usage and health. Remote-control equipment, push-button repetitive functions, and collision avoidance systems all allow operators to work more safely and productively, and autonomous vehicles are deep into development. Whew!

Technology offers both opportunities and obstacles for operators. Features can open up significant new insights on equipment utilization and plant optimization, but operators must appreciate the potential benefits and have employees who are willing and able to use these features.

Luck Stone has always been an early tech adopter, and frequently a pioneer, at its sites. It recently announced plans to accelerate its growth in Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV) technology — more commonly referred to as drones — through a partnership with Airware. The company currently owns a small fleet of drones and has its own full-time licensed UAV pilot. “Luck Stone recognized the need to acquire greater amounts of accurate, repeatable data from the air that could be easily accessed and analyzed for improved operational efficiency,” John Blackmore, survey and mapping supervisor, said in a press release.

While Luck Stone continues to invest in innovation, other operators barely skim the information available through telematics.

I don’t expect technology to replace the need for good equipment operators, well-trained mechanics, or savvy plant managers any time soon. That said, there is much each can learn by leveraging some of the technology at their fingertips. Check out our feature on technology (see page 24) and think about how it can best be implemented at your site.

With that, I’m off to play with my newest drone — which I control via one very smart phone.

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