Interviews with Earthmoving Manufacturers: Machine Insight

June 24, 2019
Executives from Bobcat Co., Takeuchi, John Deere, Hitachi, Komatsu and Case talk about autonomous machines, smart controls, telematics, compact machines, attachments and more.

The Participants:

Jason Boerger, marketing manager, Bobcat Co.;

Lee Padgett, product manager, Takeuchi;

Jonathan Martinez, telematics manager, Takeuchi;

Derek Betcher, rental marketing manager, John Deere Construction & Forestry;

Jonathan Spendlove, product marketing manager, excavators, Hitachi Construction Machinery – Americas;

Brian Mace, mining product marketing & applications manager, Hitachi Construction Machinery – Americas;

Renee Kafka, product specialist, Komatsu America Corp.;

David Garton, manager of rental accounts, Case Construction Equipment.

At the recent Bauma show there was a great deal of interest in autonomous machines, and a lot of manufacturers are working on them. What are your company’s developments in this area and for what applications do you expect to see autonomous machines in the coming years?

Mace: Hitachi’s Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) leverages technologies developed for Hitachi Ltd.’s automotive and railroad solutions as well as Wenco’s fleet management and dispatch system to increase productivity and lower the total cost of ownership.

The system features automated navigation and route optimization; the ability to negotiate traffic conditions; optimized accelerating, braking and steering control, site awareness and forward collision warning; and the Wenco fleet management system for overall supervisor control.

The resul is a truck that can determine the most efficient paths without constant communication with traffic control. We’ve also included components that make it possible to convert any Hitachi AC-3 truck bought today to AHS in the future.

Kafka: Komatsu partnerships with customers led to the first commercially available autonomous mining truck in the early 2000s, and again in 2014 with the industry’s first factory-integrated semi-autonomous systems on construction dozers and then excavators. Since then, autonomous features in wheel loaders with automatic digging, advanced automatic blade control for our bulldozers and refined semi-automatics for our hydraulic excavators help our machines remain the industry standard. We see customer interest in automation growing as skilled labor shortages persist. Production demands in the face of these labor shortages point to automation expansion in a majority of applications.

What kinds of developments have you made in terms of “smart” or “intelligent” controls on earthmoving machines, and what will we likely see in the near future?

Boerger: In February 2019, Bobcat released information on new remote operation technology for Bobcat loaders using an iPhone. The technology allows operators to control the machine the same way they would if they were inside the cab keeping all the same capabilities as the on-board controls. The technology will be available at local dealers later in 2019.

Betcher: When looking at intelligent machines, John Deere offers a full suite of grading technology. This provides impressive productivity improvements on earth moving projects of all sizes. The John Deere portfolio of grading technology products spans from the onboard grade indication system on compact track loaders all the way up through the SmartGrade 950K PAT, the largest PAT machine on the market. Features like John Deere's exclusive Auto SmartGrade ensure the machine is maximizing productivity with every pass. The feature works by automatically adjusting blade load to minimize track slip while controlling the blade to a target design surface.  This feature was developed to help reduce operator workload while ensuring maximum productivity.

         Last summer, John Deere announced the construction industry’s first SmartGrade motor grader, leveraging powerful integrated technology to provide accurate grading without the need for external masts or cables. Earthmoving projects can greatly benefit from this new technology due to the ability of the grader to run in a variety of positions and configurations that current systems can’t due to the external masts. 

         Large earthmoving projects typically require large amounts of equipment on site to meet schedule demands. John Deere's integration of grading technology products eliminates the time spent installing and removing GNSS receivers daily. With a large amount of machines on these jobsites, the productivity gained running machines rather than setting them up and shutting them down every day is substantial.

         The factory integration of the grading technology products provides the earthmoving contractor the benefit of a one-stop-shop support from John Deere's legendary dealer support channel. John Deere's grading technology is integrated with the cutting-edge embedded telematics system JDLink providing information and insights to boost the productivity, efficiency, and security of many operations in large earthmoving projects. 

Spendlove: At Hitachi, we recently announced the launch of Hitachi Solution Linkage, a factory-integrated grade reference system developed in cooperation with Topcon. Solution Linkage works as a one-stop-shop to take the guesswork out of achieving the right grade, and it monitors in real-time so jobs can be completed quickly.

Right now, Solution Linkage is an option available on the ZX210-6 and ZX210LC-6 as well as the ZX350LC-6 excavators. Electronics should make the job easier, which is why full integration is so important. When selected, Solution Linkage is fully integrated into the machine’s cab and structures, which helps shield key components such as wire harnesses and sensors from damage. That integration also provides the operator with conveniently placed joysticks to provide effortless control.

Kafka: Traditionally, GPS machine control has focused on finish grade. Komatsu was the first company to release a factory intelligent Machine Control dozer, and now Komatsu recently introduced the first Proactive Dozing control. This industry first logic works from grass to grade, expanding the capability of the automatics system. Komatsu’s New Proactive Dozing Control uses terrain mapping to calculate an optimal dozing profile for every pass, which allows auto-stripping, auto-spreading, and high production dozing. The flexibility available in the new proactive dozing control mode makes operation easier for experienced operators and allows inexperienced operators to approximate a 20+-year operator’s performance.

Garton: Machine control is certainly starting to get more and more traction on the rental side of things—more customers are using it. As it becomes more accepted in the market place, rental companies are starting to make it available to their customers.

Telematics is now much more widely adopted that in the past. What are some of the new developments in the use of telematics on earthmoving machines and what new horizons do you expect in the near future in this area?

Martinez: Takeuchi Fleet Management (TFM) is Takeuchi’s telematics service that remotely connects users to their Takeuchi machines. TFM continuously improves and follows the same trend as the other technology on a machine. As more computers and controllers are utilized on machines, the more information can be pulled from them. More data equals more machine insight. Along with this comes additional remote functions that will bring value to all levels of customers (distributors, dealerships, and end users). The great thing is that once the hardware is installed it is possible to update the entire fleet OTA with new value adding features.

Betcher: John Deere WorkSight delivers value to customers from telematics using a two-pronged approach. First, we are transitioning the user interface is our new JDLink Dashboard website. The JDLink Dashboard is insights focused, for example, the dashboard tiles show machines listed with the highest idle time, machines with low fuel levels or those over or underutilized in the past 7 days. This helps fleet managers find machines that might need attention.

         Second, our corporate Machine Health Monitoring Center reviews the health of connected John Deere machines. When an issue is found they work with the product engineering team to develop a solution and share that information with our dealers. Dealers use the information to work directly with customers to resolve issues which that leads to increased uptime. With Deere and our dealers monitoring machine health, our customers have more time to focus on running their business whether it’s moving dirt, building roads, or keeping rental equipment out on rent.   

         We are seeing an increasing number of customers integrate the JDLink Machine Data Application Program Interface (API) into third party business systems. WorkSight has four providers, Foresight Fleet Intelligence, HCSS, LHP Telematics and Verizon Connect that have already done the integration work. Using a mixed fleet solution gives customers a fleetwide view of their machines.  This should be particularly attractive to rental operators interested in machine monitoring because it enables them to see data from all their machines regardless of equipment manufacturer.  This improves efficiency.

         John Deere WorkSight will continue to focus on delivering value through connected machines. Today, we deliver value by increasing machine uptime but we have on-going projects that will deliver value through productivity improvements.

Spendlove: With so much information at our fingertips, it’s not surprising that telematics is being utilized on worksites. Hitachi’s ZXLink system comes standard equipped on most excavators. Owners can remotely access data on the fleet location, functions, hours, fuel consumption, alerts and more without leaving their seat. Telematics help keep fleet managers updated on maintenance checkpoints, and alert them to any failures or problems that need addressing. Features like this contribute to proactive maintenance and can help lower the total cost of ownership.

We expect telematics to become even more advanced. When you have the opportunity to increase the efficiency, reliability and durability of your machine, why wouldn’t you?

Kafka: At Komatsu, we are seeing telematics evolve from basic monitoring and tracking into a tool that can be used for benchmarking and training. Komtrax has several features that are often overlooked, such as automated fleet reports, machine and PM history, and even a code for a sudden decrease of the amount of fuel in the tank overnight. One area of telematics opportunity expansion is on the operator training side. Komtrax data can identify poor operating practices or compare one customer’s performance against benchmarks set by an entire equipment fleet. Also, we now have the ability to remotely update machines overnight. Traditionally, a machine update had to be performed by a service tech in the field. Today, machines update while the customers aren’t working, freeing up technicians to perform other work.

Garton: Telematics are also being more and more professionally utilized by rental companies. For a rental house, having access to telematics data output and setting notifications if machines start operating outside of normal operational parameters is critical. This informs the renter of possible problems and cues them to contact the rental house and discuss the proper next steps. In the past, before telematics, an operator may just keep operating the machine because they didn’t understand a code and made the problem worse before parking the machine at the end of the day or bringing it back to the renter/owner. Telematics helps prevent that from happening now by providing immediate notification. The real beauty of telematics for a rental house is they can check the health, placement and condition of their equipment while it’s out with the customer.


    1. Bobcat customers now have the ability to receive notifications via email communicated by the machine on topics such as fault codes, routine maintenance alerts, and geofencing (launches June 28th)
    2. Customers can use the Bobcat Owner Portal which allows them to view and manage their fleet.
      1. Current feature set includes; fuel level, machine location, hours on the machine, fault code notifications, routine maintenance alerts, and soon geofencing and time fencing alerts.
    3. Fleet management promoted by in the moment alerts communicated by their machines. This gives the ability for customers to know what their machine is doing when they are not right next to it, which enables them to manage the fleet from a distance.

What are some of the new developments in compact earthmoving machinery and are there any new developments you expect to see in this area?

Betcher: Some of our newest offerings revolve around our L-Series compact wheel loaders. They feature increased productivity and significantly faster travel speeds. John Deere redesigned its popular K-Series compact wheel loader models with the introduction of the new 244L and 324L compact wheel loaders. You could find renters for these machines in the landscape/snow removal, ag material handling and construction segments. These new models round out the full line of L-Series compact wheel loaders available from John Deere.

         The industry-exclusive Articulation Plus steering system on the 244L and 324L provides operators an unparalleled combination of lift capacity and maneuverability. This feature includes an articulated frame plus rear-wheel steer, providing excellent full-turn tip load and stability with a tight turning radius. Renters can work in tight areas with these machines.

         Newly optimized linkage provides improved parallel lifting, with only 6 degrees of rollback. The 244L achieves an 8-foot, 3-inch (2,520 mm) full-lift dump height and a full-turn tip load of 8,157 lbs. (3,700 kg), while the 324L with high lift reaches a 10 foot, 3-inch (3,130 mm) height; and standard lift is capable of a full-turn tip load of 9,766 lbs. (4,430 kg).

         To increase productivity, the new models allow operators to move faster without having to manually shift the machine. A smooth auto shift hydrostatic transmission is coupled with an automatic two-speed gearbox, which provides a faster travel speed of up to 23 mph — a 21 percent increase in speed over the K-Series models. Both models are equipped with 73-horsepower (54 kW) Final Tier 4 engines.

Spendlove: We continue to see the need for versatile machines that can handle a variety of jobs. At the end of the day, it’s all about having an efficient, reliable and durable machine. Hitachi’s compact excavators are built with a heavy-duty X-frame that provides a solid, stable platform that resists material and dirt build-up. The machines’ rubber tracks can also traverse virtually any terrain, including paved surfaces.

Additionally, wedge-style couplers allow for a variety of attachments.  

Hitachi released its sixth compact model, the ZX30U-5, in 2018. The machine provides customers an alternative to the popular three- to four- metric-ton size class of compact excavators.

Garton: Interestingly enough, compact equipment seems to be getting bigger. One example would be CASE’s large-frame TV450 CTL. It’s a 90-horsepower machine that weighs in at nearly 11,000 pounds—and between its 4,500 pounds of rated operating capacity and high-flow auxiliary hydraulics, this machine can handle just about any task you throw at it.

Another example of this is what we’ve been calling Project Minotaur. This machine is truly a first-of-its-kind—a fully integrated design that matches the best operating characteristics of a CTL with a crawler dozer.

With more than 30 new patents pending, this new machine provides the power and performance of a small dozer in a platform that also serves as a loader and runs all skid steer and CTL attachments. The core feature of the machine is a C-Frame dozer interface that pins directly into the chassis of the machine. This provides the stability and smooth operating plane of a CTL and ensures that all operating power and stresses are channeled through the machine’s chassis and not its loader arms. The C-Frame can then be unpinned from the chassis and disconnected like any other attachment, allowing the machine to perform like a standard CTL.

This new machine is not available yet, but folks that want to watch its progress can go to the website (

Are there any new developments in attachments and do you expect to see any new developments in this area?

Spendlove: While we don’t manufacture attachments, we manufacture versatile machines that make it easy for owners to utilize all kinds of attachments. Each excavator is equipped with a wedge-style coupler, which enables quick changes to a wide variety of buckets.  Our compact excavators also support a variety of attachments, such as breakers and augers. Quick changes and versatility go a long way toward increasing efficiency on the jobsite.

Boerger: Bobcat Company has released the Bob-Dock attachment mounting system which allows operators to stay in the comfort of their loader cab to connect or disconnect hydraulically run attachments. The system also provides multiple uptime protection features to keep customers’ machines working strong. Because an attachment’s auxiliary hydraulic hoses route through the Bob-Dock system, they have an extra layer of protection from accidental contact with tires, tracks, debris or jobsite obstacles, reducing the frequency of hydraulic oil spills and hose replacements and repairs. The Bob-Dock system can also prevent the operator error of failing to disconnect hydraulic hoses before backing away from an attachment. A well-thought-out design makes the system suitable for all jobsites and conditions; operators won’t have to worry about the Bob-Dock connection and adaptor plates getting plugged up with mud or other materials.

The Bob-Dock system has two main parts: an adapter plate mounted to the attachment and a patented floating coupler block housed within the Bob-Tach mounting system interface. The adapter plate connects to your hydraulic attachment and has a locked hydraulic connection integrated within. The adapter can stay with the attachment permanently, or it can be removed and installed on another attachment. Large, durable alignment pins create a strong, direct and hands-free connection to the Bob-Dock adapter plate, allowing the operator to cleanly attach hydraulic attachments without leaving the cab.

Betcher: Attachments continue to be a focus for John Deere, with several updates introduced the past six months. These attachments are optimized to work with John Deere skid steers and compact track loaders, and they’re also compatible with most competitive models, and provide rental outfits another means of versatility and profitability when renting out compact equipment.

         Scrap grapple buckets (GS66B, GS72B, GS78B, GS84B) are ideal for scrap handling, recycling center use, disaster cleanup and job site cleanup applications where grappling power is needed to handle material. Rock grapple buckets (GR72B and GR84B) are perfect for land clearing, job site cleanup and brush removal applications. Additionally, the new rock grapples allow for grading the site after debris removal.  These attachments should be popular with rental companies on tracked or wheeled skid steers.

         The BA72C, BA84C and BA96C angle brooms and the BP72C, BP84C, BR60C, BR72C and BR84C pickup brooms were designed for effortless cleanup in turf, snow and construction applications. The new pickup brooms are superior solutions for dust mitigation challenges and restrictive barriers, like curbs and sidewalks. Ideal for turf and snow removal applications, the BA model angle brooms feature a hydraulic-angling range of 30 degrees to the right or left of the machine.

         Finally, the newest attachment updates include three new backhoe attachments (BH9B, BH10B and BH11B) that are ideal for those working in tight spaces by offering swing speed control and 180-degree capabilities to help maximize efficiency and improve machine stability. Workspace visibility is optimized with the attachments’ sleek, low-profile design. Cushioned cylinders allow for smooth operations and limit shock loads during use.

Interest in hybrids, electric- and battery-powered machines is growing fast. What are your new developments in this area?

Padgett: The TB216H is Takeuchi’s current diesel/electric hybrid excavator. The TB216H features a 15 hp diesel engine that can be used to un-trailer the machine, navigate to the job site and then switch to 100% emissions free operation using its onboard 14.2 hp electric motor. The TB216H requires a 480 three phase power supply that can be either shore power or a 20 kW or larger generator and can be tethered lengths up to 1250 feet.

Betcher: John Deere was among the first to introduce electric drive technology in off-highway equipment, we introduced the 644K hybrid loader in 2013 and the 944K hybrid loader in 2015. The 644K hybrid wheel loader with a hybrid electric drivetrain and a PowerShift hybrid electric three-speed transmission system can boost fuel economy by up to 25 percent.

         The 944K hybrid wheel loader has a hybrid electric drive system that uses brushless A/C generators and motors and can recapture energy by slowing the loader when the operator lets off the accelerator. The machine also has an eight-year, 20,000-hour warranty for power electronics.  Both loader models offer exceptional productivity and economy.

Mace: Hitachi has electric-drive mining shovels that are powered by a high voltage (6,600-6,900 volts) cable connected to the shovel, which power electric motors to power the hydraulic system. They replace the engines on a diesel-powered shovel.

Hitachi offers a hybrid electric excavator, but it is not available in North America. Japan offers two hybrid excavators – ZH120 and ZH200, and Australia offers the ZH210LC-5. You can see more information at

About the Author

Michael Roth | Editor

Michael Roth has covered the equipment rental industry full time for RER since 1989 and has served as the magazine’s editor in chief since 1994. He has nearly 30 years experience as a professional journalist. Roth has visited hundreds of rental centers and industry manufacturers, written hundreds of feature stories for RER and thousands of news stories for the magazine and its electronic newsletter RER Reports. Roth has interviewed leading executives for most of the industry’s largest rental companies and manufacturers as well as hundreds of smaller independent companies. He has visited with and reported on rental companies and manufacturers in Europe, Central America and Asia as well as Mexico, Canada and the United States. Roth was co-founder of RER Reports, the industry’s first weekly newsletter, which began as a fax newsletter in 1996, and later became an online newsletter. Roth has spoken at conventions sponsored by the American Rental Association, Associated Equipment Distributors, California Rental Association and other industry events and has spoken before industry groups in several countries. He lives and works in Los Angeles when he’s not traveling to cover industry events.