18 - 01 - 2017 MyTractor

Caterpillar and Komatsu Ltd. handle remote controlled excavators

In Chicago, not far from Lake Michigan, the driver of a Caterpillar excavator looked left, right, and forward to maneuver the 104-ton machine through an obstacle course of sand mounds and Old tires. But despite all his effort, he was not going anywhere. Instead, sitting in a stationary cubicle encircled by UI Labs video screens in the city's Goose Island area, the operator handled the excavator's controls about 2,700 kilometers (about 1,700 miles) in Arizona. Welcome to the new world of big machines, where manufacturers like Caterpillar and Komatsu Ltd. are rehearsing from remote control technology to standalone trucks to revive dwindling sales and adapt to changing markets. "In the future, factory producers will also be like the software industry," said Kazunori Kuromoto, a senior Komatsu executive at the company's Tokyo headquarters. "Digital transformation, ubiquitous networks and macro data reflect today's global trend." Manufacturers of large excavators, loaders and trucks were hit hard by the global fall in raw materials, which forced mining companies and construction companies to reduce their workforce and buy less equipment. Iron ore prices are at half their level six years ago, and most other metals have also seen a steep decline. From its peak in 2012, quarterly sales of mining equipment plummeted more than 80 percent, according to data from Parker Bay Co. Automation and robotics are not new, but they continue to transform all kinds of sectors. Retailer Amazon.com Inc. is experimenting with deliveries to customers made with drones, Tesla Motors Inc. has autopilot systems in its cars and Deere & Co. uses global positioning systems for more accurate driving of its tractors and combines. While the change is slow in mining and construction - a single excavator like the Caterpillar, based in Peoria, Illinois, used for its demonstration in Chicago a few months ago can cost 3 million - new projects developed during the era of Low commodity prices include many of the same technologies to reduce labor costs and increase efficiency. It is a potential growth sector for Caterpillar and Komatsu, which have seen unit sales declines for several years.

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