Bryan Furnace, equipment operator and host of The Dirt, recently got a chance to test run some of Komatsu’s -11 series excavators equipped with the new intelligent Machine Control 2.0 platform at the company’s customer center in Cartersville, Georgia.
Furnace outlines his first experience using machine control technology in an excavator, as well as the pros and cons of the machines from an operator’s perspective.
With no bolt-on components, Komatsu’s fully integrated iMC 2.0 system features stroke-sensing hydraulic cylinders, a multiple global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and an inertial measurement unit sensor.
Komatsu has five excavator models equipped with iMC 2.0: the PC210LCi-11, the PC290LCi-11, the PC360LCi-11, the PC390LCi-11 and the PC490LCi-11.
During his visit, Furnace operated the PC360LCi-11 and a PC210LCi-11 outfit with a tilt bucket. “This is an absolute game changer in the abilities of what you can do,” he says.
So find out what it’s like to operate these excavators equipped with the latest semi-automatic technology by watching the latest episode of The Dirt.
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In This Episode:
00:00 - Intro: PC360LCi-11 Review
01:02 - Machine Control Armor Points
01:43 - 2 Additional Cameras
02:09 - Pattern Switcher Location
03:14 - Location of the Hydraulic Pick-Up
03:58 - Engine Compartment
04:41 - Cooling Stack
05:03 - The Cab
05:55 - The Display
06:29 - Machine Control
13:09 - Final Thoughts
Bryan Furnace (00:00):
Hi everybody. Welcome back to Equipment World. You're watching The Dirt. I'm your host, Brian, and today we're talking about the Komatsu PC360-11, and it's the I series. What does the I series stand for? Well, it's the intelligence series, which means it's coming with Komatsu's machine control on it. I was recently given the opportunity to go out to Atlanta to Komatsu's customer training center to run the PC360 and put it through its paces and do a quick review.
And as always, I do want to put a couple of caveats on this review. First of all, obviously, being at the training center, you can only do so much. It's not a real job site in real working conditions, so you can only do so much from a review standpoint.
Secondly, I'm also always out here reviewing multiple pieces of equipment, which means I only get about two hours of seat time in these machines, which makes it difficult to pick up on every detail and dive into every menu item. I try to be thorough, but it is what it is. So with that being said, let's get into the review.
As I often do on these, I typically like to start with a walk around of the machine, but let's be honest, this is an excavator and as you guys all know, the excavators aren't changing a whole lot on the outside. It still looks like an excavator when you walk up to it. You will notice small details though. One of the small details that stuck out to me on the I series were the small armor points, if you will, where the machine control connectors were, and what you're going to notice are these small areas that are covered over and protected to keep branches and things that could potentially knock these sensors off out of the way so that you shouldn't have any issues. Komatsu's done a really good job actually in protecting these but also making the covers easy enough to remove for maintenance that it's not going to be a tremendous pain to get these things off.
Now, another thing you're going to notice from the outside is the addition of two additional cameras. Instead of just having your reverse camera, you now have a camera on each side of the machine, which in the cab gives you a 275-degree or so view around the machine.
Now, as you move up on top of the machine, one thing that I wasn't a huge fan of because of the way you have to get to it is the pattern switcher. The pattern switcher on the PC360 is actually up on top of the machine. I love it from an access standpoint, it's not buried behind some panels, you don't have to go march around the machine to try to figure out where this thing is. It's very obvious when you climb up on the machine.
I have two problems with this location. The first is it's not in line with what everyone else in the industry is doing right now, and so from an operator standpoint, it's going to take me a minute to find that thing, if I find it at all without diving into my manual.
The second reason I'm not a big fan is because in order to change the pattern, in my mind, that needs to be a relatively quick thing to get to and then I should be able to get back in the cab. Now I'm having to walk around the machine, climb up on it to get to the pattern switcher and then I have to get back down and go into the cab. I love the location. From an accessibility standpoint, it's very obvious, it's very easy to see when you see the handle, but if you're not looking for it up there, you're never going to find it. And that's my only beef with the location. But absolutely, the access to it is phenomenal.
Now, one thing I do want to talk about when it comes to the actual engine compartment, when you pop the engine compartment open, Komatsu has done something that I have loved from another one of my favorite manufacturers in the industry, Kobelco. They've actually taken the hydraulic pickup and moved it off of the floor of the machine. It no longer sits right on that base plate. It's now about 10 inches above it. This is really great for demo operators and stuff, where you might swing the machine over a piece of debris, it rolls up under the track and it crunches one of your bottom plates, your belly pans on your excavator. Next thing you know, you've pinched off part of the tube supplying your hydraulic pump with hydraulic oil and you've got a major issue. That's a lot more difficult to do when the pickup tube is 10 inches off of the belly pane of the machine. Really, really great feature.
The engine compartment, I do love the fact that the hood has a hydraulic assist on it. It's very easy to go up and down. The locks and latches, they're not my favorite, but it's in line with Komatsu's regular latch style where they have the small hook, you take the eye and put it over the hook and then it latches.
My bigger critique when it comes to the engine compartment is accessibility. This engine is packed in there pretty tight, and I was looking at it through the lens of a mechanic and I can tell you, this is going to be a little difficult to get your wrenches down there, just because the engine is packed in there so tight.
While you're on top of the machine, another feature that I really liked is Komatsu has included some screens that you are able to pull out from between your cooling stack and they come out through the top of the machine so that you can blow them out, you can clean out your whole cooling stack and set the screens back down in there. It's very easy to do. It's easy to access. You're not having to snake it through a bunch of compartments to get those screens out. In my mind, that was implemented really well.
Now moving into the cab of the machine, this is where the machine starts to stand out a bit. One thing has always occurred to me about Komatsu. Komatsu has always been a dirt-moving company. They are not worried about the creature comforts. They're not worried so much about all of the other little things. In fact, for this review, I actually went and pulled up a brochure for the dash 10 series of the PC360, and one of their highlights was the safety of the cab, the tubular frame set up that they have for the raps to make sure that you're covered in an extreme rollover. That's where Komatsu's focus is. As a company, their focuses on the practical usability of the machine for the application it was intended for dirt moving up until this series.
With the dash 11 series, I really feel like Komatsu is starting to place more value on the creature comforts, the operator's ride and their experience, and the cab has really taken a step up. Your display in the cab is now very crisp. It looks a little more modern, it doesn't look quite so dated as the older Komatsu displays do, and I was a huge fan of the new cab layout.
Now, one of the biggest things that's going to stick out to you on this machine, and by far the majority of what we're going to spend this review on is the machine control component.
Now, one of the biggest things that's going to stick out to you on this machine, and by far the majority of what we're going to spend this review on is the machine control component. This is version two of Komatsu's machine control, and I'm going to be honest here, this was the first time I've ever ran machine control in an excavator situation. I'm very familiar and well versed in dozers. Excavators are a different story. That being said, with about 10 to 15 minutes of instruction, I was able to create my own design surfaces within this software, I was able to create a step trench, I was able to create a V ditch, I was able to create a crown road surface with very little instruction on this system.
Now, keeping in line with Komatsu's menus, it's not quite as intuitive as some of the other manufacturers, and yet I was still able to navigate the menus just fine, I was able to create my surfaces, and with a little finagling, I was able to figure out what was going on without having to constantly go back to the Komatsu professionals for instruction on how to do what I was trying to accomplish.
It was a very usable system and they do provide over dig protection. Not only do you have just over dig protection, but you can adjust how the machine reacts as you get close to grade. Do you want the boom to smack right down into it, dip down a little bit and then pull grade? Or do you want the boom to automatically start slowing as you get to grade? How quickly do you want the boom to slow down? How quick do you want to be able to pull across the ground? These are all settings that you can change and adjust within the menus without having to get into any of the back menus, the actual maintenance menus of the machine. These are settings that are designed to be changed by the operator, for the operator's preference. It was a really nice feature, and after playing around with them, I absolutely had the machine dialed into where I was able to pull very fast grade and it was really accurate.
We did spend a little bit of time in a PC200 they had on site with a tilt bucket that was fully integrated into the system. So as soon as I would get close to where I needed to be, the tilt bucket would automatically tilt to the correct angle, and as I did my pull, it would continue to hold the correct angle for my V ditch. This is an absolute game changer in the abilities of what you can do. For instance, I was able to reach out, take a measurement and a distance across the ground. I was able to figure out what my slope was, or I could just program in an arbitrary slope. All of these options are available to you. And as soon as you get to grade, the machine will take over with machine control. All you have to do is make sure that you are pushing down on your boom and pulling back with your stick. The machine will handle pulling grade for you. It's a really, really great system.
Now, one of the other things that's great about the way Komatsu's implemented this, on other manufacturers, you have to hold a paddle down or a button. There's something you have to hold down to make the machine take over, if you will, and keep you from digging down below grade. With Komatsu, this is one button, it's your trigger. And you pull the trigger, there's a small siren that sounds to let you know that machine control is on, and then you just continue to dig as normal. The machine's not going to buck and pitch all over the place trying to get down to grade because you're still ultimately controlling it.
So you continue to dig as normal, and then as soon as you get to grade, it's going to automatically start regulating those valves to control the machine to keep it on grade. This is unbelievable how productive these machines can be as they start to take over some of these functions, alleviating that sort of skill level requirement from the operator. And let's face it, with today's workforce, these are the sort of tools we're needing on our machines to maintain the productive levels that we had in the past due to just outright manpower. This is going to make you more efficient, it's going to make you more productive, and it's going to take a lot less of a skilled labor force to be able to do that work.
Now, just to control expectations, when I was digging at full speed with grade control on, it was almost like there was a phantom operator in the seat, because as most of us in the industry are familiar, when you initially start to pull your grade, we all do it, there's a slight dip in your grade out at the very end at full reach, and then you're able to set your hands and pull a nice flat pass. The machine emulates this almost perfectly. It's almost like the machine also needs to set its hands. So relatively consistently I would get a very small dip in my grade and then the rest of my grade pull would be extremely flat. It was easily correctable by a laborer down in the hole, throwing literally two or three shovels of sand in the little divot and now you have a perfectly flat bottom to your trench.
While it's not 1000 hundred percent perfect, and I know that number makes no sense, that's how much emphasis I want to place on this. It's still a really accurate system, and you can dig pipe significantly faster than traditional methods of using a laser and someone down in the trench. This is just a very nice feature to have on the machine. And the fact that you can customize your designs on the fly or create designs on the fly is huge. This doesn't require having an engineering firm draw plans or anything crazy. You literally go out to the site, tell the machine what you want to do, tell it where it is, and as long as you have the ability to have GPS on the site, you can make all of your plans within the system itself, as opposed to having an outside file. Now, of course, this also integrates with outside files. So if you do have a design CAD file from your engineering firm, that can be loaded in, and now you have full 3D GPS on the machine. You can track yourself wherever you want and the machine knows exactly where it is.
Overall, the PC360 was a phenomenal machine. Like I said earlier in this review, Komatsu has always struck me as the dirt movers of the industry. You don't buy Komatsu because it is the ritziest Cadillac machine on the market. You buy Komatsu because you're in this business to move some dirt, and it's one of the most powerful dirt moving machines on the market. In my mind, as an operator, Komatsu has never come off as one of the snappiest, most responsive excavators.
In my mind, they've always felt just a little on the slow side, but not from a standpoint that you're losing production. It's always felt like there's a phenomenal amount of power and you're moving more material. And as a result, the machine just moves a little slower. It is still just a hair slow, just a tiny bit sluggish to all of your inputs, but as a result, you have a very smooth operating machine. And I will say, when Komatsu's get bogged down in something, they just continue to pull. That's always been something that has stood out to me with Komatsu machines, is they are phenomenally powerful. So while it moves a little slower, you're there to do some work.
So thank you again to Komatsu for having me out to run this machine. I really appreciate it. I hope this has helped you and your business decisions moving forward. Thanks for watching and we'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.