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Topcon automates Australia’s first Cat M-series and T-series machines


The first Caterpillar M-series graders and T-series dozers sold in Australia have been fitted with Topcon Positioning Systems’ GPS-based 3D machine control systems, with dealer technicians and end users reporting that fitting of the Topcon systems is even easier and quicker than on previous-generation Cat machines.

In May 2006, Caterpillar announced its innovative M-series motor graders – including joystick control system in place of a steering wheel, designed to make them easier to learn and less fatiguing to operate – with the first machines delivered to Australian owners in late 2007.

The first three M-series graders in Australia – two in NSW and one in Victoria – were fitted with Topcon’s millimetre-accurate Millimetre GPS™ system and are being used in final trim applications on road projects and residential/recreational developments.

In the US, TPS worked closely with Caterpillar – even borrowing an M-series grader – to ensure that fitting of Topcon machine control systems was seamless and easy.

Most recently Topcon Positioning Systems (TPS) has developed a valve-switching unit (VSU) which bypasses the CAN-BUS on the M-series grader, and plugs directly into the hydraulics – eliminating the need for Cat dealer technicians to key in a code to allow the Topcon system to “talk” to the machines’ electro-hydraulics.

Typically, fitting of a Topcon system to a Cat G or H series grader took around a day, but the new hydraulics systems on the Cat M-series graders (and the T-series dozers) means they are essentially “Topcon-ready”, said Garry Fleming, of Topcon’s national Australian distributor Aptella NSW branch.

Fleming carried out Australia’s first installations of Topcon Millimetre GPS systems on M-series graders – both 140M machines – for Sydney contractor JK Williams, and immediately after for Illawarra-based Coastwide Civil.

“The process was actually surprisingly straightforward,” he said.

“Mounting points on the grader are already designed into the system and the Topcon components can just bolt straight onto those, integrating into the computer, hydraulics and electronic systems.

“There’s no special hydraulics package anymore, so it’s all very seamless. In fact, it’s easier than it was with the previous generation of graders,” Fleming said.

“That’s because we can integrate into existing wiring harnesses, we take advantage of the computer system that runs the grader, and we don’t have to put external hydraulics on any more.

“Traditionally it would take a full day to install either a G or an H series grader – but we probably took about two thirds of that time to do the M-series grader.”

Fleming’s comments were backed by Matt Brown, of Aptella Victorian dealer, who installed Millimetre GPS on a Cat 140M for Akron Roads

“The install was carried out at William Adams on the M-series grader and it was very simple to do,” he said. “The electrics and so on that went into the machine all plugged in to the existing CAN-BUS cabling for the M-series.

“The cabling was neatly run, just like a factory install – and in fact, there is a cost-saving involved using the machine’s existing valving.

“It was a very neat install and it was actually done it in a fraction of the time, due to not requiring the fitting of hydraulic valves and so on.

“The kit we use was developed by Topcon in California and it is fully sanctioned by Caterpillar, so it was beautifully designed and meant to be fitted to that machine,” Brown said,

Chris Forrest, senior service technician with Aptella’ Queensland branch, said there were three options for owners of M-series graders.

“With the hydraulics, we have three ways we can go: we have the traditional manifold that we put on G-series machines; the other way is we can use the Cat CAN-BUS system, but, we’ve got to activate a code for that; the other is the new Topcon valve switching unit, which by-passes the CAN-BUS – and means no additional cost.”

And fitting Topcon systems to Cat’s new T-series dozer is equally simple, said Forrest – who installed the first Topcon GPS+ system to a D8T dozer owned by Brisbane’s Bachmann Plant Hire.

“This is a very simple and quick process; we just put an interface in, and we don’t have to worry about activating codes or anything like that,” he said.

“We put the interface in between the joystick and the dozer’s computer, we put a new interface in and the control box talks straight to the Cat system, and then it all works well.”

Owners of Cat M-series and T-series machines have also found the Topcon/Cat combination working very well for them.

Scott Rogers, a director of Wollongong’s Coastwide Civil in Wollongong, said the Topcon fit up for the M-Series grader was very easy.

“It was done in less than a day, and then we were under way,” he said. “The setup was straight-away perfect the first go.”

Andrew Kuraj, an operator with JK Williams, said he found the Topcon/Cat combination ideal.

“It makes final trimming a lot quicker and accurate; it’s all computerised and you can just put in your pavement sets and away you go,” he said.

It’s also very versatile, as it can go on from this machine to the 825 compactor or dozers as well,” he said. “The same system can be programmed on to different machines.

Scott Rafferty, GPS technical manager with Bachmann Plant Hire – which had the first T-series dozer in Brisbane fitted with Topcon 3D machine control – said the installation went “faultlessly”.

“Instead of the older type systems, where they had to run an external valve, it’s now all electronic,” he said.

“Basically, they just plugged in a control box, which is in line with the blade lever and, it’s that simple. It was a lot easier.

“With the D8s we normally use them for pushing 621 scrapers, and you’ve normally got to have a D6 following up behind you, trimming, but now with the Topcon system on the D8T, we’re now able to trim the bulk earthworks as we go,” said Rafferty.

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