5 Smart Technology Trends in the Global Off-Road Equipment Market

5 Smart Technology Trends in the Global Off-Road Equipment Market

Smart technology is a fluid category in the off-road equipment industry and can include different ranges of products depending on a given manufacturer’s definition of “smart”. In general, smart products feature a range of sensing and decision-making features that enable the machine to adapt and respond autonomously. Smart technologies will continue to be adopted in each off-road equipment sector at a rapid pace, albeit from a small base:

  • Construction is currently the largest market for smart equipment, although penetration is higher in the mining sector, which is expected to become the leading market for smart off-road equipment technology by 2026.
  • Smart technologies will also continue to be adopted at a rapid pace in the agricultural industry, which has already made significant headway in adopting precision management solutions that rely on smart technologies.
  • Adoption in the forestry equipment market will continue to lag the other major markets, in large part because tasks in forestry applications are in constant flux and are performed in open, uncontrolled environments, making smart solutions more complex to design.

Smart off-road equipment sales are projected to grow 35% in 2022 and then more than double by 2026, when they will account for nearly 5% of all off-road equipment demand. Below, we highlight five key smart technology trends driving this explosive growth, as well as recent product introductions that reflect them.

Autonomous Equipment

As driverless consumer vehicles become a growing focus of the auto industry, off-road equipment manufacturers are looking to incorporate similar technologies in products such as tractors, excavators, and haulers – most critically to improve project efficiency and to increase worker safety. Most of the leading off-road equipment manufacturers – including Caterpillar, Deere, Komatsu, Kubota, Liebherr-International, and Sandvik – are engaged in R&D for autonomous machinery. Many of these OEMs are partnering with or acquiring stakes in technology firms for these purposes.

Several autonomous products have come to market recently, or are expected to do so in the near future. For example:

  • In January 2022, Deere unveiled a new, fully automated version of its 8R tractor for agricultural applications that will be available for purchase later in 2022. According to the company, the machine is the first driverless, “farmer-free” tractor on the market.
  • In 2020, XCMG introduced a raft of innovative products to aid Brazil in the development of local mining and other industries in the country. Among these products are the ET120 walking excavator and the XE225BR intelligent hydraulic excavator, which are autonomously operated and remotely controlled.

Predictive Maintenance

A key strategy for reducing equipment downtime and maintenance costs is the use of monitoring software that can collect and analyze machine data to provide predictive maintenance alerts. Monitoring the condition of various off-road machines has many benefits, including:

  • extending machinery lifespan and component replacement intervals
  • improving planned maintenance schedules
  • lowering safety risks
  • optimizing machine efficiency
  • maximizing the amount of time machines are in operation
  • reducing machine downtime

Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMSs) are available from a range of software developers (including Microsoft and Siemens) and help in the remote monitoring, collection, and analysis of machine data. Remote monitoring – the first step toward full predictive maintenance optimization – is offered as part of maintenance services from the larger OEMs:

  • In May 2021, Deere extended the Deere Protect predictive maintenance program already employed in the company’s agricultural equipment to machinery in its construction portfolio in the US and Canada.
  • In 2020, Komatsu introduced a predictive maintenance system based on the Komtrax (remote tracking system) technology that is employed in all the company’s machinery.
  • Also in 2020, Hitachi Construction Machinery reported the development of ConSite Mine, a system that enables remote monitoring of mining machinery to predict such maintenance issues as cracks in excavator booms and arms.

Global Positioning

Global positioning is a critical tool for numerous off-road equipment applications because it enables:

  • autonomous or semi-autonomous operation of machinery
  • fleet communication in areas without cellular service (such as in underground mining operations)
  • improved accuracy, such as in precision agriculture
  • increased safety by helping avoid equipment collision
  • remote fleet tracking capabilities, which are especially important in harsh environments where worker safety is at risk
  • theft detection

GNSS technologies are becoming more sophisticated and accurate and now include additional features such as integrated wireless capabilities so that machinery information can be communicated to smartphones and other mobile devices. In 2020, for example, Komatsu unveiled a new version of its GNSS-based intelligent Machine Control (iMC) system, iMC 2.0. The new iteration improves the accuracy and operability of its predecessor, further boosting productivity and efficiency:

  • Throughout 2021, Komatsu’s first dozers and excavators employing iMC 2.0 were launched on the market.
  • In January 2022, the company updated the iMC 2.0 for the latest models of its intelligent dozers and excavators to improve the automation capabilities of these machines.

Drones

Drones – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – are increasingly used by commercial farmers and managers of construction and mining operations to:

  • inventory plants, trees, and other resources and monitor crop health
  • locate machines or livestock
  • monitor job sites or farm perimeters and prevent illegal activity (e.g., trespassing, poaching, or unauthorized logging or mining)
  • survey, map, and inspect terrain and building sites using various imaging techniques

As drone-sensing technologies advance in precision, drone performance will continue to improve. This is expected, in turn, to drive rapid increases in adoption – particularly in agricultural applications. For example:

  • XAG’s agricultural drones are employed in 42 countries and regions, primarily for sowing seeds, spreading fertilizers, spraying pesticides, and digital field mapping. In January 2022, the company announced the deployment of its agricultural drones in both a reforestation project in Brazil and a rice cultivation operation in Russia.
  • In November 2021, DJI launched the Agras T40 and Agras T20P in China. Aimed at cultivators, both new drones feature improved durability, portability, flight safety, and visual monitoring compared to the company’s earlier models.

Advanced Software & Data Collection Technology

Advanced software and data collection technologies underpin the operability of smart off-road equipment, and they are especially crucial in the performance of autonomous machinery. In tandem with sensors, cameras, and other smart equipment features, the advanced data collections and analytics capabilities of software enhance the information available to operators for more precision, efficiency, and safety.

The importance of improving efficiency through advanced technology can be seen in many of the latest off-road equipment models. For example:

  • In May 2021, Terex announced that its rough terrain cranes can be fitted with the T-Link telematics platform to provide customers with real-time information on the performance of their cranes.
  • Hyundai Doosan Infracore’s DX1000LC-7 excavator – launched in March 2021 – has Smart Power Control, a fuel optimization system that increases fuel economy and optimizes work performance.
  • Caterpillar’s Cat 349 excavator, introduced in October 2020, has Cat Payload technology that helps operators increase loading efficiency.
  • In March 2020, Deere integrated its SmartGrade technology into the 333G compact track loader.

Want to Learn More?

Global Off-Road Equipment Technology 2022 is now available from the Freedonia Group.