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Electronic controls, although now mainstream, continue to evolve.

Telediagnosis, touchscreen displays and comprehensive data monitoring are a standard feature of drilling and piling technology. Keller commercial director Trevor Snell says instrumentation has always been used on continuous fl ght auger (CFA) rigs to ensure the integrity of piles and control the speed of withdrawal to prevent cavities. Customers often demand it.

But there is now an increasing use of remote monitoring of equipment and GPS for setting out.

Control systems can also give information on mechanical properties of the rock or soil being drilled.

With the real business carried out underground and out of sight, sensor and microprocessor technology provides eyes, ears and a brain.

Using remote diagnostics and GPS, plant managers do not need to be on site to know where the machine is, when and how often it is being used, and upcoming preventative maintenance requirements.

Until recently, plant manufacturers would buy off-the-shelf electronic systems from specialist suppliers.

Today, however, there is a growing trend for manufacturers to build their own control systems, buying off-the-shelf components rather than complete systems. This enables the manufacturer to tailor the system to the complete machine. All engines now are computer controlled, as are most of the hydraulics.

Robin North, director of Soilmec UK, says that about 30% of its product range uses a controller area network (CAN) bus system for transmitting data between various microcontrollers around the machine. Within fi ve years, 60% of Soilmec machines will use a CAN bus.

With modern systems information is not just gathered and transmitted, but also stored on a data recorder. 'What you want to be able to do is, in 25 years, go back and check the records, ' says North.

Among plant manufacturers, Liebherr was an early adopter of CAN bus technology. Its Litronic control system displays all relevant information on a high-resolution monitor and each process has its own screen layout. For diffi cult working cycles Liebherr offers automatic control systems as an option.

With the optional PDE process data recording system, visualized information and other data can be recorded. These are stored on a PC-MCIA-card, printed out as a diagram directly in the operator's cab or transferred via radio GSM modem.

Sandvik this year brought out the second generation of its Rammer Monitoring Analyzer (Ramona) remote monitoring system. First seen three years ago, Ramona is designed to reduce downtime and maximize productivity and hammer life.

Electronic sensors in the hammer hydraulic system convey condition and performance data to a display in the operator's cab or to a remote location off-site, making it possible to pre-empt potential catastrophic failures before they occur.

The new version claims 40% faster data transfer and communication, and access to real-time data online.

The reporting functionality is also improved with reports produced in PDF format.

Other operations can also be automated. MAE of Italy claims its new A6000U ultrasonic measuring equipment is the only cross-hole instrument available on the market that can operate in completely automatic mode.

These days, says ground improvement contractor Pennine technical director Marc Evans, when it comes to fi xing a machine, out comes the laptop. 'A spanner is the last thing we reach for, ' he says.

Clearly, however, not all of this technology is as robust and reliable in the fi ld as the manufacturers would like customers to believe.

'We run logging systems on all our machines, ' says contractor Rock & Alluvium operations manager Roger Cox. 'We have auto drill and auto extraction. We don't use the auto drill mode though. It's not as good as manual control.'

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