Humans and their use of machines in new and exciting ways have been grabbing the headlines recently. The news has run the gamut from driverless taxis in San Francisco to NASA collecting its first asteroid samples from space.
Machinery has always been part of the construction world, and exciting new advancements are underway in Human-Machine Interface (HMI) technologies for off-highway vehicles.
What exactly is HMI? HMI describes the interaction between a person and a machine. This relationship, which is also sometimes called a “user interface” or “dashboard,” is often in manufacturing procedures. Just as a homeowner can monitor their home security or HVAC system via their mobile devices, a construction site manager can oversee a site with HMI technology.
HMI has key applications in industrial settings, including:
- Displaying data
- Monitoring performance indicators
- Keeping track of production time
- Checking inputs and outputs of machinery.
However, some of the most exciting new breakthroughs in HMI are happening in trenchers and drilling machines, according to Jignesh Vaghela, who has led the development of horizontal directional drilling machine components for Ditch Witch (Charles Machine Works, Inc.) in Perry, Oklahoma.
“Installing underground utilities like fiber optic cables, petroleum pipelines, or water pipelines is an exacting job,” says Vaghela. “HMI gives distinct advantages in accuracy, safety, and efficiency.”
Trenching uses heavy equipment to dig narrow trenches of varying depths for laying pipelines, cables, conduits, or cables. Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) is another method for placing underground utilities. Operators use a machine to drill horizontal bores in order to create an underground path without digging across the landscape. This technique is used to install conduits under roads, buildings, wetlands, and other obstacles.
Vaghela, who earned his Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Oklahoma State University, explains that trenchers and horizontal directional drills (HD) equipped with HMI allow operators to evaluate critical job site conditions both before beginning work and while the project is underway.
For example, an HDD machine has a specially designed drill head that sends data to the operator. This data allows the operator to direct the course of the drill. The technology helps lower or even eliminate the time and expense associated with digging up obstacles, removing debris, and then restoring the area after the work is completed.
Minimal surface disruption occurs, making the entire operation less of a disturbance for the surrounding ecosystem. In addition, since minimal soil needs to be removed and then replaced, less heavy equipment – such as wheel loaders and dump trucks – is required for the job. This factor not only lowers the carbon footprint of the job but helps lower costs as well.
High-performance HMI features design elements that allow the user to identify issues quickly and take action when necessary. These components include the following:
- Touchscreen displays for mobile devices
- Onsite monitoring and control
- Remote 24-hour access to date
What’s next for HMI in off-road automotive? The outlook is exciting, reports Vaghela. “The construction industry already is the largest market for “smart” equipment, and engineers are investigating the use of AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) in the industry,” he says.
Here are four HMI trends to watch for, according to Vaghela.
- Autonomous vehicles. Off-road equipment manufacturers are investigating and testing driverless tractors, excavators, haulers, and other autonomous machinery. The motivating factors behind this research are improved worker safety, reduced downtime, and increased machine efficiency.
- Global Positioning. Global positioning (satellite-based radio navigation systems) allows for better communication in areas without cellular service (such as mining operations), improved accuracy, and better fleet tracking capabilities, especially in harsh weather or environments where worker safety may be at risk.
- Drones. Uncrewed aerial vehicles assist construction and mining operation managers in inspecting the job site, checking on crop and animal health, preventing illegal activity, and monitoring work progress.
- Software and Data Collection. Advanced software and data collection methods are crucial to the effectiveness of smart technology and autonomous machinery. New sensors, cameras, and other features help operators access information for enhanced precision, safety, and efficiency.
According to a report published by Statista, the global off-highway equipment market, which was valued at USD 281 billion in 2022, is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.5 percent through 2028 to over USD 326 billion in 2028.
The market is being driven largely by the need for public infrastructures — including schools, highways, hospitals, and commercial buildings — as well as agricultural and residential development. Advances in HMI will continue to help make these projects more efficient, safe, and effective. Written by Tricia Drevets