Optimism was high at the 2017 ConExpo/ConAgg show in Las Vegas, predicting that the future is bright for the Heavy Equipment industry. After several challenging years marked by a global decline in demand, equipment manufacturers are starting to believe that the market has begun the process of recovery. One indicator of this is that dealer optimism has increased by 48% since 2015, driven by an increase in planned infrastructure spending. Additionally, projected increases in commodity pricing, and oil and gas are expected to spur the need for mining and drilling equipment.

Product Innovation

Equipment manufacturers are busily preparing to meet the rapidly changing needs of the re-energized market. The top concern expressed by equipment owners is the difficulty finding qualified operators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the demand for experienced operators will increase at a rate of 10% per year, the number of operators entering the market in recent years has decreased dramatically. Equipment manufacturers are responding by offering traditional services, such as operator training.

Additionally, the number of innovations associated with supporting and improving the performance of operators is staggering. Arguably, geo-positioning companies – including Topcon and Trimble – stole the Las Vegas show. Innovative technologies offered by companies such as these are being incorporated into nearly every unit of new equipment. Furthermore, many of the equipment manufacturers are starting with the base information provided by a positioning company, and building on it, to provide end users with a fully interactive operating experience.

In addition to the cab-based systems that are frequently incorporated into leading heavy equipment brands, prototypes for new user interfaces for operators were also on display. Helmets containing Mixed Reality displays will eliminate the need for the operator to shift attention from the worksite to the in-cab display during digging. This type of technology is expected to improve production efficiency, while also enhancing jobsite safety.

Another way to improve efficiency is to increase equipment versatility. Several manufacturers have introduced completely new equipment types, to allow end users to get the most out of each unit. One example is JCB’s Teleskid, which allows the already versatile skid-steer loader to function like a telehandler. This is perfect for applications requiring high-reach operations. Currently, the telehandler market is dominated by rental equipment, but with this increased versatility, the Teleskid is likely to be a machine that end users will add to their permanent fleets.

CNH also had a hybrid machine concept on display. This machine design project – dubbed project Minotaur – combines a fully integrated compact dozer with a skid-steer loader. This machine allows the end user to seamlessly switch between the functionality of a traditional skid-steer to a complete dozer, with a six-way blade and optional laser leveling.

These machines target the general Construction and Agricultural markets, and address a need to own the smallest number of units possible, while achieving maximum functionality. The availability of a wide variety of attachments allows many in these industries to bring a single unit to a jobsite, to complete a variety of load-and-carry, excavation and grading functions.

Service Innovation

The excitement at the show focused not only on the equipment side of the industry. The depressed construction activity of the past two years has caused many end users to hold on to existing equipment a lot longer than usual. This buildup of older equipment has created a need for additional service and parts support, and has produced an opportunity to use technology to improve the lives of today’s equipment users.

Perkins Engine has responded to the need for improved support by introducing a mobile phone App that allows the user to track each engine, and bring critical engine data with them anywhere. Perkins reps explain that this comprehensive tool will allow the user to track maintenance schedules, check fault codes and identify parts required for service. Future generations of the tool will link to an online order placement function, allowing parts to be ordered with the touch of a button on the jobsite.

This year’s ConExpo/ConAgg show made it apparent that tomorrow’s construction industry will look very different from yesterday’s. As equipment becomes more intelligent, manufacturers can focus on creating a dynamic experience for the owner-operator, versus simply selling a piece of equipment. The heavy equipment industry is becoming an increasingly attractive option for millennials entering the workforce, in search of a career in an innovative and rapidly progressing field.