AUTOMATIC Oscillating laser beam controls dozer blade. (Photos courtesy of Caterpillar Inc.)

Laser and GPS controls for earthmoving machines have been available for years from after-market suppliers. But partners Caterpillar Inc. and Trimble Navigation now are offering a new "AccuGrade" laser system as factory equipment on machines, hoping to generate additional interest from operators looking to boost grading speed by as much as 50%.

CAT and Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble formed a joint venture in mid-2002 and unveiled the $18,000-to- $25,000 dozer option Nov. 21 at CAT’s headquarters in Peoria, Ill.

"Our customers are taking digital advancements right into their estimating and AccuGrade is another logical progression," says Tom Bucklar, CAT machine-control program manager.

Laser retrofits average 30 to 40 hours and Bucklar says factory installations cost about the same. But the factory-installed version has new valving that more fully integrates the device into the machine’s hydraulics, increasing efficiency and serviceability. "Integrating into the hydraulics of the machine is where we think this technology needs to be," Bucklar says. The system allows operators to check grade from a cab display, even at night. It is accurate to 6 mm.

Unlike GPS, laser units only interpret flat, single or dual slopes. For more complex grading, CAT and Trimble expect to soon offer a GPS unit. Currently available only on new G-Series dozers, the laser units will be optional on other grading machines next year.