Looking to keep up with recent advances in machine-control systems, John Deere is adding GPS-based grade-control technology to some of the manufacturer's G-Series excavators. All 2019 model 210G LC will sport the technology, which allows the operator to see a real-time display of the ground and grade angle around its bucket in a cab-mounted LCD touch-screen. The system will be available on 350G and 470G models later in the year and John Deere says an actual grade guidance system will be added some time after that.

"You can make it to final grade more quickly and operators can eliminate over-digging,” says Trevor Pool, engineering supervisor for excavators at Deere during a recent media event where the new capabilities were announced. “Files of the cuts being made can be saved for as-builts and you can take reference points.”

3D-enabled grade control and guidance are not a new phenomenon in the equipment industry. Komatsu debuted a similar system for the U.S. market in 2014.  Like its earlier-to-the-gate competitors, Deere says demands for speed and accuracy in large-scale digging projects makes grade control a necessity. To set itself apart from its competitors, Deere is touting its close partnership with Topcon Positioning Systems, whose technology provides the 2D and 3D references for bucket location. Controls for view and detail of the grade are integrated into the joysticks that control the machines, offering more convenient operation than aftermarket grade control systems. It’s also integrated with Deere’s JDLink information management system to better utilize data and allow faster diagnosis of problems. When grade guidance is eventually added, operators will be able to use the system to automatically mark features such as curbs as off-limits during operation.

Inertial measurement units are located on the boom, arm, and bucket linkage of the excavator, while a radio mounted on the back of the cab conveys the measurements to the operator’s device or the site’s base station.

Pool said one of the reasons that grade control took so relatively long to come to market for Deere, and why it won’t be available for the larger excavators even longer, is because of how heavily Topcon’s software and hardware were integrated into John Deere’s machines.

“We wanted to do this in a way that makes it easy for our operators to take the information to the next step of construction and Topcon was able to do that for us,” Pool says. “Developing a linked system takes longer and then we had to roll it out to all of our dealers nationwide, so we felt spending the time on it and getting it right were important.”