California Department of Transportation

Deployment Report: Automated Cone Machine

August - September 2003 in San Diego

Automated Cone Machine
Automated Cone Machine

The latest version of the Automated Cone Machine (ACM) was delivered to the San Diego Region in District 11 in August 2003.

Initial training was conducted at the Kearney-Mesa shop in San Diego for operators and mechanics from several surrounding shops and served as an introduction to the ACM for regional management. Representatives from Caltrans Maintenance headquarters and Development and Deployment Group also attended and help describe the role of the ACM in the Caltrans fleet and of AHMCT in the deployment process. In addition to training, a concise presentation of ongoing AHMCT projects was conducted highlighting the relationship between Caltrans and the AHMCT center.

Activities and Results

The ACM was deployed to the maintenance yard in Carlsbad. Additional training was provided there on several occasions for both the operators and mechanic. While on location several issues with the equipment had to be addressed. Now that the ACM has been ran for several years, several problems are being addressed with modifications as opposed to repairs.

The ACM was used in several scheduled night closures, and the operators were enthused with the performance of the machine. Maintenance requested that lights be installed on the vehicle to enhance the machines ability to be used during night closures. During the night closures, the ACM functioned as desired while placing the cones but encountered several problems while retrieving the cones. The operators were able to overcome the issues and resume using the ACM to pick up the closure.

October 2003 in San Diego

Automated Cone Machine
Automated Cone Machine

  • The ACM was used in several closures at night.
  • ACM is scheduled to be used in closures during November.
  • Cone placement intervals accuracy improved.
  • Some intermittent problems may remain.
  • Operators remain enthused to use the machine.


The ACM was used during several night closures in Carlsbad in support of maintenance activities. During the operation the ACM performed well while placing the cones but had several issues when retrieving the cones. The operators reported that several times cones jammed when being stored in the main stack and that the main stack was undesirably moving back, hence not allowing the cones to be stored properly. During my visit, the operators also questioned whether the cone spacing could be adjusted to be more accurate. Their reports indicated the cone placement interval was shorter than specified.

The machine was tested for three days in an attempt to replicate the reported actions and identify the contributing factors. The machine only had one case where a cone jammed. There were no visible indications at the time of what caused the misalignment and cone jam. In order to continue to address the jamming issue, video was taken from various angles on the last day of testing. This will allow the stowage action to be viewed in slow motion and could help with the diagnosis and repair.

Also, the main conveyor never moved back as reported while being tested.

These type of problems can be very intermittent and are not always related to anything being broken. Often this type of machinery has to be ran for hours in order to gather enough evidence to lead to the problem. Although not having any problems is the desired goal, the conveyor movement can be overcome by an operator; however, it does require them to shut the machine off and restart it (which takes approximately 30 seconds). Cycling the power may not always remedy the problem depending on the nature of the failure. However, the operators were successful using this approach during the last closure.

Testing was done in the yard to estimate the required software changes needed to increase the accuracy of the cone placement intervals. The software was changed and loaded into the controller for testing. Testing was done, with the operator, at the test track. Cones were placed at each of the preset intervals and the spacing was checked with a measuring wheel. The operators were happy with the corrected cone spacing.

The operators understand that the ACM is a prototype and inherently requires continual evaluation and refinement. Support will continue to be provided allowing Caltrans Maintenance the opportunity to evaluate innovative equipment in their daily tasks.

As a result of the testing with the operators, Maintenance is planning on continuing to use the ACM in live closures in support of various maintenance activities such as pavement grinding and guardrail repair. Also, Maintenance plans to use the ACM in future night closures.

As the operators gain experience with the machine in their daily operations, they will develop a familiarity with the ACM's usability and an understanding of the significance of automated equipment in the workplace.

AHMCT Deployment Support well continue to prioritize field support of the Automated Cone Machine as needed to support the efforts of the Caltrans Divisions of Maintenance and Equipment.