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Caterpillar launch: A new level of control

Construction equipment giant Caterpillar unveiled 51 new and upgraded machines at its European launch in Leicestershire last week, as Margo Cole reports.

Caterpillar hopes to increase uptake of machine control by offering a factory-installed machine control and guidance system on its latest range of hydraulic excavators. From July 2012 customers will be able to buy the firm’s new E-Series excavator models with the “Cat Grade Control” already installed and fully integrated with the machine.

The move follows a technology joint venture between Caterpillar and machine control specialist Trimble.

Although machine control and guidance systems are often fitted as standard on larger earthworks machines like motor graders, any contractor wanting to use it on an excavator currently has to have it retrofitted, which involves drilling holes in the machine frame to fit cables and sensors, and installing a dedicated monitor in the cab. The new Cat system is controlled from the machine’s joysticks, and is fully integrated into the machine’s normal in-cab display.

2D guidance system

The factory-fitted unit is a 2D guidance system that allows an operator to measure relative depth and slopes from the cab using either reference points or by collecting data from an on-site laser transmitter. The depth function can be used for digging footings, foundations, basements and flat and level surfaces, while the slope function is ideal for trenches, side slopes and embankments.

Caterpillar has designed the system so that it can be fully upgraded to 3D at a later date if required.

While the market for machine control and guidance systems is growing in Europe by about 10% year on year, it is fairly stagnant in the UK, despite evidence that the systems can help improve productivity by up to 30%. With up to 80% of machines in the UK sold to the hire market, does Caterpillar marketing manager Damien Giraud think contractors will be asking hire companies to supply the new machines with guidance systems fitted?

“Plant hirers who rent their machines out with an operator can really differentiate themselves from other hirers”

Caterpillar marketing manager Damien Giraud

“For a short-term rental of two or three days probably not, but for a long term rental I really believe it makes sense,” he says. “Plant hirers who rent their machines out with an operator can really differentiate themselves from other hirers. A well trained operator – who is paid by the day – is going to be making a huge difference in terms of productivity.”

Caterpillar connected worksite manager Christian Knoll says that a factory-fitted system makes it easier for contractors to try machine control or ­guidance for the first time. “If we combine it with rental, that’s a very powerful solution,” he says. “The contractor can take it with the complete solution, and use it for a project to test it.”

Although Cat’s dealers will set the price in each territory, Giraud says the premium for an E-series excavator factory-fitted with the guidance system could be around 5%.

Caterpillar is planning to roll out its Product-Link fleet management system across a wider range of machines. The system uses satellite and cellular networks to give instant access to data from a whole fleet, or to zoom in for a detailed look at individual machines.

Product link

The system’s software can communicate, diagnose and service electronically-controlled Cat equipment.

The company also offers a machine fluids analysis service. By checking the results against Cat wear tables, the company says it can help contractors to identify potential problems and advise on corrective action taken.

Data gathered using these various diagnosis tools can be used for condition monitoring and also to identify which operators are using the machines most efficiently, and which might benefit from training.
Addressing the issue that systems such as these could, potentially, result in data-overload for plant managers, Caterpillar marketing manager Damien Giraud says: “We’ll turn that data into information that we can share with the customer so they can manage their fleet in a better way.”

European customers will get their first chance to see the factory-fitted system integrated into an excavator at next month’s Intermat exhibition in Paris.

The announcement was made at a European launch for Caterpillar’s latest upgrades at the firm’s UK operation in Leicestershire, where 51 new and upgraded machines were unveiled. The launch focused on machines at what Cat deems to be the lighter end of the range, following the unveiling of heavier equipment last autumn.

The new machines on show at last week’s launch included the five latest models in the E-series mid-weight tracked excavator range, which will be offered with the machine control system as a factory option. The range starts at 13.6t and goes up to 24t, and all are now fitted with EU Stage IIIB-compliant engines.

Revealing the new range, Caterpillar admitted that the firm has historically been known for delivering “high horsepower with high fuel consumption”, but has set its engineering team the challenge of bringing fuel consumption down with every new model it launches. As a result, the company says the new excavators provide fuel savings of between 7% and 9% on previous models.

Customer feedback

Giraud says that, while emissions legislation has driven the timing of new launches, the content is driven by feedback from customers, and “fuel consumption is the key driver”. The company has set out a series of sustainability goals, which include improving customers’ energy efficiency by 20% by 2020, as well as helping customers improve material efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases by 20% within the same timescale.

One new range set to meet those targets is the three-machine K-Series family of wheeled loaders, which use 30% less fuel than their H-series predecessors. Again, they have been re-engineered with Stage IIIB-compliant engines, but they have a far lower speed setting than the H-Series, and an engine-idle shutdown system, both of which contribute significantly to reduced fuel consumption, as well as lowering sound levels and reducing wear.

Also unveiled at the launch were F-Series backhoe loaders, which will be sold in Europe with a Stage IIIA-compliant engine until later this year, when a Stage IIIB version will be phased in for two models in the range.

The company also unveiled upgrades to the compact loader, telehandler and mini excavator ranges, all remodelled to improve visibility and serviceability, as well as meeting new engine legislation.

Caterpillar, which unveiled 11 new products in 2011, still has 13 new machines to launch this year, taking the total to 64. These will be seen for the first time at Intermat.

Investment

Despite the economic downturn, Caterpillar is anticipating an increase in turnover from $68bn (£43bn) in 2011 to £46bn this year, and claims to be “bullish” about the potential for growth in the construction equipment sector, according to Caterpillar UK managing director Robert Drooglever.

By the end of 2012 the company will have spent £2.6bn on new production facilities around the world within 18 months, including factories in Brazil, China, India and the US.

Included in that figure is £32M investment, announced at the end of 2011, to almost double capacity at its UK manufacturing facility in Desford, Leicestershire, where production recently began on the new F-Series backhoe loaders.

The move will increase annual production of backhoes from 11,000 to 20,000.

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