When you’re taking on a project at one of the biggest airports in the world you don’t want to take any chance, but you also want the best possible equipment for the job.
With an eye toward the “proven” and an eye toward the future, T.J. Lambrecht took notice when Caterpillar came out with the D7E — an all-electric drive track-type tractor that claimed to deliver 10 to 30 percent greater fuel economy and lower lifetime operating costs than comparable machines — people at T.J. Lambrecht took notice.
Intrigued by the possibilities of the D7E, Lambrecht decided to take the machine’s measure.
“We first saw the D7E at Conexpo-Con/AGG 2008. With fuel prices being so high at the time, we were looking for some cost-saving measures and with the emissions regulations involved in so many jobs in the Chicagoland area, we thought it would be a good idea to look into this a little deeper,” said Doug Reibel, Lambrecht’s equipment superintendent.
Lambrecht studied the machine in depth, discovering it was the result of 10 years of research and development that led to 100 new patents. Lambrecht learned the D7E prototype went through more than 70,000 hours of lab and field tests and the company knew the machine received a Clean Air Excellence Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
All good qualities, but could it handle the work?
What Lambrecht soon discovered led it to buy the first D7E off the production line.
A big test
Lambrecht brought a D7E prototype in for three weeks of tests on a very important project: The $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP), which will reconfigure O’Hare International Airport’s intersecting runways into a more modern, parallel layout.
During the test run, Lambrecht employees put the machine through its paces, had it push-loading scrapers and doing general and heavy-cut dozing where they would have normally used a larger D8T.
The results were satisfying.
“When we heard about the fuel savings, we were afraid the machine would be under-powered,” said Dan Klingberg, president of T.J. Lambrecht. “That is not the case. It has all the power that was advertised.”
Operators loved the D7E, Reibel said.
“I actually got to run it myself and it had a lot of power and we really liked the visibility,” he said.
The field test sold Lambrecht on the machine, but having a long track record with Caterpillar and Patten, the Chicagoland Cat dealer, was key, too, Klingberg said. Lambrecht owns a large fleet of Cat equipment — more than 500 machines — and it’s been partnering with Patten CAT since the 1940s.
“Caterpillar has a long track record of high-quality machines, which gives us and other customers a comfort level to invest in new machine like this,” said Klingberg.
Power and ease of use were important considerations, but reducing emissions was also a factor, Klingberg said.
Air quality standards on the airport project are strict. By contract, all but the newest equipment is retrofitted with oxidation catalysts or particulate filters to reduce emissions and improve air quality.
The O’Hare project requires a multitude of sustainable practices organized under eight categories, including sustainable site management, water efficiency, material resources and energy concerns.
“We congratulate and thank T.J. Lambrecht for demonstrating leadership and implementing environmentally responsible business practices that follow the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM) guidelines,” said Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino. “The use of state-of-the-art construction equipment represents a continued commitment to our airport sustainable practices.”
Many of the project’s provisions are ambitious and mark a clear divergence from unsustainable practices, including the use of green power and clean-fuel/low-sulfur diesel vehicles during construction.
“The rules at the airport are the strictest in the region and they watch for compliance very, very closely, and that of course plays into all of our purchasing and renting decisions,” Reibel said.
The diesel-electric technology of the D7E offers unprecedented sustainability benefits. It is designed to burn considerably less fuel and consume fewer fluids and parts for reduced owning and operating costs.
The Cat C9.3 ACERT diesel engine, rated at 235 net hp (175 kW) in the D7E, drives a powerful electrical generator that produces AC (alternating) current. Current flows through special armored cables and military-grade connectors to a solid-state inverter, then to the propulsion module.
“Emissions controls will be more of an issue with every passing year. We’ve seen it at O’Hare and we’re going to see a continuation of that across the country,” Klingberg said. “With all the issues with emissions and global warming, I think this is going to be a much more important issue not just for our industry, but all industries in the country.”
The O’Hare test helped seal the deal and in December 2009, Lambrecht took ownership of the first machine off the assembly line. It’s put in about 400 hours at the O’Hare project since then. Lower operating costs have been a huge upside to the D7E, Reibel said.
The D7E efficiency means it can use a smaller engine than comparable competitive machines, yet outperform them. In addition, the engine runs in a narrow speed range (1,500 to 1,800 rpm) to further reduce fuel consumption and extend engine life.
“We are using the D7E in applications we would normally use a bigger machine, like a D8,” Reibel said. “So we’re seeing fuel savings of about 20 percent.”
Put another way, the D7E uses 6 to 8 gallons of fuel per hour compared to 10 to 12 for a D8T.
“If you extrapolate, we like to put 1,000 hours on a dozer in a moderately busy year, and that’s a significant savings,” Klingberg said. “In 2008, when we were looking at $4 a gallon for fuel, that type of savings adds up quick.”
With 30 percent fewer moving parts compared to similar-sized machines, other operating costs have been cut, too.
Electric drive eliminates the torque converter, powershift transmission and related drive shafts used in all-mechanical designs. Eliminating these components significantly reduces cooling requirements, decreases the number of moving parts and reduces the volume of fluids required. The engine in the D7E is entirely beltless, eliminating the need for belt maintenance and replacement.
“As we put more hours on the machine and get the results we expect, I’m sure we will be back at the counter at Patten looking to purchase more of these D7Es,” Klingberg said.
Over the decades, Patten CAT and T.J. Lambrecht have built a relationship that goes far beyond just dealer-customer.
“T.J. Lambrecht has been a partner with us for over 70 years. We’ve seen them grow from two Caterpillar machines to more than 500,” said Larry O’Neill, Patten’s executive general sales manager.
And helping customers find innovative and economical ways to keep working more efficiently isn’t just good business, he said. It’s part of Patten’s DNA as a company.
Klingberg agreed, and praised Patten for its support through the years.
“We have an outstanding relationship with Patten. I’ve been here almost 30 years and for as long as I’ve been here, Patten has been considered a part of our team,” he said. “Caterpillar has a great culture and you can see it passing right through to their dealerships.”
The D7E purchase was a good business decision. But in the end, it was also about leadership.
“They are making an investment during a tough economic time, but they are a leader in their industry and that’s what leaders do,” said Garret Patten, co-dealer principal and general manager of construction products at Patten. “They see that the future is going to be about sustainability, about green development, and they want to be leaders in that field, too.”
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