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Fri September 09, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Caterpillar construction equipment’s reputation for durability has been well known to construction professionals around the world for more than 100 years.
The brand’s legendary toughness and high-quality production standards have resulted in countless examples of Caterpillar machinery far outliving their projected lifespans.
In general, it has been big, heavy machines, such as dozers, wheel loaders, excavators, compactors and articulated trucks, which have enjoyed long lives. But the longevity of Caterpillar equipment also has been documented countless times with many of the company’s smaller machines.
Earlier this spring, for example, a North Carolina landfill decided to replace a Cat 246 skid steer loader, after logging a staggering 12,000 hours of hard operating time.
“This is a true success story,” said Mitch Christenbury, a territory manager with Charlotte-based Carolina CAT. He is working with Uwharrie Environmental, a regional landfill in Montgomery County, to replace its old skid steer loader with a new model.
“Number one, even if a machine lasts 12,000 hours, most customers would trade it in before that time,” he continued. “It is a testament to Caterpillar quality for a small machine like that to be that durable. [Uwharrie] had one compactor several years ago that had 26,000 hours on it, which shows big and smaller machines are built to last long hours.
“So many customers today, though, believe that the smaller machines should have the same lifespan. We just don’t normally see people putting that many hours on them before trade-in.”
Uwharrie Environmental bought the 2001 model year loader in January 2002, meaning that the machine has averaged about 1,250 hours a year of operation.
In that time, the loader has been used relentlessly at the landfill’s recycling center. Equipped with a grapple bucket, the loader would run all day moving around materials such as cardboard, aluminum cans and tons of paper.
The loader has solid rubber tires, rather than air-filled tires, and was operated mostly on a concrete floor.
“That is really rough on a machine like that,” said Joe Reynolds, the landfill’s manager. “Just the weight of those tires and the way the loader pulls — most of the time it just takes the life out of a machine. On a concrete floor, in a tight area, if the floor is kind of wet and slippery, it is not that bad; but if it is real dry, that makes it rougher. And there is no real give to those tires. When they wear down — and we tend to wear them right down almost to the rim — they get so thin that running the loader is tough on the drive train.”
Christenbury added that solid tires, because they are not filled with air, don’t give the loader any real cushion on concrete or asphalt, making it even harder on the machine.
Yet, despite that type of wear and the number of hours it was run, Reynolds said that he has only had to do minimal repairs — a hydraulic pump and fan motor.
“It has been one tough machine,” said Reynolds. “What is really amazing is how low the operational costs have been on that machine since we have really not had to make any major repairs to it. Even though we have a new one ordered to retire this one, I will tell you this: there is still a lot of life left in that old machine.”
Any life left in the loader will be realized by its next owner, after the machine is sold at auction by Uwharrie’s parent company, Republic Services, the national waste management company.
“People hear all the time about Caterpillar and how long their equipment lasts, but this really shows the good value you get from these machines,” Christenbury explained. “Some people would think that 3,000 to 4,000 hours on a loader is a lot, but this particular machine has three to four times that. If a customer can get one, two or three more years out of the machine, in today’s market, that kind of thing can save a company from going out of business.”
Great Care Equals a Long Life
Both Reynolds and Christenbury credit the maintenance and service programs that Uwharrie has followed with being a major factor in the loader’s long life. Those programs combine procedures developed by both Caterpillar and Republic Services.
Reynolds follows standard maintenance procedures on Uwharrie’s collection of dozers, compactors and loaders every 250 hours. Once a machine reaches 500, 1,000 and 2,000 hours of operation, different procedures are performed on it.
“I’ll admit that the way we use these machines is real rough on them,” Reynolds said. “We’re just terrible to them. We run them in waste-water treatment sludge, which is very corrosive, as well as in industrial waste and household solid waste. If we just had to push dirt all day we would think we were working in paradise.”
Alerts Signal Potential Problems
Uwharrie also relies on an automatic alert system, provided by Caterpillar, to give it a heads-up when a particular machine is in need of an oil change, if an operator is mishandling a transmission or even if a machine’s brakes are running hot.
“We rely heavily on the product link to the bigger machines, especially,” said Reynolds. “It will actually ring a cell phone if we have a bad sample, and it goes straight to my computer.
Another software program that Reynolds relies on heavily is the Caterpillar Computer-Aided Earthmoving System (CAES). Essentially a global-positioning system, CAES is installed into the operating systems on two of Uwharrie’s Cat 836 compactors. A screen onboard each compactor shows its operator both the design grade and the compaction ratio.
Since the system was installed in 2007, Uwharrie’s operators have gained confidence in working on a relatively steep 3.5 to 1 slope, Reynolds said.
“To be able to place waste in a straight line and hit the mark, especially with a heavy, 126,000-pound machine, is pretty challenging,” he added. “With a CAES system on the screen, the operator can accurately follow the slope line. You have to be that precise if you have limited landfill space like we do. To utilize every inch of that space, you need a system like this. The higher the compaction, the more waste you are putting in each cubic yard in the landfill.”
Reynolds reported that since Uwharrie began using the CAES system, he has seen a yearly increase in the density of waste at the landfill.
In addition, by utilizing CAES to maximize efficiency, he is extending the life of the landfill. Currently, the landfill has covered 117 acres since its opening in 1996. Reynolds estimated that Republic has another 16 to 18 years left at the Uwharrie site.
“Before we got CAES, we were compacting around 1,200 to 1,400 pounds per cubic yard, but this year’s compaction has come in at 1,701 pounds, so you see how many more pounds I have been able to pack into that cubic yard,” Reynolds explained.
He said that the initial outlay for the CAES system was expensive, particularly for a smaller landfill, but for a landfill as large as Uwharrie Environmental, “it was worth it because we know how many years of life we have left and we want to extend that as much as we can, especially when we pack so many tons in there each day.”
A Fruitful Relationship
Reynolds and his company have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Carolina CAT and the landfill has relied on Carolina CAT almost exclusively for its equipment.
“Besides that skid steer loader, we had a D6 dozer one time that had a huge number of hours on it and when we were auctioning it no one could actually believe that the transmission in that machine had never been touched before,” Reynolds said. “When we told people that, they looked at us like we were from Mars.”
Due to experiences like those, Uwharrie is almost assured of sticking with Carolina CAT for many years to come, the company said. CEG
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