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Caterpillar Takes Trade Writers on Tour of N.C. Facility

Wed March 21, 2012 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson


The K Series wheel loader in action.
The K Series wheel loader in action.
The K Series wheel loader in action. A D Series skid steer mows down a tree. Kevin Hershberger of Caterpillar talks about maintenance access on a Cat F Series backhoe. Joel Grimes, Cat’s senior marketing engineer for small wheel loaders, discusses the 938K wheel loader. During a demonstration at the visitors center, an operator lowered the rear-facing bucket on a 308E, detached the boom from the bucket, used the boom to nudge the bucket around on the ground, and then reattached the boom to the now-front-facing bucket 

Immerse trade writers for three days in Caterpillar small construction equipment and what is the one-word takeaway? Engineering. Obviously, a lot of things are going on under that Caterpillar Yellow paint.

“When the engineers talk to a customer to see what a company values, and design it in, it shows up well in the new equipment,” said Deke Yeargin, senior project engineer and site manager of a Cat engineering and test facility in Clayton, N.C. “If we can get our engineers on the tractors, it gives them a better feel for what they are designing.”

The 285-acre test property, developed four years ago across N.C. 42 from Cat’s Building Construction Products (BCP) Division facility, is where engineers get all the “seat time” they want to evaluate their designs for backhoes, compact tractors, and small wheel loaders. The facility was toured by the trade writers as a prelude to introduction of new models at the BCP.

At the test site, a high-profile, open, all-weather test building is a prominent vertical structure. However, most of the developed acreage is given over to such landscape features as a concrete “deadman” wall for test machines to push and pull against to validate computer tests, a ramped area for loading and dumping exercises, a variable grade road course, and a half-mile banked track with both gravel and concrete surface areas. New generation engines are tested at this center — continuous, around-the-clock running — to establish performance and endurance baselines.

One open area of the site is where new machines get their buckets and blades dirty in red clay. To ensure that comparisons between earthmoving machines are valid, the soil is periodically excavated 8 to 10 ft. deep and then layered and packed in 3 to 4-ft. strata so that the ground consistency is uniform top to bottom for each new dig. Such painstaking care assures engineers that virtual and actual test results are calibrated to known density.

“We firmly believe these machines are going to redefine the industry,” said Joel Grimes, senior marketing engineer for small wheel loaders, standing next to one of the 938K Series loaders produced by the intensive testing across the highway. For three days at the BCP visitors center, Grimes and other Cat marketing personnel extolled the latest generation of small and compact equipment rolled out in static and operating displays.

That the new machines redefine standards of excellence seems to be a core claim of all new Cat equipment powered by engines meeting Stage IIIA&B/Tier IV Interim emission standards. The idea is that customers buying the Cat Tier IV models — which necessarily are more expensive than machines equipped with Tier 3 technology — will receive more for their money than just new power plants with lower emission standards.

K Series Small Wheel Loaders

In the case of the K Series loaders, the extra value is in such dividends as the patented shape of a bucket for load retention, and separately dedicated hydraulic pumps for front-load arms and steering so the performance of neither is degraded at peak working moments. Another added value is a seat-mounted, adjustable, electronic joystick for controlling an implement.

Of probably greater import is the reduced rated-speed setting of Cat’s C6.6 ACERT engine — down to 1,800 rpm from 2,400 rpm. Think what that means: getting the same amount of work done from a slower-running engine. That translates into less fuel consumption — a 30 percent reduction — and less noise for the operator, plus a longer-lasting engine because pistons are completing fewer cycles per operating hour.

More pluses: a “creeper control” that delinks speed from rpm when additional ground power is the need. Cabin noise reduced to 66 decibels. An air intake for the engine moved to the rear from the sides where wheels are churning up dirt around the hulking machines. (The K Series might be termed “small loaders,” but the smallest of them weighs 14 tons [12.7 t].) A passive diesel filter that automatically burns away particulates so filter maintenance is necessary only after 12 to 16,000 hours of operation. An entire side of engine hooding that swings up for easy access for mechanics.

“Our message,” said Grimes, “is put the fuel in the machine and run it.”

D Series Skid Steers

The new 272D and 292D skid steers — including high performance XHP models — meet Stage IIIB/Tier IV Interim emission standards, but that’s a given. The machines feature a thicker front-door panel glass (now ½ inch) and an engine compartment in the rear that is sealed from the cabin and hydraulic lines in the front. Swinging up the hinged skid steer cab — floor and all — now reveals a remarkably accessible and neatly laid out area of hydraulic lines.

The new skid steers also ride on fully suspended undercarriages, two torsion bars per side. The effect is a more comfortable ride, longer undercarriage life, and better traction, perhaps especially on tracked skid steers. “Hooking it to the ground” is one of the virtues of a machine running on belts, noted skid steer Senior Marketing Engineer Kevin Coleman, and Cat has “the longest belt in the industry.”

Other new features on the D Series skid steers include a more powerful engine — with net horsepower increases among the models ranging from 5 to 18 percent — a 19 percent boost in lifting force, and electrically activated quick couplers instead of hydraulically operated couplers. The skid steers also offer Cat’s “Intelligent Leveling” system that keeps buckets level when being raised and lowered, automatically returns a bucket to a preset position and angle after unloading, and repositions work tools to preset stations for more uniform and easier operation.

“These can mean a serious increase in productivity,” Coleman said.

The array of attachments for skid steers continues to grow. Some of the tools on display at the visitors center included augurs with easy-off replacement tips, a 7-in. planer, and a mulcher with replacement teeth now attached by one bolt instead of two for quicker change-overs. By such attention to detail is valuable downtime shaved.

E Series Mini-Excavators

Cat mini-excavators are especially popular in Europe. Contractors working in Europe’s older cities where smaller buildings are connected by narrow alleyways can utilize the small machines in lieu of hand-held shovels and other implements. Such tight work sites demand features like the mini-excavators’ laterally moveable tracks that hydraulically shrink to the width of the operator’s cabin. How popular are the little machines on the Continent? Ten of the small Cat excavators are snapped up by European contractors for every one sold in the United States.

The five new models of the E Series are fitted with engines meeting Stage IIIA/Tier 4 Interim emission standards, as required of engines with less than 75 hp. They also have higher ambient cooling systems, more efficient hydraulic systems, and redesigned control layouts. Horsepower in the largest of the excavators, the 308E, was boosted 20 percent, as was the hydraulic output.

Each model has a new digital control panel, called COMPASS, which regulates continuous hydraulic oil flow for operator ease, and a scaled hydraulic system so an operator can match his hydraulic needs to a task. COMPASS also contains an “Eco Mode” feature to conserve fuel, and an alphanumeric anti-theft element that requires a password for operation.

It also offers a fast decoupling system. During a demonstration at the visitors center, an operator lowered the rear-facing bucket on a 308E, detached the boom from the bucket, used the boom to nudge the bucket around on the ground, and then reattached the boom to the now-front-facing bucket — all within about a minute and without leaving the operator’s seat.

F Series Backhoe Loaders

Caterpillar has built some 250,000 backhoes over 27 years. “In general, backhoes are utility machines,” said Kevin Hershberger, another Cat senior marketer, “but to some customers they are concerned about productivity.”

The comment reflects on the versatility of the backhoe, which has been around for nearly 60 years. It was the handy piece of equipment contractors and others turned to for clean-up and small-scale digging. In some respects, it was a predecessor of the skid steer, though the load volumes involved are different.

The three models in the Caterpillar F Series have Tier 4-compliant engines. Only the larger 430F model has more horsepower than its predecessor, but the backhoes have improved lift characteristics: The maximum dump height has been increased 7 percent to get the bucket up and over the side of multi-axle dump trucks; the lift arms have 13 percent more lift capacity; bucket breakout force was boosted by 9 percent.

“The whole point is to deliver a machine that’s going to be earning money instead of costing money,” Hershberger said. To that end, the machine’s passive regeneration chamber automatically incinerates particulates, producing better productivity and fuel performance.

Downtime considerations designed into the F Series include large side panel swing-aways for wide-open access to the engine for maintenance technicians and a hinged cooling pack that gives additional clearance. One notable convenience feature for maintenance in shop or field is a relocated battery. It now sits in the nose of the machine. For jump-starting, remote battery attachment posts were moved to one side of the machine for unfettered access.

K2 Series Track-Type Tractors

The Cat C4.4 ACERT engines meet Stage IIIB/Tier IV Interim emission standards and produce 8 percent more power in the doing. The “Eco Mode” fuel saving feature can improve fuel economy 25 percent by automatically controlling engine speed at optimal levels.

The more interesting features are closer to the ground. A function called “Stable Blade” uses sensors to subtly reposition a blade in finish grade applications, rather than having an operator constantly adjust the blade. This means more uniform finish grades produced in less time. One official at the equipment rollout likened the K2 with Stable Blade to “a small grader.”

A “Power Pitch” feature lets the operator adjust the pitch of the blade, moving the top forward or back, so that the blade can push more straight up and down, then be backed off during lift-and-carry. Pushing is enhanced by “Traction Control,” which senses when a track is slipping in moist earth and slows the track to increase grip. In that way, a blade can be kept in position longer in less than optimum conditions.

The cabins on the K2 tractors are still comfortably laid out, but now the operator’s seat can be heated or ventilated, according to need, and the joystick handle can be warmed to the touch as well.

TL1255C Telehandler

This extendable-boom piece of equipment is a specialty machine, with 80 percent of smaller models rented from rental yards only as needed. In Europe, the telehandlers are most often found on farms stacking big bales or gently lifting sick cows over a lot fence. Commercial applications include raising construction materials and small equipment to a rooftop.

The new 1225C is the largest machine in the C series with a maximum lift of 6 tons (5.4 t) and a lift height of 54 ft. (16.5 m). It can extend 42 ft. (12.8 m) laterally. The engine meets Stage IIB/Tier IV Interim emission standards, develops 142 hp (105.8 kW), and can burn B20 biofuel.

The power-shift transmission has 4 forward and 3 reverse speeds. A single joystick controls boom lift and extension, with a button for work tool tilt function.