John Deere Asks Customers How to Improve Equipment

Tue July 16, 2013 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson


The more efficient work cycle of the hybrid compared to a conventional 644K was demonstrated at the June media event when the machines squared off on a pile of dirt. The hybrid loader consistently moved ahead of the conventional loader through the scoop,
The more efficient work cycle of the hybrid compared to a conventional 644K was demonstrated at the June media event when the machines squared off on a pile of dirt. The hybrid loader consistently moved ahead of the conventional loader through the scoop,
The more efficient work cycle of the hybrid compared to a conventional 644K was demonstrated at the June media event when the machines squared off on a pile of dirt. The hybrid loader consistently moved ahead of the conventional loader through the scoop, Deere’s new E-Series skid steers and compact track loaders were specifically engineered to meet compact equipment customers’ focus on reduced downtime, increased performance, and easier operation. Popular features carried over from the D-Series augment the push for customer satisfaction in these key areas.

Deere & Co. prides itself on introducing equipment that the company says is first vetted by Deere customers. This "customer advocacy group" process was cited again earlier this year in the introduction of E-Series skid steer and compact track loader models and the 644K Hybrid wheel loader.

Speaking at a February introduction of the new skid steers and compact loaders, Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager of Deere’s Construction & Forestry machinery, said, "We asked hundreds of customers how we could make this equipment better. They told us, and we responded."

At a June media event near Moline, Sam Norwood, manager of commercial worksite products, further explained the process. Norwood said it begins with customer conversations to "capture needs" of the actual users of machinery, followed by surveys and focus groups built on the conversations. At the conceptual stage of a new machine, Deere invites groups of customers — including "expert operators" — to a two-day session to explore the possibilities.

Deere engineers then develop a concept in virtual mode and the advisory group is invited back for an evaluation of these digital mockups. If those conversations are satisfactory, actual building of a prototype begins. The customers then return a third time a full year before actual production of a machine so that any final changes can be incorporated.

Though no advocacy group member was available for interviewing for this article, Deere engineers and marketing people attribute to feedback from those customers many of the features of the new K-Series wheel loader and E-Series skid steers and compact loaders.

644K Hybrid

Wheel Loader

"Customers on the advocacy group practically became family through the years that we were working on the hybrid," Seth Crawford, Deere worldwide marketing and support director, said in June.

This "family" developed a diesel-electric hybrid loader that not only consumes less fuel but makes the machine more efficient in its scooping and dumping functions. It incorporates a 6.8-liter diesel engine with a brushless electric motor and generator; an electronic control system regulates the flow of electricity to various components.

The secret to its reduced fuel consumption is that the diesel engine runs at a constant rpm—four settings are available according to the requirements of a task. The result: No more engine surges at times of critical power needs, with corresponding gulping of diesel fuel. The hybrid is said to consume 25 percent less fuel than the comparable non-hybrid Deere loader.

This constant power concept has possibly the biggest impact on the machine’s hydraulics, which are never starved for oil flow, as they can be in conventional systems. This means that the lifting efficiency of the loader and bucket are maximized regardless of how fast the machine is moving in its loading-unloading process.

The more efficient work cycle of the hybrid compared to a conventional 644K was demonstrated at the June media event when the machines squared off on a pile of dirt. The hybrid loader consistently moved ahead of the conventional loader through the scoop, back-up, approach, and dump sequences. The better performance occurred despite the hybrid engine at times running several hundred revolutions per minute less than the engine of the conventional loader.

"We didn’t sacrifice performance with the hybrid," said Crawford. "That for us is looking to the customer."

The 644K Hybrid was designed for high-hour users with full-load applications. The $52,000 cost differential between the hybrid and conventional units is expected to be paid back to such a customer in fuel savings and productivity during four years or less of operation.

E-Series Equipment

Smaller machines continue to grow in popularity across the industry partly as the result of price increases associated with tiered emissions standards in new engines. Deere’s new E-Series skid steers and compact track loaders were specifically engineered to meet compact equipment customers’ focus on reduced downtime, increased performance, and easier operation.

Popular features carried over from the D-Series augment the push for customer satisfaction in these key areas. The mix of new and carried-over features in the skid steers and compact track loaders — many of them credited to the customer advocates — include:

• Choice of electro-hydraulic operator controls… Not only can a customer order a machine with ISO or H pattern joysticks, or foot controls, a machine can be delivered equipped with all the options so that each operator of the machine can opt for a preferred method.

• A new boom lift design… New boom breakout engineering gives greater operator visibility and lifting power. A simple radial lift system is offered in smaller models, with larger models engineered to provide a vertical lift.

• “Rider control”… This feature lets a raised boom ride on a hydraulic damper, which eliminates some jostling of the operator as the machine moves across uneven terrain.

• The largest cooling fan in the industry… What’s more, the fan reverses automatically, or upon command, to blow debris from the fan cage. This is an important feature in work areas where airborne refuse can be a problem.

• More comfortable cab… The flat floor has 25 percent more foot room than previously offered in the machines and noise levels have been reduced. The front glass on the cab curves outward to accommodate "leaners."

  • Boom lock… To lock in place a raised boom during servicing, a safety lock is conveniently activated by the operator in the safety of the cab. This is an example of making things simple for an operator. “If it’s not easy, a customer isn’t going to do it,” Zupancic said.

  • Easier servicing and engine access… Side panels lift away to expose cooling and engine areas. The cab can be raised and the floor lifted out for access to control areas beneath. Oil and coolant drains are conveniently located behind a side door.

  • Easy-connect hydraulics… Offered as a standard feature are auxiliary hydraulic couplers that can be connected and disconnected while under pressure.

  • Yanmar 3.3-liter or 3.1-liter diesel engines… The larger models provide up to 10 percent more hp than did the D-Series. Engines over 75 horsepower meet Interim Tier IV emission standards; smaller engines are Final Tier IV compliant.

    The E-Series consists of nine models: Three large-frame skid steer models (326E, 328E, 332E) and two mid-frame models (318E, 320E). In track loaders, there are two large-frame models (329E, 333E) and two mid-frame models (319E, 323E).

    Deere has been offering skid steers since the 1990s, but not until 2001 did the Moline-headquartered company start selling skid steers of its own manufacture. Compact excavators were introduced in 2003 and track loaders in 2008.

    According to Deere executives, more than half of the compact units are sold to construction and landscape contractors, including snow removal companies, with the rest going to rental companies, ag interests, manufacturing plants, and government installations.

    35G Compact

    Excavator

    Another so-called “customer-inspired” piece of compact equipment demonstrated at the June media event is the compact 35G excavator. The engine for the 35G was actually downsized to 24 hp (17.9 kW) from a previous model’s 27 hp (80 kW) to eliminate the need to comply with mandated emissions controls.

    However, the compact excavator’s hydraulic system was rejiggered so that the available hp is more efficiently utilized. Hence, Deere engineers say performance was not compromised by the reduction in horsepower.

    Oil-impregnated bushings on the machine are said to extend the period between lubrication. This is seen as a boon to equipment rental companies that can send out the excavator for a week without worrying about it being properly serviced.

    The 35G has a zero-swing tail — within the area of its track footprin t— for close-in work next to foundations and buildings. Furthermore, the undercarriage can be narrowed, each track being hydraulically pulled inward so that the excavator can navigate narrow gateways. Its dozer blade is segmented so it can be shortened to fit within the narrower tracks. The blade can be angled 20 degrees either way for smoother backfilling.

    The 35G rides on a choice of tracks — rubber, steel, or steel with rubber treads. Some 95 percent of units sold are delivered with rubber tracks, but the other track options let Deere cater to the additional five percent of its customers.


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