Alabama Power Company, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company, officially took delivery from Thompson Tractor Company of the first Caterpillar D7E electric drive track type tractor sold in the state of Alabama. Prior to delivery, the machine was customized to fit the company’s needs with: a fire suppression system that was installed with the assistance and consultation of Caterpillar with regards to routing, nozzle location, etc; added a 19.4 cu. yd. (14.8 cu m) coal blade; optional LGP tracks; dual tilt engineered and installed by Thompson.
On August 24, representatives of Thompson Tractor Company converged on Alabama Power’s E.C. Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville, Ala., to provide a celebratory lunch followed by an operator training program for the staff of operators and managers.
After lunch, Don Garrett, the Thompson Tractor sales representative who was responsible for the sale of the machine addressed the operators and management team announcing enthusiastically, “You are the first in the state of Alabama to own and operate a new electric drive Cat D7E.”
Garrett went on to say that the machine comes from years of product research and development and has thousands of test hours behind it. He also said that he was very appreciative of Alabama Power and looked forward to their feedback on the machine.
Jeff Smith, Thompson Tractor’s Caterpillar certified trainer and machine delivery specialist also spoke and furthered Garrett’s enthusiasm by saying, “I’m excited about doing this.”
Smith went on to put all minds at ease about being the first to operate a machine like the D7E.
He said “If you’re used to running a dozer, it’s not going to be that much of a difference. The layout of the cab is clean and neat, not a lot of switches and the controls will be very familiar.”
He then completely explained the Tier IV Cat engine with the diesel particulate filter exhaust system and how conveniently the computer system recognizes when regeneration is required and is essentially patterned around how one operates the machine.
The spirit with which Thompson Tractor staff were viewing the Cat D7E, was quickly shared by members of Alabama Power’s staff.
Cedric Hutcherson, fuels manager, Alabama Power’s E.C. Gaston Steam Plant, explained, “We were looking for a more efficient dozer that could actually replace two D6’s with one machine. We wanted to make a purchase that would be as ’green’ as possible, help reduce emissions and save on fuel. Once we saw the Cat D7E, we knew it would meet our operational requirements and give us the larger 19-yard blade and we immediately saw it as something we wanted to learn more about. Alabama Power is a leader in researching, developing and deploying environmentally friendly technologies and we at Plant Gaston are excited to be doing our part. Higher production is expected because of the 19-yard blade and increased horsepower of the Cat D7E.”
When asked what the machine will be used for, Hutcherson stated that they will be using it primarily for ash management from the coal-fired generating plant. The machine will operate eight-hour shifts, five days a week.
“Fuels managers from other plants, as well as systems managers from the Southern Company and a diesel mechanic visited Caterpillar in Peoria to see this machine. We had all done a quite a bit of homework on the machine’s capabilities. We were there for about two days and were able to see the machines at work and have a question-and-answer session on using this machine on coal ash, which can be quite corrosive. We were assured this would not be a problem,” Hutcherson explained.
“Working with Thompson Tractor Company, Hutcherson added, “has been a great asset to us. They are very customer focused. They spearheaded this desire of ours to look at a means of being more efficient in our ash removal systems.”
Years of Research
Tom Browne, manager of fleet operations, Alabama Power also joined the discussion.
“This new technology, a dealer as capable as Thompson and the great support Thompson has given us in the past, puts us pretty high up on the comfort level of going with this new machine. We feel like Thompson can support it and will train our people, and stock the parts we need. If we run into issues, they’ll be there to handle them for us.”
Browne further stated, “There was one other area of research that we explored on this machine. When Caterpillar brought the D7E to one of Yancey’s facilities. We took some people from Alabama Power and some of the folks who also work on green projects within the organization and we all went over to Yancey to operate the machine and go through some product classes.
Alabama Power had been watching this particular piece of iron for several years, seeing it in action and talking to people who had experience with it.
“We had some folks that went to ConExpo to see a D7E that was set up for wood chip application,” Browne said. “It had a lot of hours on it and we spoke with some people who knew the tractor’s history and they reported good results from it. We felt really good about the fact that Cat had put a lot of field work into this machine before we bought one. We’ve been watching the progression of this tractor for years. As Cedric mentioned, we’re always looking do what we can to protect the environment and improve our productivity. When we first saw this technology at ConExpo in 2008, we thought it was an interesting concept and wondered how it would play out in the field.
“As we watched how the machine developed and logged hours in the field, all feedback we received was good. We were a little concerned about using the machine in our application, because this is very difficult with lots of dust and water. We had a Cat development engineer come down to look at the actual application and see what our D6R’s do on a daily basis He verified that he had no concerns about the D7E being a productive machine in our application. We were impressed that Cat took the time and energy to come down and do this at our request. This is the first of this machine type purchased by The Southern Company. If we are successful here and if operating costs are low and production is high, we feel like others in the company will take notice,” Browne said.
Hutcherson chimed in and said, “We’re not necessarily seen as a guinea pig on this, we look at best practice across our entire system in which we share information and applications that might benefit other plants.”
Browne added, “Thompson had a two-day service school for their technicians on this machine and we sent three of our technicians to that school as well. And although we traditionally do all the service of our own machines, we’ll call in Thompson for our first 1,000 hour service. Our guys will be with them and see what kind of service they perform, how they do it, and make sure that we know how to do exactly what the manufacturer recommends.”
Browne furthered his confidence in complete support from their dealer and said, “Steve McCullough, the Thompson PSST representative for the plant does a good job of coming by and checking on things quite regularly. We anticipate lower operating costs and lower fuel consumption, with a 20 to 25 percent savings on fuel combined with high production. I feel sure that Thompson Tractor will be there to help us achieve that.”
Thompson Tractor’s Don Garrett added, “Alabama Power also will save money on oil. Without the need for changing final drive and transmission fluids, a savings will be seen there as well.
The machine is pretty straight forward on service and benefits the customer by having fewer moving parts to service.” CEG
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