Industry insight from Caterpillar
Senior executives at Caterpillar provided lively discussion
A group of senior executives from Caterpillar spoke to journalists in a round table discussion, providing insight into the company’s future direction.
Giving key talking points were: Rob Charter, vice president Excavation Division; Paulo Fellin, vice president, Global Construction and Infrastructure; Mary H Bell, vice president of Building and Construction Products; and Karl Weiss, vice president Earthmoving Division.
The 336H excavator is one of the firm’s key innovations and uses hydraulic hybrid technology, a significantly different approach from the firm’s rivals, which have used diesel-electric hybrids. Charter commented, “We can deliver a better value proposition at a lower cost to the customer. It’s hard to put together. It’s a solution that will reduce an owner’s operating cost. We can build this into an excavator for 20% of the cost of an electric hybrid system.
We think the product will get a return on investment in 12-24 months.”
The hybrid system offers potential for other machines, too. Reductions in fuel consumption are of increasing importance, given the higher costs. The hydraulic hybrid system offers potential and Caterpillar is looking at other avenues for this technology. Weiss commented, “What I’m interested in is taking a constantly variable transmission and hybrid hydraulics on a wheeled loader.”
He said that different approaches have to be used for hybrid technologies in different machines. Bell added that major gains in fuel efficiency could be achieved in other ways too. “We are looking at the right combination of technology and cost. The Tier 4 machines have introduced fuel savings,” he said.
Machine guidance technologies also make machines more fuel efficient, as well as increasing overall productivity. Fellin commented, “Some of the machine control and guidance systems are also designed to make the machines easier to operate.
Bell added, “Using a track type tractor to grade nicely takes a skilled operator. We’ve a stable blade switch on the D6K that makes it easy to operate and makes you very good very quickly.”
Resale values for Tier 4 Interim and Tier 4 Final machines are another talking point within the construction sector, as machines that would have been exported in the past cannot now be sold into some markets that do not have the high-quality, low-sulphur fuels needed for these low-emission engines.
Some companies have found solutions that enable low-emission engines to be sold into non-regulated markets, though, and Weiss said, “We know it’s a need of our customers and we’ll have a solution soon.”
Bell added, “It’ll be ready in time for the Tier 4 Final roll-out.”
The presence of Chinese manufacturers in the industry is increasing the levels of competition. Charter said, “If you look at the Chinese competitors they are very good. We think competition drives us harder and we have no doubt they’ll be greater competitors worldwide. If you look at excavators, the technology used in China is relatively the same as around the world and they’re learning and progressing quickly.”
With regard to entering the US and European markets, Chinese firms have faced challenges and have still to develop wide dealer coverage. Weiss said, “I would say it’s probably been more difficult than they thought. In Eastern Europe they’ve had more success. They’ve been able to make more inroads and have had more success there.”