Cat reveals the challenger

Taking up the challenge to increase efficiency while reducing maintenance and fuel costs, Caterpillar unveils three of its Next Generation 20t-class excavators to the world, reports Anirban Bagchi from Malaga, Spain

It’s a warm autumn evening in the hills over Malaga and there is a sense of expectation in the air. Over 70 journalists from almost an equal number of countries in the Europe, Africa and Middle East region have congregated at Caterpillar’s Learning and Demonstration Centre outside the Spanish coastal city for probably the most important event in years for the world’s leading construction equipment maker – the launch of its new 20t excavators.

A closely guarded secret for long, Cat had been working on simplifying and streamlining its excavator line-up – and introducing a ‘global platform’ – for a while. The 20t class is the first range on which the manufacturer chose to introduce its new platform, new technologies and changes.

As darkness creeps in on the sprawling compound of the Cat facility, all action is concentrated on an open air amphitheatre facing an arena carved out of the hillside –  a quarry and an earthmoving job-site in one. With 70 pairs of expectant, inquisitive eyes of the international press and as many camera lenses trained on the wide patch of dirt in front of them, a sound and light show begins.

Projected on to the sand of the arena and two angled screens hung from latticed bars and posts in the middle of the area is a kaleidoscopic choreography of images and videos, accompanied by music and a voiceover. Presently, a light illuminates the area behind the angled screen and the silhouette of an excavator can be discerned. Growing brighter with every pulsating drum beat, the light behind the screen gradually brings into focus the entire excavator until finally, with the music reaching a crescendo, the curtains drop to reveal the new Cat 320 excavator, gleaming in its bright Cat yellow.

As the spotlights come on, basking the new entrant into the Cat family in its full glare, an impressed gathering takes in the sight. So ends the ‘Night of the Challenger’, as Cat calls it – the first act of a “play in three acts”.

The second act begins the next morning. Inside an auditorium in the premises, Damien Giraud, vice president of Caterpillar’s construction and infrastructure industries, and Herwig Peschl, the company’s global marketing manager, dwell on the details of how Caterpillar has expanded its hydraulic excavator – or HEX – product line with the addition of three new models. The company unveiled its entire next generation 20-ton size class excavators – the 320 GC, the 320, and the 323 – during the press event and Peschl informs that the trio will be available in the Middle East from the second quarter of 2018.

The mantra for the 320 range was a three-pronged one and three buzzwords emerge – or buzz-numbers. “Up to 45% efficiency improvement for the operator, up to 25% reduction in fuel consumption, and up to 15% maintenance cost reduction – this is game changing,” says Peschl. The three figures are repeated often over the next few hours until their importance is established. Indeed 45-25-15 was the mantra behind the new line-up and several Cat officials explain in their presentations how achieving the figures has led to the new machines becoming game-changers.

“Game changing is what we’re about. We keep investing into our products and services to make sure we satisfy our customers by giving them what they have been asking for,” says Peschl.

Addressing the gathering, Damien Giraud, vice president of Caterpillar’s construction and infrastructure industries, commented: “Our intent is to transform the industry with this new launch. If you take the excavator segment, from 10t to 90t, it is worth $22bn in sales globally. A manufacturer can thrive only if it thrives in the excavator business. This is why Cat has been, is and will be dedicated to bringing world- leading excavators to its customers.”

Speaking about productivity in construction, Giraud reveals that compared to fields such as manufacturing, the jobsite productivity index for the sector has shown the least improvement in the past 20 years. “Our customers are aware of this. And they are demanding more productivity from us; they’re asking for more efficiency; and they’re asking for lower costs,” he says.

“This is the new challenge for us in the market and it is why we are investing in new product lines – to make their life better. Now it’s all about customer value. We are redirecting all our research and development investment into meeting the challenge of what creates maximum value for customers.

“When you look at these new machines we have introduced, from the outside, they look pretty much like any other excavator out there. But from the inside it’s a totally different game. The innovation in these machines is at an incredible level. We have put into these machines a base of electro-hydraulic components and a number of sensors that will allow us over the next 20 years to programme the machine the way we want – for efficiency, better productivity, lower fuel consumption and extra safety. This is what will help us to create superior customer satisfaction and make an average operator a great operator.”

“Another point I would like to make is that this platform is a true global platform. The only thing you will see changing from one region to another is the engine arrangement because regulations are different depending on where you are in the world, in terms of emissions regulations. But the machine itself, the technology itself, and all of what is going to create customer value are exactly the same.

“It’s a true first global platform that we will be shipping from our factories with the same quality wherever you are.”

Simplification, innovation, choices

Explaining the concepts behind the Next Generation 20t excavators that went into renewing the whole line, Peschl adds: “We listened extensively to our customers. We did thousands of interviews and what we call ‘Voice of the Customer’ to gauge what do our customers really want and expect from us. What it boiled down to were three concepts: simplification, innovation and choices.”

Peschl explains that Cat is simplifying its entire product line, whittling down 28 platforms for its excavation line-up to 12, which helps customers by reducing the number of parts and giving them more commonality or parts between product lines. There are also 16 different cabs in Cat’s product line, which the company is bringing down to only three to enable operators to switch more seamlessly between machines and not having to learn to operate one all over again after having gotten used to another. There is a similar simplification across parts, such as bringing down 15 different types of air filters to only four.

“In terms of innovation, our attention to operator efficiency, with which we seek to transform an average operator to a great one with electronic aids, coupled with improving the fuel economy of our machines – which are already class-leading in the department – and reducing maintenance costs through extending service intervals and the life of our parts – all of this taken together is a huge help to customers in their running costs and cash flow,” Peschl says.

In terms of choices, the Next Generation model line-up tackles the fundamental requirements of customers with their design and features. “The 320 GC is designed for low- to medium-duty applications and offers the lowest machine cost per hour along with the lowest fuel consumption. The 320 is intended for medium- to heavy-duty applications and returns the lowest jobsite cost of the trio. The 323 offers the most power and lift capacity, promising maximum productivity. It is the revenue maximiser and the heavy- duty digger of the bunch,” explains Peschl.

Safety is the next big feature of the Next Generation. Julien Roux, regional product application manager, EAME, points out that all the excavator cabs come equipped with standard features like keyless push-button start, large standard touchscreen monitors with jog dial keys for control and sound-suppressed rollover protective structures (ROPS) to offer the next level of operator comfort, safety and quiet operation. Programmable joystick buttons for response and pattern allow the operator to dial in productivity settings. New advanced viscous mounts reduce cab vibration by up to 50% over previous models to reduce operator fatigue.

“All the cabs are now ROPS cabs for the entire global market,” Roux explains about the other safety features. “With optional cameras in the front and back we offer a 360-degree bird’s eye view on the same in-cab display to enhance the operator’s sight-lines in all directions. Thanks to the redesigned fuel tank, we now have a very safe cab access path and safety is further enhanced with the new design positioning all daily checks points at ground level.”

With all the new technology and design under its skin, the Next Generation 320 range is truly one with which Cat has risen to the challenge of the modern construction environment and pushed the bar further.

FACT FILE: Technology boost – Efficiency up by 45%

Cat says the new 320 and 323 boast the industry’s highest level of standard factory-equipped technology to boost productivity. Both models are equipped with integrated Cat Connect Technology, which increases operating efficiency by up to 45% over traditional grading operations.

Offering guidance for depth, slope and horizontal distance to grade, the Cat Grade with 2D system helps operators reach desired grade quickly and accurately. Juan Vila Prieto, Cat’s industry specialist explains: “With the Cat Grade 2D, standard on the 320 and 323, the machines come equipped with a host of gadgetry. The boom, stick and bucket all have their own individual sensors, while the main body has its swing and tilt sensor. There is also a rear camera as well as an optional laser catcher on the stick. Information from all of these precision instruments is brought together and processed by the central Product Link system and displayed on the eight-inch operator’s display monitor.

“The system, in unison, enables features such as the E-fence, with which the machine can work safely in confined spaces, such as under structures or near traffic, by preventing any part of the excavator from moving outside operator-defined set points.”

The standard 2D system can be upgraded to Cat Grade with Advanced 2D or Cat Grade with 3D, with which an enhanced touchscreen provides a veritable mine of machine and jobsite information, as well as work possibilities for operators. The system allows operators to set their dig depth, boom swing radius, trenching gradient and a host of other parameters. The desired measurements are input into the system via the touchscreen and then the software takes over, directing the boom, arm and bucket through their passes and achieving the desired results automatically with single-lever digging.

Systems application specialist Daniel Carro adds that for loading applications, a database calls up the particulars of the truck being loaded, such as its weight and capacity, then calculates the number of passes the excavator needs to make based on its bucket capacity and proceeds to load the truck accordingly. Every bucket load is precisely measured for the weight of earth it scoops up and this is then tallied with the truck’s capacity to arrive at the cumulative final figure. The result is precision loading of trucks to within a few tens of kilogrammes of their capacity, which increases efficiency by saving time, avoiding overloading and the fines and wear and tear resulting from that.

Cat Link hardware and software connect jobsites to the office and provide customers with machine-critical operating information.

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