Through advances in electrification, autonomy and more, Caterpillar is fulfilling its purpose.
Caterpillar is moving from merely selling equipment to becoming a data-driven trusted advisor, offering technologies and services that allow customers to be more successful before equipment even arrives on a job site. Today, Caterpillar’s research and development efforts are focused on developing more sustainable products and solutions to help customers build a better world. Here are some of the ways we’re doing just that.
Innovating Efficient Technologies
Caterpillar aims to help customers use less fuel and generate fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by developing products with fewer direct emissions and increasing our investment in high-efficiency energy conversion and electrification. We focus on increasing power density, expanding the use of alternative fuels, maximizing efficiency of power systems, and introducing electrification into our product lines while significantly decreasing owning and operating costs. In doing so, Caterpillar helps customers improve their own operations, while also driving industry improvement.
With distributed power-generation solutions using diesel and natural gas engines, as well as alternative fuels, we help get power where our customers need it. Caterpillar has supplied hundreds of distributed power-generation systems all over the world, which improve energy access while emitting fewer GHG emissions compared with traditional power grid systems. Combined heat and power systems and combined-cycle power systems can double the efficiency of power generation when compared with conventional power grids.
In addition, our power systems use fuels from diverse sources, such as gas from landfills, livestock operations, wastewater treatment operations, mine methane, flare gas, syngas and biofuels. These systems provide energy diversity from plentiful (and in many cases, renewable) energy sources.
A Space-Age Chemical Helps Reduce Waste
Grinder burn, caused by improper grinding in the manufacturing process, can cause parts to fail prematurely. Caterpillar routinely uses an acid etch check on a variety of manufactured parts to detect any presence of grinder burn. This has historically required methanol, which is a toxic and flammable material, as well as a hazardous air pollutant. Caterpillar’s usage of methanol is regulated by a U.S. EPA air permit that is evaluated annually.
When Caterpillar’s Advanced Materials Technology (AMT) team learned of a new chemical being used in the aerospace industry to conduct similar tests, they were moved to try its effectiveness for acid etch checks. This substance, JAR-3N, allows for the use of water instead of methanol, and was successfully validated on many Cat part families that undergo a grinding operation.
What began as an effort to improve product quality also yielded safety, productivity and environmental benefits. The new process removes tanks of toxic, flammable material off the shop floor while lowering cycle times from eight to five minutes. Piloted in operations at our East Peoria facility, the new process will reduce hazardous air pollutants by 3.3 tons and hazardous waste by nearly 900 pounds annually from that facility alone. The new process also does not require a ventilation system, which will reduce energy consumption. The new Caterpillar facility in Cienega de Flores, Mexico, was designed to use the new process from the start, meaning that methanol will never be used in that facility. There are opportunities for the process to be adopted within other facilities that perform the acid etch process, and we are also sharing the results of this project with suppliers.
As the technology capability and power density of power electronics, motors, generators and energy storage solutions have advanced, so has the value proposition of electrification. Electrified equipment, in the right application, can offer benefits including fuel savings, reductions in total cost of ownership, environmental sustainability, durability and productivity.
Caterpillar has been responding to these trends for nearly a decade, beginning with the D7E track-type tractor, our first piece of construction machinery equipped with electric drive, and the expansion of our line of large mining trucks to include several AC drive models. Our current product line includes a rich heritage in electrically-driven machines dating back to developments in the surface extraction and underground mining equipment, as well as locomotive industry segments. Today, we are developing electric, hybrid and battery-powered technologies that fall into three main categories.
The first are tethered machines that plug into utility power, such as electric rope shovels and draglines. These products utilize available grid-based power to drive machine functions in a variety of predominately mining applications, both surface and underground. In longwall mining applications, Caterpillar’s shearer automation technology—including underground cameras and equipment health monitoring—increases productivity and improves personnel safety by reducing exposure to hazards and dust.
Second, for demanding job sites where fuel efficiency makes a significant difference in a machine’s total cost of operation, we offer diesel-electric solutions that couple an electric generator, power electronics and AC drive motors to deliver significant fuel economy. An example is the 988K XE, our first wheel loader with a high-efficiency switched reluctance system, representing the next generation in electric drive technology. It increases fuel efficiency by 25 percent overall and up to 49 percent in tough face-loading applications compared to the 988K.
Third are fully battery-powered machines, with the internal combustion engine removed entirely and replaced with an electrified battery power source. These machines are suited for environments where eliminating emissions is essential, such as underground mines where ventilation can be a challenge. The R1300 battery electric load/haul/dump (LHD) proof-of-concept development unit is the first machine developed by Caterpillar that is fully battery-electric powered, excluding previous acquisitions. It establishes a foundation in providing customers with the fully battery-powered equipment critical to their needs.
Beyond the machines, Caterpillar’s electric innovation also combines our expertise in diesel and gas electric generator sets with growing industry demand for photovoltaic solar panel technology and advanced energy storage solutions. Our hybrid energy system solutions allow customers to deliver renewable electric power to stationary locations in remote areas via a combination of genset, solar and energy storage building blocks. With this innovation and others in the pipeline, Caterpillar is building a broad portfolio of electrically powered products, providing customers with even more product options to help them solve some of their largest challenges.
Advances in Autonomy
Caterpillar mining customers using autonomous trucks are already operating with outstanding efficiency, productivity and safety—more than 100 are currently at work worldwide. With no operator in the cab, these vehicles don’t need breaks, meaning they can run about 2.5 additional hours per day. They also don’t have to correct for errors, such as entering a crusher bay at an improper angle, that add thousands of hours over time in lost productivity and gallons of wasted fuel.
High-fidelity LIDAR, radar and sensors allow our autonomous trucks to “see” and gather a staggering amount of information about their surroundings. Over a two-year period, they have moved more than 700 million tons of material with 20-percent higher productivity than human operators. And while they operated in spaces shared with occupied vehicles, they did it all without a single recordable injury.
While an autonomous mine site is a relatively new innovation, Caterpillar has been forming the building blocks of autonomous capabilities for decades. These include technologies like Cat Terrain for grade control, Cat Command for automation of mining capabilities, and remote-control technologies that keep operators out of harm’s way. Now, rather than one operator controlling a single 793F truck, operators act more like fleet managers, monitoring the actions of up to four trucks controlled by software. Other machines, like D9 tractors, are semi-autonomous—running independently up to 95 percent of the time, while requiring remote human intervention under special circumstances.
The growing use of autonomous vehicles is good news for our customers’ workforces. Autonomy creates high-paying, skilled jobs in safe and comfortable work environments. This not only decreases operators’ risk of injury—it allows them to build a more diverse worker base. Operating equipment remotely creates opportunities for employees who are unable to leave their families to stay at mining camps for extended periods and those unsuited to the physical demands of manual operation.
Caterpillar’s autonomous capabilities are currently being used primarily for mining applications, and we hope to soon offer solutions for quarry and construction sites. We expect the cost to decrease over the next five years, making autonomy viable for even more industries and applications. With equipment utilization a top consideration, autonomous capabilities can be retrofitted onto existing assets, including our competitors’ equipment.
Autonomy is transforming the industries we serve. Self-operating machines will reduce uncertainty regarding natural resources like water and energy; business resources like money and time; and human resources—the safety and well-being of people. Caterpillar is proud to lead in this new way to work. iBi