Product stewardship covers the full lifespan of our equipment from the supply chain, to the customer’s job site, to remanufacturing. This means taking active steps to reduce potential environmental, health and safety impacts, as well as optimizing operational quality and efficiency throughout the life of the product. We accomplish this in numerous ways, including engineering products to eliminate hazardous substances, utilizing more sustainable energy sources and/or extending a product’s life through the use of remanufactured parts or rebuilt machines. Caterpillar also works with customers and distributors to encourage the proper disposal or recycling of end-of-life materials.
Wherever possible, we keep resources in the Caterpillar value chain through a circular flow of materials, energy and water. Our focus on developing better systems optimizes our use of resources, maximizes the total life cycle value of our products and minimizes the cost of ownership for our customers. Viewing our equipment through a total life cycle lens allows us to make sustainable progress for communities, the environment and the economy.
Caterpillar makes management and technical expertise available to regulatory bodies in advisory roles and provides technical assistance as new product standards are developed. These activities include participation, membership and leadership roles in organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO); industry associations; membership in governmental and nongovernmental delegations to international bodies such as the International Maritime Organization; European Union industry expertise panels; and federal advisory committees chartered under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Our Technology Strategy establishes the foundation of Caterpillar’s product development innovation. Our strategy includes four themes – Energy and Transportation, Machine and Machine Systems, Automation and Enterprise Solutions and Factory Technology Solutions. Each theme includes customer-focused goals that serve as targets against which progress can be measured. This effort allows us to gain insights into the voice of the customer for our products and assess trends and impacts they may have on our customers and business. Research activities currently underway within these areas include efforts to reduce customer owning and operating costs, enhance safety, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase product reliability and improve productivity.
The technology strategy is governed through a multi-tiered council composed of leaders from all areas of the business, from the executive office level to engineering and technical managers. One responsibility of the council is to ensure consistent and sufficient funding of Caterpillar’s technology investments.
Industry consensus standards, including those for visibility, rollover protection structures, braking and sustainability, apply to earthmoving equipment. We are involved on an international level to develop and update global standards through the International Standards Organization (ISO) and chair the technical committee for earthmoving machines. Our global standards and regulations team works closely with organizations like the ISO to enhance machine safety standards worldwide. Caterpillar also provides input to regulatory agencies to help ensure the smooth introduction of new technologies.
In 2015, Caterpillar was awarded the Commercial Application of the Year, a Platts Global Energy Award, recognizing the Caterpillar Propulsion Twin Fin technology for increasing efficiency, business advantage and innovation.
While it is important to innovate and explore many new ideas, our technology readiness level process, a consistent framework and language for developing robust technologies, ensures that only those technologies that can be integrated into new products and provide customer value move forward in each stage of the development process. Through ongoing execution using the technology readiness level process in 2015, 33 technologies were transferred from research into New Product Introduction programs.
We also encourage and recognize innovation through our Chairman’s Award process, with recognitions focused on Emerging Innovations, Delivered Innovations and Process/Business Innovations. Each project recognizes teams for new product and process solutions that create a significant positive impact on our customers and our business.
The process of creating innovative products for our customers often requires us to innovate our own practices. One of the forward-looking projects under development is the creation of Semi-Autonomous Tractor Systems (SATS), which will enable one operator to control multiple dozers simultaneously. With more than 100 employees currently developing this system – including more than 30 in software development – access to our complete simulator (test bench) had become a bottleneck to progress on launching SATS. However, the primary option we had for expanding our testing platform involved building an additional full test bench, which includes a full suite of networked computers, a full-time engineer to manage the computers, access to three Cat® D11 tractors in our Tucson Proving Ground, and the associated fuel consumption, maintenance and staff to manage those tractors. Such a significant expansion carried a high financial cost, required machine and fuel usage and also provided more capacity than our team would need for the long term.
A team of engineers from our Advanced Components & Systems Division located in Mossville, Illinois, offered an alternative: by creating a series of “lite” test benches, the SATS developers would be able to spend more time in the software test environment using virtual tractors, while eliminating the need to create a full test bench. These benches are different from most test benches in that they test systems that span multiple machines and site level controls. Each bench cost about $30,000 to build, an attractive alternative to a traditional $500,000 full-scale bench. Although the team was initially hesitant to commit to virtual testing, after the first “lite” test bench was completed, the original benefits became clear – as well as a number of unanticipated benefits – and demand for lite benches quickly grew.
The SATS team now has access to seven lite test benches, which have lived up to the team’s expectations for low-cost, full-featured test environments. Additionally, our engineers found that the process of testing software on lite benches helped to catch more errors during early testing, which makes the full test using live dozers significantly faster and more efficient. The virtual testing benches have helped increase our software developers’ engagement by letting them see more of the full life cycle of the product and being able to directly affect the end product through the design decisions they adopt early. All told, the lite test-bench project has saved an estimated $5.4 million in expenditures and saved as much as 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel used per day of physical testing in Tucson.