Dirt & Data

Moving Both Dirt and Data

When most people think of Caterpillar, the first image that comes to mind is one of heavy equipment cast in our trademark yellow iron. This legacy is part of our past and present: we are the world’s leading manufacturer of heavy equipment. At the same time, we are bringing about a future that marries silicon with steel.

Caterpillar is moving from merely selling equipment to becoming a data-driven trusted advisor, offering technologies and services that allow our customers to be more successful before equipment even arrives on a job site. Cat® Connect is the framework that makes it all possible, with a suite of technology-powered offerings that help customers proactively monitor, manage and enhance their operations.

Consider a mine site. Mining machines run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and any unexpected downtime means lost money. Caterpillar equipment augmented with predictive analytics technology allows customers to not only detect failures, but also to anticipate them before they happen. As an example, a Caterpillar mining customer wanted to understand the value of predictive analytics for machine health after suffering more than 900 hours of unplanned downtime and incurring $650,000 in unexpected costs. Using our analytics capabilities, they would have spent only $12,000 with 24 hours of planned downtime.

Digital allows us to answer questions we may not have even thought to ask a decade ago. For example, marine vessels become slower and less fuel efficient over time due to organic matter that grows on the hulls of ships. But it’s not easy to know when a ship is due for cleaning. To capture relevant data, sensors detecting speed, fuel flow and geographic location were added to a marine customer’s vessel. We combined the results with route plans, water temperature and fuel consumption information to provide an automated 45-day advanced warning for hull cleaning. As a result, the customer could plan for cleanings and realized significant fuel savings and productivity improvements.

Analytics can even help improve operator performance. For example, the Cat Smartband, worn around the wrist, tracks employee sleep and syncs to a secure platform as soon as a worker arrives for duty. Biometric data allows supervisors to predict risk hours in advance and help chronically fatigued workers get the support they need.

In a highly competitive environment, information is power. By building an industrial Internet of Things that connects equipment, assets, sites and people, we are helping customers use data to see into the future. With these insights in hand, they can make informed decisions that increase operator safety, decrease fuel use and keep their sites up and running until the job is done.

A New Way to Work

At the ideal job site, nothing is left to chance. Machines haul and dump payloads with precision and never go out of service without warning. Projects remain on schedule and on budget. And every operator returns home safe and healthy each day.

This job site is not just the stuff of imagination. Caterpillar mining customers using autonomous trucks are already operating with near-perfect efficiency, productivity and safety. More than 100 such trucks 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 for our 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 located in and controlling a single 793F truck, operators act more like fleet managers, monitoring the actions of up to four trucks that are controlled by software. Other machines, like D9 tractors, are semi-autonomous. The equipment runs independently up to 95 percent of the time, but may require remote human intervention under special circumstances.

The growing use of autonomous trucks and other 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 of the system to decrease over the next five years, making autonomy viable for even more industries and applications. Equipment utilization is a consideration as we develop this technology, and Caterpillar currently offers autonomous capabilities that 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.