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Archive for the ‘Technology’ tag

Who would steal an entire earthmover?

I never imaged anybody’d have enough nerve to steal anything as large as a bulldozer, backhoe or excavator, but this piece in Compact Equipment magazine outlines the many ways equipment gets stolen — to the tune of $1 billion a year — and how to prevent thefts. One vignette about a contractor who put a “curfew” on his machinery to prevent anyone from using it without his permission:

Consider the case of a Tracy, Calif., contractor who got a call on his cell phone late one Sunday night indicating that somebody was trying to start his Caterpillar backhoe during the curfew. Upon arriving at his yard after he remotely confirmed the backhoe’s location via the online satellite image in the software, the contractor found his guard dogs poisoned but all his equipment intact. Unfortunately the neighboring contractor’s yard was also broken into and the identical model backhoe, which was unprotected, was stolen.

Organized crime rings are the major players and they will case multiple jobsites and yards to plot out target A, target B, etc. So when the thieves’ attempt for a quick grab was thwarted by the disabled machine, they simply went for the next available, easier target. By immobilizing the equipment with a curfew, the target was “hardened” and the vandals were deterred. This technique is also very effective in warding off other subcontractors and late night joy riders, who typically end up damaging the equipment, jobsite or themselves.

I read somewhere last month that people were stealing Cat generators in northern California to provide power for illicit marijuana plantations.

Doesn’t take as much nerve as you might suspect to steal a tractor: thieves climb the fence, get the machine running, use it to knock down the fence and load it onto a trailer. Usually on a weekend because nobody’s around the job site.

The threat of theft, however, turns into a selling point for Caterpillar’s high-tech machinery tracking system, which uses GPS to note where machines are running and communications software to tell site operators when machines need maintenance or repairs. It also tells the cops where stolen equipment is (until the crooks learn how to disable it, of course).

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Tom Mangan posted at 8:12 am February 3rd, 2009 |

Surprise: Caterpillar wants nothing to do with Satyam all the sudden

Caterpillar, which I presume has lots of company in this regard, now wants out of its relationship with Satayam, the disgraced Indian outsourcing firm, according to one report.

The company may terminate the contract on stability concern after some key employees engaged in the project left Satyam, the newspaper reported.

Cat officials are mum (another surprise).

Previously: Satyam could fail, InfoWeek says

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Tom Mangan posted at 7:16 am January 28th, 2009 |

Amusing time-wasters at

I needed something to occupy myself while waiting for the predicted Obama-bounce to, well, bounce, so I did some nosing around at and found this very cool Web tool: The Build and Quote page, where you can pick your dream Caterpillar machine and configure it with the latest high-tech implements of digging, dragging, scraping and lifting. The tool covers only a fraction of Cat’s product line — sorry, no monster mining trucks or D9’s to armor-plate and strike fear into your political rivals — and it’s not nearly as sexy as the “make your own car” tools at the automakers’ sites. But it does have one unexpected tidbit: suggested retail prices!

Used to be you had to actually be in the market for heavy machines to get a clue on what they cost. Thanks to the Internet, any old tractor geek can go shopping for gear he’ll operate only in his dreams.

The configure tool covers an assortment of backhoe/industrial loaders; hydraulic excavators; multi terrain/compact track loaders; skid steer loaders; track loaders; track-type tractors; and wheel loaders. You can add buckets, blades and other goodies. I really had my heart set on configuring an elephantine D11 dozer, but alas, the tool goes only up to the midrange D7. I settled on seeing which was the cheapest, and which was the priciest.

Cheapest: 216B Series 2 skid steer loader, starting at $29,080 (above).

Priciest: D7R Series 2 bulldozer, starting at $453,390 (right)

See there, you can pick up a nice mini-tractor for the cost of an SUV and actually put it to enough productive use to get back what you paid for it (at $25 an hour you’d get your money back in six months and still have use of the tractor for another 10 years; try that with with your Ford Fusion).

The cheapest dozer, the Cat D3, will set you back 80 grand, but hey, think how much less grief you’d get from your Life Partner for buying something that involves work vs. blowing it on a Porsche Boxter? Just sayin’…

(Betcha didn’t know this: Cat carries a line of simulators to train people to use their equipment. Definite Star Wars vibe without the truck or tractor wrapped around.)

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Tom Mangan posted at 8:24 am January 20th, 2009 |

Satyam could fail, InfoWeek says

You might have noticed Caterpillar among the raft of big companies that outsourced IT work to Satyam, the Indian company whose shares have been blasted because the company lied repeatedly about the scope of its earnings. Satyam paid Cat $60 million for a small chunk of its IT business last year; Cat of course used the proceeds to hire Satyam to do work previously paid at Western rates. Now Information Week reports that Satyam may not survive the inflated-earnings debacle.

Gartner said it believes that Satyam’s accounting scandal, which has been dubbed India’s Enron, will make it difficult for the firm to compete going forward.

“In the current economic environment, enterprises consider financial indiscretions by any business intolerable; we believe this will severely handicap Satyam when prospective customers are evaluating potential partners,” Gartner said in the report, which was published last week.

I went to all this trouble crafting this post so I could say: sometimes you get what you pay for.

(File under “Schadenfreude”: “largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate.”)

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Tom Mangan posted at 7:28 am January 13th, 2009 |

Less plastic, more metal

The Alcoa Consumer Electronics Blog has a correspondent at the Consumer Electronics Show who notes that big flat-screen TVs and other cool gadgets seem to be trending away from plastic and toward metals (the Alcoa folks are understandably happiest about the aluminum frames).

Well, Happy New Year! In 2009, not just one, but many OEMs have have introduced aluminum and perhaps other metals into their display frames. We are seeing a broad industry trend to use real metals in display frames and enclosures of notebook PCs and mobile phones as well. OEMs seem to particularly rely on metal as a design accent and “ribbon” around the periphery of the enclosure. Some OEMs, like Sharp, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sony are showcasing stunning and innovative uses of aluminum within their display frames.

Beyond TVs, we are seeing other OEMs in both mobile phones and notebook PCs get creative with the use of metals and aluminum in their display enclosures. ASUS continues to introduce impressively designed notebooks and netbooks into the market. And RIM, which had a product portfolio last year almost entirely of plastic phones, has introduced multiple models this year that incorporate metals and/or aluminum.

Either of these trends reflects things happening in markets Caterpillar serves: plastics are oil-based, so last year’s absurd run-up in oil prices made metals look much more attractive, particularly on electronic doo-dads that have very narrow profit margins. Sadly, this blip could not prevent Alcoa from getting its clock cleaned today (down 7 percent at the moment; ouch) because of a lousy earnings outlook that’s also dragging Cat down.

Today’s bloodletting aside, product diversity is one thing you have to like about Cat: low oil prices might hurt the business for keeping drilling rigs running, but that might encourage more metals to be mined, triggering more demand for off-highway trucks and loaders (except when the entire commodities sector is getting beaten to smithereens in a demand-driven market downturn, which is what’s happening now).

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Tom Mangan posted at 11:31 am January 12th, 2009 |

Caterpillar 979B: Celebrity monster truck

The 979B mining truck appears to be the closest thing to a celebrity in Caterpillar’s equipment lineup (not counting the armor-plated dozers used to implement Israeli justice on their tormentors). This video I found online amounts to a free ad for the behemoth, though the $5.5 million price tag makes the universe of potential purchasers rather small.

There’s some confusion over whether this is the world’s largest truck. One commenter at the thread linked to the YouTube video above says the biggest is the Liebherr 282B, which has 50 tons more capacity, he says.

There’s a project under way to automate these beasts and run them robotically. It seems to me there couldn’t be enough of them the world to justify the millions it would cost to develop the technology — wouldn’t it be cheaper to just pay drivers? — but I read somewhere that large mines in remote locales that actually use giant off-highway trucks have a hard time finding anybody willing to drive them. Theoretically, it could make work sites safer as well.

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Tom Mangan posted at 9:15 am December 30th, 2008 |

How Caterpillar’s Product Link keeps the diggers digging

This story appeals to my inner geek: Web-based Caterpillar software that monitors all the machines at a work site. From a profile at Associated Construction Publications:

EquipmentManager is a secure, web-based application that uses key indicators from equipment such as hours, location and diagnostic codes. Combined with tools such as mapping, maintenance scheduling and troubleshooting instructions, EquipmentManager quickly sorts through machine data to identify events that require attention and delivers information in a meaningful and actionable manner. Using satellite technology, Product Link is the hardware that enables information flow between onboard systems and EquipmentManager. The remote management system provides machine location and hours, as well as time and geo-fencing capabilities.

Equipment Manager demo here. The story also recounts how the latest doo-dads — CrackBerries — are keeping machinery up and running. Error codes sent by BlackBerry alert managers when men and machines go awry:

“A year ago, for example, Joey and I received an error code on one of our Cat 5110 excavators – loss of coolant flow,” says Walker. “The engine could have blown apart. We called the foreman and told him to shut down the machine. If we hadn’t, we would have been faced with a $120,000 engine rebuild.”

While Product Link is not really an operator training tool, it can be used to determine when corrective action must be taken by monitoring operator activity. This also helps extend equipment life.

“I received a fault code on an IT38H wheel loader that the operator had applied the parking brake while the machine was in motion,” says Walker. “I called the superintendent to go out and talk to the operator. On a 777 in West Virginia, it came across that the operator was overheating the back brakes on a long, steep haul. We were able to tell the operator to go to a lower gear to avoid overheating and losing the brakes. You don’t realize how much damage can be done to a machine’s engine or powertrain due to operator error.”

Sure, blame it all on the operators….

Anyway, it’ll be technology like this that gives Cat an edge when the economy turns around.

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Tom Mangan posted at 11:46 pm December 21st, 2008 |

Construction Equipment’s Top 100 of 2008

This is must reading for tractor geeks (note, “geek” is a term of respect where I live): Construction Equipment magazine’s 100 greatest advances of the last year. Caterpillar made the list six times:

One thing the list drives home: There is tons of competition in the heavy-equipment industry. And lots of cool stuff happening, like Bobcat developing a skid-steer remote control and Deere building a high-speed dozer on tracks that look like something out of Star Wars.

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Tom Mangan posted at 11:30 am December 20th, 2008 |

Cat’s cool diesel-electric dozer: the D7E

Yesterday I was asking myself: “I wonder if Caterpillar’s making a hybrid?”

Yeah. This is old news for hard-core Cat-watchers: the D7E, Prius of earthmoving set. Instead of a diesel engine doing most of the work of turning the tracks — putting a lot more strain on the engine and burning a lot more fuel — the D7E engine delivers power to a pair of electric motors, which do most of the heavy lifting while the diesel-powered engine operates in a fairly narrow range (like switching from city driving to highway). From Caterpillar’s pitch:

This electric drive train configuration has 60 percent fewer moving parts, requiring less service and replacement than conventional transmissions, enabling the D7E to extend drive train component life and reduce lifetime operating costs by an average of 10 percent. The electric drive system also enables the customer to move up to 25 percent more material per gallon of fuel consumed and reduce the accompanying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by similar amounts -– improvements that wouldn’t be possible with conventional drive systems. Also, with visibility increases of 35 percent and improved access /egress, the D7E is safe on the jobsite. … The D7E is scheduled for introduction in 2009.

This video with the editor of Construction Equipment magazine interviews a Cat engineer — who drones on a bit but does fill in some of the details on the D7E. This vid shows one turning on a dime.

The diesel engine is at the front left; electric motors turn the drive axles.

The diesel engine is at the front left; electric motors turn the drive axles. This is from a Las Vegas trade show in March 2008.

Various bulletin board postings from potential users seem pretty enthusiastic. This one notes that Volvo is hot on Cat’s tail with its own hybrid drive.

Diesel-electric is old technology: locomotives have been using it for decades. But there is a high-tech twist with the D7E: According to the Cat engineer interviewed in the video above, the advent of semiconductors that can withstand construction site torture tests has smoothed the transition of diesel-electric from trains to track-type tractors. So there’s even a Silicon Valley link for my geeky neighbors to appreciate.

More on the D7E at this Construction Equipment article.

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Tom Mangan posted at 10:29 am December 20th, 2008 |

Friday aside: Antique Caterpillar tractors

Antique Cat gear. Credit: ACMOC.orgCredit:

Antique Cat gear

The Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club is a must stop for wandering down memory lane. Here’s a pic from a recent get-together. Now those are some old tractors. The club has chapters in several states, plus New Zealand and the UK. You can also stop by the bulletin board to see pictures of folks plowing snow in their old dozers (have to register to see ’em though.)

For an amazing junk-to-gem restoration, check out this link. A guy takes a pile of rust in the form of an ancient D2 dozer and works it back into showroom condition.

Antique Caterpillar Machinery Enthusiasts is another fine resource. The photo gallery includes an array shots from a 1914 Holt 75 that in 1919 became the first Caterpillar used in Australia. Cool.

While we’re on the subject of old Cats, it’s always fun to see what’s selling on eBay. Cats hold their value pretty well, despite the abuse the endure.

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Tom Mangan posted at 8:59 am December 19th, 2008 |