Photo by Jeff Rubenstone for ENR
The Cat 160M3 motor grader features advanced controls from Trimble that are part of the Cat Connect platform.
Photo by Jeff Rubenstone for ENR
The CT681 vocational truck is the forward-axle version of Cat's earlier CT660.

Cat is taking advantage of its four booths and 60,000 sq ft of exhibition space at CONEXPO/CON-AGG 2014 to show off not just 22 new machines but also the fruits of its ongoing partnership with Trimble. The company's entire booth space in the North Hall will be dedicated to Cat Connect, their telematics and fleet management platform. Cat Connect incorporates Cat's ProductLink support service, detailed equipment telematics data, as well as even machine control systems. The entire platform is managed via the VisionLink web interface, which can offer real-time information on equipment status, location, health and fuel economy.

Some Cat Connect services are already available, but the equipment manufacturer is planning to phase in new features going forward. Sensors for measuring equipment performance, location and activity will be built-in standard on some new equipment. Trimble sensors will also be available for retrofitting older machines from Caterpillar and other manufacturers. According to Caterpillar, this aftermarket sensor technology will be able to get some performance data from any Cat machine built since 1997, when the company started using electronically controlled engines.

While Cat Connect may work across a mixed fleet of different equipment manufacturers, the sensor technology and machine controls are all on Trimble's proprietary platform. GPS units and machine controls from Topcon and other companies will not be compatible with Cat Connect.

The Cat-Trimble partnership has had its ups and downs, according to John Carpenter, Caterpillar's global construction industries technology and solutions manager, and former head of Caterpillar's forest products division. "At first it was a matter of egos. Both Cat and Trimble are very proud of what they do. But things have really come along, and we are seeing the results of this team," Carpenter told ENR.

One of the major concerns about adding these sort of features is how they might affect resale value, particularly in a global marketplace. Many of these machines may end up in markets where having a full suite of Trimble products is not likely. But Carpenter sees benefits for Cat Connect at the global level. "We talk to people in Abu Dhabi, Africa, other markets, and the reason they want this data on fuel usage is not really for efficiency. It's to combat fuel theft, which is a real problem in some places," he said. "And as for the sensors and machine controls, you can turn a mediocre operator into a pretty good one with the 3D controls and display, and that's great for when there isn't training in place."

Caterpillar's CONEXPO lineup of new machines includes the new CT681 vocational truck, the axle-forward variant of its existing CT660. "We've had some interest in the axle-forward design, and are now able to serve those customers," says Caterpillar sales rep Charles Pepper. "Sales have been OK for the vocational trucks. I represent mainly the Southwest sales and we're seeing an uptick in demand there," says Pepper.

Tier 4 Final is a big trend at CONEXPO this year, and Cat has chosen one of its more fuel-efficient machines as a poster child for the transition. The 336F H hydraulic-hybrid excavator uses the same energy-recovery system as the earlier hybrid model introduced in 2012. Technology from the hybrid is also turning up in other machines, as the rest of the Cat F-Series hydraulic excavator line will now use the Adaptive Control System (ACS) hydraulic valve first seen on the hybrid model. But this feature is the only element of the hybrid that Cat currently plans to make standard, according to Caterpillar product application specialist Brian Stellbrink. "Aside from a few other improvements in the hydraulics system, the ACS is the only technology from the hybrid model in the F-Series at this time," he says. Cat Connect is also featured on the 336F H excavator, with built-in Cat Grade Control Depth and Slope, and optional Cat AccuGrade GPS and Universal Total Station systems.