Serviceability, Operator Efficiency and Data Measurement Benefit Both the Producer and Manufacturer.
Ste. Genevieve, Mo.-based Tower Rock Stone Co. was one of the participants of the “field follow” program for the Cat 988K Wheel Loader, which debuted last year at Bauma. Fifteen units were a part of the program – six were 988Ks – with about 30,000 operating hours total.
At a Caterpillar press event held in November, Tower Rock’s Vice President Rodney Linker and General Manager Ronnie Inman, along with Todd Tuntland, Caterpillar product application specialist, and Terry Hennesey, Fabrick CAT sales consultant, sat down for a dealer and customer field follow panel. Jason Hurdis, Caterpillar senior market professional, quarry and aggregates, was the moderator. Rock Products Assistant Editor Josephine Smith not only attended the event but spent the previous day at Tower Rock.
One of the opening questions from Hurdis was in regard to the new serviceability features on the 988K, compared to the As and Bs that Tower Rock had maintained over the years. “We’ve done a lot of things for serviceability: the walkthrough bay, ground-level service points, ground-level shutdowns or operator indicators for serviceability,” Hurdis stated. “What do these features mean and what type of benefits do they provide to the actual end user?”
Inman replied that these new features were user-friendly, making items more accessible than the older models. “The whole point obviously is the ground-level service,” added Tuntland. “If you can keep your technician on the ground where it’s safe or have three-points of contact when you’re on the machine, that’s the main thing. So when he has to go up, he can work on the full set of stairs. We have full perimeter handrails and the platform is now one single level when you’re on top so you no longer have an opportunity to slip or trip.”
From a dealer standpoint, Hennessey commented that the company has put a lot of thought into helping mechanics keep the machine running longer by making the ground-level serviceability phenomenal. For instance, the cab on the 988K can come off in three hours versus five or six so if needed, it can be removed a lot quicker. Additionally, mechanics can get to the solenoids on the transmission now, which weren’t accessible on the previous machine.
The consensus when asked how the operators felt about the machines was that they really enjoyed them. According to Linker, the backup camera was a favorite topic of discussion among the operators. It was a necessity and helped them operate the machines in a safer environment. They were able to avoid backing up over dropped rocks or into a parked pickup truck.
Other features that operators were impressed with were the instrumentation onboard giving them the ability to monitor a lot of systems very readily, and the exceptional lighting allowing access to dark areas of the quarry. In fact, Linker mentioned it’s so good that they had to paint the back of the bucket black to reduce the glare.
“Feedback from the operators has been that these machines are quiet,” added Tuntland. “When you get in the cabs, we are running at 70 dba, which is a big reduction compared to some of the older models.
“The machines are fast,” he said. “We are able to provide full flow in terms of hydraulics at very low engine speeds and when you roll that up with the flow-sharing hydraulics, we’re able to consume less fuel but still be very productive at low engine speeds and that’s what builds upon the 8 1/2 to 9 gal./hour average on this 988K. It’s still just as productive but we’re doing everything at less RPM in the engine low curb. The operators love that performance at low engine speeds; the machine is very quite, very fast and it’s comfortable. All the controls in the cab are now seat-mounted so if you do encounter some bumps in the floor, everything moves up and down with the operator, making it a very nice ride and comfortable.”
Another feature that operators were pleased with was the economy mode switch (ECO mode) that gives on-demand throttle outside of the dig function. For instance, when an operator wants to leave the face to load a truck or crusher, the engine speed responds to the movements in the cab. If full power is not needed to hoist or move the machine, then the RPM is dropped to save fuel; and again in real time the engine will ramp up when it’s required based on the operator’s movements.
Field Follow Experience
One of the last questions of the panel focused on what it was like to be a Caterpillar test pilot or “field follow” for large wheel loaders, drills and other products. For Linker, he looked at it as a wonderful opportunity to build relationships and to learn from the people who were behind the technology as well as learn more about their operation. “It’s been very beneficial from every perspective,” he stated.
From the dealer standpoint, Hennessey explained: “We’ve had several field follow units down at Tower Rock Stone and what we like is that our big customer gets hands-on experience with a Caterpillar machine. The 988K has been there for a little over a year and they’re double shifting it so they get the benefit of using a wheel loader, we get the benefit of our mechanic down there, and he’s got caterpillar engineers and developers with him so he gets to learn what makes everything tick. When we have 988Ks in our territory, we’re going to know how exactly to fix it because [our mechanic] has been married to the machine ever since it’s got [to Tower Rock]. So not only does it give our customers the benefit of the use of a new machine, it gives us the ability to learn about the machine and how to make the machine function if something breaks, how to fix it quicker.”
For Tuntland, having Tower Rock as a field follow site has been invaluable since Caterpillar was able to measure data in real time to make sure that the product was up to par and meeting targets for the program. For example, Caterpillar was targeting a 15 percent fuel improvement on the 988K. They were able to go to Tower Rock and validate that the goal was achieved with real data from the customer’s site.
So is Tower Rock in the market for a 988K? “There will be a day when we’ll need to buy a new 988,” stated Linker.