When many envision electric vehicles, thoughts turn to Teslas, Chevy Bolts, or even Rivian pickup trucks. However, the EV being co-developed by Kareem Gad has the power to excavate an 8-foot-deep hole and operate a hydraulic hammer for breaking concrete floors.
Kareem Gad serves as an engineer at Caterpillar’s Machine Development Center near Clayton, where the company is crafting its inaugural electric-powered construction machinery. The CAT 301.9, a compact electric excavator Gad showcased recently, will mark Caterpillar’s debut in selling battery-powered construction equipment.
While diesel engines remain pivotal to Caterpillar’s operations, the company is adapting to evolving industry demands. Contractors, driven by regulations and sustainability aims, seek emission reduction. To cater to this shift, Caterpillar is venturing into electric alternatives, according to Kareem Gad. The company has already created prototypes for three additional battery-powered excavators and loaders, aiming to introduce them to the market in the near future.
“We aim to create a diverse machine portfolio catering to the electric-focused market segment while maintaining our standard diesel machines,” explained Gad. “As the future remains uncertain, we are closely aligned with our customers in navigating these dynamics.”
Numerous companies are also in the process of electrifying their fossil fuel-powered machines. Competitors of Caterpillar, such as Case, John Deere, and Volvo, are actively working on electric construction equipment, some of which are already available. Notably, in the previous year, Cary took the lead as the first municipality in the state to acquire an electric trash truck from Greensboro-based Mack Trucks.
A decade ago, Caterpillar established its development center spanning 325 acres close to the Neuse River. This site serves as a hub for 375 engineers and various professionals engaged in research and development activities for the company’s construction equipment. Among the endeavors pursued here are forward-thinking concepts like automation.
In a secluded area of the campus, engineers employ remote control to operate a 20,000-pound bulldozer from a distance of 25 yards. Within a trailer, a setup of joysticks, pedals, and video screens enables an operator to control a bulldozer or front-end loader situated hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
Initially designed for the mining sector to enhance worker safety, this technology is now being adapted by Caterpillar for construction machinery. These machines could be utilized by construction contractors in challenging terrains such as steep slopes or confined spaces. Caleb Leslie, an engineer who showcased the technology on Wednesday, highlighted its versatility in various complex scenarios.
“Addressing this issue swiftly and effortlessly, our solution enables customers to exit the cab and find a secure location,” noted Leslie.
The demand for novel technologies is on the rise. Robert Miller, in charge of the Clayton Machine Development Center, points out that the burgeoning interest in electric and remote-controlled construction equipment is influenced by the advancements seen in automotive technology.
“They’re contemplating, ‘How can I implement that in my field?'” noted Miller. “It’s impacting various sectors simultaneously.”
Responding to customer demand, Caterpillar is introducing the 301.9 mini excavator, its inaugural battery-powered construction machine. This demand largely stems from customers seeking an option for indoor demolition work to mitigate the risks posed by diesel exhaust.
Caterpillar has constructed a handful of prototypes and is in the process of testing them with different clients. The design mirrors that of the diesel machines, ensuring that the hydraulics and performance remain on par, as confirmed by Gad.
“We aimed to ensure that our customers didn’t perceive any compromise in transitioning to electric,” he emphasized.
The frequency of recharging varies based on the machine’s tasks, according to Gad. The company’s objective is to achieve a complete workday on a single charge for their customers. The robust lithium-ion batteries do add some extra weight to the 301.9, making it marginally heavier than the diesel model. In terms of weight, it’s in the name: 1.9 tons, compared to the 1.8 tons of the 301.8 diesel excavator. Notably, the electric version is quieter than its diesel counterpart, except for the familiar beeping sound when the operator engages reverse.