Caterpillar’s next generation excavators

After 25 years, hundreds of test machines and thousands of customer interviews, Caterpillar has released its next generation excavators.

The new 320 GC, 320 and 323 20-ton class excavators, unveiled at Cat’s end-of-year press briefing in Edwards, Illinois, offer 15 per cent lower owning and operating cost, 25 per cent lower fuel consumption and 45 per cent improved efficiency, when compared to F Series excavators.

“It’s our first major redesign of this product — which is really a flagship for Caterpillar — in 25 years,” said Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby.

Zach Kauk, Caterpillar’s vice president, excavation, explained the next generation excavators were designed with four key themes in mind: matching performance to job type, lowering associated costs, making the operator more productive and accommodating the digital worksite.

“Our next generation excavators will give customers new ways to get more work done at the lowest cost,” Kauk said. “We started the first concept of this program five years ago. In the last two years, we’ve had several hundred prototypes, pilots and other machines out in the field with our customers all over the world.”

Kauk added the improvements in fuel consumption, costs and efficiency were what Cat’s customers demanded for the next generation of excavators.

“Those are pretty significant numbers and you may be a bit skeptical,” Kauk said. “But if you talk to our customers as they purchase these products, I’m confident you will hear the same numbers come out of their mouth.”

A digital heart

For the first time in the industry, Cat is standardizing its entire hydraulic excavator product line with a state-of-the-art digital heart.

“They’re all different by design, but at the same time, share the same DNA,” Kauk said.

The digital heart includes an electrohydraulic control valve, an electronically controlled pump and an electronically controlled engine.

“They all work in harmony to drive lower operating costs and a higher efficiency across a broader range of applications than we’ve ever been able to deliver before,” Kauk said. “No one else in the industry has done this. We’re the first.”

Cat 320 HEX digging foundationThe end of the alphabet

The previous F Series excavators are also the last to use an alphabetical series for Cat’s machines. The next generation excavators were not given a G Series name, as the machines will see new software updates through an annual rollout program offered by Cat.

“With that, each year, our customers can see new functionality that helps their operators be more productive,” Kauk said.

Cat 320

The Cat 320 features standard technology combined with lower fuel and maintenance costs. The machine is designed to deliver low-cost production in medium to heavy-duty applications.

“The purpose of this product is to help customers manage their cost,” said Herwig Peschl, Cat’s global marketing manager for construction and infrastructure. “We have applications that are quite varied that have sometimes higher hours and higher burn, and sometimes less. That’s where we can still help customers get the job done faster and more efficiently.”

Cat 320GC

Designed for low and medium-duty applications, The Cat 320 GC is ideal for low and medium duty applications. It combines a balance of productivity features with reduced fuel consumption and maintenance costs.

“Typically, it’s for the customers that do not require the highest performance,” Peschl said. “They’re not really in the productivity environment. They’re paid by the hour.”

Cat 323

Built for high production performance, the Cat 323 boasts standard integrated Cat Connect Technology and the most power and lift capacity in the new line.

“It’s the most productive machine with the biggest working envelope. These customers are typically paid by performance,” Peschl said.

Tech boost

The 320 and 323 include the industry’s highest level of standard factory-equipped tech features, according to Caterpillar. Both models are equipped with integrated Cat Connect Technology, which increases operating efficiency by up to 45 per cent.

“It makes the average operator a good operator, and the good operator an excellent operator,” Peschl said.

The Cat Grade with 2D system helps operators reach grade quickly and accurately, by offering guidance for depth, slope and horizontal distance to grade.

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As well, the E-fence feature allows the machine to work safely under structures or near traffic by preventing any part of the excavator from moving outside of operator-defined set points. The standard 2D system can be upgraded to Cat Grade with Advanced 2D or Cat Grade with 3D.

“This is setting boundaries. It’s setting a limit for a ceiling or floor or wall,” said Brian Stellbrink, Cat’s market professional for Global Construction and Infrastructure. “The machine continues to work, it just won’t allow the operator to go beyond a certain elevation.”

Grade Assist, another standard feature, automates boom, stick and bucket movements, so operators stay on grade with single-lever digging.

“They know where they’re at, they know they’re getting close, but they don’t have to slow down or pull back because they have assist technology,” Stellbrink said. “It’s adding semi-autonomous features to the base grade system.”

Onboard scale

Cat Payload is an on-board scale integrated on the 320 and 323. It delivers precise load targets with real-time payload estimates to ensure the receiving truck is carrying the right amount of material.

“This is real-time information available to that operator, so they know what’s in the bucket,” Stellbrink said. “They know what’s going into the truck, they know when the truck is fully loaded and not overloaded.”

Push of a button

The next generation excavators include push button start. As well, the machines include operator identification, via a key fob, passcode or smartphone app. Operator identification also allows the quick set of preferences, like joystick patterns or radio stations. As well, the operator ID allows the employer to monitor productivity as well as the fleet.

The excavators include a large, standard 20 cm touchscreen monitor with jog dial keys for control as well as automatic climate control to maintain internal cab temperature, regardless of external temperatures.

For added operator comfort, the machines are equipped with new viscous mounts to reduce cab vibration by up to 50 per cent, compared to previous models.

Less maintenance

To reach the 15 per cent reduction in operating cost, Cat added a hydraulic return filter that boasts a 3,000-hour service life, a 50 per cent increase compared to previous filters.

The new Cat air filter includes integrated pre-cleaner and primary and secondary filters extends service life to 1,000 hours, a 100 per cent increase. A new fuel tank cap filter extends service life to 2,000 hours. The three fuel system filters each offer a 500-hour service interval.

Peschl explained the three excavators — and the machines’ new features — is the result of the work of hundreds of employees that made the next generation their primary goal in the last several years.

“It feels like giving a present to your best friend when you’re a child, we’re so excited,” Peschl said. “It doesn’t happen every day. Only once every 25 years.”