Caterpillar and IoT A Partnership Set to Move the Earth
The name Caterpillar was originally coined in the early 1900s when Benjamin Holt replaced the wheels of his steam tractors with wooden tracks bolted to chains, in an effort to improve their mobility and traction. A bystander remarked that the machines now crawled like a caterpillar, and the name stuck, and was trademarked by Holt in 1910. The Caterpillar Tractor Company was formed fifteen years later when the Holt Manufacturing Company and C. L. Best Tractor Company merged in 1925.
Today Caterpillar is the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and farm machinery and employs over 90,000 people worldwide. The Illinois based company has revenues of $45,462 which places it at #65 on the Fortune 500.
Field Service and IoT
Between 2016 and 2017 the number of non-browsing devices connected to the internet grew by 31% to 8.4 billion, and is expected to exceed 24 billion by 2020.
In the field service industry IoT devices are being employed to significantly change the way jobs are managed and servicing and repairs are carried out. Connected sensors can self-diagnose issues and report back to a central hub. This allows for engineers to be dispatched automatically when a problem arises and cuts down time on the job by removing the manual diagnostic process.
“Before internet-connected devices were the norm, it was common for facilities managers and in-house maintenance staff to spend time on the phone with suppliers booking in a suitable time for repairs to be carried out,” writes Managing Director at Novotek AB UK&I, George Walker. “It might have taken hours, if not days, for an engineer to come out to the site, leading to potential downtime in the interim. However, the advent of the IoT means that much of this model is shifting to real-time, predictive maintenance and those companies that adapt their businesses will benefit the most from the resulting competitive advantage.”
Since its inception Caterpillar has prided itself on being at the forefront of innovative technology and is presently embarked on an IoT powered digital transformation.
Caterpillar has already been using IoT technology to automate its factories, and has manufactured a range of heavy-duty equipment complete with IoT sensors for several of its clients, who are already seeing a notable increase in the efficiency and productivity of the sites they are deployed on.
However, while IoT powered equipment is working hard onsite, Caterpillar is also gathering vast quantities of data from the machines. This data is then being put to work to enable predictive maintenance on the equipment. By turning data into actionable insight, Caterpillar can schedule maintenance at the appropriate time, thereby increasing product uptime, and extending the life-cycle significantly.
The IoT technology in Caterpillar machines is also facilitating better service management, buy automatically detecting faults. A notification alerts Caterpillar field service staff when a part is developing a fault, allowing them to send the affected business a replacement before the machine malfunctions completely – again, drastically reducing downtime.
Additionally, the collected data can be used in ongoing product development. If Caterpillar detects that a function is not being used, or a certain fault keeps recurring, they can make changes for future models – either replacing or removing the unused/troublesome component or feature. As new generations of Caterpillars equipment are developed, they will be able to fine tune the design, based on real data, in a way which would have been unheard of a few years ago.
“We’re creating a digital thread from our products in the manufacturing facility to our customers with our live factory that uses SAP Digital Manufacturing Insights and Vehicle Insights, and the SAP Digital Boardroom,” said Operational Technology Leader at Caterpillar, Marty Groover. “Sensors on forklifts are just the beginning. We’re also doing predictive maintenance using sensor collected data from our machines.”
There is little doubt that IoT technology has a key role to play in the future of field service. Huge players such as Caterpillar have the infrastructure and investment potential to act as trailblazers in the area, innovating and field testing the latest technology and paving the way for a future where their usage will be ubiquitous.