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The new 395 hydraulic excavator is a perfect candidate for remote control, but it’s not available just yet. (Ryan Gehm)

Caterpillar reveals seven new next-gen excavators, increases push for remote control

Electro-hydraulic platform offers significant performance and maintenance benefits, and is ready for expanded remote and automated technologies.

Caterpillar began launching its next-generation hydraulic excavators in late 2017, and the rollout continues two years later with the introduction of seven new excavators on the next-gen platform at the ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020 tradeshow in Las Vegas. A new family of small excavators – the standard-radius 313, 313 GC, and compact-radius 315 – fills a high-volume industry size class in the “sweet spot” of transportation. “The 13- and 15-ton excavator size range is huge, globally, in North America, really everywhere,” said product application specialist Brian Stellbrink, during a March 8 ConExpo press event.

The “jack-of-all-trades” 313 and 315 models are powered by the new C3.6 diesel engine delivering 110 hp (82 kW); the basic-level 313 GC sees power at 74 hp (55.4 kW) and provides lower operating costs, making it suitable for rental, municipal and general all-around excavating applications. A 10% higher swing torque makes work more efficient, and the drive system navigates tough ground conditions and slopes with 14% more drawbar pull.

The 325 is Cat’s first compact-radius, next-gen medium excavator, rounding out the 20-ton platform of 50,000- to 60,000-lb machines. Working in space-restrictive areas, this machine spends a lot of time lifting, so engineers focused on increasing lift capability by about 20%. “It has almost two times the amount of counterweight that’s in our 320, about 18,000 lbs, which gives us a tremendous amount of lift even though it’s working in a very-confined tail swing,” said Stellbrink.

Another first for the manufacturer is expanding the next-gen architecture to two wheeled excavators – the M314 and M318 – creating a lot more commonality between the track and wheeled platforms, including the larger operator cab. “For us to have a common platform – the same cab, the same interface, the same monitor – is huge,” he said. “It’s going to make the movement of an operator between the track and wheeled machines much easier.”

Caterpillar has seen increased usage of wheeled excavators in North America over the past few years, in applications such as road repair and construction, and particularly in urban areas. The company eventually plans to expand the range, seeing an opportunity below the 14-ton machine, too. In Europe, the volume of wheeled excavators is greater, with the M318 being a popular model, and to a lesser extent the M320, said Stellbrink.

395 steals the show
The machine that’s going to “steal the show,” according to product application specialist Ryan Neal, is the new 395, Cat’s largest next-gen excavator. Weighing 205,471 lb (93,200 kg), the 395 excavator is 5-tons heavier than the 390F machine it replaces, offering two times more structural durability and 10% more productivity thanks to a larger bucket and technology like Cat Grade with 3D, which adds GPS and GLONASS positioning for enhanced accuracy. The 395’s built-in communication technology makes it easier to connect to 3D services like Trimble Connected Community or Virtual Reference Station.

“We’ve beefed everything up, from the thickness of steel in the booms and the sticks, to the plates in the entire frame of the machine, to more weld gussets,” Neal said. Up to 20% lower maintenance costs is another benefit, owing to the new electro-hydraulics system. “This machine is top-to-bottom a different machine, from the valves to the pumps to the cab to the features inside,” he said, noting that several hundred feet of hydraulic lines have been removed from the 395, requiring 20% less hydraulic oil.

Engineers also increased swing torque and stick force by 10%, which enables contractors to use larger buckets, said Brian Abbott, worldwide product manager for Caterpillar large excavators. Key to the 395’s production is a new dedicated hydrostatic swing circuit, a feature found only on larger Cat mining shovels like the 6015B. “The circuit enables the excavator to regenerate swing brake energy and independently manage cylinder oil flow,” said Abbott. “What that means for owners and operators is greater fuel efficiency along with smoother, more predictable performance when multitasking with the machine.” 

Three modes of operation are available: Power, Smart, and ECO. Power mode is maximum power at all times; ECO mode lowers engine speed and cycle times while maintaining breakout force. Smart mode automatically matches engine and hydraulic power to the actual digging conditions, to reduce fuel consumption and optimize performance. The cooling system features a new on-demand fan that’s designed to operate only when required, which helps save fuel. An available auto reverse function assists with cleaning debris from the cooling cores.

“The 395 has the industry’s most comprehensive offering of factory-installed technology in its size class,” said Abbott. Cat Payload helps operators increase loading efficiency with on-the-go weighing. Lift Assist is a new safety feature that helps prevent the excavator from tipping by calculating the weight of the actual load being lifted and comparing it to the excavator’s rated capability. Standard 2D E-Fence prevents the excavator from moving outside operator-defined points.

The 395 offers a choice between a Deluxe and Premium cab. Advanced viscous cab mounts reduce vibration as much as 50% compared with previous models. Programmable joystick buttons allow setting control patterns and hydraulic response rates for individual preferences. An optional 360-degree-visibility package combines images from multiple cameras to enhance sight lines in all directions. The 395 is expected to be available by third quarter 2020.

Remote control coming on strong
Remote control was a major focus area across Caterpillar product groups at ConExpo. Cat Command, the term it uses for remote control and other automated capabilities, is available for dozing, excavating and loading on select machines: D6 and D7 dozers; 320-340 next-gen excavators; and 926M, 930M and 938M wheel loaders.

“Applications where you’re putting that machine in harm’s way. You’re trying to lower that risk level for the operator,” said Stellbrink. For example, machines operating in ship holds or in high-risk environments for remediation or demolition work. “Whether it’s out of the factory or added to an existing machine, that’s key. It’s a kit that you can put on a machine if and when a customer decides that’s the route they want to go.”

In time, remote-control capability will expand to other models; it's easier to overlay remote technology on next-generation machines. For excavators, that means expanding from the midsize range to the small and large excavators. The 395, for example, is a perfect candidate for remote control, according to Neal. “We don’t have it launched yet, but we will,” he said. “The electro-hydraulic system in it is almost identical, just bigger scale, which allows that to be very easy to do. This size machine, it very likely is going to be in harsher conditions than a 320. You’re scaling high walls, pulling rock down from vertical walls. It makes sense.”

The company considers its Cat Command for Compaction a “semi-autonomous” solution, available for select Cat vibratory soil compactors as a dealer-installed kit on both new and existing B-Series machines. The operator uses the machine to map the boundaries of the area to be compacted and enters the compaction parameters. Once the operator places the machine in “auto,” the system controls the propulsion, steering and vibration of the machine.

Remote control will play a key role in Caterpillar’s pathway to autonomy in construction, according to Fred Rio, construction digital and technology product manager. “If there’s anything I’ve learned these past two and a half years as we’ve tried to solve the autonomy riddle, is that remote control is an essential piece of autonomy in the jobsite,” he said. “I’m surprised that I don’t see more of it in the industry.”

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