Production-Class Dozers Are Few but Mighty

June 22, 2016

Although the number of production-class crawler dozers available in North America is small (14 basic models by our count, not including special-configuration variations), the sheer size and power of these machines somehow make the category seem larger.

At the “small” end of the production-class lineup are models having horsepower ratings ranging from around 300 to 350 or so, including the Cat D8T (312), Dressta TD25R EXTRA (330), Liebherr PR 756 Litronic (336), John Deere 1050K (350), and the Komatsu D155AX-8 (354). These tractors have operating weights that range from around 87,000 to 95,000 pounds, depending on how they’re equipped.

Cost of Ownership

Horsepower Class Avg. Price Hourly Rate*
260-359 $541,000 $172
520-519 $810,000 $247
520 and more $1,775,000 $486

* Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Adjusted operating unit prices used in the calculation are diesel fuel at $2.78 per gallon, mechanic’s wage at $52.33 per hour, and money costs at 3.75 percent.

At the heavy end of the category are the Komatsu D475A-5 at 239,000 pounds (with ripper) and the Cat D11T CD (Carry Dozer) at 248,000 pounds—both rated at nearly 900 horsepower. At 759-horsepower, however, the new Liebherr PR 776 Litronic is edging into elite company.

Between these extremes are the Cat D9T and D10-2, rated respectively at 436 and 600 flywheel horsepower; the Komatsu D275AX-5 and D375A-6 rated at 449 and 610 horsepower, respectively; Dressta’s TD-40R EXTRA (with a 536-horsepower, 18-liter Perkins engine); and Liebherr’s PR 764 Litronic at 416 horsepower.

(As an aside here, Komatsu’s largest dozer—perhaps the largest dozer ever—the D575 Super Dozer, with 1,150 horsepower, an operating weight in excess of 330,000 pounds, and a standard 90-cubic-yard blade, will cease production this year. The D575 Super Ripper, however, will still be available in areas of the world needing a powerful alternative to blasting in high-compressive-strength materials.)

Standard blades available for production-class machines, usually universal and semi-universal types, can range from maybe 8 cubic yards for “smaller” machines to nearly 60 for the largest models. Specialty blades, such as those designed for pushing coal, might approach 100 cubic yards. Caterpillar application specialist, Sam Meeker, also makes the point that custom, purpose-built blades are available for varying applications to increase overall machine efficiency.

Also, many production-class models, especially those at the smaller end of the model spectrum, are available in special-application configurations, such as waste-handling or stockpiling versions. Dressta, for example, has a stockpile-compaction package that allows the dozer to use a compaction drum and winch for compacting steeply sloped surfaces. On piles of processed coal, says Dressta, compaction reduces the risk of spontaneous combustion.

Dozer market overview

Based on global sales figures supplied by Anil Tanca, marketing manager, Dressta Global and LiuGong Europe, the 2015 market for large crawler dozers (models with 260 horsepower and above) fell just short of 3,000 units. That number was less than half the total of 6,400 units reported in 2012. After a significant drop in market size in 2009, the market recovered strongly during the next three years, then began a decline in 2013 that has persisted to present.

“In broad terms, there’s no question that low oil prices and depressed prices for other global commodities has affected the market for production-class dozers,” says Mark Oliver, John Deere’s product marketing manager for crawler dozers.

Dressta’s Tanca, though, sees a possible bright spot.

“Due to the decrease in demand for commodities,” says Tanca, “big mines and quarries have suffered. The prices for commodities, however, have probably seen rock bottom, and sooner or later they will start picking up—which will positively affect the demand for these big production machines.”

On the positive side, Caterpillar’s Meeker says that site prep and road building—primary applications for these machines—are doing well, and is his opinion, “mining and energy are struggling, but still viable.”

Replacement intervals for production-class dozers, historically, have always been long, and a life span of 45,000 to 60,000 hours is probably typical for the largest of these machines. Depending on application and owner maintenance practices, a significant number of these units might still be in front-line service at 100,000 hours. The robust designs reflected throughout the entire range of production-class machines virtually ensures that these units will spend an extended time in primary service and likely will be rebuilt two or three times along the way. But longevity does work against high sales figures.

According to John Deere’s Oliver, rental and short-term leasing has become a significant factor in the market for the company’s 1050K and similar-size machines.

“This seems to be an industry-wide trend and results, in part, simply from market dynamics; some contractors work so hard and so long to get a deal signed, that they need machines in a short time to start moving dirt—so they turn to rental and short-term leasing. Another factor is that more owners today want flexibility in controlling the size of their fleets, and rental and leasing gives them that flexibility.”

Production and costs

For all of their size and brute strength, production-class dozers are as technically refined as any machines in the fleet, offering such amenities as spacious, well-appointed operator environments (some with special sound-attenuating features), electro-hydraulic controls, GPS-based systems for grading and bulk earthmoving, vehicle-health monitoring systems, and powerful telematics systems.

Production-class dozers typically are run by a fleet’s most-experienced operators, who generally understand and appreciate the technology that assists in attaining consistently high production. In extremely hazardous working conditions in which these big machines are sometimes placed, technology can simply remove the operator from harm’s way via remote operating systems. The Caterpillar Command for Dozing system, for example, uses an over-the-shoulder console worn by an operator for remote, line-of-sight control up to 1,300 feet away, or a remote station, or a semi-autonomous remote station for controlling multiple machines.

With machines this size, production is king—but not at the expense of accelerated operating costs. Caterpillar’s Meeker advises potential buyers to consider total owning and operating costs.

“Include such items as purchase price, resale value, fuel, maintenance and repairs, then balance this against the the machine’s productivity. Also consider parts and service capability in your area—reducing downtime is critical.”

Meeker also advises potential buyers to keep technology in mind, saying, for example, that systems that automate certain work functions, such as blade and ripper control, can significantly improve productivity and lower costs.

Komatsu’s product manager for crawler dozers, Charles Murawski, offers similar counsel and adds operating comfort and serviceability to the list, saying that even seemingly insignificant items, such as easily reached grease fittings and filters, reduce downtime and encourage good maintenance. Murawski makes the point, too, that machine design can affect both productivity and operating costs, citing, for example, the company’s “Sigmadozer” blade, available for the D155 and D275, and bogie-type undercarriages that use rotating bushings.

According to Komatsu, the proprietary design of the blade, which uses a special cutting-edge configuration to reduce loading resistance and to increase the blade’s material-holding capacity, can increase production as much as 15 percent, compared with a conventional semi-U blade. The rotating-bushing design of the track chains, says Murawski, can lower overall undercarriage maintenance costs by as much as 40 percent by controlling wear between pins and bushings and on bushing exteriors and sprocket teeth. The rotating-bushing undercarriage is available on all Komatsu dozers, up to and including the D475.

In the interest of lower operating costs, the John Deere 1050K (introduced fall 2014) is designed with an operator-selected “Eco Mode,” which, according to the company, works in conjunction with the machine’s hydrostatic drive system to regulate engine rpm for reducing fuel burn as much as 25 percent with no compromise in productivity, compared with running with the Eco Mode off.

According to the company’s Oliver, another significant aspect of the 1050K’s design was to allow a high degree of operating customization, such as multiple settings for forward/reverse shift rates, adjustment of decelerator function and response rate, and adjustments for setting the sensitivity of steering and implement controls.

“There’s a large group of operators who have been running large dozers all their working lives and might never have experienced a hydrostatic,” says Oliver. “Systems in the 1050K allow operators to initially adjust the machine to respond more closely to the performance of tractor  having a conventional torque-converter/power-shift-transmission drive train. Once familiar with the machine, operators can dial up performance to suit their preferences.”

Among the most recent entrants in the production-dozer class is the Liebherr PR 776 Litronic, which features a hydrostatic drive system, elevated-sprocket undercarriage, and a Liebherr 12-cylinder engine. According to Liebherr, the new model’s constant-low-speed  engine and high-pressure/common-rail fuel-injection system combine to yield low fuel consumption for reduced operating costs. Also in the interest of reduced costs, the company says that use of Liebherr Plus hydraulic fluid can extend service intervals to as long as 8,000 hours.