Manufacturers of crawler dozers 300 horsepower and under are concentrating on increasing their customers’ productivity not only by offering various blade configurations, but also by integrating machine-control technology, marrying such systems to the sweet spot in the market.
“Three hundred horsepower and lower dozers make up about 91 percent of all dozers sold in the marketplace,” says Chuck Yengst, president of Yengst & Associates.
“Overall for dozers as a category, performance has been so-so recently,” Yengst says. “Sales for all sizes hit 10,000 units in 2014 and 2015, but that dropped to about 9,000 units annually the last two years.”
However, Yengst does see a silver lining. “The good news is that we’re going to see increased demand this year thanks to tax reforms and the economy achieving higher growth levels.”
He projects a 13-percent boost in industry sales this year over last year, with the needle pointing up for 2019 and beyond. “In four years, I think we’ll be in the range of historic averages, somewhere near 13,500 units,” Yengst says.
“The dozer market is experiencing a nice uptick the last couple of years,” according to Sam Meeker, dozer product application specialist for Caterpillar. “This is due to the general growth in several markets, including heavy and general construction, energy, oil and gas, and pipeline.”
It’s the versatility of the size class that drives buyers, says Emmanuel Ficot, marketing communications manager for Dressta Global. “When talking about mid-size dozers, we think about machines powered by engines from 150 to 250 horsepower,” Ficot says. “The horsepower parameter already determines [their] application, which usually includes road work, municipal projects, landfills, small mines and quarries as auxiliary dozers, and forestry.”
And buyers are looking to increase production.
“The main factor to be considered before buying mid-size dozers is productivity,” Ficot says. “That is how many cubic meters or tons of material can be pushed/ripped by the dozer in every hour of the operation—productivity per hour.
“Any mistake or wrong choice will result in a customer’s disappointment that the dozer is not productive enough,” Ficot says. “For example, if too small a size was chosen, it may stay idle part of the working day. Or, if it’s too big of a machine, it will create disappointment because it will consume more fuel.”
Tied closely to productivity is the type of blade specified. “Use a semi-u, Sigma Dozer blade, or straight blade when heavy dozing more than 50 percent of the time,” says Chuck Murawski, product manager for dozers, Komatsu. “And a power-angle-tilt (PAT) blade when you’re finish grading more than 50 percent of the time.”
PAT blades are known in some circles as “6-way” blades. “They are blades that can change position: up and down; tilt left and right; angle left and right,” Ficot says. “All six movements are hydraulically controlled and make dozer pushing very precise.”
Meeker expands on blade choices. “Semi-u and u blades are best for mass material movement and long pushes. They provide the highest dozing efficiency, but also are useful for pushing scrapers, spreading, and grading material. Variable Pitch-Angle-Tilt blades (VPAT) are the most versatile blades, providing good value in dozing, spreading, and grading,” Meeker says.
“‘S’ blades are offered with LGP-gauge dozers, providing good dozing efficiency and versatility for those machines,” Meeker says. “Angle blades are mechanically angled, providing good dozing, trench backfill, and land-clearing performance. ‘A’ blades provide a good balance of performance and durability, and are a preference for pipeline contractors.”
Murawski advises managers to consider the differences between conventional dozers and dozers with integrated machine-control systems. Komatsu calls its system Intelligent Machine Control (IMC). Deere has introduced its own SmartGrade dozers, and Caterpillar offers a suite of various machine-control solutions. Case provides a universal machine-control option for its M Series crawlers that allows dealer installation of several brands of machine-control products.
“IMC allows operators to be more productive in practically all applications, especially less-experienced operators,” Murawski says.
The systems can also cut the expenses managers are used to incurring on surveying and staking, and their accuracy can cut down on rework, saving additional time and money.
“Use the machine-control system to move material efficiently—and only once—by avoiding overcutting and overfilling,” Murawski says.
“Application of the machine also drives many decisions about the configuration of a dozer.” Cat’s Meeker says. “Consider the type of work you expect to do, and configure the machine for optimum performance in those applications. Also, consider the type of technology needed for the future work. Many dozers now come with a base set of technology on the machine from the factory, with the ability to upgrade as needed for the job. This allows customers to acquire a machine with base-level technology, and also makes it easier to upgrade to a higher level of technology in the future when the job demands it.”
Murawski adds some other factors to the equation.
“Reliability is a key,” he says. “Look for strong blade structure; a long-life powertrain; large, durable undercarriage components; hydraulic hose protection; electrical harness routing; and a trouble-free engine emissions system. There’s also operator comfort, as in a good machine balance, visibility, and ergonomic controls. They will help keep an operator productive and happy.
“Transportation dimensions are another consideration,” Murawski says. “Note the machine weight, width, and height if you’re going to be transporting the machine frequently.”
OEMs have no shortage of advice when it comes to keeping dozer operating costs down, no matter the blade choice or application. Dressta’s Ficot says to start with training. “A well-trained and experienced operator will ensure that dozers will operate with fewer failures and maximum productivity,” he says.
“Dozing efficiency is important to get the most out of your machine and time,” Meeker says. “Focus on best operating practices. Set up your workflow to doze big loads, slot doze, and use higher grading speeds when possible.” Meeker also says managers need to utilize telematics to help control costs.
“Focus on reducing idle time and nonproductive hour accumulation on the job site,” Meeker says. “Use the tools provided to monitor idle versus productive time via telematics. Train operators and site personnel on the importance. Remember, hour accumulation does not just cost a bit of fuel, but rather each hour of idle time burns up an hour of warranty, maintenance, as well as fuel.”
Komatsu’s Murawski brings cost control back to the operator. “Train operators in best-practice operating techniques: Minimize high-speed reverse travel and counter-rotation, reduce engine idle time, and use economy engine mode when possible to save fuel. Also, keep the undercarriage clean and properly adjusted,” he says.
“The undercarriage is an area where owners accrue a lot of costs due to the wear and tear on the tracks,” says Nathan Horstman, product marketing manager for crawler dozers at John Deere. “It’s important to perform proper maintenance to ensure appropriate track tension and reduce costs. A dealer can help with maintenance, or, when purchasing a new machine, with selecting the right undercarriage solution for the intended job. Manufacturers offer solutions that feature more durable components, increasing the life of the parts.”
Operators also need to take heed of the operating modes offered. “Applying the correct mode of operation suitable to the application has a big influence on the fuel consumption and the wear and tear of ground-engaging tools such as the track shoes, blade cutting edges, and ripper points,” Ficot says.