When John Deere Construction & Forestry began engineering a new production-class crawler dozer to replace its then-flagship 1050J model, the new machine’s design centered on four key performance criteria: horsepower, operating weight, track-on-ground, and a drive system that could most effectively translate these factors into optimum pushing power. Unlike the 1050J, the new model would be completely engineered by John Deere and built in the company’s Dubuque, Iowa, factory.
Some five years later, when the 1050K was introduced in fall 2014, its 13.5-liter John Deere engine developed 350 maximum net horsepower. Average weight was 95,000 pounds—94,000 with a semi-U (Universal) blade and a single-shank ripper, 96,000 with a semi-U and a multi-shank ripper—and a bit less when a winch or 5,000-pound counterweight replaces the ripper. Track-on-ground was just shy of 135 inches, and a heavy-duty, dual-path hydrostatic drive system transmitted power to the ground.
These ample specifications, says Mark Oliver, John Deere’s product marketing manager for crawler dozers, ensure that the 1050K will be productive at what it’s designed to do—“push a lot of dirt and rock,” he says—and will also give buyers more choice in the production-class market. Oliver is quick to add, however, that serviceability and operator efficiency were also high on the list of design goals.
“Serviceability and uptime are critical for a machine this size,” says Oliver. “With its tilting cab—an industry exclusive for a machine this size—the 1050K can be placed in a service-ready orientation in about 10 minutes for wide-open access to major hydraulic and hydrostatic components. There’s also great access to the engine, despite Tier 4 aftertreatment hardware.”
The decision to use hydrostatic drive, says Oliver, was based on the system’s overall efficiency and reliability, as well as on the company’s long experience with the system. Because John Deere is both building the engine and writing the software for the hydrostatic system, he says, the 1050K can be “dialed in” for optimum performance. But beyond those advantages, says Oliver, the hydrostatic system also provides the most latitude for operators to tailor machine performance to their preferences:
“Production-class dozers typically are run by the best, most-experienced operators, and we wanted to offer these people the ability to customize the 1050K’s performance to their liking—an important consideration in high-production applications.”
Hands-on with the 1050K
Since the 1050K is somewhat of a milestone in John Deere’s crawler-dozer history, Construction Equipment asked for the loan of a machine that we could place with the Operating Engineer’s Local 150 to solicit thoughts about the new tractor’s features and performance from the Local’s experienced operators.
Near-by John Deere dealer West Side Tractor Sales, based in Naperville, Ill., soon delivered a virtually new 1050K to Local 150’s expansive facility in Wilmington, Ill. The machine arrived with a 13-foot wide, 12.7-cubic yard semi-U blade with a push plate, 24-inch track shoes, and the rear counterweight—a configuration that will work nicely when West Side Tractor demonstrates the machine to the many site-development contractors in northern Illinois having large scraper fleets to push.
On a chilly mid-May morning, CE editors met up in Wilmington with Mike Evans and Kevin “Zip” Ackert, Local 150 instructor/operators who specialize in teaching dozer operation to students in the Local’s Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program. Representing John Deere Construction & Forestry were Grant Leslie, territory sales manager, and Keith Wilson, product consultant for crawlers and crawler loaders, who began the day with a tour of the 1050K’s major features.
The most popular blade for the new tractor, Wilson told us, is expected to be the semi-U, but a 14.9-cubic yard full-U blade is available and can be fitted (as can the semi-U) with a rock rack. Coming later this year, he said, is a mechanical angle blade nearly 18.5 feet wide with a capacity of 9.4 cubic yards. The U blades have a mechanical pitch system that allows three settings, Wilson said, but the 1050K’s Power Pitch option controls blade pitch hydraulically from the cab.
“Power Pitch is ideal for situations in which pitch needs to be adjusted multiple times on a single push to get optimum productivity,” said Wilson. “The operator can pre-set three blade positions, then quickly recall them with a touch of a button on the blade controller.”
Local 150’s Ackert observed that the automatic pitch feature would be especially useful in a quarry, where being able to roll back the blade would ease the task of carrying large loads of rock long distances.
Wilson also called attention to the stacked arrangement of the 1050K’s new cooling package, saying that the machine’s hydraulically powered, variable-speed fan automatically reverses on a pre-set schedule or can be reversed on demand with a control in the cab.
“The reversible fan is a good feature,” said Evans. “Most machines just continue to suck in dust. I also like the large access for cleaning the coolers.”
Moving on to the 1050K’s undercarriage, Wilson pointed out that it uses bogie-mounted track rollers, allowing each set of two rollers (four sets per side) to oscillate independently over uneven terrain for optimum track-to-ground contact.
Wilson reminded the operators that the 1050K’s hydrostatic drive system allows making full-power turns, and that the tracks can counter-rotate to make spot turns or to correct the travel path of the machine if a corner-loaded blade pulls it off course.
Ackert, who had run the 1050K for a short time when it arrived the day before, was impressed with the 1050K’s agility:
“The counter-rotation is nice—it’s a feature you wouldn’t expect on a tractor that weighs 94,000 pounds. I understand how you could use counter-rotate to keep the corner of the blade from pulling the tractor into the bank, but I’m used to torque-converter machines, so my tendency in that situation is to tilt the blade to relieve it. But counter-rotation does give you an option.”
At the rear of the tractor, Wilson pointed out the large size of the 1050K’s double-reduction final drives, which are mounted independently of the track frames and do, indeed, appear as if they were intended for a considerably larger tractor. He explained that instead of developing new drive motors for the 1050K, engineers opted to use the field-proven motors from the company’s next-smaller dozer, the 850K—but to use two motors to drive each of the 1050K’s sprockets.
In addition, each final’s face-type seals reside in a separate oil-filled compartment to suspend contaminates and extend seal life. At 500 hours, a technician can initiate an automatic flushing procedure from the cab, during which old oil (about 1.5 gallons per side) is purged from the seal compartments. The technician then replenishes the oil from the hydrostatic reservoir, which is separate from the 1050K’s hydraulic tank.
Options for the 1050K include a fast-fill fueling system, which can replenish the machine’s 180-gallon tank in less than two minutes, and quick-evacuation systems for engine oil and hydraulic fluid.
“Overall,” said Wilson, “the 1050K has a modular design that not only simplifies routine maintenance, but also simplifies rebuilding the tractor when the time comes—a process owners might do two or three times.”
In the cab
As Wilson explained the features of the 1050K’s cab, he said that an important aspect of the new tractor’s operation is John Deere’s proprietary, operator-selected Eco Mode, which, the company says, regulates engine rpm to lower fuel burn by as much as 25 percent—with no compromise in productivity.
“Eco Mode will limit engine speed to about 1,700 rpm, until you ask for more power,” said Wilson. “As you load the tractor, you’ll hear the engine come up, and as the load diminishes, engine speed will come down—but your ground speed won’t vary, because the hydrostatic system is compensating to maintain the speed you’ve selected.”
As the cab tour continued, Evans questioned unfamiliar-looking controls, which turned out to be controls enabling a pin-puller for the ripper. The system automatically extracts the shank pin and then reinstalls it after the operator has adjusted the carrier to reposition the shank. Adjacent controls allow setting the ripper’s return-to-dig position.
Wilson further explained that the 1050K not only has three auxiliary hydraulic circuits available, but also that flow rates on both sides of auxiliary cylinders can be adjusted from zero to 100 percent in 10-percent increments—a feature intended to smooth the operation of such equipment as winches and ejector-type scrapers. Auxiliary flow can be continuous or proportional.
An aspect of the 1050K’s design that the company promotes as giving the new dozer distinction in the marketplace is its ability to adapt to operator preferences.
“You can go into the monitor and change settings to make the machine fit an individual operator’s tempo and timing,” said Wilson. “A selection in transmission settings, for example, gives operators three options for the forward/reverse shift rate—for instance, choosing to allow the tractor more roll-out time so that it drops the load in the correct spot before reversing, or choosing an instantaneous directional change.”
Preference settings also allow choosing a response rate for the decelerator, as well as choosing whether the decelerator will slow both ground speed and engine speed, or slow only ground speed, leaving engine speed as set for consistent hydraulic response when backfilling trenches or using a winch or side-boom
Further operator-specific adjustments include those for setting the sensitivity of steering and implement controls—essentially allowing the operator to determine the amount of lever movement required to effect response. The 1050K’s monitor also allows setting an auto-idle function, as well as an automatic shutdown function
“Auto-idle and automatic shutdown are valuable features,” said Evans. “Our apprentices have a habit of running machines at high idle constantly, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come in and discovered that a machine has been running all weekend.”
After Evans and Ackert had spent most of the day on the new John Deere tractor, we asked for their overall impressions.
“Seems like a great machine,” said Evans. “Didn’t take long to get acclimated to it. Had a lot of power and was very quiet in the cab. If you were out there on a [competitive dozer in the Local’s fleet], you’d need ear plugs.”
Ackert agreed: “Sound levels seemed low even outside the machine, at least compared with what we’re used to from machines this size.”
“It’s a very comfortable machine,” said Evans, “with the seat turned at a good angle [15 degrees to the right] for better visibility to the rear. I have to admit, when I first saw it arrive on the lowboy, I thought ‘there’s no way you’re going to be able to see much out of that small front window.’ But once you’re in the seat, you have plenty of visibility. I’d like to have seen a backup camera on the machine—we’re getting used to those these days—but Keith did say that a camera is available.”
Ackert added that visibility to the corners of the blade is unhindered, “which is good for a quick reference,” he said, “but we teach our students not to stare at the corners to determine elevation—we want them paying attention to what’s going on around them and learning to feel what the tractor’s doing.”
Wilson suggested to the operators that they initially set the 1050K’s speed at 1.6 mph on the monitor, but the operators soon were moving considerably faster: “Both Mike and I were comfortable enough with the machine to bump up the speed,” said Ackert. “It’s very controllable—and there’s no lack of power. It’s surprising fast.”
Perceptions of the Eco Mode differed between the operators. Evans said that he noticed no difference when running with the feature activated, versus not activated. He pointed out, however, that since he was typically pushing large loads, often up fairly steep slopes, perhaps the system sensed that a higher rpm was required.
Ackert experimented with the Eco Mode as he used the 1050K for slot dozing: “Once the blade was full and you were carrying the load, you could hear engine speed drop down—and when you started to climb up and out with the load, you could hear the engine speed up again. But ground speed seemed to remain fairly constant.”
Both operators experimented with the machine-performance preference settings and agreed that making the adjustments via the monitor is relative easy. Ackert equated changing the steering and hydraulic response to using a rheostat—dialing in the amount of lever movement most comfortable for an individual operator.
“I can see that the ability to make these adjustments could make a significant difference in the production any given operator could get with the machine,” said Evans, “but you’d really have to run the machine for a while in a production situation to decide what your preferences might be—more time than we had today.”
Stability was another characteristic that received high marks from both operators: “The longer track does give you an extended wheelbase, so to speak,” said Ackert. “And with the tractor weighing what it does, I had no issue with stability in any situation. I’m guessing that the 5,000-pound counterweight in the back contributed to the good balance.”
“The machine also held slopes well,” said Evans, commenting on the 1050K’s performance on steep grades he negotiated before pushing loads over a berm. “The balance of the machine in those conditions was very good.”
The Power Pitch feature was also on the favorites list: “The system was easy to use,” said Evans. “You can do the presets, but I found it just as easy to push the button when you’re moving. Being able to change pitch on the move could be a valuable feature in some applications.”
Serviceability features also did not escape the operators’ notice. Ackert mentioned that “Deere has made it easy to pull fluid samples,” and Evans said that even though they didn’t have the chance to use the lights in the service compartments, “features like this make it evident that Deere asked customers what they wanted in this size tractor.”
(Early in the 1050K’s development, the company formed a Customer Advisory Group that met regularly during the engineering process to evaluate the machine’s evolving design.)
“It’s a very nice tractor,” said Ackert. “You’re probably going to get initial comments from people coming out of torque-converter machines that the hydrostatic has a different feel, but you have to appreciate the difference between the two drive systems.”
“The machine moves a lot of material very fast,” said Evans. “You don’t realize that until you’re in the seat and see what you’re pushing. It handles great, and I think it’s quite functional from an operator’s point of view. The machine seems bigger than it is.”