Cat unveiled an affordable grade assist system for its 6- to 10-ton mini excavators at Equip Expo 2022.
For many years contractors have been able to equip excavators of multiple sizes, including the 3.5- to 10-ton machines with Cat Grade with Advanced 2D or Cat Grade with 3D grade control systems. Those systems automate machine functions to help operators of all experience levels improve grade accuracy and consistency.
“Once you get into Cat Grade, you’re talking about a lot of technology,” said Greg Worley, Cat product marketing professional.
However, for smaller contractors, the investment into full Cat Grade technology is often a bit steep when they’re uncertain how often they would use it.
“To be quite frank, that's a very expensive technology on these smaller products for these owner-operators who are using these mini hydraulic excavator machines,” Worley said.
Cat's solution comes in the form of the Ease of Use Indicate and E-Fence offerings on the Cat 306 CR, 308 CR, and 309 CR Next Gen mini excavators as its "entry-level" grade control system.
Worley referred to it as “the best damn tape measure you'll ever have in your toolbox.”
He said these technologies are ideal for digging footings, drainage and septic systems, irrigation, electric utilities, and applications near structures or obstacles operators need to avoid.
In addition, he said they allow operators of all experience levels to work more efficiently and consistently.
Current production Cat 306 CR, 308 CR, and 309 CR Next Gen Mini Hydraulic Excavators are shipped from the factory Ease-of-Use-ready to reduce installation time in the field. Ease of Use E-Fence and Indicate are packaged with Swing Assist and Bucket Assist features at no added cost.
Worley said the system can be added to the machine by a dealer in under four hours.
“That's a big deal because customers who have any hydraulic excavators don't like paying a large amount of money for hours in the shop," he said. “That’s a lot of technology for a very affordable price.”
Ease of Use Indicate provides visual and audible indications to bucket position compared to target grade to assist operators in cutting to exact specifications the first time. With Indicate, the operator selects the target depth and slope from the in-cab guidance system, and the monitor provides real-time work-in-progress and distance-to-grade feedback. The technology enables operators to reach grade faster without overcutting.
“I don't need to look at the monitor; I can hear the solid tone that I'm on green," Worley said. "Once you get the material out, you just put the bucket in the bottom, and it's back on target."
To complete a longer trench, each time the machine is moved, no GPS or laser is utilized. If the bucket is put down into the bottom of the trench and it hits the benchmark again, the operator can keep pulling through as the machine is repositioned.
“Customers have been amazed how accurate this system is over great distances without using any laser,” Worley said. “It's a real cool, easy way to get into this type of grade control technology.”
Regardless of skill level, operators reach target grade faster with improved precision and reduced need for on-the-ground grade checking to create a safer work environment.
"That's how I want you to think about this machine with our Ease of Use Indicate system," he said. "It measures for you and eliminates the need for so much grade checking, the machine can do it for you, you can sit in the machine and do it. As an indicator system, it's showing me on the monitor what I'm doing."
Worley noted that before an inspector comes around, operators can check their work.
“I can swing over and measure that trench and check that 20% slope,” he said. “The machine is going to tell me that and show me exactly what it is. I can eyeball it as quickly as I want and just go and check it before the inspector comes around.”
For example, he said if you're an operator digging footings and you want to get more accurate quotes and reduce overpours on concrete.
“We've got a customer who has this system set up on his 306," Worley said. Before the installation of the Ease of Use system, the customer had a 20% margin in his quotes to make sure that he was covering himself.
Worley said now the contractor is only overquoting 5% of concrete and is winning more work because he’s more competitively priced and guaranteed he knows he's not going over.
Another Cat customer, who is an owner-operator that does septic sewer installations recently installed Ease of Use.
“Traditionally, with a 5- to 6-ton machine he’s taken about a day and a half to dig a septic tank, put it in, level it up, and then put in the leach lines,” Worley said, noting that he’s getting in and out of the machine about 60 times a day to measure and check his depths and slopes. With Ease of Use, he said the contractor has gone from 60 times a day to less than 10 times a day getting out of the machine and getting the septic tanks installed in less than a day.
“He's using the machine as the best damn tape measure in your toolbox,” Worley quipped.
The E-Fence function serves to set up a zone for the machine to work in.
"You can work within it and set zones so you don't overswing into something," Worley said, noting that limits can be set on swing, floor, ceiling, or wall. The system automatically constrains the machine motion within the operator's preset boundaries. No part of the boom, stick, or bucket will pass the predefined limits.
“Once an e-fence is established, that's where operators can go or not go outside of that area,” he said. “The e-fence will not let operators swing out of the designated zone.”
Using the touchscreen monitor, setting height limits helps operators avoid obstacles such as powerlines, ceilings, or tree limbs. Fiber optic cables or other underground utilities are protected by defined depth limits. In addition, Worley said structures in front of the machine are protected with E-Fence Wall and to the side with E-Fence Swing.
He said the system is ideal for a new operator, as the boundaries can be established to help minimize job costs from repairs or downtime due to equipment damage or structural damage. Conversely, experienced operators can be made even more efficient due to working even more efficiently and safely with the reduced number of personnel required near the work area.