At first glance, it's a simple tale of a proactive company helping a customer save money and increase productivity.
But the story of how Patten Cat worked with Plote Construction to repower three of its aging Cat 980G wheel loaders is much more than that. It's about how these private companies - working with federal and state agencies and using Caterpillar engineering expertise - could save jobs, improve efficiencies and contribute to a cleaner environment. It's about partnerships.
A big part of Bill Bayne's job is keeping track of environmental laws and how they impact Patten customers. Bayne, Patten's environmental health and safety manager, ensures customers know when new regulations are coming and what steps they can take to meet them.
"We've been talking emissions for about two years now, to help our customers comply with the upcoming regulations from Cook County, the Illinois Tollway, the state of Illinois" and other entities, Bayne said. "A lot of people weren't aware of the options they had."
Diesel engines often have long service lives and can be rebuilt. Many engines are still in use that were certified to less stringent emission standards in effect at the time of their manufacture and lack the advanced emission controls in existence today.
Engines manufactured as recently as 1996 and those built during the 1990s do not have the most advanced technologies to reduce emissions as new machines. Patten and Caterpillar offer Repower and Retrofit technologies designed to reduce the emissions of existing diesel vehicles. A few of these after-market equipment options are also designed to reduce fuel consumption and to improve operational efficiencies.
Replacing entire fleets of viable, working machines with new models is not an option for most customers - especially in tough economic times. Retrofitting with cleaner emissions technologies is a cost-effective and sustainable solution. And, fortunately, state and federal agencies have been offering grants to help fund those solutions.
Finding those grants and helping customers apply for them is another big part of Bayne's job.
"Many contractors and business owners weren't aware that stimulus money was available for upgrading their heavy equipment," Bayne said. "We're here to help them find that money and apply for it."
Plote Construction is one such customer. Plote is a family-owned business with more than 45 years experience in heavy highway contracting. Projects include roads, highways, airports, lifestyle centers and housing developments, Dan Plote, President of Plote Construction, said. And Plote has been a partner with Patten Cat since Dan Plote's dad, Ray, started the company in 1965.
"We've been doing business with them for that long for a reason," Dan Plote said. "They help us get our work done, whether it's through parts and support services, or new equipment or help like they gave us on the repower project."
Because Plote and Patten work closely, it made sense for Plote to ask for suggestions on what to do with the three aging 980G wheel loaders. The machines were nearing 20,000 hours of operation each and were put in the field long before current emission standards.
"We're always buying new equipment, but we saw the economic slowdown coming and wanted to be extra careful," Plote said. "So we went to Patten and asked, 'What are our options?'"
Patten was aware that federal money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was earmarked for state programs to help upgrade older, less efficient diesel engines. Those programs - similar to "cash for clunkers" for big machines - could be tapped to help solve Plote's dilemma, Baynes suggested.
The Illinois EPA, in cooperation with its partners in the Illinois Clean Diesel Workgroup, administers various grant programs through the "Illinois Clean Diesel Grant Program" and the existing "Illinois Clean School Bus Program." The Illinois EPA received $4.2 million in stimulus funding for clean diesel programs.