Consider a future in which construction machines deliver on their purpose more sustainably, fueled by what we consider "waste." What if these machines also produce 80% less emissions while improving the working environment of the operators? This was the ambitious goal the CASE Construction Equipment team set for itself. And it’s become more than a goal. The project designers and engineers have achieved it.
The project, code named TETRA, shows how professional construction operators could help spearhead the move away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles toward renewable sources by playing a fundamental role in the "closed loop" virtuous cycle, which sees methane-powered wheel loaders help produce the fuel from waste products and renewable sources, which ultimately powers them. And although this is a concept, CASE, a global construction brand of CNH Industrial N.V., is already working towards ultimate market viability.
This concept re-imagines wheel loader design, and is a clear departure from anything seen in construction equipment to date. This methane-powered wheel loader concept reflects the increasing importance of alternative fuels, and demonstrates their viability in construction equipment, as well as the feasibility of creating and using fuel generated from waste products and renewable sources.
Furthermore, CASE has proactively combined alternative fuels and advanced construction technology to create a modern, sustainable solution to the need for ‘future proof’ power, utilizing readily available and proven powertrain technology. "Practical Innovation" is inherent in the brand’s product development philosophy, to innovate through the pragmatic use of advanced technology. As a result, this concept is more than a mere exercise in design, and it has been tested in real-world construction environments to demonstrate its feasibility.
A Full Day’s Autonomy
The new methane-powered wheel loader concept represents a significant technological advance for CASE, being the brand’s first alternative fuel vehicle. This projects benefits from the existing research and development program of sister brand New Holland Agriculture, in off-road methane usage, with over seven years of experience and an extensive global testing program.
The CASE concept uses an FPT Industrial six-cylinder methane engine that has been specifically developed for construction applications and delivers maximum power of 230 hp – identical to the equivalent diesel power plant – and torque up to 1,184 Nm. This is achieved with a 50% reduction in drive-by noise levels, which makes it suited for municipal applications and when working in close proximity to offices, residential areas and people. The engine also offers the same reliability and durability and fuel savings up to 30%. It runs on compressed natural gas (CNG), ensuring 15% less CO2 and 99% less particulate matter than its diesel-based counterpart.
The engine features stoichiometric combustion technology, developed by FPT Industrial and first introduced in 1995. It ensures the correct chemical balance between air and methane in every working condition, delivering clean combustion and low emissions. The technology is applied across the entire natural gas engine portfolio as it enables comparative performance to diesel engines, while delivering ultra-low emissions and high efficiency.
The loader is able to complete the full range of tasks that a standard diesel-powered wheel loader would undertake. From efficient work in quarries, waste handling facilities, agricultural applications, and wood yards through to municipal applications, and those which require extensive transport, this concept machine delivers optimal performance in a productive and sustainable package. Furthermore, it is compatible with the complete range of buckets, and was fitted with high tip and quarry versions from Leonardi Benne during the initial testing activities.
To make efficient use of space, the loader’s fuel is stored within technologically advanced tanks within a sleek and integrated storage unit fitted at the rear and sides of the wheel loader. This configuration enables a full day of autonomy. The wheel loader is as easy to refuel as one powered conventionally by diesel, using a single nozzle, from ground level, and with comparable filling time.
Due to the reduction in polluting emissions arising from methane combustion, a simplified aftertreatment system is used, which features a maintenance-free single standard catalytic converter.
Biomethane is produced using a cyclical system that delivers CO2 neutral production. It particularly suits wheel loader applications, especially those employed in waste handling situations or on farms, as they handle the raw materials which are used to produce the biomethane which fuels them. This enables these businesses not only to be fuel sufficient, but also energy sufficient, as biomethane can be burned to generate electricity to power buildings, as well as to satisfy any heating requirements. In addition, it can be fed into the gas grid for domestic purposes, and can be used to create electricity to be fed into the national grid to power communities, creating a truly virtuous cycle.
For operations that do not have the resources to produce their own biomethane, the methane-powered wheel loader concept can be powered by conventional network natural gas. This is of particular interest to waste handling facilities and to urban and suburban operations, which have ready access to the natural gas grid. These facilities, with a moderate investment, can install an on-site compression system, which extracts natural gas from the grid, and subsequently compresses it to fuel-grade pressure, providing instant and constant refueling. This infrastructure can be further leveraged by these businesses, as eventual gas powered trucks transporting goods to and from the sites could also be fueled using this technology, further enhancing the sustainable profile of the operation.
Innovative, Productivity-focused Design
CNH Industrial’s international design team have re-imagined wheel loader styling, starting from a blank sheet to create a viable vision for the future of wheel loader design. Iconic CASE styling cues provided inspiration: the‘Old Abe’ eagle has been distilled in the rear engine cover. Key design features accentuate the overall styling and include a forward cab stance; high-visibility 360° glazing, 16% more than a standard wheel loader; a high-visibility roof panel, which provides the operator with an unfettered view of the bucket throughout the entire loading arc; and an industry-first sliding door.
The dynamic air intakes in the engine cover and downward mounted exhaust provide an "aggressive’ stance." Overall design unity is achieved through a carefully conceived design language which sees the loader arms, fenders, cab, rear wings, engine cover and counterweight melded into a unified whole.
A complete LED lighting package features signature lighting, with lights integrated into the loader arms, front fenders, front- and rear-mounted roof work lights, rear lights integrated into the rear fenders and engine cover, and stop and hazard lights nestling in the rear counterweight. Operators can select auto mode, in which all working lights are automatically activated in low ambient light conditions, or manual operation, in which they select the required lights. Ambient power-tan cab lighting can also be selected.
A range of technologically advanced materials have been used to improve the operator environment to enhance comfort, reduce fatigue and facilitate cleaning. The cab has been trimmed in a robust cream-colored technical cloth, which can be easily wiped down for swift cleaning. This is paired with a chestnut color leather on key touch points. The durable stone floor reinforces the objective to deliver practical design, and the feature aluminum kick plate and floor inlay elevate the interior. This is combined with soft touch aluminum grab handles and carbon fiber fenders to complete the modern look.
A custom metallic fleck CASE ‘power-tan’ paint finish was commissioned for the concept model, and subtly enhances the machines distinctive lines, while cementing its link to the CASE family. The powdered anthracite finish on the metal exterior elements offers enhanced weather- and dirt-proof properties. Traditional CASE elements such as the new Power-Abe eagle emblem have been integrated into the engine cover, loader arm supports and the CASE name has been inlayed into the top step and loader arms.
The minimalist design of the cab offers intuitive, clutter-free operation, with instant access to all key controls via ergonomic joysticks and an integrated, armrest-mounted, color touchscreen monitor. The armrest-mounted monitor is the operating hub, and can be used to control the following functions:
- Face scan to activate start-up sequence.
- Bucket load-fill assist screen which displays target load, current bucket load, via loader arm mounted sensors, and remaining load.
- Jobsite map, which tracks incoming trucks, indicates the fastest route to the selected work area and displays general site information.
- Weather screens showing real-time weather reports.
- Lighting parameters, Bluetooth telephone, heating and ventilation and music controls.
- Access to secondary machine parameters, machine settings and additional submenus.
All of these settings can be directly modified on the touchscreen. Upon request, the screen can be swiped from the armrest monitor the lower right-hand A-Pillar screen. When no longer required, the operator simply selects another screen from the armrest monitor to swipe and replace.
The inclined A-Pillar screens have been mounted to align with the cab’s pillars and provide at-a-glance key information:
- The top right and left screens display the front and rear camera feed. Cab-mounted cameras replace traditional wing mirrors, and the display is automatically linked to the direction of travel, changing in sync with machine shuttling.
- The central right A-Pillar screen features all key machine operating parameters including machine speed, engine speed, fuel level, engine and oil temperature, selected gear, engine hours and time.
- The lower right screen can be customized, and enables operators to select, using the armrest color touchscreen, the desired view.
- Voice control functionality has been integrated into the cab, through the use of ‘home hub’ technology – a device integrated into the cab roof, which uses Internet of Things technology to action verbal commands. Operators can control cab temperature, select music, make and receive calls and dictate messages using this technology.
Remote machine priming occurs through the use of a retina scan on a connected mobile telephone. This enables operators to remotely initiate cab warming, cooling or defrost functions.
The new cosseting seat automatically extends and pivots to facilitate entry upon door opening, returning to the operating position immediately after the operator is seatedt. This functionality can be manually overridden if desired. Produced in a two-tone finish, the leather accents add a touch of automotive luxury and are complemented by a robust heavy-duty fabric. The entire seat features integrated heating and cooling – designed to keep the operator cool in hot weather and insulate them in cooler periods. Active, weight compensated suspension and fully-adjustable lumbar support enhance comfort for all operators.
An advanced full-cab heating and cooling package has been designed to ensure full body comfort. A range of vents have been precision positioned in the headliner, and in an ideal arc around the operator to ensure optimal full body comfort.
The full range of telematics solutions has been integrated, connecting this concept to a control room, which is manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and ensures optimal machine operation at all times. Fleet managers can communicate directly with the concept through on-board audio and text messaging, enabling the operator to fine tune machine parameters, such as tire pressure to enhance operating efficiency and productivity, from the comfort of the cab.
Safety First Design
Jobsite safety is a top priority for today’s construction equipment professionals, and ensuring that only fully-qualified operators have access to machines is essential. That is why biometric facial recognition technology has been integrated into the access and start-up sequence. A door-mounted facial scanning sensor, scans the operators face, upon approach, to activate door opening. Once the operator is in the cab, a second scan is conducted from the armrest monitor for final confirmation and to initiate the start-up sequence.
Elements of CNH Industrial’s autonomous vehicle development program have been incorporated into the machine’s design. Advanced obstacle detection technology, which automatically brings the machine to a halt and informs the operator if an obstacle comes into range, is available to further enhance jobsite safety.
Advanced Tire Technology
In order to spotlight the key role tire technology plays in machine productivity, the CNH Industrial and MICHELIN design teams worked in partnership to develop a vision for a future airless tire. This cutting edge design foresees a fusion of the tire/wheel combination and features inbuilt suspension. Furthermore, thanks to its pure rubber and patented composite material construction, it has been designed to withstand the extreme conditions present in construction environments, and could be considered indestructible.
The tire’s honeycomb spoke design is lightweight yet robust and thanks to its bespoke asymmetric tread pattern traction, motricity and grip are significantly improved. The tripod blocks on the inner tread section enhance overall operational stability, as well as assisting turning performance. The airless tires reduce overall machine weight and its large footprint delivers low contact pressure. The striking edge bumpers improve overall tire robustness as well as enhancing protection for extended life. Advanced connectivity is foreseen with integrated sensors providing a stream of real-time data to both the operator and the control room – including a tire wear sensor. When active, the integrated sidewall lights are illuminated, which also function as an additional safety feature.