Better Machines, Cleaner Air and More Jobs

ARRA funds assist in the repowering of three aging Cat 980G wheel loaders, saving jobs, improving efficiencies and contributing to a cleaner environment.

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A big part of Bill Bayne's job is to keep track of environmental laws and how they impact Patten Cat's customers. As environmental health and safety manager for the construction equipment dealership, headquartered in Elmhurst, IL, Bayne 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 says. "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.

Patten and Caterpillar offer repower and retrofit technologies designed to reduce the emissions of existing diesel vehicles. A few of these aftermarket 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 says. "We're here to help them find that money and apply for it."

Grants fund retrofits

Plote Construction, a Chicago-area paving and excavating firm, proved to be 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, says Dan Plote, company president. And Plote has been a partner with Patten Cat since Dan's father (Ray) started the company in 1965.

"We've been doing business with them for that long for a reason," Plote comments. "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 Caterpillar 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 (ARRA) was earmarked for state programs to help upgrade older, less efficient diesel engines. Those programs - essentially a "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.

Projects that are part of the grant program include the installation of diesel oxidation catalysts, closed crankcase ventilation systems, particulate filters, the purchase of diesel hybrid vehicles, engine repowers and equipment to reduce or eliminate idling, such as direct-fired heaters and auxiliary power units, says Darwin Burkhart, manager of Clean Air Programs for the Illinois EPA. Target vehicles include school buses, shuttle buses, off-road equipment and other diesel vehicles that operate in urban and residential areas.

"The diesel engine and off-road equipment industries are very important to the state's economy," notes Burkhart. "This grant program will assist these manufacturers and the local equipment distributors in Illinois by helping to increase their revenues through the sale of clean diesel products and, in the process, retain or create new jobs."

The Plote project fit perfectly with the goals of the program and was approved within two weeks of the application last fall, Bayne says. The clean diesel program would pay half of the total project cost. Plote would pay the rest.

Getting the grant approved was just the first step. Patten had to line up the engines and needed parts, and put together a detailed time line for project completion. In addition, the agreement came with a deadline. By May 31, 2009, all the work had to be done, bills had to be paid and grant money had to be awarded.

The new engines would result in a 50% reduction in NOX emissions and a 54% reduction in particulate matter (PM). Horsepower would go up as well, from 300 to 318.

"Another good thing for everybody is that rather than dumping these machines in a landfill, they will be upgraded for a second life with the possibility of even a third life," Plote says. "These machines will essentially be brand new."

Details of the repowering

During the repower, each of the wheel loaders received a new ACERT engine, rebuilt torque converters, axles, differentials, brakes, radiators and any other improvements made to the wheel loaders since the machines were manufactured.

Approximately 200 tests and inspections of power train components are performed, and approximately 3,000 parts are replaced or reconditioned, including power train electrical switches, sensors, sending units, electronic control modules, engine wiring harnesses, bearings, gaskets, seals and coolant hoses. The power train is rebuilt with critical engineering improvements and updates.

What was unusual about this upgrade was just how far it went. The machines went from Tier 0, or unregulated engines, to a Tier III, which is pretty unusual. "In the Midwest, you'll see machines go from unregulated to a Tier I," notes says Paul Cook, emissions territory manager for Caterpillar Emissions Solution. "But in this configuration, they're jumping all the way from unregulated to a Tier III, which is why this is such a significant project."

A win-win scenario

The use of government funding to complete the project proved to be a "win-win-win" situation for both Patten and Plote.

"If we look at the fact that during these economically challenging times, we're taking three unregulated machines, bringing them up to Tier III standards - and at the same time we also have 10 more technicians in our shops that have jobs - that's a real bonus," says Garrett Patten, dealer principal and general manager of construction products. "For Dan Plote, these wheel loaders will run cleaner and run better. Plus, the rest of each machine will be rebuilt to the point that these machines will be virtually new.

"The funding has been a huge success for Chicagoland and we hope we see more of it in the future," he continues. "We're thrilled that we can keep our technicians working and at the same time they're working on projects that have a positive effect on the environment, while also reducing the costs of our customers - which allows them to be more competitive in the marketplace."

The Plote machines are serving as a pilot project for the 980G retrofit, which will be used by Cat Dealers throughout the country. The project's success was celebrated during an event in early April, at Patten Cat's headquarters.