Cat 101: Getting to the Heart of an Industry Giant

Caterpillar is a fairly ironic name when you think about it — a fast-paced, monolithic industry leader named after the slow poke of the insect world. But of course, that’s not why Caterpillar Inc. has the name it does. No, it all starts before the company’s founding, back when co-owners Benjamin Holt and C.L. Best were just operating their own separate tractor companies, and when a company photographer, looking down at a Holt tractor in action remarked that it “moves like a Caterpillar.”

Or so went the tale during my education at Cat 101, an event held within the Peoria, Ill., headquarters of the 90-year old brand.

Cat 101

The size and scope of a company like Caterpillar is hard to fathom, even after two days full of presentations. How all of the far flung manufacturing and research and development facilities are able to all logistically fit together and fulfill product needs across a wide swath of construction and industrial industries in all pockets of the globe, including but not limited to all types of construction, mining, scrap recycling, demolition, steel mills, inland waterways, landfills and so on. And there is still new ground to cover, like on-highway trucks, where Caterpillar is a new entrant after having sold engines within it for years.

Cat equipmentCat needs timely delivery and service in every industry it serves, but some of the jobsite considerations are insane. A steel mill service company, for example, is charged for every second that a machine is down and unproductive. Every second! Or how about paving, where estimates show that every hour a machine is down costs the company $10,000 in losses. These customers aren’t likely to choose a company with a lax sales and service staff or unreliable machines.

Just being big and fast doesn’t make Cat “Cat” though – or at least it cannot achieve those benchmarks on its own. The real secret sauce is the dealer network – 177 family-owned business, consisting of 140,000+ employees worldwide. Starting in the Holt and Best days, those dealers have been treated as integral ingredients, and to this day Caterpillar Inc. is very serious about succession planning and keeping those dealer ties in the family for that very reason.

Nine-hundred and six different Cat products are made available through those individual dealers. So are the parts for every machine, Cat-affiliated accessories, financing, service, rental options, and so on. Then there is the market intelligence they provide back to Cat – the industries trending in their areas, and the problems their customers are having. A two-way street that combines that aforementioned size and scope with a local face, which, for customers, leads to more uptime, lifetime cost-efficiencies and overall confidence that they are in good hands. And with ProductLink now prominently involved, the service connection improves even more.

So, what’s next? Now that Tier 4 Final engines are out on the market, the company’s R&D team can focus on proactive, new innovations, like autonomous technology. Be on the lookout for that 907th product during your next dealer visit.

Chris Crowell is a contributing editor to Compact Equipment.