Doosan Bobcat North America invited us out to Aurora, Colo., to check out the new Bobcat Training Center and unveil some of the new machines and revamps to existing lines that it has coming up. What we saw and heard during the day-long event blew our socks off. We now stand here, barefoot and sun burnt, to report that Bobcat is at the dawn of a totally new era. Every time I thought I had a main story to focus on, they showed off something else even cooler. We will eventually dive into all of these equipment updates and innovations in more detail, but here is a recap of our day learning how “Next is Now” for this 60-year-old compact equipment pioneer.
Next is now
CEO Scott Park kicked things off, setting the stage for all the newness to come.
“The world is changing around us and because of our market position as a global leader in compact can’t be taken for granted, we needed to do something to ensure we had growth and sustainability going forward,” Park said. “We needed to redefine, ‘what is the compact equipment industry?’ What are the technologies and innovation capabilities we need to put in our products? How do we change the industry now that we have helped develop the last 60 years? … It’s not about destroying that foundation, but it’s about looking at what’s next.”
In the previous Bobcat era, the CEO wasn’t usually one to chat with the media on a day like today. This immediately conveyed that today was a bigger deal than any other media event the company has hosted. This was confirmed by the chuckles and looks on the faces of veterans in the marketing department when I asked “Is this the biggest roll out you’ve ever been a part of?” Translation: Um, yes.
New: Small Articulated Loader
Park keyed in on how Bobcat is widening its product offering — from the surprisingly gigantic 14-ton excavator to this new small articulated loader. The former is the company realizing that its customers that own its 6-ton excavators also had 14-ton excavators in their arsenal. So, why not offer one for them? The latter, the SAL, is the company seeing an opportunity to grow a popular European segment in North America with a brand that people recognize and trust. We have seen previous products enter the U.S. market (like Avant) in the past with middling success, but with the Bobcat brand things are always different.
When operating the SAL, what stood out most was the tight turning radius with low ground disturbance. We editors kept test-driving along the same patch of lawn outside the training facility and it barely showed. That’s really one of the key advantages of these ride-on tool carriers — articulation like a wheel loader — so you won’t destroy sensitive services and you will save on tire costs and conserve fuel.
New: Compact tractor line
Perhaps the most notable example of seeing a hole in its offering for existing customers and now looking to fill it: Bobcat is launching its own line of compact tractors. This initial roll-out is starting basic as an OEM offering, but Bobcat will eventually be manufacturing them on its own and will be supplying its own line Bobcat attachments to match. Some may remember that Bobcat did actually offer utility tractors before via an OEM agreement with Kioti.
The lineup of 15 professional-quality machines, ranging from 21 to 58 hp, offers all the versatility and durability they need for a variety of projects around their acreages. Bobcat sees this line as a blank canvas to build out their own unique vision for compact tractors. Some early notable features include a super tight turning radius and all metal exterior.
New: The Redesigned R-Series Compact Loaders
Forget everything you know about a Bobcat compact loader. The new R-Series machines have been completely redesigned, inside and outside, to be the most powerful, durable loaders built by Bobcat. Key notes:
- The pedals are now electric. This change was made in order to build a one-piece cab that could lift (as you can see here) to simplify maintenance.
- The frame is cast steel, which is 20 percent stronger than fabricated. This dramatically reduces the weld points and slims up key elements of the profile for better visibility.
- Five-link suspension will replace roller suspension to eliminate any rocking from side to side.
The engine moves in-line as part of a completely redesigned cooling strategy that will make for a harder working machine and a boost to hydraulic power for attachments. The cooling fan is now further from the operator and also 50 percent bigger, which means it spins 1,000 rpm slower than the previous fan. All of that is to say this is a much quieter and more comfortable ride. The first models of R-Series loaders will be available in early 2020.
New: Bobcat Training Center
The location for this roll out of this Next is Now era — the new Bobcat Training Center — is significant. This 44,400 sq-ft facility is the first of its kind for Bobcat in North America, dedicated solely to developing and deploying training to Bobcat dealers. Bobcat chose the Denver area for its easily accessible location for Bobcat dealers, as well as its strategic location near the Denver International Airport. As technology and machines evolve more rapidly than ever, this central location was built to meet the growing demands for dealer training and presents the opportunity to improve training curriculum with the use of new technologies. Students will learn in the classroom and through simulations in interactive labs. They will also have the ability to apply what they’ve learned to products. The Bobcat Training Center provides specialized skills training such as troubleshooting and diagnostics, new technician onboarding, selling skills and more.
The Bobcat Training Center includes technical training rooms, hands-on shop space, a large classroom style auditorium, as well as a full warehouse area for equipment storage and showroom space. This breakout of the electrical system on a Bobcat machine is especially useful for visually understanding the intricacies of the system to better diagnose faults.
NEXT: New technologies
The future isn’t just more powerful, it’s digital and connected. Bobcat is pushing into this space to connect people and machines in new and innovative ways. These technologies will allow dealers to better serve customers and help operators work more efficiently, more safely and in ways they never dreamed possible. The Bobcat MaxControl Remote Operation, for example. This new technology provides convenient, easily accessible remote-control operation using an app on a smartphone. With Bobcat MaxControl remote operation, two-person jobs become single-worker tasks so customers can accomplish more with a smaller crew. And get this: MaxControl is can be retrofitted on any Bobcat loader (like the M Series) with Selectable Joystick Controls (iOS only).
Maybe the coolest part of the MaxControl concept is how it takes automated driving functions and turns them into practical applications for operators. Our favorite was the “Known Object Avoidance” feature. Again, using the available technology within an iPhone, simply look at something (a parked vehicle, a pole, a sidewalk boundary, utility, etc.), and tap on it from the camera on your phone. This is now stored within the brains of the machine for as long as it is stored within the app on your phone. Activate the function from within the cab, and your loader will not let you cross that line or hit that object. Imagine defining the boundaries of a sidewalk or parking lot before winter, and then just driving as fast as possible to clear show, free from worry about where the lines are.
NEXT: The Hosted Machine
Bobcat is rethinking the very idea of compact equipment and borrowing concepts from other tech sectors. For example, the company has plans to build loaders with fully equipped hardware — two-speed, high flow, ride control and bucket self-leveling — that can then be activated (and paid for) on-demand down the road instead of being purchased at the outset. Caterpillar announced a similar concept for its “updatable” excavators a while back. Right now this will be a dealer function, but there are plans to connect this more on-demand, software-driven approach to machine functionality with the new Bobcat Touch Display. This new optional, full-color 7-in. display features a wide touchscreen to change settings, match performance to the job and continuously monitor the machine’s maintenance needs.
Bobcat has come a long way and isn’t afraid of what’s next. In fact, they plan on showing us just that.