Review: Evarn Covich checks out Cat’s new excavators
In 1972, after years of testing, Caterpillar released the 225, its first hydraulic excavator to ever hit the market. Being around the 20-tonne mark, these machines were a sizable unit for their time, so it seems quite fitting that 46 years on it would choose this same weight range to release the flagships of what it claims to be a ground-up revamp of the hydraulic excavator in what is now considered to be the medium-weight class of digger.
After about $50,000,000 in research and development spent over the past five years, Caterpillar feels that it has manufactured a product that will send shockwaves through the earthmoving industry around the globe in the form of the new ‘Next Generation’ excavators. Bold statements that include “Up to 25 per cent fuel savings” and “Up to 15 per cent less maintenance costs” from their predecessors, not to mention the operator efficiency that could be boosted by “Up to 45 per cent” through the use of the integrated Cat Connect Technology that is standard in two of the three machines, are only a few of the upgrades made to these machines that have just been released onto the world market.
The three new models of machine are the 320GC, 320 and 323. All diggers are almost identical in size and working range, with the only real difference being machine weight, bucket size and slight variations in breakout force. I will touch on all machines in the course of this report, along with how these percentage numbers have come about, but first I will take you through some of the common ground that they share.
ALL NEW CAB
Input collected from clients all over the world has resulted in Cat’s design team coming up with a new, more operator-friendly work station that comes in Comfort, Deluxe or Premium packages.
In the first of a two-part series,
Evarn Covich heads to Cat’s launch of its ‘New Generation’ 320GC, 320 and 323 excavators to see what’s on offer
The Comfort cab has a mechanical seat and is standard for the 320GC while the air-adjustable/ heated seat of the Deluxe package seems to be the staple for the 320 and 323, with the upgrade to Premium incorporating seat cooling and advanced cab sound suppression in this ROPSrated work station.
The expanding operator waistlines of the world have also been addressed by way of a tilt-up console to make cab entry and exit easier and safer, while a change to electric over hydraulic controls means no more pilot lines, with the end result being a streamlining of the control lever consoles. This has made way for more room to fit a wider seat which is rated at up to 160kg. The seat is fully adjustable, separate from the levers, and also able to move together with the controls to provide optimum legroom. I don’t think anyone would encounter any difficulty positioning themselves in a comfortable manner for their time in the driver’s seat.
Some of the machine’s functions have been incorporated into the touchscreen control panel, abating the need for excessive buttons and switches. Those that remain have been positioned in front of the operator to negate the need to twist and turn unnecessarily. Touchscreen functions can also be programmed into the control lever buttons, mitigating the need for the operator to take their hands off the controls to cycle through the screen and select a different function.
There is an excellent amount of storage available in the cab with Bluetooth and USB ports available to connect your smart devices. Visibility has been improved with smaller front-cab pillars that allow for more window area along with a rear-facing camera that comes standard. A camera system upgrade can allow the operator to have a full 360-degree view around the whole machine, ideal for those who work in tight areas or if there is a bit of foot traffic around.
Automatic climate control is also standard across the range. Personally, I think this should be a standard fixture on any cab machine produced by all manufacturers around the globe given the technology that’s available today. It always makes for a nice work environment when you can keep your cab at a constant comfortable temperature throughout the shift.
A shuffle around of daily maintenance pre-start items has enabled this procedure to be fully carried out by the operator at ground level. Engine oil, coolant, water separator etc, along with filters and scheduled oil sampling ports are within easy reach through the side doors of the
machine, negating the need to climb onto the machine in order to check these items. This not only makes the procedure a lot safer and quicker for the operator to perform but may also help encourage some of the people out there that have trouble or just can’t be bothered ascending the machine in order to perform this task on a daily basis.
Extra steps have been conveniently placed on the track-frame to provide access up the side and onto the back of the machine if need be via stairs moulded into the new 345-litre polycarbonate fuel tank. Although the stairs were slightly squeezy for my ample girth, this safety feature enables the operator to keep three points of contact throughout the mount and dismount with the help of well-placed handrails. The new shape of the tank also affords the operator increased visibility on the offside of the machine from inside the cab. Cat claims that owners should expect to save up to 15 per cent on maintenance costs compared to predecessors over the life of the machine (12,000 hours). This has come about through the use of new filters that have increased their life by around 50 per cent to 100 per cent over previous designs. According to Cat staff, the longer intervals between services equate to about 820 litres less oil and up to 50 fewer filters over the machine’s life.
The revamped hydraulic system now uses one less pump, two fewer filters, has a 20 per cent smaller tank, and operates using 50 metres less hydraulic hose than previous models, which equates to a lot less fluid in the system.
A move to electric cooling fans eases the burden on the engine and they are able to be reversed in order to blow dust build-up back out of the cores when needed. Auxiliary hydraulic lines are an option on these machines, and although I understand that not all companies require the use of added attachments, I do however feel that all excavators in this day and age should come ready equipped with quickhitch piping as standard. You will be pretty hard pressed to find a machine without one in today’s climate.
Claims of up to 25 per cent better fuel efficiency over previous models I’m sure will turn a few heads, as this can equate to a considerable amount of savings to the owner throughout the life of the machine. Operating in the new Smart Mode setting constantly adjusts engine speed to suit hydraulic demand in order to optimise fuel consumption and enhance performance in all types of digging applications.
The 320 and 320GC both run a Cat C4.4 Acert engine. The 320 motor is Tier 4 emission-rated and produces 122kW (164hp) while the 320GC configuration is Tier 3 and produces 108kW (145hp). The 323, however, is equipped with a Tier 4 emission-rated, Cat C7.1 Acert powerplant that also has a gross power of 122kW (164hp). The engines have been selected to provide optimum performance, efficiency and cost for each of the units’ intended applications. All three machines come with Product Link and Vision Link, which is software enabling the tracking of unit location, hours, fuel burn, diagnostics and idle times etc. from a remote location. This enables owners to see where productivity can be improved while lowering operating costs.
Some operators might have to be careful as the boss will know whenever you try to take advantage of the new roomier cabin and go toes up for a bit of a break if you’ve had a late night.
Visibility has been improved with smaller front-cab pillars that allow for more window area along with a rearfacing camera that comes standard
Make sure to checkout Part 2 next month!