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Caterpillar: What Continuous Innovation Looks Like

At Chief Executive’s 2nd Annual Smart Manufacturing Summit held in Peoria, Ill., this past May, Doug Oberhelman, Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc., was presented with the 2014 Leadership in American Manufacturing Award. Oberhelman received this award for driving success at Caterpillar through the company’s mission, innovation, performance and leadership.

In his keynote speech, Oberhelman spoke about innovation at Caterpillar and how the 85-year-old company stays ahead of its nearly 100 competitors. Here are his opening remarks.

“A few months ago, I was participating in a panel discussion at Fortune magazine’s Tech Brainstorm in Aspen, and the moderator, Business Editor Jeff Colvin, said, ‘you don’t fit the traditional tech model, so everyone wants to know what you’re doing here.’ It was a great question. When you look at us, you see a company that moves dirt. But the reality is, when it comes to innovation, we’re equal to, if not more advanced than, the tech world. We created 1,100 patents in 2013 and have almost 8,000 active patents today for lean methodology, lean manufacturing and additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

Our immersive visualization cave is about the coolest thing you will ever see. You put these 3D goggles on and can touch a piston inside an engine. But when you take your goggles off you are looking at a white wall.

Sustainability is a big consequence of our innovation. We work to deliver more fuel economy, through less passes across the parking lot. And less fuel drives lower CO2 emissions.

We re-manufacture an entire 2,000-pound diesel engine. It’s amazing the impact that can have on the environment to not have to mine ore to pour a cast iron block. We also will take a fuel pump that has been in operation 10 years, recycle it and put it back in a new parts box with a new warranty. Think about the impact this has on the environment and on our customers.

Through innovation, we’ve gone way beyond moving dirt. Our largest bulldozer in the world is using robotics. In energy and transportation, we use a dynamic gas blending and high pressure direct injection. It’s a way to burn natural gas and oil in the same engine at the same time. It offers a tremendously lower cost alternative. We have several locomotives running with that tech and we have 40 patents on it.


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