Imagine 1.2 million machines and engines toiling on work sites, fulfilling extensive development projects across the globe. Then imagine these iron mammoths speaking to a centralized hub in a language composed not of words, but data.
This digital communication fuels Caterpillar’s daily operations, informing their understanding of possible service needs to avoid customer down time and maintain productivity. Yet innovation on this kind of scale is nothing new for the organization. For nearly a century, the company has supplied the world with construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. These assets routinely guide progress for organizations from the construction, resources, energy and transportation industries.
And while the company’s influence may already seem ubiquitous, insiders see it as merely a precursor of what’s to come. “We’re continuing to figure out new ways to connect existing assets and entire fleets,” said Head of Digital Product Management Melissa Busen.
According to Busen, change is commonplace at Caterpillar. Having worked at the company for the past 18 years, she has watched the organization undergo significant transformation, which culminated in the formation of its digital tech arm, Cat Digital, in 2018.
“It’s been fascinating to watch the company evolve in terms of the level and intent of our innovative efforts,” she said. “The digital world has allowed us to serve our customers even better.”
In terms of her career progression, Busen transitioned between several leadership roles before stepping into her current one within Cat Digital. Since making her latest career move, Busen has led the team’s efforts to build out its digital product management organization, which encompasses a broad range of internal business areas, from condition monitoring and equipment management to e-commerce, marketing and sales management.
EVOLUTION ON ALL SIDES
Busen said the company’s continued success is not only due to its talented team members and technical aptitude; having access to exclusive internal knowledge and proprietary data has solidified the organization’s standing as an industry leader.
“No one knows our products like we do, given the fact that our engineers know what’s happening in the field with our assets and can design digital solutions to solve problems,” Busen said. “This vertical integration is what sets Caterpillar apart from its competitors.”
According to Busen, the company is ready to solve even more issues for its customers, which is why the team has entered a significant hiring phase. Those who join the organization will have the chance to leverage a wide range of technologies and broaden their knowledge of all areas of the business, all while driving transformation by identifying issues in the field before they become major financial hurdles for customers.
For Busen, communicating this economic impact is what truly reveals the magnitude of the company’s influence. “When we articulate the value of our digital products in improving customers’ bottom line, magic happens,” she said.
Below, Busen describes the power of Caterpillar’s interconnected technology and how it benefits the company’s dealers and customers, as well as employees seeking new professional development opportunities.
How does the company’s digital technology connect with its physical machines in the field, and why is this important?
We have more than 1.2 million connected assets, ranging from machines to engines, which give us a large amount of telematics data. These assets send us data at different frequencies at least once every day. We also have other data sets to leverage, which cover various areas, from engineering recommendations about maintenance schedules to service invoices to dealer and customer inspections. Then, we merge these data sets with our telematics data to give us an overall perspective of each individual resource before integrating it into our platform. We want to ensure we have consistency with the data and store it in a single safe location, which we can then use to run our advanced analytic models and transform our data. This allows our digital applications to be built off of one platform.
From a customer impact perspective, what are the benefits of this union between digital technology and physical engineering?
Nobody knows Caterpillar products like we do, which means no one else is better suited to make digital solutions for our customers. When it comes to our customers, it’s all about reducing unplanned downtime, which we do through proactive, early detection of potential failures. That’s why we’ve invested heavily in our failure model analytics and condition monitoring. We currently have 17 times more analytics models than we had in 2018. This all enables us to help our customers act before their equipment goes down.
One example of a failure model is in regard to fuel dilution of the engine oil. If that goes undetected, it damages an engine over time, which could cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars and reduce future revenue. By using this one specific analytical model, we can cut the detection time from 10 days to 2.4 hours with an accuracy rate of 90 percent. You could never do that amount of improvement with any type of fuel sampling, considering you would have to have some form of live detection alert as soon as something goes wrong. This is just one example of how we’re helping customers detect potential issues before they occur, saving them significant money.
“Nobody knows Caterpillar products like we do, which means no one else is better suited to make digital solutions for our customers.”
How do the company’s technologists interact with those building the machines, and how does this teamwork drive progress?
Our data scientists work directly with our component engineers on a weekly basis to build the different elements that go into our machines. To determine the problems the company needs to solve, these teams come together to describe what they see happening in the field. Once we have an understanding of that, team members work together to decide how to fix issues. By forging this relationship between our data scientists and component engineers, these teams essentially work on an endless, ongoing project. Given the amount of failure models we wish to build, we don’t anticipate this collaboration ending anytime soon.
What opportunities do employees have to develop professionally and drive transformation?
Given the unique challenges of our customers and the broadness of our portfolio, we offer team members many different growth opportunities. We have career paths within Cat Digital that enable employees to start in one place and transition between many different roles. This is because our common tech stack integrates all the different aspects of our business, from condition monitoring to e-commerce, so it’s essential for team members to understand how everything works together.
PURPOSE IN THE BIGGER PICTURE
What are you most looking forward to when you contemplate the future of Cat Digital?
Our breadth of innovative solutions excites me the most. Cat Digital is unique in the sense that we see across our entire enterprise. Because we serve various industries, we’re able to understand how we can make the biggest impact and decide what our customers really need. We’re well-positioned to drive continued innovation in the digital space.