Motor Graders Getting Easier to Operate, More Versatile

Updated May 15, 2024
Cat 150 motor grader scraping snow on road at night
The Cat 150 and 150 AWD are powered by Cat C9.3 engines rated at 200 net horsepower mated to an APECS, Direct Drive, Powershift transmission with eight forward and six reverse gears. Operating weight when typically equipped is 43,950 pounds. Cat Product Link/Vision Link is integrated and provides information for fleet management and to reduce operating costs.

Advances in design and technology have made today’s motor graders more productive, more versatile and easier to operate while also lowering owning and operating costs.

Among popular features available standard or as an option are:

  • Machine damage avoidance, which prevents contact between components, such as the moldboard striking a tire;
  • An improved circle that does away with the need for shims and adjustments;
  • Auto articulation, which coordinates steering and articulation and can re-center the articulation joint at the push of a button.

We spoke with product experts from Caterpillar, John Deere and Komatsu on what their companies offer and what contractors should look for when shopping.

Caterpillar – More Advances in 2024

“Customers should expand their thinking about what a modern grader can do, especially in the hands of a skilled operator,” says Eric Kohout, Cat product application specialist.

They can mix and standardize materials – wet and dry. They can segregate by allowing finer material to pass under the moldboard while directing rocks and other coarse materials to the edge. They work on ditches and slopes, including slopes with up to a 1:1 ratio.

Work tools include front lift for scarifiers, plows and blades; a mid-mount scarifier behind the front wheels; rear rippers and scarifiers as well as well as snow wings. Travel speeds up to 30 mph simplify transport.

And he says the performance and efficiency of today’s graders open up a simple way for operators to reduce costs:

“Shift up and throttle back. You’ll get the same speed and productivity with less fuel.”

Kohout says the range and available combinations of features on Cat graders can be difficult to summarize in words. In addition, further advances will be arriving later in 2024.

Kohout advises customers to consult with their dealers to see which features are available on which graders to ensure the best match for their work. That said, here are some of the key features on Cat graders:

  • GC models (aka “lever models”) are for customers who don’t need a lot of features. A digital blade slope meter is the only technology feature on GC machines. “The sensor-driven blade slope meter basically replaces a bubble level in the cab window,” says Kohout.
  • Stable blade is available on select lever and joystick models. A sensor in the rear of the machine detects bounce and modulates the throttle to minimize it when the grader is in throttle lock mode. Stable blade is available in grading gears, and the sensitivity is operator settable.
  • Cat ARO (Attachment Ready Option) provides plug-and-play for 2D and 3D Cat Grade systems. ARO includes mast brackets, wiring and sensor mounts. ARO plus three sensors provide cross-slope control on lever and joystick models.

Kohout advocates the use of Caterpillar fluids and filters as a way to reduce costs. These products can extend some service intervals to 1,000 hours, but use of Cat SOS sampling is essential. All major fluids have sample ports and service points that are color coded, and the caps have a common icon. Everything related to engine oil, for example, is yellow with an oil icon: fill, sample port, etc. Pressure checkpoints used in diagnostics all have black caps.

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Starting in late 2024, 140 through 160 joystick models will be available with High Performance Circle, which does away with shims and adjusters on the circle by use of an excavator bearing. Three grease fittings for the High Performance Circle will be nested in a single access point with recommended intervals equivalent to those for the lift cylinder ball joint. The High Performance Circle is already available on the 24.

Also coming in late 2024 will be an upgraded monitor on 140, 150 and 160 joystick models. That touchscreen monitor will include rearview camera, which can be set to always on or only when backing. PM alerts can also be displayed.

John Deere – Building-Block Technology

Deere 772GP SmartGrade Motor Grader grading on dirt slopeJohn Deere’s 772GP grader has a PowerTech PSS 9.0L engine rated at 275 net horsepower. Wheelbase is 20 feet 3 inches. Typical operating weight is 17,530 pounds. Moldboard side shift is 26.9 inches right and left. Axle oscillation is 32 degrees, and front-wheel lean is 20 degrees. Standard features include cross slope and return to straight.John DeereG Series graders from John Deere have been available since 2009 and have mechanical controls. GP (“Grade Pro”) models have EH controls. Graders have not yet moved to Deere’s Tiering strategy; hence, there are no G-, P- or X-Tier graders at this time.

“Technology has been the building block for the introduction of new features, especially over the past three or four years,” says Matt Costello, product marketing manager, motor graders, John Deere. GP models have cross slope, and the addition of cylinder sensors has provided greater accuracy. Automation features and SmartGrade can be incorporated.

There are several technology packages available, which can be ordered a la carte or customers can order the Automation Suite, which includes Auto-Articulation, Machine Pre-sets, Blade Flip and Auto-Pass.

The Automation Suite, Auto-Shift Plus and Machine Damage Avoidance are included with all GP machines for a 500-hour demonstration period. During the demo, the dealer can monitor the use of features and provide coaching and suggestions via Expert Alerts. All features are customizable to suit conditions and operator preferences. There is also a QR code in the cab that operators can scan with their phones to access 1- to 4-minute training videos.

Up to three machine presets can be programmed in to bundle multiple functions into a single press of a button. Examples include Roading, which would activate specific lighting and stow the ripper and moldboard, and Stow, which would stow all attachments, such as the front blade and snow wing.

Auto-Shift Plus allows fully automatic shifting of roading gears 4 through 8, while the “Plus” feature does away with the need for an inching pedal. With Plus, the brake and accelerator provide inching control, although an inching pedal is still available for operators who prefer to use it. Plus mode is accessed through the sealed switch module (SSM), and the setting is retained on restart.

Deere has had SmartGrade Technology available since 2019. The mastless GNSS feature includes the long-life Premium Circle and the full Automation Suite. Position-sensing cylinders are key to SmartGrade and to most other advanced features, “the sum of which make what is arguably the most complex machine on the jobsite much easier to run safely and efficiently,” says Costello. “In addition, logic controls and automation bring new operators up to proficiency faster.”

The SmartGrade option allows operators to grade without limitations and place the machine in nontraditional setups, such as blade pitch, circle side shift and wheel lean, and still maintain grade.

Customers opting out of Deere’s Premium Circle can select the standard circle, which will require periodic shimming and adjustment. Deere has both nylon and bronze shims. Nylon has less friction and transmits more torque but has a shorter life; bronze has more drag and reduces torque but lasts longer. Wear inserts can be replaced with no need for adjustments of the standard circle using a 9/16-inch wrench.

Deere’s full range of features are available on all of the GP graders. Auto-Shift Plus and the premium circle can be added to G graders.

Costello encourages customers to work with their dealers to understand what’s available and match features to their tasks. He also reminds customers that their dealers can help with John Deere ReLife, which offers customizable rebuilding options for equipment including warranty coverage and financing options.

Komatsu’s New, Biggest Grader

Komatsu GD955-7 motor grader turning in dirtThe GD955-7 is Komatsu’s biggest grader, with an operating weight of 104,323 pounds. The Komatsu engine is rated at 426 gross horsepower at 1,900 rpm. Minimum turning radius is 30.5 feet. The standard 18-foot moldboard has 59,119 pound-force of blade pull and 49,009 pound-force of downward pressure. Side shift is 2 feet 8 inches right and 3 feet 1 inch left.KomatsuqThe recently introduced GD955-7 grader from Komatsu is the biggest of its three models and has a 50% increase in operating weight and a 17% increase in wheelbase over the previous model.

The Komatsu SAA6D140E-7 engine is rated at 426 horsepower, an increase of 48%, to ensure peak performance from this bigger machine. For example, working travel speeds have been increased 19%. Productivity is increased up to 33% with the standard 18-foot moldboard and up to 46% with the optional 20-foot moldboard, according to Komatsu.

Despite its size, the GD955-7 can be easily managed on typical 100-ton haul roads, the company says. The 27-degree articulation affords tight U-turns on those haul roads without the need to fully cut the wheel or course correct and provides better maneuverability in confined spaces and around obstacles.

Three engine power modes are available:

  • Power is for full performance and productivity.
  • Economy reduces fuel consumption during lighter work.
  • Middle Speed uses engine-controlled intermediate gears for tasks where operators want precise speed control simultaneous with full engine speed and power.

The eight forward-, eight-reverse-speed dual-mode transmission offers the efficiency of direct drive with the benefits of torque-converter drive and auto-manual selectable gearshift, the company says. An inching pedal is standard. The automatic lock/unlock differential works with steering angle.

The closed-center, load-sensing hydraulic system promotes constant cylinder speed, multifunction control and reduced fuel consumption.

A bearing-type drawbar circle is standard and eliminates the need for shims and adjustments, which contributes to a reduction in total maintenance time by up to 21%, according to Komatsu. A 72-point Graco auto-lubrication system helps reduce maintenance time and increases component life.

The climate controlled, hexangular cab reduces noise and improves visibility to the moldboard. The new air-suspension operator seat is heated and ventilated. There is an operator-presence monitoring system for improved safety.

Low-effort, fingertip controls have been placed in a more ergonomic location. The steering wheel is fully adjustable and is augmented by a palm-controlled steering lever.

KomVision all-around view gives the operator a bird’s eye view of the work area on a dedicated monitor. The rearview monitoring system also has a dedicated monitor, which is placed in line with the heated and power adjustable mirrors.

“With significant increases in operating weight, blade downforce pressure and working travel speeds, this new size-class motor grader will be a smart choice for increased efficiency on our customers’ mine sites,” says Sebastian Witkowski, product manager.