Cover Story: Innovations 2007

By bringing automatic lubrication out to the working end of a shear, Stanley LaBounty has cut tool blade wear in half.

Cutting metals – particularly stainless steel – with shears has an inherent set of problems. Because some of these materials don’t respond well to cutting, demolition contractors and others end up using the shear to tear the material – which leads to friction. With friction comes heat build up from blade interference. “The material being processed would adhere to the blades and take away a lot of the cutting power,” says Uwe Kausch, LaBounty product line manager, Stanley LaBounty. “What’s more, you’d have to grind the material off.”

So Stanley LaBounty started recommending the occasional application of machine coolant. As a strategy, it worked but it was labor intensive and time consuming. “Some of our customers went as far as having a bucket of coolant in the yard they could dip the upper jaw into,” Kausch says.

Taking a cue
So Clay Sederberg, LaBounty engineering manager, took a cue from the auto-lube systems on hydraulic hammers mounted on excavators. The result is something Stanley LaBounty calls “simple, yet revolutionary.”

On the surface it seems a quick engineering fix, but the auto-lube system the company debuted on its MSD Saber-Lube series of shears in January 2006 presented a host of challenges.

First, components used had to endure the brutal environment of the working end of a shear. Excavator-mounted mobile shears have an upper jaw with a boxed lower jaw, with blades affixed to one side of the upper jaw and an inside surface of the lower jaw. The shear cuts when the cutting blades bypass each other. As a rule, this cutting action forces the upper jaw over, causing the guide blade opposite the lower cutting blades to support the upper jaw. “The key to this system would be the lubrication of the cutting and guide blades as they passed each other during the cutting cycle,” Kausch says.

Next, engineers concentrated on lubrication hose routing – not only dodging the shear’s internal components, particularly in the upper jaw, but also making sure the system would get grease to specific areas of the shear. Then came structural integrity concerns since the system required the company to machine lubricant passages through the upper jaw to the wear areas and devise a trap door at the bottom of the shear so the grease reservoir could be easily accessed by maintenance personnel. “We didn’t want to radically change the design of the shear or make it significantly larger,” Kausch comments.

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Manufacturing also had to be consulted, since the guts of the lube system goes in the stick portion of the shear, requiring the manipulation of units weighing up to 42,000 pounds.

Engineers settled on a system that delivers lubricant automatically to blade areas of the shear as well as both slide pucks and the upper jaw/ cylinder connection. The system is pressurized using a diagnostic port of the speed valve. The pump releases lube when the shear fully closes, then resets when the shear opens.

The system uses off-the-shelf synthetic No. 1 or No. 2 grease, or any number of specialty greases. The reservoir can be easily filled by operators using an outside nipple with three tubes of grease, providing about 18 hours of lubrication. The heart of the system – reservoir, pump and valves – can be accessed via a hatch plate at the bottom of the shear. In addition, the upper sequencing valve can be reached by removing a cover plate on the upper jaw.

Out in the field
Field testing of prototype units began in 2004. Stanley LaBounty tested multiple units in ferrous scrap applications in New York and Texas.

As always, concerns crop up during field testing. Stanley LaBounty had to work around the different lube practices of its customers. While some use battery-operated grease guns, others use an air pressurized grease system off a lube truck, which has higher pressures and flow rates. “After some early failures of canisters, we had to come up with a design that would take higher grease flows and pressures,” Kausch says. The company also put pressure, flow and temperature parameters in their maintenance manuals, and spec’d different oil viscosities for different temperatures.

Due to the diversity of shear applications, the company had to pay attention to the durability of the system. Shears processing brittle materials required an upgrade to the hydraulic hoses, fittings and lubrication pump. The rigors of demolition dictated the addition of a support clamp on the cantilevered reservoir.

Double the life
While Stanley LaBounty knew going in the Saber Lube system would save maintenance costs related to eliminating the welding that had been required before, they immediately discovered another benefit: the typical life of their blades in processing ferrous scrap doubled from approximately 80 hours to 160 hours on each of the four edges of their rectangular blades.

The next challenge was to convince customers, however, to pay a premium for the Saber-Lube shears and blades. This premium was prompted by the cost of the lube system components, the extra manufacturing costs of steel fabrications with lube passages and drilling holes and making grease grooves on the blades. The auto-lube system adds anywhere from $17,500 to $27,000 to the price of the shear, depending on the model. In addition, the blade kits cost 20 percent more than previous kits.

The company contends, however, these extra costs are recovered in about a year. For example, on the MSD 3000-SL, Stanley LaBounty says the number of rotations per year has been reduced from 16 to eight, and the hours required to weld the upper and lower blades has been reduced form 120 to 36. The company estimates the total savings per year for blade cost and labor is $6,976, plus another $4,200 for labor saving from welding (with welding requirements estimated to be less than a third of what they were before) and $8,505 for added production since the machine isn’t sidelined as much for blade maintenance.

There were additional side benefits to the lube system. One, operators are seeing a reduction in noise since the lubricated surfaces are not making metal-to-metal contact. Second, the shear’s hydraulic cylinder is operating more smoothly, especially when cutting irregular objects, which reduces pressure spiking. Third, blade gaps – which can draw material in the blade faces and jam the shear – were kept tighter longer.

According to Stanley LaBounty, testing revealed the Saber-Lube MSD 3000 model also saw an 8-percent increase in the downward cutting force (once the upper jaw engages with the lower jaw), primarily because of the reduction of friction. “With about 95 percent of your friction gone, you have more workable power,” Kausch says.

Customers seem to be paying attention. Kausch says that 75 percent of the Sabers sold (Stanley LaBounty kept its original Saber series for cost-constrained users) are Saber-Lubes.

But, he notes, the system isn’t for all applications. Cutting concrete structures, for example, produces dust that clogs up the lubrication holes. And unless biodegradable grease is used, many marine applications are also out. In response, the company put a shut-off valve on the pump, so using the auto-lube system is at the contractor’s discretion. EW

Why I chose this product
The high cost of blade wear is a constant when running shears, so when Stanley LaBounty made claims of doubling blade life, it needed to be investigated. The innovation here is taking something proven in so many machine operations and applying it to a product where it would produce so many immediate benefits.
– Marcia Gruver

Tackling head on the problem of how to make grader operation easier, Caterpillar devised a way to get a bank of control levers into two joysticks.

To trace the origin of the M-Series grader’s premier innovation, you would have to go back to 1998. A small research project then examined ways to make motor grader operation easier. One possibility Cat posed to contractors in this research was joystick controls.

And so Caterpillar started to design the first iterations of grader joysticks. By the time the company launched its full scale M-Series development in late 2002, the joysticks were a given.

While joysticks are common place in construction equipment, no joystick before had ever been required to have as many as 16 functions on it. “If you look at the number of levers in graders, plus a steering wheel, it was no wonder people were skeptical of wrapping all that up in two joysticks,” says Cale Groen, engineering supervisor, motor grader configuration, Caterpillar.

Common joysticks have two axes, moving fore/aft and side to side. To add the necessary functions, Cat created a third axis on each joystick: twist. “It allowed us to get the intuitive features we needed,” Groen says.

In general, all machine controls are on the left joystick and implement controls are on the right joystick. With the additional twist axis, designers added articulation control with the left joystick and circle rotation with the right. (See the illustration for a more thorough explanation of joystick functions.)

In February 2003, Cat introduced early iterations of the joystick controls to several operators in various application trials. In one particular Michigan trial, six county road maintenance operators received 25 minutes of instruction before taking the machines out to remove snow in early morning traffic.

While Cat received positive feedback from these operators, they did point out two issues. One was machine steering sensitivity – at higher travel speeds, operators felt the steering was far too sensitive. The joysticks also had a cross talk issue, or an undesired movement of the hydraulic function.

Even with these take-it-back-to-the-test-cell items, the Michigan operators offered encouragement, telling Cat it was on to something. Designers responded by adjusting the software several times with continuous trial and error testing. The result: Intuitive Steering Control, which uses a breaking system in the base of the joystick, preventing it from snapping back to center after being positioned left or right.

By the fall of 2004, a pilot machine was ready for some of the toughest critics, eight veteran grader operators. The setting: a remote area in North America.

Cat knew this was the type of group they needed to convince. These operators had logged the seat time, knew the nuances of each grader lever and how to precisely create grade-exact surfaces and contours. They had it all down – why should they learn anything new?

“Each of these eight operators brought a unique characteristic to the table,” says Wade Porter, marketing supervisor, motor grader product line. “For example, one was currently running a straight-frame Cat 12E. He’d have to make a huge leap to the newest technology. Another had two reconstructed rotator cuffs, so we were interested if he noticed the improved ergonomics. And yet another was absolutely resistant to change. We converted him in half a morning.”

In fact, all eight were converted in three days of testing, giving Cat the validation they sought. Still, as these eight pointed out, there were areas that needed to be addressed by the design team.

“Some had concerns about our steering system response, particularly during roading and in low-speed applications,” says Ethan Tevis, technical team leader, motor graders. “These were addressed with changes to the software. The operators also asked for certain controls to be relocated, and for more ease of operation on a joystick switch.” Cat addressed each challenge using the Six Sigma process. “It makes stepping through the process much more efficient,” Tevis comments. “You don’t waste time guessing.”

After implementing input from the eight veteran operators, Cat was ready for what it calls its field follow program, which is still ongoing. “By the time we finish with the M-Series field follow program, we’ll have evaluated several machines for more than 80,000 hours,” Porter say. “It’s the most aggressive field follow program we’ve undertaken.” These units are under intense scrutiny, with data collected daily and relayed back to technical teams at the company’s plant in Decatur, Illinois.

In addition, Cat is making use of simulator training on the M-Series – but put the training in quotes. The real purpose of the simulator is to overcome any fears of using an entirely new control system. “We wanted people to feel the controls are intuitive and believe they do work,” Porter says, adding most people only need 10 to 15 minutes on the simulator before they’re ready to get on the machine.

As another part of its marketing strategy, Caterpillar asked the University of Wisconsin to compare the operator effort required on former H-Series grader controls with that on the M-Series joysticks. In the resulting motion capture study, researchers discovered a 78 percent reduction in overall movement with the joysticks compared to the H-Series controls.

Cat likes to point out that the joystick controls aren’t the only thing worth talking about on the M-Series.

Eliminating the steering wheel and bank of levers, for example, let Cat open up the machine’s visibility, especially since the width of the cab was no longer dictated by the width of the controls. In response, Cat moved the front posts out of the sight line and tapered the front window. In addition, they used an anti-glare black surface on the top of the front frame, lift cylinders and engine compartment.

The electro-hydraulic controls allowed engineers to add several features, including steering compensation on all-wheel-drive models. “This gives the machine the ability to understand its steering angle at all times and compensate wheel speeds so you’re pulled rather than pushed through a turn,” Groen says. “It’s active when AWD is engaged and it’s automatic.”

The new level of controls also led to the addition of the auto return-to-center function, allowing operators to push a joystick button and return the articulation to center.

Another point of pride: The top adjust drawbar. By removing the access plates located on top of the drawbar, a mechanic can maintain the circle by adding shims for wear strip adjustment or by replacing wear strips when they are worn out. During design, the top adjust drawbar presented structural challenges, since engineers were moving material from a piece that used to be solid. This required designers to understand new stresses and loads while continuing to meet durability requirements.

The M-Series graders will go into production this year and complete their phase-in by the middle of the year.

Why I chose this product
I was invited to a customer/dealer preview of the M-Series in Peoria early this summer, and that group’s response to the presentation said it all. As the joysticks were explained, I actually heard several oohs and aahs from a group that’s traditionally tough to impress.

Cat has taken on an industry problem – how to get inexperienced operators quickly up to speed on a complex machine – and turned it into a competitive advantage. They knew they had to appeal first to veteran operators, because if they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And so Cat went all out to not only solicit this group’s advice, but also to convince them the M-Series would do nothing but enhance their already considerable skills. In addition to the intuitive design, older operator joints can only appreciate the 78-percent reduction in motion the joysticks offer over the G-Series controls.

And for what it’s worth, working the controls of an M-Series grader gave me a glimmer of a hope that I, too, with much time and training could eventually learn how to competently operate a grader – something I would not have dared to claim before.
– Marcia Gruver

High performance plastics empower a host of creative design improvements

Talk about a tough audience. Greg Hoverson, manager of advanced engineering and the lead product development engineer for Fleetguard’s new User-Friendly Filter was expecting questions when he went into a meeting in late 2004 to present prototypes of the filter for an internal review. What he didn’t anticipate was a salesman asking, “Will it pass my test?” and then proceeding to slam the prototype filter repeatedly on the desk and floor.

Despite the salesman’s best efforts, the injection molded, high performance plastic filter proved unbreakable and continued to pass even more rigorous testing in lab and field trials. And when Cummins Filtration launched the new product in January 2006 it changed not only the way technicians grapple with the sometimes slippery chore of replacing oil filters, but it also advanced the way this industry thinks about the compatibility of plastic and metal.

Unusual origins
The idea for a plastic oil filter got its start in Bangalore, India, in February 2003. It was there that Pamela Carter, president of Cummins Filtration, in a meeting with representatives from General Electric became impressed with the advanced engineering and technology they were achieving with plastics. Shortly afterward, while doing “voice of the customer” meetings in California, the proverbial light came on. What customers were telling Carter was they liked their metal canister filters, but was there any way they could make them easier, cleaner and faster to get on and off?

Carter had a hunch that injection molded plastic technology could hold the key to meeting these requests, and in the summer of 2003 brought the idea to the senior leadership team at Cummins Filtration.

At first there was some skepticism. The company had earlier experimented with a composite plastic/metal filter without success. And the initial estimates were that it might take five years to develop an entirely plastic filter canister. But Carter pressed on and developed a cross-functional team comprised of an outside design consultancy, key engineers and marketing people within Cummins Filtration and people from Cummins (the parent company) who would bring diesel engine expertise.

“One of the big catalysts for the initial push was a brainstorming session we had that summer with the cross-functional group,” says John Clevenger, director of global product and alliances. “That was one of the early milestones.”

The benefits and features of the potential new filter were already fairly clear, thanks to the voice of the customer program. But the challenge to the team was to create a manufacturing process that will result in a product with those features at a price the market would accept. “From the brainstorming session we had over 100 potential concepts to sort through,” Hoverson says. “To manage all this we used our Six Sigma process. There were several good tools in there that allowed us to winnow those concepts down to the ones that met our targets best.”

A second cross-functional team meeting narrowed the range of manufacturing concepts down to five, Clevenger says. “After that there was a pretty clear winner.”

One of the reasons the group’s work continued to move forward was Carter made sure that the teams were composed of open-minded people. “There were reservations, concerns over whether the idea would work and how well it would be received,” Clevenger says. “And we had to work through those and that helped us make sure we had a solid product coming out of the analysis side.”

The process was also aided considerably by the use of computer-based, analysis-led design. Rather than build and test multiple prototypes, the team used computer simulations to study each design’s strengths and weaknesses. “We had approximately 40 to 50 different design iterations on the computer, but only one hardware iteration,” Hoverson says. “That was key for us being able to move quickly through the development of this product.”

By the end of 2004, the team had its first prototypes ready for real-world testing. In addition to tests in the lab – hydrostatic burst tests, vibration tests and dynamic impulse tests – the company put the prototypes through exhaustive field tests in conditions ranging from winters in Minnesota to the broiling heat of the desert Southwest.

“We chose a mix of applications to test and a lot of off-highway applications in particular,” Hoverson says. “Part of that was to answer our questions about durability. We wanted to make sure in all environments, no matter how rough, the product would perform as we expected it to perform.”

In late 2005 the team decided to solicit additional voice of the customer input and conduct an unusual test to answer any lingering doubts that the naysayers might have. They put two filters on the ground, one metal and the other a prototype of the User-Friendly Filter and ran over both of them with a Dodge Ram pickup truck. It flattened the metal product. The prototype was unharmed.

In some situations the biggest skeptics for a new product launch are the salespeople who have to take it to the customers. But for Cummins Filtration skepticism was no longer an issue. “We had sales and marketing involved in the cross-functional team from the beginning,” Clevenger says. “So by the time we got ready to go to market they didn’t have any reservations. It was more about how we put the message together and do the best job of assuring the customers will accept the product. But in terms of objection and pushback, there was none.”

For Carter, who first came up with the idea while traveling in India, the process of creating the User Friendly Filter represents what the company is all about. “Innovation is one of our company’s core values, urging us all to apply creative ingenuity to make us better, faster first and price competitive,” she says. “Our User-Friendly Filter does just that.”

The benefits of a plastic oil filter
Changing oil filters on any type of engine is usually a simple thing to do. But until the Fleetguard User-Friendly Filter came along it has always been messy and more time consuming than it ought to be. And depending on how deeply the filter is buried among the other components you can sometimes twist yourself up in knots trying to reach or get an oil filter wrench around one.

With the User-Friendly Oil Filter all these minor nuisances have gone away. By using a high performance plastic for the filter container the company was able to go to an injection molding process to form the filter canister. Traditional metal filter canisters are stamped out of thin metal and have a round bottom and smooth sides. The injection molding process however, freed Cummins Filtration engineers from the restrictions of this metal forming process and enabled them to build in three convenient features. A flat bottom enables technicians to set the full oil filter down without having to worry about it tipping over and spilling dirty oil. A 1/2-inch-square recess molded into the base enables them to remove too-tight filters with a socket wrench. And ribs and a textured grip surface make it easier to install the filter by hand. Plastic female threads on the top of the filter also ensure that you won’t damage your engine’s filter stud should you accidentally cross thread it during installation.

The plastic used for the User Friendly Filter is not only lighter than metal, but it’s almost impossible to damage. Metal filters, from what Cummins Filtration customers told its engineers, can be easily dented in shipping or handling. Drop one on a concrete shop floor and the dent it takes renders it unusable. Much like the hard, dense plastic used in roller blade wheels or rolling suitcase wheels, the sides of the User-Friendly Filter are just about indestructible.

Why I chose this product
What makes this product truly innovative is that Cummins Filtration didn’t just stop with one improvement – making a plastic version of the same old metal oil filters that have been around for decades.

Instead they asked themselves: “What more can we do with this material? How can we add additional value?” By listening to the voice of their customers, Cummins Filtration came up with the flat bottom, the ribbed grip surfaces and the recessed lug for easy removal – three attributes that will endear this company to mechanics and technicians for a long time to come.

The other impressive aspect of this effort was Cummins and Cummins Filtration didn’t let what has been a longstanding concern in the engine industry about the compatibility of metal and plastic nix the idea from the start. Instead they saw that problem as a potential opportunity and invested in the R&D that delivered a high-performance plastic that answers the critics and exceeded expectations.

Engine manufacturers face lot of challenges in the coming years, both regulatory and performance related. And it’s just this type of bold thinking and willingness to confront the old ways of looking at things that will lead manufacturers and their customers to success.
– Tom Jackson