Cat’s eye toward the future

  • 14-Feb-2012 03:00 EST

Tana L. Utley, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President with responsibility for the Product Development & Global Technology Division at Caterpillar Inc.

Tana L. Utley joined Caterpillar in 1986 as an entry-level engineer in the college graduate training program; 21 years later, she was named to her current position of Chief Technology Officer and Vice President with responsibility for the Product Development & Global Technology Division. In this role, she has been focused on solving the technical challenges of reducing diesel engine emissions in accordance with U.S. EPA and equivalent global regulations. SOHE Assistant Editor Matthew Monaghan recently met with Utley to discuss Cat’s global technology strategy.

What are the biggest near-term challenges facing the off-highway industry?

I, along with a lot of my colleagues, have made a career out of the quest for near-zero regulated emissions—NOx and PM. That’s a challenge for the whole industry, but I would say the challenge isn’t so much the emissions themselves, though that does impose some technical challenges, the real challenge is bringing customer value. Our customers always have a choice, and it’s are they going to buy a new Cat machine or not. The challenge for the industry is not just to make the emissions transparent to the customer but, more importantly, to bring some customer value to interest them in buying the new machines and equipment.

From an R&D perspective, how do you determine where to invest for the future?

It’s really driven by where we would like our products to be out in the year 2020. We have bold goals for those in terms of efficiency, greenhouse gas, productivity for the customer, product cost, etc. We put those goals together based upon talking to our customers, dealers, looking at the big trends in technology, trends in resources, and using all that information, then put together a technology strategy that helps us define explicitly what those bold goals are, and then how do we balance investments across those three themes [machine architecture, engine and energy systems, and automation] to give us the highest probability of meeting them.

You’ve long had an interest in global climate change, what makes it something you’re so passionate about?

The nice thing about greenhouse gas emissions is it coincides so nicely with reducing fuel consumption. If you’re running a diesel fuel, reducing fuel consumption, it almost 1 for 1 takes down your greenhouse gas. The other thing I like about greenhouse gas research is it lets us tap into that big natural gas reserve we have and leverage that MWM [Holding GmbH] investment that Caterpillar has made. There’s an awful lot of opportunity there to improve customer value as we do good for the environment with greenhouse gas.

What makes automation something that you have such a key focus on?

We hear a couple things from our customers. One is that it’s difficult to train operators and even in some of the large mines to find qualified operators. Automation can help with that either by taking the man out of the machine entirely or by incorporating semi-autonomous features, making it less cumbersome to operate the machine. The other driving factor is that work sites are inherently inefficient. Making the work site more efficient by using the positional knowledge we have—knowing where that machine is, where the blade is, and where it should be vs. the prescribed plan—that can make you so much more productive.

As someone who has climbed up through the ranks, how do you encourage young people looking to pursue a career in this industry?

For one thing, I try to tell anybody that will listen, it’s something you can get a job in. Second of all, technology is changing all the time, so you may have one career, but within that career in engineering you can have so many “mini” careers. You come to work at a company like Cat, you can work on diesel engine emissions, electronics, transmissions, automation, you can be a customer support person, etc. You can have so many different experiences and have such an interesting and financially rewarding career. If we could get them through calculus and physics, and they have a chance to get to the engineering courses, I think we’d have a lot of young people that really like it.

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