Caterpillar’s Never-Ending Journey

January 14, 2021

For Caterpillar, our quest to make our customers more successful is a never-ending journey. And, we remain focused on technology advances to make them more productive. 

Read on for highlights from our Chairman & CEO Jim Umpleby’s virtual chat with Mike Osenga from Diesel Progress which covered digital technologies, corporate culture, customers, mechanical developments, and more.

Digital Developments 

Umpleby: We’ve invested heavily in our digital capabilities and have continued to do so. We set a target for ourselves to have a million connected assets and achieved that in 2019.

When we embarked on our strategy in 2017, services were one of the three main elements of that strategy. For us, services are everything that we do to make a customer successful after we sell that first piece of equipment. A lot of things go into that. 

We’re continually investing in new ways to leverage connectivity, to make our customers more successful. Whether it’s avoiding unplanned outages, maximizing availability, maximizing utilization, minimizing downtime, and all the rest.

It’s a never-ending journey, and we’ll continue as technology advances to find new ways to make our customers more successful. It is a key part of what we’re doing.

Every customer has a different approach in terms of how they want to use data. Our job is to be flexible and to deal with each individual customer in a way that makes sense for them. Avoiding unplanned downtime is something that drives a lot of value for our customers.

Equipment health is something that we invest heavily in to provide to our customers. And it’s getting better all the time. Some customers want us to do everything onsite to take care of their equipment. And some are, “no, send me a text or call me, or some other way to transfer data to me.” Again, we’re flexible based on customer needs.

Digital Developments

Autonomous Vehicles 

Caterpillar has a long history with autonomous vehicles, yet Umpleby says it is still early in the game with the best still ahead.

Umpleby: If you think about what we’ve done with our autonomous mining trucks – we’re excited. I really believe this is an area where the industry has reached a tipping point.

For many mines of a certain size, most of those customers now want an autonomous fleet. We’ve had customers publicly state that they’re seeing productivity increases in the range of 30%, which is obviously very significant to their bottom line. We have about 340 autonomous mining trucks running. We expect to reach 400 by the end of the year. We like to say that we have more actual autonomous miles on our mining trucks than any car manufacturer has out there.

Mechanical vs. Digital 

Mechanical vs. Digital 

With all the intense focus (and money) spent on developing digital systems, do the more standard mechanical and hydraulic systems start to take a back seat?

Umpleby: Not at all. We still invest significantly in both machines and engines, both for new products and to fine-tune our existing products. There’s a lot of things we can do from improving power density to burning alternative fuels.

And it’s not just engines and machines, but also our transmission and control systems, and the way we integrate those together to provide a competitive advantage and value for our customers. It’s an evolution.

We’re always looking at new kinds of fuels that we can burn like biogases. In some of our gas turbines, we can burn hydrogen to produce electricity. A lot of the advantage comes from our ability to integrate the various things that we manufacture.


In the eyes of some, Caterpillar has said comparatively little about electrification. How does that look from the CEO’s chair?

Umpleby: We’re always investing in new technologies. Our job is to be ready to meet the future needs of our customers. We’ve been, as you know, engaged in electrification, and have had hybrid models for decades. So, they’re not new to us.

We have had things like electric underground mining equipment. Just this week a customer in California announced that they purchased an all-electric switching locomotive from Progress Rail (a Caterpillar company).

In construction, we concur that it will likely happen first in smaller machines, or our Building Construction Products machines, in Europe especially.

Check out the full interview with Diesel Progress.  


 A Day in the Life

From working remotely to running a Fortune 100 company, Jim Umpleby talks about a day in the life of Chairman & CEO. 

Full Story
Jim Umpleby
Jim Umpleby

Caterpillar facilities operate as essential businesses all around the world. It’s almost obvious, right? If we can’t keep the lights on, if we don’t have fuel or engine parts for trucks to deliver medicines and groceries, if we don’t have machines to maintain sewer systems or provide clean water, the world has a big problem. We’ve been just so proud of our team, and the way they’ve been resilient and worked their way through these challenges.

Check out the full article to hear more from Jim on how the Caterpillar team continues to deliver amidst the global pandemic.