Caterpillar Global Mining’s Innovation in Drilling Spans More Than Eight Decades

When Caterpillar Inc. purchased Bucyrus International in 2010, they acquired a company that has a history of innovation spanning more than eight decades. Back in 1933, Bucyrus-Erie first entered the drilling business when they purchased The Armstrong Drill Company, a small company out of Waterloo, Iowa. Armstrong had a full line of drills, both large and small, and a strong reputation in the industry. At the time, Bucyrus-Erie had made a name for itself in excavation equipment but this new endeavor was uncharted territory for the company and the purchase was considered a gamble.

Bucryus-Erie saw great potential in Armstrong’s line of blast-hole drills. These heavy-duty, self-propelled machines were available with gasoline engines or electric motors and were the largest available in the industry.  Bucyrus-Erie’s customers were in the fields of construction, mining and quarrying – all of which were growing markets for drill technology. The company had the foresight to pair these drills with their new large shovels, which could remove blasted material quickly and efficiently.

Drill production soon began in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the company’s former headquarters. Today, Caterpillar Global Mining’s headquarters is in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It was an effort to keep manufacturing, engineering and the newly created drill sales department in the same location while the company transitioned this new product. As they predicted, the blast-hole drills, marketed under the name Bucyrus-Armstrong, became a success and, much to the company’s delight, so were the smaller water-well and oil-well drills sold primarily to smaller business and contractors.  During the first six years of production, sales of the entire drill product line, accessories and repairs totaled $3.6 million.   

While the Armstrong name was dropped in 1943, Bucyrus-Erie continued to develop drill technology and had several successful machines building off of the original Armstrong design and innovation. Rotary drills were one of the most notable innovations as they used a rotating drill head and could produce larger holes in less time as opposed to churn style drills (the predominant drill at the time). The 50-R was launched in 1952 and became the first commercially successful large rotary blast-hole drill.  The 50-R set was the foundation for the line of rotary blast-hole drills developed by Bucyrus in the 1980s and 1990s that can be found in large open-pit mines around the world.  

Today, Caterpillar supplies two types of drills for the surface mining industry - rotary drills and track drills, ensuring there's a Cat® drill to meet every need.

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