Even though it’s a long flight to Perth as far as domestic flights go, I always seem to enjoy trips to our west coast, especially when it involves spending time in a brand new Cat machine – the Cat® 972M XE.
This machine isn’t new for Cat globally, but it is for Australia. I was intruged by the machine’s operation when I heard about the new features, such as new control layouts and configurations, along with the constant velocity transmission (CVT), which delivers a mechanical path alongside a hydrostatic path. The unique set up is delivering up to a 35 percent fuel saving compared to the powershift transmission machines, so there were going to be some big changes in the mix.
We arrived at our test drive site and at first glance, the Cat 972M XE looked pretty similar to most other Cat loaders I have driven, but after a quick briefing with Troy from Westrac, it became clear that this machine had undergone a few special changes to achieve impressive efficiencies. First, Troy pointed out that the transmission was running a variator so you can set up and select virtual gears ranging in 0.5 increments all the way through to third/fourth gear, which means you can set your gearing anywhere across the range to suit the task/project you are working on. For example, you can set up a 1.5 gear ratio and work in that all day, rather than only the traditional first, second, third and fourth gear options, which is where the fuel savings come in with up to a 35 percent saving over the powershift planetary machine.
Troy went on to explain: “These changes create a fantastic and smooth experience for the operator shifting between forward and reverse. Across the gear changes, for example, going from second to third, which is a full gear change that you don’t even feel, so it’s just like driving a planetary machine.
When it was time to climb into the cab and get the machine moving the fact that there was no steering wheel was a little off-putting at first, but once I had 10 minutes to get used to the joystick steering it was surprisingly intuitive to operate. The forced feedback steering system is light and easy, so the quicker I drove the machine, the easier it was to control because it became less sensitive. The quickest the machine did articulate the steering was while sitting still at idle. The machine is operated by the left-hand only with all the gears located on the joystick, which felt quite natural after little time. Just a quick dial of the finger will take you through your gearing, and it was very smooth to operate.
When it was time to rip into the stockpile, the 5.8m³ capacity bucket effortlessly drove into the pile with huge power, which the machine delivered without working hard in the slightest. Even when under load, it was very quiet in the cabin; it just delivered constant pressure in an operator-friendly way.
Touching on the actual operator experience, the seat felt great, and the positioning of the armrests and controls were naturally placed. The right-hand side Bucket controls consist of two levers for boom and bucket, as well as return to dig and kick out functions, which are all user-friendly.
Another great feature for operators is that the machine is quiet both inside and out of the cabin. It doesn’t seem to struggle and over-rev at all; it takes everything in its stride. The Cat C9.3 engine produces 311hp (232kW) and the ground level access to all service areas is a great safety feature, removing the need for people to be climbing around on top of the machine, which is a safety risk even with handrails.
Some other well thought out features that impressed were the Cat greasing systems inbuilt into the monitor system accessed through the 7.5-inch multi-function color LCD touchscreen, which can be adjusted on the fly. When working on grades with a full payload, the machine will hold its weight – not rolling back when on the unlevel ground is a huge plus for operators. The color reversing camera and well-positioned mirrors create excellent visibility and provide safety for the operator.
To wrap up my final thought on this impressive and unique machine is that sometimes companies feel the need to make changes to machinery just for the sake of having new things to talk about, but what I like about the Cat 972M XE is there are substantial changes that have occurred, which have made the operation of the machine different, but they have also been made to successfully achieve significant improvements in performance, handling, and operational efficiencies. A fuel reduction of up to 35 percent is a massive number, which is what has been the driving force behind the machine. The clever thing that Cat has done is to implement these changes in a natural and intuitive manner, which will further add to improved workloads across any fleet due to better and smooth handling performance.
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