Test Drives

CAT® F Series Excavators


CATERPILLAR has set the benchmark high with its new f series excavators. Earthmoving equipment magazine put the 323F and 336F XE through their paces and came away very impressed. The technology introduced on the f series is a real game changer.

The new Cat® F Series excavators, from the 313F to the 390F, range in operating weights from 13-tonne to 90-tonne, and in net power ratings from 52kW to 391kW. All feature fuel-efficient engines meeting US EPA Tier 4 Final/EU Stage IV emissions standards, and all are engineered with heavy-duty main structures for long-term durability and efficient implement and auxiliary hydraulic systems.

As always with Cat product, operator stations are designed for optimum comfort and safety, and routine maintenance points are easily accessible. There’s also a heap of couplers and an extensive selection of work tools available to ensure the versatility of the machines.



Engines used in the new F Series models feature integrated electronic, fuel, and air-intake systems that boost fuel efficiency and extend service intervals, while an after-treatment system works transparently in the background and needs no operator intervention.

Fuel savings, as much as 10 per cent compared with previous models, result from an automatic engine-speed control system that adjusts engine speed based on load, an engine-idle shut-down system that stops the engine after a pre-set idling interval, a high-pressure/common-rail fuel system that ensures optimum combustion efficiency, and multiple work modes that allow adjustment of the machine performance to the task.

The hydraulic systems for the new excavators are engineered for optimum controllability, response and power, designed to exactly meter hydraulic flow and proper volumes when and where required. The heavy-lift mode adds power by increasing relief pressures and also adjusts flow for added control. Some models feature counterweight options and related structural enhancements for more lift capacity.

For added hydraulic efficiency, the boom and stick hydraulic circuits transfer oil flow from the head side to the rod side of cylinders, reducing load on the main pump.


Massive carbodies (lower frames) feature on the new Cat excavators, and the upper frames have reinforced mountings to accommodate the heavy-duty ROPS (ISO 12117-2 2008) cabs.

Booms and sticks are built with baffle plates for added strength and feature a box-section design that employs multi-plate fabrication, as well as forgings and castings in high-stress areas.

Depending on the model, front-linkage choices can include multiple sticks as well as heavy-duty and super-long-reach booms. Undercarriages incorporate massive track roller frames, and all undercarriage components – links, rollers, idlers, sprockets, and shoes – are made from high-tensile-strength steel. Track chains are grease-lubricated to reduce pin-and-bushing wear for extend undercarriage life and reduced travel noise.



Viscous-mounting of the cabs significantly reduces interior vibration and unnecessary sound, and special roof lining and seals further reduce sound levels. Seat choices include air suspension, heated, and air-cooled options, and all seats feature a reclining back, upper and lower slide adjustments, and height and tilt angle adjustments.

The cabs are fitted with an automatic climate-control system with multiple air outlets that supply filtered ventilation air. The right and left joystick consoles are fully adjustable, and the right joystick features a button that reduces engine speed during non-work intervals. The LCD monitor, designed for easy viewing and navigation, also projects images from the standard rear-view camera.

For safety the new F Series models are equipped with a hydraulic-activation lever that locks out all hydraulic functions when in its raised position, and a full-length firewall separates the pump compartment from the engine compartment. A ground-level fuel shut-off immediately stops the engine in emergencies.



Cat GRADE Depth and Slope system means higher productivity – up to 35 per cent compared to earlier models – and accuracy with less rework. Built-in alerts can be set to warn the operator if the linkage or bucket approaches a predefined elevation or depth, ideal for working in low-overhead situations or digging near water lines. Operators simply set the desired depth and slope, bench to a known elevation point, start digging, and check grade from the in-cab display. There’s no site infrastructure or additional components needed.

The technology hits a new level with Cat GRADE with Assist, automating boom and bucket movements and  significantly reducing manual inputs. Operator fatigue is reduced and grading consistency is improved. There’s also a potential for significant savings on fuel costs. When the cutting edge reaches target depth and slope, the system locks onto grade and automatically adjusts boom bucket and stick to maintain constant grade.


Both Cat GRADE technologies are easily upgraded to a 3D guidance system. The machines include factory GNSS receiver mast mounting-point harnesses and wiring and utilise Cat GRADE system sensors.

The optional 3D guidance is ideal on large jobsites or when working with complex digital designs. 3D systems can also eliminate the need for staking and checking because ‘as-built data’ can be viewed remotely via Cat Connect LINK technologies using VisionLink®


The 336F XE features Cat Production Measurement, an integrated system that provides real-time ‘on-the-go’ payload weighing, while automated tracking helps site managers monitor and manage production.

The live payload is integrated into the easy-to-use machine display to simplify viewing and navigation, and joystick buttons allow quick adjustments. Operators can track production from the cab with quick access to daily weights, load and cycle counts, and totals. Operators can also set truck names and target payloads to match the hauling fleet. Audible alarms can notify the operator of weigh status accuracy, last pass, and when final bucket payload will overload a truck.

The payload system automatically tracks material movement and daily progress, which can also be analysed in VisionLink.


Like all Cat construction machines, the F Series excavators come factory fitted with Cat LINK technologies, Product Link™ Telematics hardware and the award wining VisionLink interface. Product Link collects data from multiple sensors integrated into the machine, then wirelessly transmits this information to VisionLink which allows easy access of information such as machine location, fuel consumption, idle time, payload, productivity,diagnostic codes, and maintenance scheduling. With the new integrated GRADE and PAYLOAD technologies, you get actual cost per tonne and can track jobsite progress and productivity. The VisionLink interface also has the ability to integrate other OEM’s data in utilising existing telematics devices for easy mixed fleet management with all assets in place. All which help make better business decisions on an easy to use mobile and web interface.


Most routine service points are reached from ground level, and pressure taps for fluid systems are located for quick access. Filters are banked together for service efficiency, and compartments feature wide doors that securely latch in place for an added measure of safety.

High-ambient cooling systems feature a fuel-saving variable-speed fan and sideby-side coolers designed for easy cleaning.

A fuel-tank drain cock makes removing water and sediment during routine maintenance easy, and an integrated fuel-level indicator reduces the possibility of overfilling the tank.


That’s a lot of technology and high-powered design at an operator’s fingertips – and we mean ‘fingertips’. Once we were strapped in to the typically comfortable and quiet Cat cabin, we did our best to absorb the tech assistance that was on offer. Being able to do the work with a single-joystick operation had us feeling like we were on holiday.

Our test 336F XE came standard with an on-board weighing system, Cat Production Measurement and Cat Grade control. The 323F had the GRADE with Assist option that’s available direct from the factory.

The on-board weighing system weighs loads during the swing cycle with no interruptions to power or productivity, putting progressive weights on the display as you go. The Cat Grade control puts the grade checker in the cab with the operator, and levels and grade all show on the machine display, which is easily upgradable to full 3D with a minimum of fuss.

GRADE with Assist has a number of functions, but the main asset is it can set floor and ceiling levels ideal for working above underground services or underneath power lines. That’s a huge safety concern that can be tightly controlled, allowing the operator to focus on the job. Once the height and grade have been set it allows operation of the machine with a single lever, repeatedly cutting to the same level and grade every time. It’d make even the most inexperienced operator look like a professional.

Overall, we couldn’t help but be impressed with the Cat F Series. Operator comfort and vision are really excellent, and although we initially had the feeling the electronics were taking the operation of the machine away from the operator, we very quickly came to realise it was an incredibly low-stress, user-friendly work environment. That has to mean more efficiency and a better, safer day’s work.

We’re all for that.


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