Just outside of a small town in northern Wisconsin, right on Lake Clara, there is a huge sandbox for adults. It’s the Case Construction Equipment Tomahawk Customer Center. It played a big role in the recent development of the company’s innovative new compact bulldozer, the Case Minotaur DL550. More important, it has long played a central role in the company’s whole philosophy of close customer collaboration and teamwork.
Case has been around for 180 years. It originated as the Racine Threshing Machine works, founded by Jerome Increase Case in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1842. His threshing machines increased the amount of wheat that could be threshed by a factor of ten over the old manual labor method. “Case has a rich heritage,” said Jeff Jacobsmeyer, Product Manager at CNH Industrial, which owns Case. “We have lots of resources from a company that’s been around that long, but we have new energy with products like the Minotaur.”
In 1869 the company introduced its portable steam engine, and in 1912 it built on that concept to introduce a complete line of road-building machines, including graders and steamrollers. In 1947 the company created its industrial division. In 1957 Case built its first tractor loader/backhoe; in 1967 it entered the excavator market; and in 1969 it began skid steer loader production. In 1999, Fiat Group acquired Case and merged it with New Holland N.V. to create CNH.
The company’s latest big launch, the aforementioned Minotaur DL550 Compact Dozer Loader, originated as the DL450 concept at the CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 trade show in Las Vegas. From its very inception, it was driven by direct customer input. “The Minotaur is a great example of customer feedback,” said Terry Dolan, Head of Case Construction Equipment–North America. “They told us problems they were having, needing to replace two or three pieces of equipment with one.”
“As job sites are getting smaller, especially in urban areas or subdivisions, the jobs are getting bigger,” added Jacobsmeyer. “They need to do more with less. We started by looking at a smaller dozer, but that would be limited to just what a regular dozer can do.”
“The Minotaur shares the skin of the compact track loader [or CTL–the tracked version of the skid steer],” Dolan explained. “But it’s designed as a bulldozer. You can put a blade on a CTL, but it’s not going to do things a bulldozer can do.”
The big innovation that makes all the difference for the is in how the blade attaches to the Minotaur. “It includes a C-frame interface that pins directly into the chassis of the dozer,” explained Jeff Jablonski, General Manager at the Tomahawk Customer Center. “That transfers all the forces directly back, rather than through the overhead arms. So the feel of the Minotaur is just what you’d expect in a bulldozer.”
But since it also features the overhead loader arms typical of the CTL and skid steer, the DL550 can use the hundreds of attachments that are available for those machines, providing the ultimate in flexibility to meet the needs the customers had expressed.
Much of that customer feedback, it turns out, comes from the up-close-and-personal sessions Case is able to facilitate in Tomahawk. The customer center there, which sits on over 500 acres of pine woods, started its life as a Boy Scout camp. That was purchased by a small local equipment maker, Drott Manufacturing, which began using it as a customer center over 60 years ago. In 1968, Drott was acquired by Tenneco Corporation, which owned Case at the time and integrated the two under the Case name. The company kept the rustic Northwoods feel of the place, while upgrading the facilities–the welcome center, bunkhouses, training center, cookshack, and the like. That helped enhance the experience for both customers and employees alike, all of whom are hosted at the facility for personalized training sessions, firsthand equipment operation, and new product demonstrations. “We’re here for them to experience these things hands-on for themselves,” said Jablonski. “That’s part of our DNA here, and it has been for years.”
“We make that site available to our dealers and customers, and host 2,000 people a year there,” said Dolan. “They have a unique opportunity to escape the world and get exposed to our product line, and gain experience on our equipment. But that’s only half the experience. It’s also a special place to deepen those relationships.”
As with the Minotaur, Case is looking to leverage those deep relationships for its future innovations. “We’ve got lots of smart engineers,” said Jacobsmeyer. “But we don’t want to innovate just to innovate. That’s why we talk to our customers so much, to learn what’s practical. It’s a lot of fun bringing something like this to life.”
Technology is already a much bigger player in construction equipment than most people realize, with use of GPS creating computer control of final grading depth and smoothness of the finish pass for graders and dozers, while also adding digital assistance for excavators to help define the shape and depth of the dig. Case sees tremendous additional opportunity for technology in other areas, including the machines themselves. “We’re looking to grow the use of AI in the technology the machines have now,” said Dolan. “We could start to be more proactive on machine maintenance, getting the right parts in place and service technicians ready. Customers need our products up and running, and that would help, as opposed to reactive maintenance when things break down.”
The existing machine guidance technologies can be used in more ways as well. “The careers our machine operators can make are fantastic careers,” Dolan said. “We can use machine control so the operation is all guided. Our designers are trying to make things more and more precise, and to allow operators who aren’t experienced to become more proficient more quickly. There’s a tremendous amount of safety thinking that goes into this, along with the technology around our machine controls. For younger operators, the controls are very intuitive. This is a great opportunity for our next generation to operate in a fast-paced environment. We need more roads and neighborhoods, and we need for them to come into the business.”
The launch of the Minotaur has been an excellent model for Case’s machine concepts of the future, which include electric versions of the backhoe and excavator on the horizon, followed by both remote-operated and self-guided machines. “We’re a 180-year-old company, an iconic brand that competes against iconic brands,” said Dolan. “We need to think like a 180-year-old start-up.”