The Panasonic Toughbook U1 Enables Efficient Diagnostics of Caterpillar Equipment in Japan

Caterpillar Central Japan, Ltd. is one of Caterpillar, Inc.’s dealers providing service and diagnostic support for the company’s construction equipment in Japan. Its mechanics conduct on-site construction equipment maintenance, and Panasonic’s rugged Toughbook computers have become an essential part of this service.

Over the past ten years, Caterpillar has been moving to a computerized system for construction equipment diagnosis by implementing sensors into the engine and hydraulic mechanisms. The sensor data is collected and organized on an onboard computer called the Electronic Control Module (ECM).

In July 2009, Mr. Shinichi Takahashi of Caterpillar Central Japan’s Service Technology Section brought the new Toughbook U1 to Kashiwa Kogyo Co., Ltd., a gravel plant located in Nagaoka City in Niigata Prefecture. The company uses about ten Caterpillar 966H wheel loaders to move and load gravel into dump trucks. In order to get into the driver’s seat to perform diagnostics, the technician must climb a six-foot ladder with his computer in tow. Compared to other fully-rugged computers, the Toughbook U1 is extremely compact and light weight, making it ideal for this application.

Since the devices are used mainly at outdoor construction sites and gravel plants, it was critical that Caterpillar Central Japan had a PC able to survive rain and wind-blown dust. Although the device is small and light, the Toughbook U1 is fully rugged – able to survive drops from six feet and protect against water, dust and moisture.

Once in the driver’s seat, the operator connects the Toughbook U1 and wheel loader via a USB conversion connector. The Electronic Technician (ET) software, developed by Caterpillar Inc., performs the equipment diagnostics. Using this software, the Toughbook U1 is able to check things such as engine temperature, rotation speed, pressure in the hydraulics, displacement of moving parts and operating time. All of these results are automatically stored as electronic data. When the engine intake pressure lowers or there’s a failure in the electrical system, the ET software alerts the technician of the problem.

After the items are checked in the cockpit, the mechanic opens the power-driven engine hood. Using the built-in camera on the Toughbook U1, Caterpillar Central Japan is able to take pictures of the equipment and uniformly organize the picture files with the diagnostics data. It is important that the mechanics don’t solely rely on the computerized data; the camera allows mechanics to record external appearance and any part damage. Previously, the company used the camera function on mobile phones; however, it was labor intensive and inefficient to integrate the photos with the data.

As a result of this technology, maintenance work is completed much faster and breakdowns can be prevented beforehand. Operations have also become more efficient because Caterpillar can evaluate the habits of experienced operators and share that information with others to improve efficiency and save energy.

For more information on Caterpillar Central Japan’s deployment, check out the full case study on the Toughbook Global Site here.