Along with a range of heavy-duty machines, Caterpillar Inc. also has been busy rolling out a line of simulators that allow one to experience what it's like to operate a motor grader or excavator. The Morton company that's handling the building, marketing and distribution of these simulators is Simformotion, a division of CSE Software.
Along with a range of heavy-duty machines, Caterpillar Inc. also has been busy rolling out a line of simulators that allow one to experience what it's like to operate a motor grader or excavator.
The Morton company that's handling the building, marketing and distribution of these simulators is Simformotion, a division of CSE Software.
Simformotion entered into an agreement in 2008 with Caterpillar regarding the handling of simulators, but the two companies are hardly strangers. CSE has worked on Caterpillar software since 1993, said CSE President Ken Pflederer.
"CSE has supported Caterpillar's simulator business since 1997," he said. Five years ago, Caterpillar went to market with their first simulators, noted Pflederer.
Now a second-generation simulator is being developed for Caterpillar equipment, said Larry Estep, manager of Caterpillar's simulator program. "We'll have a (second-generation) simulator for a wheel tractor scraper in August," he told an audience at Caterpillar's demonstration facility in Edwards last week.
Caterpillar sees a growing market for simulators, said Estep. "Simulators are not designed to replace iron (road) training. They provide a safe, controlled environment without burning any fuel and without taking a machine out of production," he said.
Companies can use simulators for training and for job screening, said Estep. "Two workers say they can operate a road grader. Give them a test. See how they do," he said.
Pflederer said Simformotion management works closely, but not exclusively, with Caterpillar. "They give us direction and have final approval, but they give us free rein," he said.
Renee Gorrell, Simformotion vice president who handles the company Web site as well as shipping and contract distribution, has earned a black belt in 6 Sigma, the operating methodology adopted by Caterpillar.
Lara Aaron, another vice president, "wears many hats," said Pflederer. "She works with suppliers who have to be approved. She's also involved with the vision and business plan to help answer the question, 'Where are we going to take this business?'" he said.
Aaron believes CSE has been charged with a great responsibility. "Caterpillar wanted to expand the simulator product line, specifically into nontraditional heavy equipment industries such as educational and training institutions," she said.
Simformotion has shipped 60 Caterpillar simulators to customers so far this year, said Gorrell. Those include Caterpillar dealers, mining companies, trade schools and unions.
Models range in cost from $7,500 to $25,000, depending on the technology and accessories included, she said.
Pflederer believes his firm is just scratching the surface of the simulator market. While Caterpillar simulators come first, he sees opportunity down the road for other users of heavy equipment such as fire trucks and buses.
"In the future, there's the possibility of gaming. The field is wide open. If you could bring the simulator cost down under $1,000, operators would buy them for their kids," said Pflederer.
CSE will do $2.5 million in sales this year but has a goal to reach the $20 million mark in annual sales in five years, he added.
Like so many companies coping with a difficult economy, CSE has reduced its work force this year, going from 44 workers at the beginning of the year to 31 at present, said Gorrell.
But Pflederer not only believes the setback is temporary, he's proud of the impact the simulator project has had on the local economy.
"Simulators are manufactured right here in central Illinois by companies such as Parker Fabrication in Morton and the Parsons Co. in Roanoke," he said.
"While most companies in Morton are dark on Friday (due to the economy), Parker is talking about not only going back to a five-day work week but hiring additional workers," said Pflederer.
Matt Parker, co-owner of the Morton fabrication shop, called the simulator business "good news."
"The whole project is good for us. It's not just one area that benefits us but welding, form tubing and machining. With the next order (for 100 simulators), we'll be talking next week about going back to a 40-hour week," he said of work schedules for his company's 26 workers.
Pflederer calls the local production "a positive thing for our area" but a lot has turned positive since he started his Computer Skills Enhancement company in 1990.
"Originally, we put computers on desks. My goal was, after a three-hour class, to have people using a computer by the end of the class," he said.
Along with writing software for OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Pflederer said he's always wanted "to get people excited about computers."
In the early 1990s, Pflederer said he felt the need to sell computers. "That was probably the worst decision I ever made," he said. Custom-ordering computers for people added up to an average loss of $400 on each unit, said Pflederer.
Subsequent business decisions went a lot better. In 1992, when Gorrell came aboard, CSE changed directions, he said.
"We sold off the computers, the computer repair and I stopped the classes. We focused on producing custom software for OSF. By the end of 1993, we met with Caterpillar, and it's been gangbusters ever since," he said.
Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or email@example.com.