Last month, Cat invited us out to its spring press event where the company dropped some jaws with the release of its Cat 304.5E2 XTC mini hydraulic excavator — the first model in the Xtra Tool Carrier (XTC) lineup. Built on an E2 platform, the 304.5E2 XTC is a Cat mini hydraulic excavator with an innovative attachment coupler interface engineered into where the dozer blade normally sits. It’s a universal, skid steer-style coupler (manual only) that allows for use of compact loader tools including a general purpose bucket, multi-purpose bucket, forks, dozer blade, brooms, power box rakes and trenchers. Coupler operation is controlled through a flick of the XTC switch on the right hand console in the operator station. Then the standard right hand joystick becomes your loader. I operated the XTC extensively, and it’s the real deal.
“Did the customers ask for this? No, they didn’t. This is us,” explained Greg Worley, senior project engineer for Caterpillar global mini hydraulic excavators. “It’s our concept, our thought process. We go out and visit customers all the time, and part of our job is to look at the customer’s job application and think of how we can invent something to help them be better. Some customers are very good at inventing things themselves, and sometimes we partner up with them, but in this case we looked at customers and came up with the idea of versatility, taking two machines, an excavator and a skid steer, and making them into one.”
The result is something quite unique. While it was a learning curve to place dirt into the XTC’s attachment bucket for transport, which entails bringing the boom very close to the unit, I got the hang of it fairly quickly. A clamshell-style bucket is definitely needed to dump the spoils, as the excavator doesn’t have enough lift height to dump a normal bucket, but despite that, I could definitely see its many benefits. The 304.5E2 XTC is aimed at eliminating two machines when possible, allowing operators to achieve improved productivity in material carrying applications and reduced backfilling times with just a mini ex. Imagine an urban construction situation where you need to dig for a pool and have nowhere to place the spoils. An XTC can dig, hold and carry that dirt back to the truck. Consider a utility project that requires lots of pipe. Attach a set of pallet forks to the XTC and save time and extra machinery by transporting pipe with the digger. Once you’re finished with the project, attach a broom to the XTC and clean everything up.
“Now, this isn’t a skid steer,” said Worley. “I’ve been asked already, how many different skid steer work tools work on this? I’m going to say everything, but we do have an approved list … As far as I’m concerned, the sky’s the limit. The question is: Does it meet your expectations or no? That’s what we’re going to find out. We’re going to market very differently with this machine. It doesn’t go into production until August and won’t hit the ground till September. We’ll have customers on it at GIE+EXPO in October. So, for the next six months, we are creating a market. But I’ll tell you this, every time I get on it, I find a new way to use it.”
The 304.5E2 XTC also includes the standard features and benefits of the E2 model lineup — automatic two-speed, 100 percent pilot controls, great bucket rotation, blade float and the COMPASS monitor system, which includes a passcode protected security system, adjustable auxiliary flow control and lots of other goodies. There is also a rearview camera option. When it comes to the undercarriage, the unit has been re-engineered for added stresses.
Of course, the 304.5E2 XTC wasn’t the only machine Cat released at its spring press event. Just as impressive to me as the XTC was the Variable Angle Boom (VAB) for the Cat 308E2 excavator. I spent most of my time operating the VAB, and I loved the versatility it adds to the digging process, allowing operators to dig closer and further away from the machine using a foot pedal. Using both the joysticks and VAB foot pedal, I discovered new and inventive angles to dig with minimal practice required.
Lots of other equipment were released and open for operation at the event, including wheel loaders, soil compactors, material handlers and the cool new 630K Series wheel tractor-scrapers, but Cat’s small excavator options stole the show. Unfortunately, you’ll need to have some patience. The VAB is available to order in April, shipment in August and at dealers in September, and the XTC will be available to order in May, shipment in September and at dealers in October.
Keith Gribbins is the Associate Publisher of Utility Contractor.