Caterpillar opens Clayton design center focused on new products

ajames@newsobserver.comJuly 26, 2013 

Caterpillar in Clayton says it has benefited from its partnership with Johnston Community College.

DEREK QUIZON — dquizon@newsobserver.com

— Caterpillar held a ribbon cutting Friday for a new facility that is designed to help the heavy-equipment maker come up with its next generation of products.Gov. Pat McCrory and other local officials were on hand for the dedication of the Caterpillar Machine Development Center, just off N.C. 42 in east Clayton. The 57,000 square-foot facility will be a place for engineers to get hands-on experience testing out new equipment that could one day be sold around the world. Most of the roughly 200 engineers, technicians and operators who will work at the center have been hired and were on hand for Friday’s event. The employees don’t build machines onsite, but rather focus on design elements that can be incorporated into new Caterpillar machines.

“Here we can put engineers close to iron and close to dirt,” said Doug Petterson, a Caterpillar general manager. “We can also increase our competence of our engineers to innovate.”

The center is surrounded by 150 acres used for machine development, including a half-mile, high-speed machine track, 10 test and demonstration areas and seven machine operation areas to prove machine reliability and durability.

Each employee is required to spend 20 hours operating a machine in the test field each year. Engineers of all levels will be collaborating, with new hires learning from veterans in the field. Petterson said he’s proud that Caterpillar built the center in Clayton given that many other manufacturers are doing this type of work outside the U.S.“Some of my colleagues at other companies are laughing at the decision to build this facility in North Carolina,” Petterson said.

Caterpillar employs more than 2,000 people in North Carolina at a half-dozen locations, including a second site in Clayton and at facilities in Sanford and Winston-Salem.

Jim Hollister has been working at Caterpillar for 40 years and is now a chief engineer.

Until three years ago, Caterpillar’s design office was in Cary. Hollister and his team would have to come out to Clayton just to get their hands on the raw materials they were trying to turn into machines. And there wasn’t a test field nearby, only at Caterpillar’s headquarters in Peoria, Ill. Now everything’s in one office.

“Any day we can get up from our desks and operate the equipment we’re designing,” Hollister said.

Most recently, Hollister created a small bulldozer that has an exhaust filter for the diesel engine that cleans the air being emitted.

Although Caterpillar won’t be adding many new workers at the center, the company does expect to have positions available at its operations facility in Clayton where machines are assembled.

Those positions usually require a 2-year technical degree, Petterson said.

James: 919-553-7234

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