Al Frese, Solutions and Product Support Manager of Caterpillar’s Global Mining Division notes that the company is “seeing encouraging signs that a recovery may be underway” and at the same time continues to stress sustainability. He says Global Mining is “seeing benefits from things Caterpillar put in place” since the credit crunch hit the world. He went on to say that “though there’s still a great deal of economic uncertainty in the world, mined materials will remain essential to support a growing global population.” Cat is very focused on being ready for the upturn. “We have realigned our entire company, creating a simpler, more efficient, more customer-focused and more market-driven structure. We’re getting our processes ready for the up-cycle too, starting in our factories, where we’re continuing to deploy the Caterpillar Production System (CPS).“To make sure we’re ready for the upturn, we’ve teamed up with a group of mining companies and dealers to fine-tune our forecasting processes and systems.” Some of the information coming from those mining companies has given insights into future parts requirements. The company has also been working with its suppliers to cut manufacturing costs. CPS has also delivered tremendous safety benefits in Cat’s plants.As an example of CPS achievements, the Track Type Tractor manufacturing facility has achieved a $20 million reduction in inventory, a 90% improvement in delivery times, a 75% reduction in work on process inventory and a 24% improvement in early operating hours (new machines) reliability. Mark Twain, who did not work for Global Mining, may have said “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” but these are significant statistics by anybody’s standards.Frese explained that “Global Mining has a dedicated team that works with miners and dealers on a variety of continuous improvement projects. We’ve continued to fund this vital work through the downturn.” He went on to elaborate that the focus in 2009 has been on efficiency at the mines, rather than the all out demand for productivity that it had been up to the crash of the boom late last year.Technology and machine development has not suffered during the downturn. “We’re continuing to fund research and development at a very aggressive level. In fact, 2009 will go down in history as the 2nd largest year ever for R&D investment.” That investment is for all Cat products but the mining component was very significant and included the largest investment seen in the truck fleet. “We’re actively working with our customers to design and integrate significant safety enhancements across our entire mining product line,” Frese continued.In the latter regard, Frese noted Cat’s work with the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT), which was formed in 2006 to establish a process of engagement between mining customers and OEMs. The process is designed to accelerate the development and adoption of leading practice designs of earth moving equipment to minimise health and safety risks. (http://www.mishc.uq.edu.au/index.html?page=58384).Looking forward, Frese says the key drivers to 2012 are:Commodity demand growth to resume in 2010Commodity price outlook favourable for investmentUnder investment in mine capacity in 2009 and 2010Average fleet age remains high.On the latter point, he also notes that the equipment replacement cycle was not completed during the last upturn. IM has already put forward the opinion that the next upturn (boom) will most likely see even worse equipment and skill shortages than were seen in 2007/2008. But it seems Caterpillar at least is focused for the future.