‘We’re tech too’: Why so many construction OEMs went to the Consumer Electronics Show

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An unmanned Hyundai HD machine at CES 2024 An unmanned Hyundai HD machine at CES 2024

Think the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it probably conjures images of glitzy gaming console, smart phone and computer launches.

The clue is in the name of the show, after all.

So why has it started to attract so many big-name construction equipment manufacturers like Caterpillar, Doosan Bobcat, HD Hyundai, John Deere and Wirtgen, and Kubota?

While it may seem counterintuitive to trundle a load of industrial equipment into a show that has traditionally been aimed at showing off the very latest in technology to the everyday consumer, OEMs have sound reasons for being there, as they explained to Construction Briefing at the event, which ran last week from 9 to 12 January.

“We’re tech too,” declared Joel Honeyman, vice president of global innovation at Doosan Bobcat.

“This is our third show and I would say it’s the best move we have made from the perspective of getting our word out to the world about the technology we’re working on,” he continues.

Doosan Bobcat presenting the all-electric 57X skid steer loader at CES 2024. Doosan Bobcat presenting the all-electric 57X skid steer loader at CES 2024.

The target isn’t necessarily just would-be Doosan Bobcat customers, he explains, it’s also about fostering partnerships with other technology companies at the show.

“Since we’ve been here, companies come to us with their technologies and solutions and say; ‘Hey, we can apply this to your equipment or your industry.’ So it has opened up a whole world of possibilities,” Honeyman adds.

“Our industry can get forgotten a little bit. People talk about automotive and the tech world, but we’ve got tech here too. We’ve got high-computer-power processing, telematics, digitalization. So let’s bring those tech companies into our world and tell that story.”

It’s a conversation that Brett McMickell, senior technologist at Kubota North America, also relishes getting involved in.

Part of the reason for Kubota’s participation was the opportunity to share ideas about how technology can address challenges that society faces on the environment, water and food, he explained.

“I love to come to CES because you get to have this cross-market discussion and find out how you can bring together different technologies,” he said.

“So there are two reasons that we are here. One is to show the technology community the challenges that society is facing and then also to look for partners from other markets that we are not as familiar with and see if they have a piece of the solution that we can bring in.”

Spreading the electrification message

Greg Worley, global marketing professional, at CES 2024 Greg Worley, global marketing professional, at CES 2024

CES 2024 was also Caterpillar’s third year at the show. Greg Worley, global marketing professional at the OEM, said that while last year’s event was all about autonomy and technology, this year Cat has been trying to spread the message about electrification.

Caterpillar brought along one of its smallest electric machines, the 301.9 mini excavator, along with one of its larger mining shovels, and a host of electric machines and support solutions like solar and energy storage systems (ESS) in between.

This is part of a continuing effort to shift mindsets about electric machines and Worley claimed the company is seeing progress.

“When we were at Conexpo (held in Las Vegas in 2023), people were 50:50. Some were embracing it, others were throwing rocks. Then we took the 301.9 to the Utility Expo in Louisville in September and the conversation had changed. There was more curiosity and more people prepared to talk about how electrification could work.”

But there was another, perhaps less obvious, angle to Caterpillar’s presence at CES: Recruitment of skilled people in a highly competitive space.

“We’re also trying to get people to look at Caterpillar and the cool stuff that you could work on if you were to join Caterpillar” says Worley. “So we’re recruiting as well.

“More technology is coming into construction equipment in the form of remote control, personnel avoidance, 360-degree cameras and overhead cameras. People are surprised that Caterpillar is here but construction is moving in the technology direction and it is about making them aware of that.”

From consumer electronics to innovations

HD Hyundai significantly expanded its presence at CES this year, with its 10,994 sq ft booth nearly twice the size of its booth at CES 2023. Its theme at the show this year was ‘Xite Transformation’, a site vision that aimed to solve the pressing challenges humanity is facing, such as safety, security, supply chain issues.

It demonstrated the remote control of a wheeled loader in Atlanta, nearly 2,000 miles from the Las Vegas convention centre, as well as showing off a remote control wheel loader simulator, and a 15-foot-tall (4.6m) unmanned wheeled excavator, with a cabless design, a radar sensor and smart AAVM (All-Around View Monitoring) camera system.

HD Hyundai said the intention behind its appearance at CES 2024 was to highlight the work it is undertaking in future technology fields like autonomous equipment that are still in the early stages of development.

It was one of several construction OEMs using CES as a platform to demonstration leaps forward in technological innovation.

Pierre Guyot, senior vice president, John Deere Power Systems, has seen a change in the objective of CES itself, from being about consumer electronics to showcasing innovation more broadly.

“When people see us here, they are amazed at the level of our technology. Plus, everybody crossing our path are potential people to join us, so I think this is the place for us to be,” said Guyot.

Guyot’s colleague Ryan Campbell, president, worldwide construction & forestry and power systems, at John Deere, who was also present at the show added, “There’s a lot of value in our construction and farming customers seeing the merging of technology with historical equipment. They can see how it works in a real-world scenario – we want people to understand that.”

In total, this year’s CES pulled in around 130,000 attendees, looking at the latest innovations from 4,000 exhibitors. And while it may have traditionally been all about consumer electronics, it’s clear that construction equipment OEMs intend to return next year, perhaps in even greater numbers, as the march of technology in the sector continues.

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Andy Brown Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786224 E-mail: [email protected]
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