How Caterpillar Is Driving Innovation in Chicago and Beyond


Headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, Caterpillar is one of the biggest drivers of innovation in the entire Midwest. The company has been an industry leader for nearly a century, and has a worldwide reach. We spoke with Caterpillar Global Government & Corporate Affairs Vice President Kathryn Karol to discuss how the company is innovating in the Midwest—and the role Chicago plays in its future.

How is Caterpillar changing the world?

Many of you reading this probably think of Caterpillar as the big yellow iron you see in a construction zone when you’re held up in your commute. Yes, we’re in construction industries, with both large and small equipment, working in everything from landscaping to highway construction – in all major cities across the globe.

But we’re so much more than the equipment you see along the road.

Caterpillar is in many other sectors too. We’re in the transportation sector with our locomotives, engines and trucks. We’re in energy with our generator sets and turbines, working on power grids all over the world. And of course, the mining industry, where we produce some of the largest equipment in the world. We have an impressive global footprint, being in over 100 countries, and a rich heritage, having just celebrated our 91st birthday.

I’m proud to work at Caterpillar because we service all different kinds of areas to improve the world we live in. From building the Hoover Dam to the recent expansion of the Panama Canal, Cat equipment is in every corner of the world driving a positive change.

What is Caterpillar’s footprint in Chicago?

Caterpillar has a significant presence in Chicago. We have manufacturing facilities throughout the Chicago area, from producing wheel loaders in Aurora to locomotives in LaGrange. These products are exported all over the world. We’re opening a new office in the Merchandise Mart focused on digital and analytic capabilities; and on that note, Uptake, our analytics platform partner which is propelling us into the future, is also based in the city.

We have fabulous partnerships with remarkable institutions, like DMDII, and universities, like the University of Illinois at Chicago, helping to accelerate our work and build our pipeline of future innovators. Also, our dealer, Patten Cat, has a significant footprint throughout the city and surrounding area, marketing, selling, financing and servicing our products.

As you can tell, Chicago is a key center for us in manufacturing, R&D and technology, even though we’re just down the road with our headquarters in Peoria, Illinois.

How is Caterpillar driving innovation both in Chicago and throughout the world?

Caterpillar has decade-long history in Illinois and we’ve always kept our vision to build innovation in the Midwest – it’s a drive that goes back to our company’s founders.

You often hear all innovation is taking place in Silicon Valley on the West Coast, or in the East Coast in cities like Boston. But we see the Midwest as a big, big hub for innovation and Chicago is core to this. Not only because Illinois is our home state, but we feel with the talent pool – the ingenuity and Midwestern values of the people here – there’s so much to offer.

For Caterpillar, it’s critical to continue building on technology, especially in data analytics, and we think Chicago is the perfect place to do this. Data analytics is an area we see immense opportunity, especially when it comes to the servicing of our customers, our fleet management, all the effectiveness and sustainability around our customer interaction and all they’re doing with our equipment. To us, the future of Caterpillar is more than just machines.

Why is Caterpillar involved in Chicago Ideas Week?

You might wonder why a big iron, big industrial company would show up to something like Chicago Ideas Week, which is all about technology, innovation and the future of these different industry sectors. But we think we fit right in.

Caterpillar is truly a technology company, we’re not just a manufacturing company. We’re looking at new technologies in the energy, transportation, mining and construction sectors. It takes a lot of technology to run our equipment – it’s about how can we be more sustainable, fuel efficient and continue on the strong safety record we have using technology. We think Chicago Ideas is a fabulous opportunity, not only to support Chicago and bringing technology to the Midwest, but also continuing to build on our brand and what we are doing in the innovation area.

To experience Caterpillar firsthand, I encourage you to check out Caterpillar’s Lab, “Dirt & Digital,” at UI Labs during Chicago Ideas Week. There will be two sessions (12 p.m. / 5 p.m.) of the lab on Thursday, October 20. I’ll be there and hope to see you too!

What can attendees expect at Caterpillar’s Lab during Chicago Ideas Week?
Attendees will have the chance to experience Caterpillar’s groundbreaking innovations and meet the people who are revolutionizing the job site of the future. Caterpillar has big machines, and even bigger data, and the Lab at UI Labs will shine a light on how the largest industrial fleet of connected assets in the world anticipates and solves customer problems through digital technology.

Expect to hop on Cat equipment and even operate an autonomous dozer 1,500 miles away in Arizona. You’ll also experience innovations in augmented reality, simulation, drones, remote control machines, data solutions and more.

Want to learn more about the innovation that’s taking place at Caterpillar? Check out the Dirt & Digital: Caterpillar’s (Really) Smart Iron Lab during Chicago Ideas Week.

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