Stone Cold Stone Thrower

John Deere 944k hybrid loader dumping a load of rocks into a dump truck at a quarry

Deep in the plains of southern Kansas, among the oil rigs and wind turbines, there thrives a new contender in the quarry. And though smaller than the loader it replaced, Cornejo & Sons of Wichita is quickly learning that the 944K shouldn't be underestimated. Its unique combination of speed, fuel efficiency, and surprising power make it a standout performer in an arena where every move matters.

The Durbin Quarry of Moline, Kansas, is much like any other quarry – production is demanded and downtime isn't an option. Helping ensure the team reaches its ambitious goals is Adam Ware, Site Manager, for Cornejo & Sons. "We're about a one-million-ton-per-year quarry, with production capacity of 800 tons per hour." That's an impressive output for a small team. Maintaining this demanding production schedule requires robust, reliable equipment. Beating the schedule takes something more.

AN ANTICIPATED ARRIVAL

"I first saw the 944K back in 2011 at CONEXP-CON/AGG® in Las Vegas," explains Jeff Bremer, MBA, Area Equipment Manager for Cornejo & Sons. "We were all intrigued with the technology, so even though it was a new size for Deere, we kept it in our minds." After a demo machine lived up to expectations, Bremer added a model to the fleet full time. "We brought a prototype machine in last summer, and it's been a good unit. We've had minimal downtime, and most any maintenance has been scheduled."

Perhaps most telling for Bremer has been the hybrid loader's ability to overcome his crew's prior loyalty to a competing brand. "I know some of the operators were apprehensive about the smaller size and not having experience with the Deere product. Now they're very confident with it and actually say that they like operating the machine. That's nice to hear – that's what I wanted."

EARNING ITS KEEP

Since adding the 944K to the company fleet, Cornejo & Sons has experienced a steady return on its machine investment. "The 944K meets our production requirements as well as our previous piece of equipment, and at a lower costs," says Ware. "The other machine burned about 24 gallons of fuel an hour, where the 944K burns around nine."

Thanks to its EPA Interim Tier 4 (IT4)/EU Stage IIIB PowerTech™ engine coupled with a hybrid-electric drive, the machine is both more fuel efficient and dependable. Brushless A/C generators and motors, water-cooled resistors, and solid-state-powered electronics deliver reliable, long-term performance. Additionally, reduced engine-speed range extends wear life compared to conventional drives.

Another big area of cost savings come from reduced tire wear. The 944K's standard traction control automatically limits torque to any wheel when slippage occurs. And, four-setting rimpull control enables operators to easily optimize traction when crowding against a load.

"Any time you slip a wheel, it's going to cost you – tires are expensive these days," says Mark Beitz, Cornejo & Son's primary 944K operator. "It doesn't seem to have much wheel slip at all, if any. I've had it in some pretty good situations where it was quite muddy, and I thought it did real well."

MAKING A NAME

In an industry where brand loyalty runs deep, the 944K hasn't found any problems making new friends. "I figured it wouldn't be able to dig in this environment as well," Beitz explains, regarding his initial hesitance about switching to Deere. "But the power on it has pretty much impressed me. It just goes in and digs. You don't have to worry about getting a full bucket. It's quick and agile, too – it does great."

And power isn't this machine's only strong point. The 944K's flow-sharing hydraulic system boasts the fastest cycle times and quickest boom raise in its size class. With each boom and bucket function having its own hydraulic pump, you can count on quick, smooth operation, faster truck loading, and optimum control.

"As far as the hydraulics, they're probably quicker than any that I've run," says Beitz. "The quicker you can get that bucket in the air, the faster you can go to the truck, and that'll increase your cycle times."

Beitz appreciates the 944K's attention to operator comfort, too. "The cab's roomy. It's quiet. It's comfortable. To be honest, it's probably got more conveniences than the other machine I ran. It's got a heated seat and heated mirrors. You know, it's basically got more than my pickup's got!"

REINFORCEMENTS ON CALL

Bremer knows that, for many, embracing new equipment and technology is easier said than done. But the guarantee of 24/7 backing from the John Deere factory and dealer support networks quickly puts to rest whatever fears he had.

"As a company, we like to be on the forefront of technology whenever it fits our applications – there's just intrinsic value in new technologies," he explains. "One of the biggest reasons we decide to go with the 944K is because of our relationship with Deere from a corporate standpoint, as well as with our local dealer, Murphy Tractor. That confidence allowed us to step off into the new size and the new technology."