Engineering innovation recognized

March 3, 2010

In a world where going-green and energy-saving measures are becoming commonplace, a Bradley alumnus was honored nationally for staying ahead of the curve.

Mike Betz, 44, who graduated from Bradley in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, was named a Top 25 Newsmaker of the Year by Engineering News-Record. He was honored for his role in researching and developing the first electric drive track-type tractor, known as a D7E.

“I am very honored to have had the chance to work on a project like the D7E,” Betz, a Caterpillar Inc. employee, said recently. “This award demonstrates that the construction industry recognizes the significance of what has been developed with the D7E and honors the whole D7E team.”

The D7E is a newly designed bulldozer with a diesel electric power train. It is more productive, and its fuel efficiency is 10-to-30 percent better than the previous model, Betz said. It also moves 25 percent more material per gallon of fuel. That lowers operating costs for consumers and also helps the environment through sustainability benefits, a feature that resulted in its receiving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Excellence Award.

A team of hundreds of employees collaborated to develop the system, which resulted in 100 patents for various components of the machine, Betz said. The project took about 10 years to complete. One of the machines is now being used in a construction project at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Betz credits his undergraduate classes at Bradley, as well as the University’s Management for the 21st Century Program, for helping him learn about the industry and preparing him for the D7E project. He chose Bradley for its small class sizes, the reputation of its engineering school and its placement rate for graduates.

Betz specifically remembers a thermodynamics class that was tough but rewarding, and a mechanical systems senior project that also was beneficial.

“This was relatively new at the time for mechanical engineers and I guess ultimately was something that prepared me for the D7E project,” Betz said.

As for the 21st Century Program, Mr. Betz acknowledged the faculty members who prepared him for management roles.

“I really learned a significant amount from a business perspective during this program, which was directly applied to the D7E program,” Betz said.

Every year, the Engineering News-Record honors individuals who advance the construction industry through innovation, achievement and service. In April, Betz will travel to New York City, where the ENR will pick its top newsmaker.

“Mike represents the best and brightest of Team Caterpillar," Doug Oberhelman, incoming CEO and board chairman of  Caterpillar, said in a news release.”I am continually amazed at the innovation and dedication of our Caterpillar employees who increasingly showcase their passion and commitment to the sustainability of our products and the environment as well.”

Betz lives in Knoxville, Ill., with his wife, Kendra, and two children. He continues to work as an engineering technical team leader for medium tractor products in Caterpillar's earthmoving division.