July 14, 2004
'Can-do' spirit earns engineers attention
Cat team recognized for ACERT system
By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Jim Weber recalls the exact moment that he and his team realized their invention would work. It was 11 p.m. on a wintry Thursday night in 2002.
"We saw things that nobody else had ever seen," he said of the new less-polluting diesel engine they were testing for their employer, Caterpillar Inc.
They realized then that they had achieved something that would merit some attention.
Weber and fellow Caterpillar engineer Scott Leman received that attention on Tuesday when they were formally honored as co-winners of the prestigious "National Inventor of the Year" award at a news conference at the National Press Club.
"It's a bit overwhelming," said Weber, 57, of Lacon.
Weber credited his father with inspiring him to think outside the box. Although a farmer by trade, his father was always welding things, putting things together.
"He was always looking at the positive side of everything. What can we do? He never gave up," said Weber.
Weber and his fellow team members at Caterpillar had the same "can-do" spirit.
Weber and Leman were under more than the usual pressure to come up with an innovative way for Caterpillar to meet new, strict federal emissions standards. Company officials decided early in 2001 that they would take a different path than other engine manufacturers. They gambled that they could come up with a better way of reducing diesel engine emissions.
The usual three-year development process was compressed into one year.
Inventions "usually come about by serendipity," noted Rich Thompson, recently retired group president who was in charge of the team during its creation of the new technology. "We scheduled the invention. Well, I scheduled it …
"We literally put the future of Caterpillar in the hands of Jim and Scott and their team. Thank goodness they were very capable hands."
The award was presented by the Intellectual Property Owners Association, which honored Weber and Leman for their efforts as part of a team that developed the system that proved to be the key to reducing emissions - Caterpillar's Advanced Combustion Emissions Reduction Technology.
The purpose of the annual award is to increase public awareness of inventions and patents and how they improve the quality of American life, said association vice president Harry Gwinnell.
Weber and Leman invented an air management system combined with precise valve control to reduce emissions at the point of combustion rather than downstream in the exhaust.
Weber, who has worked for Caterpillar for 33 years, is the idea man. Leman, a 27-year Caterpillar employee, turned the idea into a working piece of machinery. They both work at the Large Power Systems Division in Mossville.
Thompson said the invention of ACERT technology is as significant as the invention of the diesel engine itself in 1893.
Caterpillar has reduced diesel emissions in trucks and buses by almost 90 percent since 1988 and plans to achieve 2007 federal emission standards by mid-2005 using the technology.