Faster than a Caterpillar

column that appeared on the Financial Times website this weekend highlighted how Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT), the iconic maker of heavy machinery, has partnered with a small tech startup to mine data created by its clients to improve maintenance programs. One study conducted by the two companies found that by studying the data created by a single mining machine, they were able to significantly reduce downtime and costs by better identifying the problem. It probably is news that a company the size of Caterpillar, with a market capitalization of $49 billion, has finally gotten wise to the value of data mining, but it’s hardly the first to do it.

Trimble Navigation (NSDQ: TRMB), with a market cap of $6.9 billion, has been doing that for years. The suite of products it provides to the trucking industry includes a feature which allows transportation companies to monitor the mechanical health of its trucks. It can even track fuel efficiency and the factors that affect it on a truck-by-truck basis, helping to reduce fuel costs. That same technology can be applied across a wide range of equipment, including heavy trucks and excavators like Caterpillar manufacturers.

What really makes the Caterpillar news significant is that it’s finally catching on to a trend that’s been developing for several years now. And if the trend is big enough for a company Caterpillar’s size to notice, the market for those technologies must be growing. Since Trimble’s already ahead of the curve there, it’s likely to realize outsized gains from the development, perhaps even partnering with Caterpillar down the road.

In another sign that the market for these types of technologies is growing, Trimble announced last week that it’s expanding its geographic dealer footprint. It has partnered with resellers in western Spain, Western Australia, Italy and sub-Saharan Africa, who have been trained in the sales, installation, service and support of Trimble systems.

While Trimble does have a global presence, right now nearly half its sales come from here in the United States, so expanding its global sales and support network will help diversify its presence in the rest of the world. Africa is a particularly interesting market because sales of agricultural machinery, in particular, are still quite low, mostly because of the small average farm size on the continent. There is a push afoot, facilitated by both aid agencies and governments, to create more commercial-scale farms in order to battle food scarcity and create jobs. So the creation of an authorized reseller there will help put Trimble products on the map in Africa.

With the market for farm and mine automation growing, Trimble Navigation remains a buy under $30.

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