Caterpillar's microgrid partnership with First Solar could help more than 1 billion people. Image source: Caterpillar.

Heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) hasn't had a great 2015, as the global economy has refused to cooperate and has instead put most of the company's customer base under severe financial pressure. Despite the downward trajectory of the energy and mining industries as well as the continued sluggishness in construction activity, Caterpillar still worked hard to make the most of its business opportunities and put itself in the best position to profit from a future turnaround. Let's look more closely at Caterpillar's best headlines in 2015.

Caterpillar boosts dividend by 10%
Perhaps the biggest surprise that Caterpillar delivered to shareholders during 2015 was its June announcement that it would boost its dividend by 10%. Given how much it had seen its sales and profits decline, some investors were concerned that the company would choose to emphasize other priorities for its available cash.

CEO Doug Oberhelman put those fears to rest. "This 10% dividend increase is another example of our commitment to deliver superior returns to stockholders through the ups and downs of the industries we serve," Oberhelman said, and he emphasized that "the increase is consistent with our cash deployment priorities."

The move extended Caterpillar's streak of annual dividend increases to 21 years, and the dividend has more than doubled in the past decade. The move gave shareholders confidence that if Caterpillar can boost its payout during the worst of times, it should be able to thrive when conditions improve.

Caterpillar restructures to cut costs
Along those lines, Caterpillar hasn't hesitated to make tough decisions in order to ensure its long-term survival and success. In September, it said that it expected to cut its operating costs by $1.5 billion annually through a series of initiatives designed to restructure Caterpillar's operations and streamline its cost structure.

The moves included a cut in salaried and management workforce of 4,000 to 5,000 people by the end of 2016, with more extensive workforce reductions of more than 10,000 people occurring by 2018. The company also expects to consolidate and close some of its manufacturing facilities during that time frame, and Caterpillar will offer voluntary retirement programs for certain employees to generate more immediate savings by the end of 2015. The resulting combination of lower overhead expenses and more efficient manufacturing processes should put Caterpillar in a better position to maximize its profits. Oberhelman stressed that although the company didn't make the decision lightly, the poor conditions in the mining and energy industries made it a necessary move to preserve Caterpillar's overall financial health. With the company having already closed or consolidated more than 20 facilities including over 8 million square feet of manufacturing space, Caterpillar has reduced its workforce by over 31,000 since mid-2012. Further efforts show just how tough the current industry conditions are for Caterpillar, but the CEO believes they'll be sufficient to achieve its long-term goals.

Caterpillar expands renewable power generation with First Solar
In April, Caterpillar announced an interesting collaboration with First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) that addressed the need for locally generated power. More than 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, and with the lack of an effective transmission grid in many parts of the world, solutions require novel thinking. Caterpillar's Electric Power Division is working with First Solar to create a strategic alliance that will involve developing integrated photovoltaic solar solutions that will go toward creating local microgrids, providing power to remote locations where solar energy is an available resource.

Under the arrangement, First Solar will provide Caterpillar-branded solar panels and will develop a package of other system components necessary to set up the microgrid. Caterpillar will exclusively sell and support the microgrid product, with its dealer network helping leverage First Solar's production experience in the solar industry. Together, Caterpillar and First Solar hope that the product will do well in the Asia-Pacific region as well as Africa and Latin America. It should also give Caterpillar greater diversification from harder-hit industries that haven't done as well recently.

Caterpillar's woes have held back its stock in 2015, but these positive headlines should give investors hope for its future. Having endured so much, Caterpillar has proven its resiliency, and many shareholders are optimistic that it can bounce back from its many setbacks in the long run.