Mini excavators represent the largest construction equipment market in Europe in terms of volume of machines sold, and after a collapse in sales in 2008 and 2009, buyers are beginning to upgrade their stock once more.
Robust growth in France and Germany drove a +13% increase in demand for these machines last year, while sales are forecast to increase by an impressive +75% to 38280 by 2015 (see page 37, figure 1).
It is little wonder, then, that manufacturers of mini excavators have launched numerous new models in the last six months focused on increasing productivity, versatility and the range of size options available.
And the battle for space continues - more and more manufacturers are producing zero tail-swing or near zero tail-swing machines that keep the radius of the upper body within the width of the tracks, compared to compact-radius machines that have some upper-body tail swing outside the tracks.
Hyundai, for example, unveiled a new 6 tonne excavator together with two larger, compact, short tail-swing models to its latest 9 Series excavators at March's Samoter show in Italy.
The 9 Series mini range already includes 2,7 tonne and 3,5 tonne zero tail-swing mini excavators, and the new 6 tonne machine bridges the gap between mini and mid-sized excavators.
Another new short-tail model was launched by Komatsu in February this year. The new PC22MR-3 mini excavator, which replaces the PC20MR-2 and completes the company's MR-3 range, has an operating weight of 2,3 tonnes. The machine features a tight tail design which Komatsu said would enable work in most restricted areas without the worry of rear collisions, while its Satellite Monitoring System comes as standard.
Caterpillar has also expanded its under 3 tonne mini excavator range, adding three new models. This includes the smallest excavator that the company has ever produced, the 0,9 tonne 300.9D.
The new range is built to Caterpillar specifications by Wacker Neuson at its plant in Linz, Austria, and the smallest of the new models takes Caterpillar's mini excavator offering into the micro market.
Powered by a 13,7 kW engine and featuring an overall width of just 730 mm, the machine is capable of driving through a standard doorway, providing easy access to confined job sites.
Caterpillar expects the micro excavator, which can take a range of powered attachments, to prove popular with homebuilders, rental companies and demolition contractors. The company is working to produce a new compact breaker specifically to work with this smaller machine.
In addition to the 300.9D, Caterpillar also unveiled new 1,5 tonne and 2,7 tonne excavators for its compact range to meet demand for more size options in the growing mini excavator market.
Kubota has also introduced two mini excavators in the 1 to 2 tonne class - the KK016-4 and KX019-4, which replace the "dash-3" models KX36-3 and KX41-3S. Both new models have variable track widths and autoshift travel as standard.
Bobcat is also targeting this popular size class. It previewed its new 2,6 tonne E26, minimal tail swing mini excavator at ConExpo. The new addition to the company's M-Series line is planned to reach the market later this year, replacing Bobcat's long-standing 324 and 425 models.
The E26 is powered by a 20 kW Tier 4 Interim-compliant engine and has just 20 mm of tail overhang - which Bobcat said allowed the machine to fit into tighter surroundings than its predecessors.
The machine's hydraulic system delivers 6,8 kN of bucket breakout force, and can dig to 2,6 m with a standard arm, and 2,9 m using the long-arm option.
And Bobcat has also expanded its range of mini excavators at the heavier end of the scale with the launch of the E55 - a machine weighing 5,7 tonnes. The compact excavator, which will be available later this year, is 2 m wide, while 340 mm of tail overhang is said to help it deliver increased lift capacity and slew performance in demanding applications. The E55's hydraulic system also delivers 12,8 kN of bucket breakout force. Power comes from a 36,4 kW turbocharged, Tier 4 Interim-compliant diesel engine.
Meanwhile, Bobcat's parent company, Doosan, has also launched new machines. The Korean manufacturer unveiled five new mini-excavator models - the DX27Z, DX30Z, DX35Z, DX55 and DX60R - in March this year, weighing between 1 and 6 tonnes.
The smallest in the range, the DX27Z, has an operating weight of 2,8 tonnes and is powered by a 15,8 kW Yanmar 3TNV82A-SDB diesel engine. It boasts zero tail swing, a maximum digging depth for the DX27Z of 2935 mm, a dump height of
2690 mm and maximum reach of 4690 mm.
On the opposite end of the scale, the DX60R has an operating weight of 5900 kg and is powered by a 37,6 kW Yanmar engine. It can dig to 4145 mm and has a maximum reach of 6500 mm.
Doosan said stability had been improved on the new range, while productivity and fuel economy had been increased through electronic optimisation of the hydraulic system and the engine. In addition, Doosan said the low noise and emission levels of the machines made them suitable for operation in noise sensitive areas and at night.
Japanese company Kobelco has launched the 55SRx compact excavator - a 5,5 tonne machine that can dig up to 3,9 m and deliver 50 kN of force.
Expanding Kobelco's product line into a new class size, the 55SRx is 2,5 m tall and can operate with near zero tail swing. Power comes from a 29,3 kW engine.
Kobelco platform manager Reece Norwood said, "The new machine is ideal for work in tight spaces, such as along foundations, and delivers the power, performance and productivity found on a mid-sized excavator."
The 55SRx also incorporates some features found on Kobelco's larger machines, including a cast centre swing foot and a heavy-duty reinforced boom and arm.
Meanwhile, UK-based JCB is also big on the mini-excavator scene, and introduced its new 2,6 tonne 8025 ZTS LC to the Italian market at the Samoter show in Verona.
Originally developed for France, where the lifting of heavy concrete pipes in confined spaces is a common application, the new model is now available to contractors and hirers in Italy.
The 8025 ZTS boasts a +60% increase in lift performance - an improvement achieved through JCB's introduction of an undercarriage which is 157 mm longer than on the standard 8025 ZTS model and a boom which is 40 mm shorter.
One of four models bridging the gap between JCB's 801 range and its presence in the popular 4 to 5 tonne category, the 8025 ZTS LC is powered by a 20,9 kW engine.
Yanmar, too, had a new model on display at Samoter - the 3,4 tonne ViO33. The latest mini excavator to join its ViO range can dig to 3 m and has a 765 mm rear swing radius. Power comes from an 18,1 kW Yanmar engine.
Hitachi, meanwhile, showcased an innovative new electric mini excavator at the Italian event. Designed for earthmoving applications in sensitive locations such as indoors, in urban areas, or at night, the only noise the 2,7 tonne Volterra ZE22U produces is from its hydraulics. Also, there are no emissions.
Its 12 kW engine takes three to four hours to charge, and it can operate up to six hours before requiring a recharge. Fitted with a 500 mm bucket, the machine can dig to 1,6 m.
Also new for the mini excavator market are Hanix's 1,5 tonne class D Series machines. Two new machines - the H16D and the extendible track H17D - have been launched, with the company's sights set firmly on the hire market.
With a compact width of just 990 mm, both of these machines can be transported on a standard trailer and are said to be readily manoeuvrable on-site. Powered by a 11,4 kW Kubota diesel engine, the H17D can dig to 2,5 m and has a dumping height of 2,4 m.
Volvo has also upgraded its range of mini excavators, replacing its ECB range with four new models weighing between 1,5 tonnes and 1,9 tonnes - the EC15C, EC17C, EC18C and EC20C. The entry level EC15C has a maximum digging depth of up to 2,3 m, while the largest model in the range can dig to a maximum of 2,6 m.
With such a huge variety of new models on the market, the choice for buyers has never been greater. And with forecasts indicating that the appetite for new mini excavators will grow across Europe over the next five years, manufacturers are aiming to meet fresh demand by raising the bar in terms of the quality and efficiency of these essential construction industry machines.