Manufacturing hydraulic breakers with increased output power and lower operating costs remains the focus in the current economic climate. Becca Wilkins reports on the latest trends in the sector.
Many manufacturers have turned their backs on developing the next big breaker believing that heavier models do not necessarily offer greater performance and power. Added to this is the notion that although the economic crisis has eased somewhat in the past month, it continues to impact upon the construction industry and some breaker manufacturers believe contractors cannot yet invest in larger carriers and therefore, larger tools.
Instead of a demand for bigger breakers Peter Lauwers, vice president marketing, for Atlas Copco's Construction Tools Division, said the company sees the need for highly efficient breakers, i.e. more output delivered by a smaller breaker, which in turn enables the customers to use smaller excavators. This, he explained means a smaller investment and lower lifecycle costs for the same performance.
Mr Lauwers told CE that the company also sees a need for higher levels of built-in intelligence, thus avoiding manual intervention by the operator.
"Additionally there is indeed a demand for more flexibility, like automatic adaption to different working conditions ensuring optimal performance and reliability. This also reduces the dependence on operator skills," Mr Lauwers said.
The breaker's performance, Mr Lauwers explained is not determined by its weight but by other features, like energy recovery.
Reflecting the current trend for lighter, more efficient breakers, Atlas Copco has introduced the MB 750 hydraulic breaker that offers up to + 54 % more percussive performance and a lower lifecycle cost compared to its predecessors. According to the company the breaker weighs less and enables the customer to use a smaller carrier - for the same performance.
Elsewhere RS Raghavan, market offering manager for Sandvik said, "Weight does not equal performance and most of our competitors also agree with this too. Our marketing philosophy has been based on customer needs, so is this actually what the customer wants, does he want a bigger breaker? We are not sure about that."
Sandvik questions whether it is important to manufacture a big breaker when the global economy is weak. Mr Raghavan said, "How many big excavators are being sold and how many are being fitted with big breakers?"
He added, "We have taken the customer needs as the focus and today the priority for the customer is to have a flexible breaker most suitable for his application where he will get optimum performance from our product. There could be a situation developing later on where the customer focus will shift to the bigger breakers and when that happens Sandvik will definitely be a part of that product range as well."
Meanwhile, Antonio Cannao, commercial director for Promove told CE that the choice of breaker is not driven by economic capacity.
"Breakers are simply accessories for excavators. In my experience, contractors choose the excavators first and then they match the breaker to their carriers. Okay, it is possible to choose between the lighter and heavier models but once they have the excavator and they must pay fuel and driver's costs, they prefer to get the maximum possible productivity," he said.
Mr Cannao added the company's new XP7000 hydraulic breaker has been introduced to reflect the trend for increasing excavator sizes. He said carriers weighing more than 60 tonnes are becoming more and more popular in tunnelling and roads and as tunnels are larger and wider today, larger-sized excavators can be used in order to advance more quickly and efficiently.
"When high productivity becomes the key driver increasing the size of machines used on the front line is the only way to get adequate production costs under control," he stated.
Michele Vitulano, Indeco's marketing manager, echoed Mr Cannao and said the demand for bigger breakers still exists because of an increasing need for bigger excavators. However, he added it is not the weight of the breaker that necessarily provides more power, but the efficiency of the breaker that can make a difference.
"An efficient system could deliver much more power than an inefficient hydraulic system - the weight of the breaker is a component but it's not the main component," he explained.
The economic downturn of the past 12 months has impacted heavily on the breakers sector, as indeed it has on the entire construction equipment industry.
According to Mr Lauwers the company will see a slow recovery of most European markets with the main opportunities lying outside Europe in the next three years.
He said, "Even in hard economic times, we invest in engineering competence and continuous innovation in design. As I mentioned we created features like energy recovery which supports the efficiency of breakers considerably."
Other innovations from Atlas Copco include ‘AutoControl' which automatically controls the breaker's output to suit the working conditions and rock hardness.
"It delivers maximum blow frequency for soft materials and maximum single-blow energy when things get tougher," Mr Lauwers explained.
According to Mr Vitulano since September last year demand for Indeco products has been a lot less than in previous years.
"In general in our industry there has been - 70% less machinery sold around the world. Some countries have been worse than others but all have been affected. We are still maintaining a good presence in the larger size breakers because at the end of the day companies have delayed large infrastructure, quarrying projects but are still purchasing the machines and attachments."
He added smaller machines have been the "disaster area" because customers currently prefer to rent or repair the equipment they already have, rather than buy new ones.
Part of Indeco's reaction to current market conditions is to look at spreading its product portfolio to cover additional attachments. Originally, Indeco solely produced breakers, but it now offers pulverisers and crushers as well and Mr Vitulano said that a range of steel sheers for the scrap market would be launched at the end of this year.
"Our idea for Bauma is to have a number of new, different products on show for the construction and demolition industries to compensate for the fall in sales in the hydraulic breaker sector," he added.
Mr Cannao told CE the demand for bigger breakers as for any class has declined. Echoing Mr Vitulano, he said, "What we have experienced is a significant improvement in repairing activity, driven in my opinion by the choice to extend the service life of the equipment before replacing with new items - as a consequence of the economic recession, of course."
Looking to the future, the feedback coming from Promove's dealers and distributors around the world is a little more positive. "It appears that more activity and projects are expected to pick up. My belief is that things will be slightly better in the short term, although we will not see the numbers sold in 2007 and 2008 for the next 10 years," Mr Cannao said.
Mr Vitulano said, "I am still optimistic because in a crisis like this there is always a shake-out in the industry, with smaller companies closing down. Secondly governments around the world have set in place programmes for infrastructure investment and this will mean opportunities for us - perhaps not in one month or six months but certainly a year from now."
Traditionally the challenge for breaker manufacturers has been to reduce levels of noise and vibration for the operator's comfort and for wider environmental considerations. However the main driver today appears to be moving towards providing greater power from a smaller or lighter breaker to maximise productivity.
According to Mr Lauwers, "The challenge will be to communicate to customers that it is not the weight of the breaker that matters but the power output it generates per kg. This will lead customers to a smaller combination of excavator and breaker, meaning less investment. And we have to create more awareness of the total lifecycle cost, since the investment cost is only the first step. The cost of ownership during the entire lifetime of the breaker can be up to twice as high as the investment cost."
Mr Cannao, however, believes for applications where the breakers' use is not occasional and productivity is a key driver (like quarrying, tunnelling and demolition) contractors will not accept compromises in terms of size. "They will continue choosing the most productive and profitable option," he said.
He added in general construction the picture is a little different. "The breaker is not such an important tool, it is used occasionally and contractors are maybe more careful about cost savings. It will not be difficult to see contractors shifting the same breaker between different sized excavators."