A wave of new construction equipment attachments were exhibited at Intermat this year. Becca Wilkins reports on the latest products and technologies helping to shape the future of this specialist sector.
Investing in new attachments especially during the current economic crisis makes financial sense. Attachments allow for machine versatility, eliminating the need to buy many different and expensive carriers. They are also designed to enhance machine performance and efficiency and increasingly they ease labour for the operator.
Caterpillar believes optimum performance can only be achieved if an attachment is specifically designed to work with the machine.
Dave Becktel, commercial manager for Caterpillar Work Tools told CE, "The machine and work tool either do or don't work together so from a design point of view a lot of parameters need to be taken into account right from the beginning and that's really where we feel we have the advantage. Interacting very early on in machine design gives us the edge."
Product manager for Bobcat Attachments, Freddy Remory agrees buying the carrier and attachment from the same manufacturer means the contractor has guaranteed product compatibility. He added for dealers and contractors Bobcat is a one-stop shop - they have access to the products, parts, finance, service and warranty in one place.
He said attachments enable contractors to adjust to changing markets and applications using the same machine for many different jobs.
Manufacturers of attachments and carriers are endeavouring to make the process of fixing the tools onto the machine safer, quicker and as easy as possible for the operator. In order to do this they are increasingly looking at integrating attachment recognition systems.
Mr Remory said Bobcat's Plug and Play system, which matches the attachment to the machine automatically, is an advantage for the contractor. The device enables the attachment to communicate with the machine carrier in a mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic way.
"I would say this is quite unique in the compact equipment industry. When you connect electrically it automatically identifies the attachment and it tells the operator which functions it needs. This is not the case for a bucket where you have zero or one function but for attachments with multiple functions you need to have this electronic communication," Mr Remory explained.
Mr Becktel said Caterpillar is looking into similar technologies.
He explained, "One of things that we're working on is a connection so that the operator doesn't need to get out of the cab to be able to change tools, even hydraulic tools. We're seeing trends in the market place like that."
Also from Caterpillar Work Tools, Louw Kriel added, "We are definitely looking at what we call auto-connection. We are looking at work tool recognition systems so the machine will recognise a tool and the machine will then carry out automatic pressure and flow changes or settings."
The company's focus on research and development as well as product innovation is a priority according to Mr Kriel.
Mr Becktel added, "The focus has really been on efficiency and obviously durability and reliability are critical and you have to have quality or you're not even in the game. But we're now looking more in terms of efficiency and safety."
Speaking for Montabert, part of Doosan, Alain Carbonnel said the company focuses on technology that improves productivity when developing new attachments, such as its hydraulic breakers.
The company's fully automatic variable speed mechanism can evaluate the speed and energy that the breaker requires according to the hardness of the ground.
"It's all automatic and managed by hydraulic intelligence and Montabert is the only one to have this mechanism," Mr Carbonnel stated.
He added intelligent features such as the variable speed device are becoming more important for customers who are looking for high productivity and dealing with intensive applications. However, he said those using a vehicle for an hour a day are less sensitive to these kinds of features - hence the reason why the company also offers more simple, two-speed products.
Buckets remain one of the most widely used attachments in the construction equipment industry. As carriers get bigger and more powerful so do the buckets that fix onto them and according to Mr Becktel they are becoming increasingly customised.
"I don't know how many different types of buckets we have, but they do become very specialised and suppliers like us need to be as flexible as possible."
Meanwhile Mr Remory said, "There are different buckets for different applications - if you want to dig you need a very short bucket with a lot of breakout force, if you want to level you need a long bucket and if you want to transport material you want a big bucket - and all of this we can cater for."
A new wheeled loader or an excavator from Caterpillar will typically be sold with a coupler and three buckets, Mr Becktel said.
"Three different types of bucket gives them some versatility and then with a quick hitch they can change buckets within minutes."
Selecting the correct bucket for a specific application is very important according to Caterpillar and bucket design can also affect the machine's fuel consumption.
"Bucket shapes and bucket designs are very critical just as the way the operator uses the machine is critical," Mr Becktel explained. However, he added with operator training significant improvements can be made in terms of operator efficiency and using less fuel.
From an engineering point of view a bucket looks like a simple structure, Mr Kriel said.
"But actually there is a lot of theory behind the bucket especially regarding shape - we are using very advanced tools and we have special software - we understand how service and maintenance needs to be carried out in order to establish fuel savings - so that's where from a design point of view we are doing things a little differently to some of our competitors."
The preferred type of quick coupler varies depending on where in Europe they are used according to Mr Remory.
"Initially we had two quick couplers but then gradually we took the decision to offer multiple coupler systems because of demand in different local markets," he added.
He said in Germany, Switzerland and Austria there is demand for Lenhof quick couplers and high quality and long-life attachments while in other areas like Italy, functional attachments at the lowest price possible is more important.
According to Caterpillar quick hitches in Europe can be grouped into the pin grab category and the dedicated coupler category.
"There are some advantages and disadvantages to both categories but Caterpillar Work Tools in Europe prefers to use the dedicated coupler. The main reason for that is we are gaining from a break-out force point of view." Mr Kriel said.
He added a pin-grab may also weigh a little bit more and unnecessary weight should be avoided. A quick coupler also provides the versatility needed to meet the demands of contractors who make regular tool changes throughout the day.
One of the company's latest developments in this area is its Fusion coupler, used on its wheeled loaders, which, according to Mr Becktel, pulls the coupler and work tool closer to the carrier for machine performance comparable to pin-on-with all the versatility and flexibility of a coupler.
The patented design moves the centre of gravity closer to the machine, yet the coupler enables the loader to conveniently pick up and use a wide range of work tools, Caterpillar stated.
"Fusion is designed for Caterpillar wheeled loader models ranging from the 938H to the 972H, including the IT38 and IT62. The unique, single interface allows many machines to share the same work tools-a cost reducing system for multi-loader fleets," Mr Becktel said.
The attachments sector is evolving rapidly to meet the increasing demands of contractors. As product design and technologies become more sophisticated attachments are becoming more effective, easier to use and set-up.
Montabert's Mr Carbonnel said in future there will be more focus on attachment reliability and productivity especially in the developed markets. Meanwhile Mr Remroy said the popularity of Bobcat's tiltrotator continues to grow and is a huge step in excavator versatility.
The company stated using the tiltrotator with the appropriate attachments can provide a flexible and cost-effective solution for a wide range of applications not normally undertaken with excavators.
Contractors only realise a fraction of what is possible when it comes to using attachments and education in this area is still needed, Mr Remory added.