A breaking dam?

07 April 2008

Jewell's Mark Ramun

Jewell's Mark Ramun

The high reach demolition excavator has come of age in North America – at least that is the view Mark Ramun holds after a year in which Jewell saw a spectacular increase in demand for its products.

He told D&Ri: “We saw a 400% increase in orders for high reach machines in 2007 over 2006, and we expect to see further growth this year, but less strong - in the order of 25-50%. Last year’s figures suggest that the dam against high reach acceptance has broken and what we will see from now on is a steady growth for the technology.”

While the wrecking ball/mechanical crane combination is still a popular tool in North American demolition and many contractors still consider it the best demolition solution, there is no doubt that the high reach is gaining in popularity for a number of reasons – regulatory, safety, insurance requirements etc. – says Mr Ramun. In addition, as is often the case with relatively new technologies, their popularity is being fueled by their increasing availability: “If one contractor in a region has a high reach and is having some success with it, this leads other contractors in that region to consider that maybe it is a good option – especially if that contractor is seen to gain a competitive advantage through having the machine available,”

And then there is the changing nature of the demolition industry generally. This too is fueling the growth in high reach. Mr Ramun says: “We at Jewell are seeing a lot of machines going to contractors who perhaps actually would not need them if they were what I would call historically experienced contractors with a long track record and the personnel with experience of using mechanical demolition methods on industrial buildings, like power houses. There are numerous contractors that have this expertise, using cables and pre-cutting steel members to collapse these structures, but there is a large portion of the demolition industry up and coming in North America, or who have focused on residential and commercial work, who have never carried out the heavy industry type of project. Now, because they want to grow or expand – or simply need the work – they are looking for these types of contracts, but they do not necessarily have the personnel or the experience in it.”

“They want to go into this new business safely, productively and profitably, and our machines are enabling them to reach up to greater heights and cut the beams down. This is a way they can understand, control and do profitably. This is technology enabling a newer company or a company with a different background to come in and compete for this business against more established, experienced competition.”

And this is also likely to change the nature of the demolition industry in North America, Mr Ramun believes. “This is in my view changing the face of demolition in a lot of ways in the USA – something I believe has to happen. The wrecking ball is not going to be around for much longer. Jewell is getting more and more customers who are winning contracts where space and/or timescales are very tight, or they are mobilising across several states and require rapid deployment from site to site – something not easy to achieve with wrecking ball equipped mechanical cranes. And then there is the increasing demand for rental equipment. It’s a very interesting time for demolition in the USA, since I believe we are currently transitioning into a full hydraulic state.”

Customiser’s ways

It would be fair to say that there are two notable differences in the way that Jewell goes about its business when compared to its counterpart converters in Europe, such as Kocurek and PMI. The latter tend to concentrate at the high end of high reach, namely 45 m (150 ft) and upwards, with factory built OEM high reaches meeting the majority of the demand below this height.

However, the majority of Jewell’s output is built around two main weight classes at this moment in time, namely 40 ton carriers with up to 30 m (100 ft) booms and, increasingly, 65 ton carriers with 40 m (136 ft) booms.

Says Mr Ramun: “The 40 ton category is a very popular size. It is common in most fleets across the USA – it is an easy machine to service and maintain. But we are seeing a growth in demand for 65 ton machines as carriers for our high reach rigs. Most can be broken down for transport and still be carried in three loads. Our standard boom on a 65 ton machine would be a 136 ft (41.5 ft), with a single telescopic section, capable of carrying a 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) attachment. “

He goes on: “The 65 ton machine represents better value, we believe – customers get 40 ft more height for just the cost of our conversion and the base cost of the carrier, which is not that much more than for a 40 ton carrier. Of course, it is still a large investment no matter what but you are talking a small increase in cost for a large performance gain.”

Contrary to the position in Europe, 80 ton and larger carrier conversions are rare for Jewell, but that does not mean they cannot do them. “The largest high reach we have done to date is a 60 m (187 ft) three stage telescopic boom that can carry a 2,273 kg (5,000 lb) tool, mounted on a Sennebogen 370R carrier. This machine was originally ordered by Mazzocchi Wrecking but is now owned by LVI – it is due to start work this month,” says Mr Ramun.

So what are the standard modifications Jewell carries out to match the carrier to its high reach boom?

According to Mr Ramun: “we detune the hydraulic functions on the machine so that the swing speed, boom up and stick out speeds are slower, more controlled and deliberate when the machine is in demolition mode. A computer is installed that allows mode changes to be made – you can go from an excavator to a demolition front to a material handler, to whatever you have. This alters the pumps to change the hydraulic pressures and flows appropriately so that the machine is not overly quick or jumpy. We also fit Jewell designed hydraulic lock valves that provide smoother performance and safer control of the machine.”

The computer is also used to provide the operator with audio and visual alerts in the event of the machine being pushed beyond the specified safe working range. It can also provide a control function by temporarily locking the machine down in this event.

In most cases, Jewell high reach machines will require additional counterweighting, tilting cabs and full cab protection, along with enhanced guarding elements on the undercarriage. Unlike its European counterparts however, Jewell does not lengthen or widen the undercarriages on the machines it modifies.

“Jewell normally stays within the limitations of the machine as supplied by the OEM, since most of our North American customers prefer this approach and do not want to see heavy modifications being done. To an extent, this approach does limit us somewhat as to the maximum height we can go to with any given machine,” says Mr Ramun.

He goes on: “We believe that it is more cost-effective for our customers to buy a larger machine that can supply the required height rather than make extensive modifications to a smaller machine. We know what we need to do to get the maximum height. However, if a customer absolutely needs such modifications, then we are prepared to do it. But in most cases, economically it makes better sense to use our normal approach, which is to appropriately size the carrier and stay within the factory specifications.”

This has an obvious knock-on effect where warranty is concerned, with the majority of Jewell’s recent machines have carried the full factory warranty from the OEM, something of major benefit to Jewell’s customers, Mr Ramun believes.

This approach has another benefit, Mr Ramun believes: “If you do not modify the machine too much, you have the ability to use it in another function. At Jewell, we like to offer maximum versatility – many of our North American customers cannot justify owning a dedicated high reach since they cannot keep it busy over the course of a given year, but they still need to get a good return on the investment.”.

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