Deep stability: An in-depth look at the foundations equipment sector
By Becca Wilkins04 August 2009
Product innovation, with a focus on the environment and increasing productivity remains top priority for global foundation equipment manufacturers, despite difficult market conditions. Becca Wilkins reports.
Manufacturers of foundations equipment are introducing new products which incorporate the latest technologies for enhancing machine productivity.
New equipment and techniques must also be more environmentally-friendly and be able to work efficiently in increasingly challenging construction sites.
Speaking for Bauer, Walter Sigl said, "Our philosophy during the financial crisis is to invest more in innovation because we think innovation is one of the most important things we can offer our customers.
"Engineering is our biggest strength and this makes it possible to innovate and produce new technologies and be a step ahead of our competitors."
The company unveiled a number of new products at its In-House exhibition held in the spring this year, the highlight of which was the new MC 128 specialist foundation construction crane, which was equipped at the show with a diaphragm wall cutter.
The company said the crane can power cutters and piling vibrators with its 707 kW power pack and is fitted with its own counterweight de-rigging facility.
Meanwhile, at Intermat this year Junttan showcased the HHK 15/20s hydraulic hammer, designed to handle heavy duty piles and suited for use in off-shore applications such as wind farm projects - a growing application in the foundations industry according to Miika Eskelinen, sales manager for Junttan.
He told iC the company's biggest area of growth has been the big hammer market. "Although we have been in the hammer market for 30 years or so, we haven't really concentrated on off-shore building and the bigger hammer market, but we have now organised a separate internal hammer team in Junttan to focus on the growth of these bigger hammers."
Despite being more environmentally friendly and versatile, the market for hydraulic hammers is still relatively new in some territories such as in North and South America, where contractors still tend to use diesel hammers and air hammers, Mr Eskelinen added.
"So we are trying to get the hydraulic hammers into these markets too," he said.
Environment and technology
According to Bauer the company is continuously trying to develop machines which are more environmentally friendly as well as being more productive. One way to achieve this is with the help of new technologies- an area which Christian Heinecker, the company's sales director for southern Europe and Africa, believes plays a key part in Bauer's success.
Speaking at Intermat, he told iC, "One of things we want to show is that we not only have a lot of machines but also a lot of technologies, such as cutter soil mixing and the double rotary system, that we can put on standard machines. We are driving innovation in the applications."
Mr Sigl said when manufacturing new machines the company looks to reduce fuel consumption as well as noise and vibration levels.
"We are also pressed from outside because of the engine emission regulations - meeting Tier 4 is good but on the other hand it's a big problem, because the engine size is completely different from the engine size which we are using now so we have to reconstruct our equipment according to this requirement which is a big challenge," he said.
Reducing noise levels is the biggest of all environmental concerns for the foundations industry according to Mr Eskelinen and Junttan is focused on this challenge, especially when involved in city-based projects.
"We have to consider the noise plus the vibrations in the existing buildings and how it impacts on the people too," he explained.
He added there are some cities, in Asia for example, that have taken noise level restrictions to the extreme and which only permit piling or foundations work during certain hours of the day "so you have to adapt your product to that system," Mr Eskelinen said.
Environmental considerations must also be taken into account when carrying out off-shore construction.
"When you use diesel hammers diesel fuel blows into the sea but with hydraulic hammers everything is controlled plus there is a lot less noise and waste. We also see big possibilities regarding the environment with purpose built rigs and using less fuel consumption."
He explained in future the sector is going to be increasingly focused on the carbon footprint of foundation techniques and Junttan is already involved in developing this area. He added currently this is of more interest to the European market due to strict environmental regulations.
However, Junttan's US dealer held a "Green Day" event this year to show customers the difference between the old style piling rigs compared to the new generation with regards noise levels and their carbon footprint.
There can be no doubt that electronic systems are playing an increasingly important part in product development. They ease labour for the operator, increase safety and improve overall productivity.
Cristiano Marchioro, sales manager for Fraste said, "We like to test any kind of new technology. At the same time we adapt them according to the market because we don't want to put too many electronics in machines that go outside Europe."
He added most of the new technologies from Fraste are a result of customer requirements. "And we listen to them because if you don't follow the customer needs your machines will not be updated - they will stay the same and you lose customers," he said.
Junttan plans to showcase new electronic systems at Bauma next year. Mr Eskelinen explained Junttan already has an energy measuring device (EMD) as an option on every rig which allows the operator to print out a daily piling report which includes information such as the energy delivered to each pile.
He added there is also an option for a depth measuring system. "With the laser you can measure the penetration of the pile - you can see how much it penetrates per blow - so that helps the operator and with the same system you can monitor machine functions such as the engine."
However, Mr Eskelinen added manufacturers must also be able cater for more remote markets which prefer simpler machines.
"Electronics do bring good things but you have to test them thoroughly and look carefully at which markets you will enter into first."
In this period of economic hardship manufacturers are determined to focus on potential market opportunities.
Mr Sigl said future growth for Bauer will come from Russia as well as the US because of its infrastructure requirements.
Elsewhere, Mr Eskelinen said, "At the moment everybody knows our market is slow but for us the slowest market has been Russia - it has been really quiet for six months. Only now have we started to have enquiries again."
Junttan is still growing its market share in North America and has delivered more machines and rigs there this year than in 2008. "I think the main reason for that is that they are moving towards new technologies. During tough times they have had to find more effective equipment to operate with less people and then they realise there is a big difference," Mr Eskelinen stated.
However, the South American market, especially Brazil has proved to be Junttan's biggest area of growth."It's been traditional that we have only sold hydraulic hammers there but in the last 12 months we have sold a lot of rigs as well."
He added the demand for deep stabilisation rigs has grown in Asia and Scandinavia. "In the past this market has been really quiet but all of a sudden there has been movement in that sector."
Junttan is not overly concerned about the increasing presence of Chinese and Far Eastern manufacturers in the global market Mr Eskelinen said, because of inconsistent product quality.
"You have to be aware of the competition but I think it's a good thing because it means that everybody's improving and considering more environmentally-friendly issues and at the end of the day it's good for the customer," he explained.
The focus for manufacturers of foundations equipment is to perfect new technologies and products in preparation for Bauma. Meanwhile, in order to tap into new and emerging markets some manufacturers are shifting their focus from more traditional areas of business to expanding other product ranges.
Mr Eskelinen said, "It is a challenging time. We will bring out some new things at Bauma for the basic rigs and we will have some new hammers available. There will be some more control systems on the rigs plus on the hammer side we will have more silenced models.
"The strategy is to continue developing new products and we will work closely with our customers on new product development because they have the best knowledge from the jobsite so we have to utilise that knowledge," he added.