Digging deep

24 April 2008

Excavators Are One of the Biggest selling construction equipment segments in Europe, in terms of both value and volume. More than 34000 midi and large excavators were sold in Western Europe in 2005, according to market forecasting company Off-Highway Research.

“Sales of tracked excavators grew by +12% in 2005 to 25459 units and reflects the growing popularity of the 8 to 12 tonne midi excavators,” said Off-Highway Research managing director David Phillips. “Strongest demand last year was seen in the UK, France and Germany.

“The wheeled excavator market also performed well last year with 9155 units sold, which represents more than a +20% increase in sales over the last three years. This growth is due to an improvement in French demand and a return to normality in Germany.”

The latest figures from Off-Highway Research suggest that sales in the region are going to reach 35800 units this year. This means that excavators will account for 21% of the Western European construction equipment market by volume. However, sales are predicted to reach a peak this year and drop slightly - but in line with other construction equipment - in 2007 to just over 34500 machines.

“Sales of tracked excavators are likely to decline by -10% over the next five years but even at 22500 units, the market will remain robust,” explained Mr Phillips. “Despite the overall decline, sales in the UK are expected to continue growing but sharp falls in sales are likely in France and Spain. Demand for wheeled excavators in Europe is likely to remain steady at 9000 units until 2008 when it is probable that the market will decline to around 8250 units per year.”

Despite the predicted drop in sales, excavators will still retain their position as the most popular piece of construction equipment in terms of value and, therefore, a key sector for manufacturers. Changes in legislation are helping to drive new machine launches but, in a bid to gain market share, many manufacturers are also introducing other new technology to their excavator ranges.

Introduction of the European Stage IIIA and US Tier 3 engine emissions laws for engines in the 130 to 560 kW powerband at the start of this year has had a big impact on the large excavator sector. The new legislation resulted in a wave of new tracked excavator launches in the 25 tonne plus operating weight class this year as manufacturers reconfigured their machines around the new engines.

The next powerband to be affected by the legislation are engines between 75 and 130 kW and the new emissions regulations will come into effect on 1 January 2007. The change is likely to result in a similar rise in new machine launches in the 10 to 25 tonne operating weight bracket early next year.

Quiet Revolution

Reducing noise of construction equipment both outside the machine and within the cab is also being targeted by many manufacturers. One of the biggest new excavators to be unveiled this year was Komatsu’s 80 tonne P800-8, which has been designed to reduce operating noise, compared to previous models, to 108 dB(A) to meet EU Stage 2 noise regulations. In cab noise has also been reduced to 75 dB(A) through use of a cab damper mounting.

The P800-8 was officially launched, along with the slightly smaller 60 tonne PC600-8, which has the same noise reducing design, at Intermat in Paris, France. Both machines are powered by Komatsu’s new Stage IIIA/Tier 3 compliant Ecot3 engine, developed in partnership with Cummins, which Komatsu claims “delivers excellent power levels to provide outstanding productivity”.

The PC800-8 is fitted with a 363 kW engine, while the PC600-8 has a 320 kW unit. The new engines have improved performance of the excavators, compared to the Dash 7 models, with the lifting force on the PC600-8 up +17% and can be boosted by a further +8% using the PowerMax function.

The new machines also feature Open-centre Load Sensing System hydraulics, an electronically controlled variable speed fan and four level economy mode operation. According to Komatsu, these features combined with the new engines, result in lower fuel consumption than the previous models.

Case has also added to its large excavator range with the 70 tonne CX700, which is the company’s first to feature a Stage IIIA/Tier 3 compliant engine.“The new engine is more fuel efficient, quieter and more power efficient than the previous Stage II units,” said a company spokesman. “The improvements offer higher breakout forces, faster cycle times and performance characteristics which are almost equal to the current CX800.”

The 345 kW Isuzu powered CX700, which will be followed by the launch of other Stage IIIA compliant machines, is designed to fill the gap between the 46 tonne CX460 and 80 tonne CX800.

“The CX800 will be one of the next machines to be upgraded with a Stage IIIA engine and field tests suggest that the performance will be equivalent to that of a 90 tonne machine,” said the spokesman.

Hyundai’s 50 tonne Robex R500LC-7A is the company’s largest excavator and has been designed to suit the quarry and mass excavation sector. The R500LC-7A is powered by a Stage IIIA compliant 266 kW Cummins engine and, according to Hyundai, particular attention has been paid to reducing noise levels through use of insulation.

According to Hyundai European marketing manager Michel de Weert, the European market for excavators in the 40 to 50 tonne operating weight class is around 1000 units per year. Hyundai has said that it is confident of gaining an increased market share with this new model.

“We already have a well-proven and well-accepted 45 tonne excavator in our product range,” said Mr de Weert. “But this new 50 tonne machine is even stronger and more powerful, which effectively puts it into a higher category.”

Cold Start

The first of Hitachi’s new Zaxis excavators, which were launched at Intermat, has already been delivered and is being put to good use by contractor Verktakar Magni on a project in Iceland. The 67 tonne ZX670LCH-3 is the first to be delivered in Europe and is helping Verktakar Magni to meet some tight deadlines.

Infrastructure investment in Iceland is currently being carried out at a fast pace, putting local contractors under pressure. “Competition for contracts is very high at the moment, so we must be able to complete a job within tight time frames and to a high standard,” said Verktakar Magni director Sövli Jònsson.

Mr Jònsson selected the new Hitachi excavator to improve efficiency of the company and put it straight to work laying roads and preparing ground for a new housing development. “The machine is currently working on a job that would normally be undertaken by a smaller machine,” he said. “But the precise controls and manoeuvrability on the lava rock mean that we can use the machine’s performance and capacity to complete the work more quickly.”

The ZX670LCH-3 is one of eight new Zaxis machines launched by Hitachi this year with operating weights spanning from 21 tonnes up to 84 tonnes. The range includes the ZX210-3, ZX250- 3, ZX280-3, ZX350-3, ZX470LCH-3, ZX520LCH-3, ZX670LCH-3 and ZX870LCH.

The whole range is fitted with Stage IIIA/Tier 3 compliant engines. According to Hitachi, the new engines, combined with the new HIOS II hydraulic system, increases the productivity levels of the range by up to +17% and cuts fuel consumption by-15%. Hitachi also said that the hydraulic system helps to provide greater control over simultaneous operation of the arm and boom and improves lifting capacity by up to +14%.

New Ranges

Liebherr, Caterpillar and Terex have also launched new excavator ranges this year.

The 31 tonne R 934 C, 40 tonne R 944 C and 72,5 tonne R 954 C make up Liebherr’s new C-series excavators and replace the B-series. The R 944 Cexcavator and the demolition version of the R 954 C were unveiled at Intermat, but the other machine has been launched since the exhibition in April.

All three machines are powered by Liebherr Stage IIIA/Tier 3 compliant engines. The R 934 C has a 150 kW four cylinder unit, while the R944 C and R 954 C have six cylinder engines, which deliver 190 and 240 kW, respectively. The new Liebherr range also features a new exterior design, which includes more glass in the operator’s cab and the hoses between the superstructure and boom have been repositioned lower down to improve vision.

Terex’s all new TC excavator range will eventually offer operating weights of between 22 and 67 tonnes but is gradually being rolled out. The 22 tonne TC210LC, 23,7 tonne TC225LC, 25 tonne TC240LC and 26,6 tonne TC260LC have already been launched.

The 33 tonne TC330 and 36 tonne TC360 are expected to be launched at the Bauma exhibition in Munich, Germany in April 2007 and plans for a 55 tonne TC520 and 67 tonne TC620 versions are also on the drawing board.

“It would have been easier to take the existing Atlas excavator models and re-engineer them, but the result would have been nowhere near what we wanted to achieve,” said Terex Atlas product manager Erik Unger. “With the new TC range we’re aiming to be building more than 1000 each year by 2008.”

According to Mr Ungers, the Atlas 04 range was originally derived from the company’s wheeled excavator range and was just too expensive and complex to achieve fleet sales and gain the market share which Terex is chasing. “Taking the new range from an idea to production has taken five years and a huge amount of research,” said Mr Ungers.

The new range features Stage IIIA engines developed by Cummins and Bosch Rexroth hydraulic systems. “We chose to stay away from load sensing hydraulics because of the cost and complexity, but the latest Bosch Rexroth systems offer an almost identical feeling for the operator,” said Mr Ungers.

Cat’s new eight model D-series excavator range, which offers operating weights of between 20 and 37 tonnes, was also unveiled in the metal at Intermat. The company claims the new Stage IIIA compliant powered machines offer increased reliability, versatility, performance and comfort as well as lower operating costs.

The range includes three compact or reduced turning radius models - the 23,5 tonne 320D RR, 24 tonne 321D CR and 35 tonne 328D CR - and five standard models. Other models in the range include the 21,5 tonne 320D, 23,5 tonne 323D, 25 tonne 324D, 28 tonne 325D and 34 to 37 tonne 330D.

Various undercarriage options are available, including long, long and narrow, and for extreme applications the 325D and 330D can be equipped with a “heavy-duty/high and wide” undercarriage for increased stability, lifting capacity and visibility. The 330D can also be fitted with the 345C undercarriage, making it suitable for rock and quarry applications, and for feeding mobile crushers.

Standard lifting capacity across the D Series has improved by +5% compared to the C-series and a new heavy lift mode offers +4% more capacity than the standard mode.

The D Series’ bucket digging force has been improved by +6%, while stick digging force has been improved by +7%, due to increased pressure and re-designed bucket linkage geometry.

Service and maintenance requirements have also improved. The hydraulic oil change is now every 8000 hours (previously 4000 hours). The engine coolant change interval is now 8000 hours (previously 6000), while the hydraulic oil filter change interval is now 2000 hours (previously 1000).

Demolition Update

Volvo has created heavy duty versions of four of its excavator models in a bid to meet the demands of the demolition and recycling market. The new versions of the 21 tonne EC210B, 25 tonne EC240B, 28,5 tonne EC290B and 37,5 tonne EC360B featured added machine and operator protection.

The upgraded excavators also have increased hydraulic power to enable the machine to act as multi-function tool carriers. The machines feature a quick coupler, pre-fitted auxiliary hydraulic piping and in-cab adjustable hydraulic flow.

The demolition range are mounted on wide undercarriages with longer tracks to provide stability over uneven ground, with full length track guards. Heavy duty plating is fitted to the track frame and underside of the superstructure and side impact protection has also been added.

Further down the operating weight range, Mecalac has launched the 11 tonne 712 MC which will be commercially available from the end of this year. The machine is aimed at urban construction sites and features an ‘X’ chassis, which Mecalac has said gives the machine good stability.

The 712 MC can be fitted with either steel or rubber tracks, which enables it to be used on road without damage to the road surface. The machine is powered by a 75kW Deutz engine and has a turning radius of 3,3 m which Mecalac claims is equivalent to the space required by a 5 tonne machine.

Wheeled Wonders

This year has been a quiet one for launches of new wheeled excavators. But this may be because many manufacturers are holding off launching new machines until the next phase of the Stage IIIA engines emissions regulations are brought in next year.

Operating weights of wheeled excavators mean that engines above 130 kW are less common, and most machines will fall into the second 75 to 130 kW Stage IIIA powerband. Nonetheless, Cat and Mecalac have both introduced new wheeled models.

Cat’s 30 tonne M325D MH and 36 tonne 325D LMH are aimed at the materials handling market and feature improved lifting capacities, more power and a new cab. The 128 kW engine used to power the previous models has now been replaced with a Stage IIIA compliant 140kW Cat C7 engine. Like the D-series tracked excavators, Cat’s new wheeled models also feature a heavy lift function which increases lifting capacity by up to +6%.

Visibility for the operator has also been enhanced with the addition of a 2,6 m hydraulic cab riser. Access to the cab is improved with new platforms, steps and handrails, while the controls have also been upgraded to provide better access to the machine’s functions.

Mecalac’s 16 tonne 714 MW wheeled excavator is aimed at the rail market but can also be used as a conventional machine. The machine has been approved by the French rail operator SNCF, which will also allow it to be used in Eastern Europe. Mecalac is currently working to gain approval for use of the machine in Germany, Holland, the UK and Italy.

In addition to the standard wheels for road use, the machine has two bogies which can be raised and lowered to enable the excavator to run along railway lines. The 714 MC has a short tail radius of 1,56 m that allows it to be used on sections of single track railway.

Further Developments

Sales of both wheeled and tracked excavators are expected to start declining slightly from next year. Nonetheless, the need to retain a competitive edge in this important sector and new legislation will continue to provide the driver for new machine launches and adoption of new technology.

Introduction of the next phase of the Stage IIIA/Tier 3 engine emissions regulations for engines in the 75 to 130 kW powerband is expected to result in another wave of new machine launches. These new tracked and wheeled excavators are likely to fall into the 10 to 25 tonne operating weight class and next April’s Bauma exhibition in Munich, Germany will provide many manufacturers with the opportunity to debut the new excavators in the metal.

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