Efficient earthmovers: The latest earthmoving machines and trends.

11 December 2009

Volvo’s A35D articulated dump truck (ADT) and EC700B LC crawler excavator working on Saudi Arabia’s

Volvo’s A35D articulated dump truck (ADT) and EC700B LC crawler excavator working on Saudi Arabia’s expanding rail network.

Fuel-related issues have come under the spotlight in the earthmoving equipment sector but complying with the Tier 4 Interim engine emissions regulations still remains the top priority for manufacturers. Becca Wilkins reports.

Earthmoving equipment manufacturers are developing more fuel efficient machines to help contractors increase productivity and lower overall operating costs. At the same time the industry is consumed with preparing for the next stage of engine emissions regulations which come into force in 2011.

Legislative drive

Arvid Rinaldo, market communications manager for Volvo, said the earthmoving industry faces many challenges surrounding the installation of new Tier 4 Interim/Stage IIIB engines.

He said one of the main challenges will be integrating the Tier 4 Interim technology into the machines so that the end user doesn't notice it, while also ensuring machine productivity isn't compromised.

"The other focus must be to make the new technology as trouble-free as possible for the customers because we don't want to give them something that will prove problematic." he added.

Manufacturers will face some installation issues when it comes to fitting the new engines because he said there are many new components that have to be included in the earthmoving machines' already restricted engine compartments.

However, Mr Rinaldo added, "Thanks to the wider Volvo Group we have experience within the on-road equipment sector and we also have our (engine business), Volvo Penta, which is working on this and they are one step ahead of the off-road industry so it won't be an issue for us as a company."

David Bell, managing director for sales at JCB, agrees meeting the Tier 4 Interim and Tier 4 Final regulations is one of the key product drivers within the earthmoving industry. He also said the installation of the new engines could present challenges.

He said, "I don't think the industry has done a great job in presenting the issues to the (European) Commission. I think the Commission is much more driven by trucks and cars in terms of emissions regulations.

"The industry explained to the Commission that most of us (manufacturers) have 200 or 300 models and each one of those needs to be re-engineered in order to put in a new engine. However, I don't think the size of that task was understood and it's partly because we haven't done a great job in making the Commission aware of it - we tend to just follow on from cars and trucks - we come third."

Mr Bell added the time scale for meeting the next stage of emissions regulations is tight but despite difficult economic conditions and extra pressure on research and development budgets manufacturers have no choice but to comply with legislative requirements.

He said, "Whereas we could be spending our research money looking at genuine innovation a lot of it is consumed with just meeting legislation," he told iC.

Fuelling ideas

While meeting the next stage of emissions regulations is at the forefront of new product development within the earthmoving industry, the drive towards making more fuel efficient machines is becoming increasing important.

Mr Rinaldo told iC one of the company's main focuses is looking at how to make the most out of every single drop of fuel. "This is something that we are really focused on and of course continuing to maintain the high quality of the machines is something we are constantly improving and working on as well," he said.

Alternative fuel is another area the company is investigating although he added reaching a decision on a global scale about which path to take will probably take some time.

"So in the meantime Volvo is trying extremely hard to further emphasise its push on fuel efficiency because that's where we can really make a difference," Mr Rinaldo added.

He said another major area of investigation for Volvo is centred on increasing machine automation, which in some cases can also help improve fuel efficiency.

Elsewhere Mr Bell said, "There is no question that efficiency will be a driver and whereas before you saw horsepower being something that people looked at I think they will be less consumed with this and more concerned about what that horsepower does and how much fuel is being burned."

Future focus

The earthmoving industry looks set to face an interesting future when it comes to developing new technologies for improving fuel efficiency.

Komatsu launched the world's first hybrid excavator in its home market of Japan last year and now the company has extended availability to China, and is ramping up production accordingly.

Following the introduction to China, the company also plans to make the model available in the US in the first half of 2010.

Volvo, which has also entered into the arena of hybrid technology with its L220F wheeled loader, continues to have "great faith" in following this path, according to Mr Rinaldo.

"We see it as a major part of our efforts into making even more fuel efficient vehicles," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Bell told iC the real drive within the industry will be improving the overall efficiency of existing machines rather than introducing new hybrid models.

He added, "There will be some hybrid machines but most of all people will be trying to improve efficiency through using things like our torque lock."

He added certain earthmoving machines are suited to hybrid technology while others, like excavators already run efficiently all day.

A spokesman for John Deere said research and development into electrification and hybrid solutions for construction equipment is being driven by emissions regulations and also by the need for increased fuel economy, noise suppression and lower life cycle costs.

The spokesman said, "Deere is already heavily involved in electrification research, but will not rush a construction product for publicity's sake - it has to be right."

Dozer deluge

Manufacturers have introduced a number of new dozers in the past year many of which use less fuel.

Caterpillar's D7E which uses an electric drive system delivers +10% to +30 % greater fuel economy the company said.

"The D7E meets the increasing demand for powerful, manoeuvrable, fuel-efficient dozers that have the versatility to work effectively in both production dozing and fine grading applications," a spokesman for Caterpillar said.

The overall efficiency of the new D7E stems from its ability to deliver enhanced engine power to the ground, the company explained. This means the D7E can use a smaller engine than comparable competitor machines, yet it can outperform them, Caterpillar said. In addition, the engine runs in a narrow 1500 to 1800 rpm speed range which further reduces fuel consumption and extends engine life.

"In an age of increasing environmental awareness and regulation, the diesel-electric hybrid technology of the D7E offers unprecedented sustainability benefits. It is designed to burn considerably less fuel and consume fewer fluids and parts for reduced owning and operating costs. "Improved productivity and efficiency means getting more work done, while consuming fewer resources," the spokesman said.

Also offering improved productivity, lower fuel consumption as well as increased reliability is the new 49 tonne WD600-6 wheeled dozer from Komatsu.

The new machine is powered by a Komatsu Tier 3, SAA6D170E-5 six-cylinder engine which is equipped with an electronic control system to optimise performance. It is also fitted with a heavy-duty high pressure common rail fuel injection system, a new combustion system for reduced noise and fuel consumption and a cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system.

The WD600-6 features dual-mode engine power, with economy mode for maximum fuel efficiency and power mode for maximum productivity. A new, large capacity torque converter with lock-up transmission provides increased productivity, faster cycle times and improved fuel consumption, the company said.

Komatsu has also launched the D375A-6 crawler dozer which features a number of enhancements for even greater productivity.

The Tier 3, fuel efficient dozer delivers 474 kW at 1800 rpm and according to the company fuel consumption has been reduced due to the automatic transmission with lockup torque converter.

Meanwhile, in the US, Case has introduced its 650L crawler dozer which delivers 55 kW through a Tier 3 certified, four-cylinder, 4.5 litre turbocharged engine which features electronic fuel injection for maximum fuel efficiency. A spokesman for Case said a high-pressure common-rail injection system delivers "excellent" combustion and a charge air cooler reduces emissions and increases fuel efficiency.

Outlook

With the deadline for compliance looming earthmoving equipment manufacturers are undoubtedly prioritising engine emissions regulations in their product development strategies. However they are also increasingly focused on meeting the contractors' demands for more fuel efficient machines.

The next opportunity to see new fuel-related technologies and developments within the earthmoving sector will of course be at Bauma in April next year, however, whether manufacturers choose to preview their Tier 4 Interim machines at the event remains to be seen.

Mr Rinaldo said, "We are facing an extremely interesting future when it comes to the development of earthmoving equipment because I think there are a lot of improvements to be made in how the machines are put together, how they are best operated and how they use the latest technologies. I think we are going to see a lot of new exciting developments within this industry and we at Volvo have a number of interesting technologies coming up."

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