Excavators: an uncertain market

07 November 2012

On a recent dealer and customer trip to Hyundai's headquarters in South Korea, its excavators were p

On a recent dealer and customer trip to Hyundai's headquarters in South Korea, its excavators were put through their paces.

It has been a broadly difficult few years for construction equipment in general, and while manufacturers in many sectors are feeling that the winds are now blowing in the right direction, there is a level of uncertainty which is still proving a handicap.

Uncertainty about financial stability in many countries across Europe leads to an unwillingness to commit to projects, which in turn means a lack of confidence in the market generally. This makes it hard to predict the future.

In the latest data from Off-Highway Research, sales of crawler excavators in western Europe are predicted to rise by a modest 1% for 2011/12, but a fall of 3% is on the cards for 2012/13. Wheeled excavators sales are expected to grow 3% in 2011/12, but like crawler excavators, a fall of 3% will follow in 2012/13.

It does, of course, depend on each individual country’s market. As Peter Neujens, sales manager at Hyundai Heavy Industries Europe (HHIE), summed it up for his company generally, “Some markets are good, and some are not performing well enough.”

BRIC opportunities

For HHIE, the most successful markets at the moment are the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), and Mr Neujens was optimistic, saying, “There is still growth potential. In comparison to some other companies we are still seen as small.”

However, he said, “For the excavator business, no one knows where it is going.”

He said the company’s -9 series of excavators was “going better and better”. Available almost worldwide, the -9 series was launched at the last Bauma exhibition three years ago.

The -9A series of excavators, which feature Stage IIIB engines, was introduced this year. HHIE said that as well as low emissions, the new machines were more fuel efficient and have seen other refinements in the way they are operated and controlled.

And Mr Neujens added, “Everyone is demanding fuel-efficient machines.”

This year’s Intermat show in Paris, France, allowed HHIE to reveal a prototype of its R220LC hybrid excavator, which is the fruit of three years’ research and development at the company’s headquarters in Ulsan, South Korea.

The 22 tonne machine features a 100kW diesel engine alongside an electrical system which gets its power from the slewing brake. Hyundai said that by reusing this energy the machine could be as much as 25% more fuel efficient than a traditional excavator.

But it seems that the hybrid is unlikely to be seen much in Europe. “There will be no sales in Europe for now,” said Mr Neujens. “No one is asking for it.”

He added that other fuel sources are being explored in some countries and that these could be used elsewhere in the future.

“We have a 30 tonne electric crawler excavator in South Korea only,” he said, “so we have the technology for specific markets. We are able to test it in South Korea, our domestic market, so maybe it could be one of the solutions in the future.”

Hybrid demand

Komatsu has also gone down the hybrid route, and the first UK sale of the Komatsu HB215LC-1 hybrid excavator was completed in July. The machine’s first deployment is the prestigious Crossrail transport project in central London.

Marubeni-Komatsu, the sole UK distributor of Komatsu heavy machinery, supplied five HB215LC-1 machines to Ridgway Rentals, a company based in Shropshire, in the English West Midlands.

Komatsu said more than 1,700 Komatsu hybrid excavators were in action worldwide. It said the HB215LC-1 offered a combination of high performance and environmentally-friendly features.

The Komatsu HB215LC-1 hybrid excavator claims an average of 25% less fuel consumption and CO2 emissions than a traditional excavator. In place of the usual hydraulic swing motor, its design uses an electric swing motor which captures energy from swing brake operations, converting it into electric energy that is then stored for use when the motor needs to accelerate.

Komatsu Europe International has also introduced the PC210/LC-10 hydraulic excavator – a new machine that is said to benefit from lower fuel consumption, increased lifting capacity and improvements to the operator environment.

Weighing in at up to 23.5 tonnes, the PC210/LC-10 is powered by Komatsu’s SAA6D107E-2 engine which is EU Stage IIIB/EPA Tier 4 Interim emission certified.

While the emissions regulations have to be adhered to, and are clearly uppermost in the minds of manufacturers, most are also concentrating on other improvements to their machines.

Cedric Prins, product manager special application EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) for Doosan excavators, said this was true for the latest generation machines covering not only Stage IIIB, Tier 4 Interim and future Tier 4 Final requirements, but also for new products for markets that still require Tier 2 and Stage IIIA products.

He said, “Doosan has introduced and is continuing to develop new features and technologies for better digging precision, better control of attachments, providing more working cycles with less fuel consumption, greater traction, easy to use controls, etc.

“Some of the latest developments can be seen in Doosan’s new DX380LC-3 excavator where the company has designed a new and very innovative hydraulic system which significantly reduces both fuel consumption – up to 25% – and pressure/flow losses thanks to a better management of engine power and pump usage, leading to a drastic improvement in performance.”

He added that in the Doosan medium range, the use of lower engine rpm, electronic clutch management of cooling, and proportional control of auxiliary lines had produced a big boost in performance.

“In EMEA,” he said, “Doosan continues to do very well in the UK, Germany, Nordics, Benelux and France, and in the Middle East and Africa. In Italy, Iberia and Eastern Europe, the company has developed its position in markets that continue to be affected by the economic crisis.”

Some markets go for crawler excavators while some are traditionally biased towards wheeled models.

Peter Neujens at Hyundai said, “Spain was a wheeled excavator market before it collapsed. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium – they’re all wheeled excavator markets.”

German-based Cat dealer Zeppelin recently presented the 25,000th wheeled excavator made by Caterpillar to BMTI, a subsidiary of Strabag.

The first Cat wheeled excavator was designed in 1995 in the Bavarian town of Wackersdorf, and they are now produced in Grenoble, France.

The Caterpillar wheeled excavator D-Series ranges between 13 and 22 tonnes and includes seven models including two material handlers.

Wheeled excavators are mobile and Cat models can be driven up to 37km/h on public roads, when allowed, which the company said helped minimise the expense of moving machinery around. Cat said the while they were ideal for work in urban areas, wheeled excavators could also be used in more remote areas where four-wheel drive allowed off-road travel.

Werner Baumann, CEO at BMTI, said, “Our business relies on our equipment availability and on how quickly, should the need arise, onsite technical support and parts arrive – and not just in Germany and Austria but throughout Europe.”

The Cat M318D presented to BMTI was headed for Hamburg, Germany, where the machine will carry out airport maintenance and runway repair work.

Major changes

Earlier this year, JCB revealed a series of major changes to its 23-strong range of tracked and wheeled excavators. This included some of its excavators being powered by JCB Dieselmax engines for the first time ever – which will in some cases, according to JCB, deliver a 24% improvement in fuel efficiency.

In addition, all 19 tracked and four-wheeled models from 11 to 46 tonnes have a new cab and new look. This restyle is said to give the JS range a “stronger, more rugged appearance”.

JCB is now installing the JCB Dieselmax 444 engine into the 11 tonne JS115; the 13 tonne JS130; the 15 tonne JS145; the 16 tonne JS160; and the 18 tonne JS180.

In addition, the 15 tonne JS145W and the 17 tonne JS160W wheeled excavators will also be powered by the 4.4 litre engine. The Dieselmax engine replaces the Isuzu unit.

JCB said that with the JCB Dieselmax engine, response time was much faster and in the case of the JS160 and JS180 models, the engine operated at up to 10% lower rpm increasing the overall efficiency of the machine and lowering noise levels.

Volvo has claimed that it has never before created such a productive and efficient range of excavators that bridge the weight classes between 13 to 25 tonnes as its D-Series middleweight crawler excavators, launched this year.

The EC140D, EC160D, EC180D, EC220D and EC235D feature Volvo’s latest fuel-efficient engines and enhanced hydraulics. Said to offer greater digging forces and faster cycle times, the five machines that make up Volvo’s middleweight excavator range are claimed to provide fuel efficiency improvements of up to 14%.

It said its new short swing radius excavators, the ECR145D and ECR235D, offered greater productivity, ease-of-use and safety when working in confined or restricted conditions.

They are designed for manoeuvring in and out of confined areas – while boasting digging performance, balance and stability that are the equal of many traditional format excavators, said Volvo.

Both models feature new engines that not only meet the latest Stage IIIB/Tier 4 Interim regulations, but also claim to offer superior performance and reduced fuel consumption.

Tough job sites

New machines from Hitachi this year included the Zaxis-5 models. The ZX670LCH-5 large excavator was designed by Hitachi engineers to operate on the toughest job sites, such as large-scale construction projects and in busy quarries.

Hitachi said it considered the requirements of owners and operators of Hitachi construction machinery all over Europe, in order to manufacture a new model that could deliver high productivity, balanced with sustainability, as well as durability, comfort and safety, and easy maintenance.

It incorporates the HIOS IIIB hydraulic system, which Hitachi said allowed for faster operation with lower fuel consumption, and increased front speed. It claimed increased productivity by 9% in H/P mode compared to the previous Zaxis model. Swing torque has also increased by 9% and the speed of light-load operations such as grading has also improved, through a larger volume of hydraulic flow.

Hitachi’s new TRIAS hydraulic system is said to have helped to boost the productivity of the ZX350LC-5 medium excavator, because it allows the machine to work efficiently with up to 15% less fuel than the Zaxis-3 model (in ECO mode).

The Hitachi ZX250LC-5 medium excavator is said to have been inspired by the feedback Hitachi received from owners and operators of its construction machinery all over Europe.

New Holland has continued the renewal of its crawler excavator range this year with the introduction of two new models – the E385C and E485C – in the 35- and 48-tonne categories respectively.

They claim more power and fast cycles with the new Tier 4 interim engines and high efficiency hydraulics. New Holland said they offered more fuel savings with high-efficiency hydraulics and a new ECO working mode.

New Holland used the Intermat show to preview the E140C SR crawler excavator, which was due to be more widely available later in the year.

This 13-tonne, short radius excavator complies with Tier 4 interim emissions regulations and features New Holland Kobelco’s iNDr system. Claiming to be the quietest in the industry, it is aimed at urban jobsites.

New Holland has also launched two new models to expand the C Series, which now features eight models ranging from 17 to 50 tonnes. The latest introductions are the 17 tonne E175C and the 19 tonne E195C, which claim to share the high performance and fuel efficiency characteristics of the C Series models already on the market:

Sister company Case Construction Equipment has unveiled a further seven models in its Stage IIIB C Series crawler excavator range this year.

It said the low emission engines and Case Intelligent Hydraulic System in these machines led to a 10% fuel efficiency improvement over B Series models.

The CX130C, CX160C, CX180C, CX210C, CX210C Long Reach, CX470C and CX470C ME excavators are also said to deliver improved digging performance with lower emissions and reduced consumption.

Wacker Neuson said its new ET series of compact excavators in the 1.7 to 2.4 tonne class was a result of evolution, and offered increases in performance strength and efficiency.

“Proven innovations were maintained and combined with fully new development approaches,” said Gert Reichetseder, managing director of Wacker Neuson Linz. “This combination promises a clear addition to power and efficiency.”

The company said the large-volume diesel engines of the ET models corresponded to the newest exhaust standards, and that the optional automatic idling speed control reduced fuel consumption and the noise level of the machine.

The cooling concept with newly-developed cooling air ducting makes it possible to work under full load with an ambient temperature of up to 45°C, said Wacker Neuson, and results in the longer operating life of the components. The optimal arrangement of the filter units, the easily removable covers and large opening angle aim to provide for the most simple accessibility and effective maintenance.

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