FEATURE: Rise of the minis
By Helen Wright03 October 2016
More than 178000 mini excavators with a total value of US$7.9 billion (€7.2 billion) will be sold around the world this year, according to specialist industry consultant and forecasting company, Off-Highway Research
In volume terms, this makes them the most widely used type of construction machine in the world, although in value terms the segment is smaller than that of larger crawler excavators and wheeled loaders.
As machines which replace manual labour, sales of mini excavators tend to be higher in more developed countries, where labour costs are higher and construction is more mechanised. Europe, Japan and North America account for nearly 65% of the global mini excavator market in unit terms. In comparison, these regions account for just 54% of the overall construction equipment market, emphasising their fondness for mini excavators.
But emerging countries are still significant mini excavator markets. These ‘rest of the world’ countries are expected to buy some 63900 mini excavators this year, according to Off-Highway Research.
There is also a tendency towards slightly larger mini excavators in emerging markets, with 5 tonne class machines being particularly popular. Compare this to Europe, where the 2.5 tonne segment is by far the most popular class of machine.
The crucial factor here is that this is the heaviest equipment can be, while still being able to be towed under a standard driving licence in many countries. However, this is not a factor in all developed countries. In the US for example, there is a strong preference for larger compact excavators.
As with many other segments of the construction equipment industry, the global mini excavator segment is in something of a lull this year. Off-Highway Research expects sales to increase to over 200000 units per year worldwide by 2020, with the value of the segment exceeding US$9 billion (€8.1 billion).
As a concept, the mini excavator was born in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it is Japanese manufacturers which by and large still dominate the segment.
However, Caterpillar is a serious player, in part because of its 50-year presence as a manufacturer in Japan, originally through a joint venture with Mitsubishi. Compact equipment specialists like Bobcat and Wacker Neuson also enjoy healthy sales in the segment, as do most of the major ‘long-line’ manufacturers.
A number of Chinese manufacturers have also developed mini excavator ranges over recent years, in response to increased demand at home. Even in its current depressed state, the Chinese mini excavator market is expected by Off-Highway Research to hit 16000 machines this year.
As in the rest of the world, China has a number of long-line domestic manufacturers which produce mini excavators, such as Sany, XCMG and Liugong, as well as one or two compact equipment specialists such as Sunward and Yuchai.
These companies compete with a dozen or so international manufacturers active in China, including many of the industry’s household names.
Despite the size of the segment, it is a competitive area, and this has seen a number of manufacturing and supply deals set up in recent years. In Europe Wacker Neuson manufactures Caterpillar-branded mini excavators of 3 tonnes and less for sales worldwide apart from in Japan. Wacker Neuson is planning to open a new plant near Shanghai in China. Initially compact excavators will be produced for the local market, with other products to follow.
Meanwhile in Japan, Yanmar and Kobelco cross-supply each other with certain models. And more recently, Yanmar has acquired Terex’s Germany-based mini excavator and compact wheeled loader business to give it a greater scale and footprint in Europe, by far the world’s largest mini excavator market as a region (see box story).
A key market
Rental is always going to be a key market for mini excavators. Per Leis, compact and rental product development manager for Volvo Construction Equipment in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) sales region, said, “Volvo CE is performing above expectation on the European compact excavator market at the moment.
“We have received several large orders from rental customers on top of a very high normal demand, as many rental customers are renewing and increasing their fleets, especially in France and the UK.
“There have also been many urban infrastructure projects, as well as housebuilding in central Europe, Italy and Germany.”
He said that Volvo CE had increased market share for compact equipment as a whole over the last year but especially in the compact excavator segment. He explained that a readiness to answer to the specific demands of the rental sector was one reason for this success.
“We have had our largest sales in the rental sector in the UK, France and Germany, where customers have appreciated our high machine availability and short lead times.
"We also have highly capable dealers as well as flexibility in meeting special demands for options, especially safety-related ones, and attachments,” he added.
The trend for demand for short radius machines, has been noted by Volvo CE, as well as interest in complete transport solutions such as attachments, trailers, etc. The result has been the launch of a new series of 3.5 to 4.0 tonne short radius compact excavators, alongside conventional compact excavators. “Our current most popular product is the Volvo ECR25D due to its complete transport solution,” he said.
Also, Volvo’s new EWR150E short tail swing wheeled excavator has been designed for city use and claims the shortest swing radius in this weight class of any Stage IV machines on the market.
Combining features of both the EW140D and the EW160E, with what Volvo claims is state-of-the-art qualities of its own, the machine has a short swing radius of just 1720mm.
It said this had been achieved without compromising on reach, lifting or digging performance – 8.7m digging reach using the 2.45m arm.
Volvo said one of the key elements of the design that made all this possible was that the engine was now at the back of the machine. When the machine swings round to work on a road or pavement, the back of the machine stays on one side of the road and leaves the traffic in the lane on the other side unaffected. Moving the engine to the back is also said to improve visibility, particularly on the operator’s right-hand side.
Meanwhile, at this year’s Bauma Munich show, Bobcat presented a fully functional prototype of its new E10 Electric model, a new zero-emission, electric powertrain version of the E10 1 tonne micro-excavator.
The alternative powertrain option in the E10 Electric model comprises an electric motor that can be powered both by a pack of rechargeable Li-Ion batteries or a 400V mains electric supply via a plug-in power cable.
Bobcat said the batteries could be recharged quickly – less than an hour to reach full capacity – and when fully recharged, the excavator is said to be able to work independently of the mains power for two to three hours.
Along with zero emissions, the E10 Electric model also claims very low noise levels on site with an LpA of only 64dBA. Well-suited to demanding indoor demolition applications, it can also carry out work while charging via the mains power cable.
The new E10 Electric version has the same zero tailswing (ZTS) profile and identical external dimensions as the standard E10 machine and is said to offer the same or better performance.
Sister-company Doosan Construction Equipment has launched the new DX19 1.9 tonne mini-excavator. Doosan said that the optimised hydraulic system in the DX19 mini-excavator made the best possible use of the engine power available from the Kubota D722 diesel engine providing an output of 9.9kW at 2500rpm. It said this resulted in fast cycle times, which were combined with smooth control of class-leading breakout forces, including a digging force over the bucket of 20.8kN.
Meanwhile, Caterpillar’s new 304.5E2 XTC mini hydraulic excavator is the first model in the Xtra Tool Carrier (XTC) line up.
Built on the E2 platform, the 304.5E2 XTC claims to have an innovative skid steer coupler interface for added versatility and work tool integration. This manual coupler allows for the use of compact loader tools, including general purpose bucket, multi-purpose bucket, forks, dozer blade, brooms, power box rakes and trenchers.
Cat said that coupler operation was controlled through a flick of the XTC switch on the right hand console in the operator station. Then the standard right hand joystick then becomes the loader.
The company said this new model allowed operators to achieve improved productivity in material carrying applications, and also led to reduced backfilling times. The 304.5E2 XTC also includes the standard features and benefits of the E2 model lineup. For example, it has automatic two-speed 100% pilot controls, and Cat claimed superior bucket rotation, blade float and safety were built into every Cat mini excavator.
Also, the COMPASS monitor includes a passcode protected security system, adjustable auxiliary flow control, site reference system all as standard. There is also a rearview camera option.
In addition, the Cat 308E2 mini hydraulic excavator is now available in a variable-angle-boom (VAB) configuration that is designed to provide an expanded working envelope and increased application flexibility.
While providing a maximum dig depth of 4290mm, the VAB extends the 308E2’s maximum reach by 760mm to a total of 7780mm. Compared with the standard boom-and-stick configuration, dump clearance is extended by 1410mm to 6080mm.
In addition, the VAB is said to allow the 308E2 to work closer to the blade and tracks, resulting in added lift capacity when working in confined areas.
And Caterpillar has also added the model 300.9D VPS (Versatile Power System) to its range of mini excavators. It said the versatile design of the 300.9D VPS benefits both the owner/operator and the rental company by allowing the machine - in conjunction with its separate hydraulic power unit - to work either with its diesel engine or from a remote electrical power source, with no loss of performance.
Having an electrical drive system remote from the machine enhances utilisation and rental options, it claimed.
The 300.9D VPS can be rented alone for regular applications - or with the hydraulic power unit when the job requires low noise and zero emission.
Meanwhile, JCB has introduced a contractor specification for its 8018 mini excavator. It said that by working in partnership with its customers, it was able to offer tailored specifications and option packs to suit a wide range of industry sectors, and the JCB 8018 contractor specification is said to provide utility contractors with a mini excavator specifically designed to work in busy urban job sites.
Among the features are 500-hour extended greasing intervals, electrical proportional auxiliaries, and LED work lights with additional guarding. There is additional counterweight protection, a hand-held tool circuit, and street pad dozer blade protection.
JCB said it was introducing the contractor specification to reduce operating costs, enhance safety and ease operation. The rubber street pads on the dozer blade, fitted as standard are designed to prevent damage to the highway while working. The company said these could be removed easily without the use of any tools, and stored safely in the toolbox in the cab.
Going up slightly in size, JCB said it was building on the introduction of next generation 6, 8, 9 and 10 tonne midi excavators last year. It is releasing four additional models, with operating weights of 4.8 to 5.7 tonnes – available in conventional, reduced and zero tailswing configurations.
The four new models are the 48Z-1, which replaces the previous 8045Z/8050ZTS; the 51R-1 to replace the 8050ZTS/RTS; the 55Z-1, which takes over from the 8055ZTS/RTS; and a completely new 57C-1 model.
Hyundai’s latest addition to the mini excavator market was the R17Z-9A, launched last year. It said the machine’s variable undercarriage provided easy and efficient operation in any limited space work environment.
The 1.7 tonne machine rounds out the company’s mini excavator range Hyundai, and the company said the machine slotted into the Hyundai mini line-up between the R16-9 and the R25Z-9AK.
It is powered by a Kubota D902 engine which is rated at 11.7kW.
The engine claims efficient fuel combustion and reduced noise engine technology.
When fitted with a 960mm dipper arm, the R17Z-9A provides a maximum dig depth of 2190mm. This mini excavator claims to have true zero swing capability and it has two speed travel – 2.2 km/h at the lower end, and 4.1 km/h at the higher end of its range.
Kobelco’s new Series 6 excavators – the SK35SR-6 and SK30SR-6 – claim to deliver high performance with exceptional fuel economy. The company said that new attributes would also feature on the new SK28SR-6, which will replace the SK27SR-5 model. These include improved lifting capabilities, arm crowding and bucket digging force, more than 100% increase in fuel capacity and increased engine performance.
Powered by a Yanmar (3TNV82) engine, there is said to be a reduction in fuel consumption over dash-5 models. Kobelco claims, for example, that fuel consumption is reduced by 25% in S-mode, while a 15% decrease can be realised in H-mode.
A new hydraulic system using the third pump, which was previously used only for dozer blade and swing operation, directs additional power to the boom and arm circuit. The company said this ensured fast and smooth operation, even under heavy loads, and resulted in greater fuel savings.
The Series 6 models also feature Kobelco’s Integrated Noise and Dust Reduction cooling system (iNDr). This system enables easy access to the air filter, which is now mounted in front of the radiator system, prevents damaging the radiator during cleaning and is said to reduce downtime for day-to-day maintenance. It also contributes to a decrease in machine noise.
Hitachi Construction Machinery (Europe) – HCME – has launched its new ZX19-5 mini excavator, and it claimed its square-shaped cab was the most spacious in its class.
The ZX19-5’s boom cylinder has been moved on top of the boom to protect it from potential damage, said HCME, which added that its front minimum turning radius was smaller.
The ZX19-5 has a new blade – manufactured from high-strength steel – which is claimed to be more durable than the previous model. The angle of the blade has been changed in an effort to make it easier to dig more precisely and for use in removing thin layers of earth from the ground while dozing.
Another updated mini is the Kubota U10-3, which now comes with optional side lever pilot controls. The levers are mounted on foldable sidebars, which mans accessibility into the operators’ station was not affected. It is powered by the Kubota D722 Ecological Three Vortex Combustion System (E-TVCS) engine.
Takeuchi also recently introduced three new mini excavators – the 1.1 tonne TB210R, the 2.9 tonne TB230, and the 4 tonne TB240. Engine outputs range from 8.7kW to 26kW. The company said the new minis were designed to be highly flexible, compact, robust and efficient.
Consolidating the compact market
In June, US-headquartered manufacturer Terex sold its German compact equipment business to Japanese producer Yanmar in a €53 million deal that also included Terex’s manufacturing facility in Crailsheim, Germany, together with its parts distribution centre in Rothenburg.
Terex’s German compact construction business manufactures and sells midi/mini excavators, wheeled excavators and compact wheeled loaders.
Yanmar is already an established player in the European mini excavator market, but the deal - expected to close in the second half of 2016 - broadens its reach into the compact loader segment in the region.
Yanmar president Takehito Yamaoka said Terex's German compact business had a strong Europe-based sales network and excellent products, including the Schaeff series.
“I believe this tie-up will promote not only the short-term but also long-term growth of Yanmar's construction equipment business by expanding the Yanmar Group's compact construction equipment business and supplementing the sales network of our French subsidiary," he said.
Meanwhile, Yanmar has introduced launched its new Sigma concept and SV100 2-Piece Boom. The B7 Sigma-6 is an 8-ton zero tail midi-excavator fitted with a new boom concept on the European market: the Sigma concept.
The main characteristic of the Sigma concept is that the second articulation of the boom provides lateral movement of the arm and attachment without any rotation of the upper frame. This enables to increase the productivity of the machine and its working amplitude.
The specific design of the boom also improves the precision of the B7-6, particularly in areas where accessibility is limited. It also allows optimal visibility on jobsite, according to the company.
This is a feature from the July/August 2016 issue of IRN. To read the full article, with extra images and information, subscribe to the magazine: http://www.khl.com/subscriptions/magazines/international-rental-news/