Flexible future: A round up of the global breakers industry.
By Becca Wilkins02 June 2009
Demand for bigger breakers is cooling in the midst of the economic crisis. Contractors are thinking twice about investing in large construction equipment and so breaker manufacturers are turning their attention to making more flexible models.
The rapidly changing construction equipment market has altered the way breaker manufactures view new product development. Despite there still being a need for large hydraulic breakers, the demand is not as great as first thought and now more "flexible" hammers are appearing on the market.
Speaking for Atlas Copco, Torsten Ahr said the company is in no rush to manufacturer the next big breaker.
"We will totally go against our strategy - we think the 10 tonne HB 10000 is okay for now. I don't know what may happen in two or three year's time, but for now, we think it's already quite a challenge to carry this breaker. You need at least an 85 tonne carrier and that is quite a big investment for the customer."
He added even bigger (12 or 13 tonne) breakers would need a 100 tonne carrier, which he said contractors would not be able to afford during uncertain economic times.
"We would rather look into the 10 tonne breaker and make it with more output power - instead of making it heavier," Mr Ahr added.
Atlas Copco's current strategy is centred on less weight and more output power, according to Mr Ahr. This focus can be seen, for example, on the company's small breaker range when compared to the previous models, he said.
RS Raghavan, market offering manager for Sandvik said, "Weight does not equal performance and most of our competitors also agree with this too. Our marketing philosophy has been based on customer needs, so is this actually what the customer wants, does he want a bigger breaker? We are not sure about that."
Sandvik questions whether it is important to manufacture a big breaker when the global economy is weak. Mr Raghavan said, "How many big excavators are being sold and how many are being fitted with big breakers?"
He added, "We have taken the customer needs as the focus and today the priority for the customer is to have a flexible breaker most suitable for his application where he will get optimum performance from our product. There could be a situation developing later on where the customer focus will shift to the bigger breakers and when that happens Sandvik will definitely be a part of that product range as well."
Mr Ahr explained although Atlas Copco is not currently focusing on developing bigger breakers, changes in mining and quarrying activities, due to the energy and financial crisis, have resulted in large hydraulic breakers being used in these applications - especially for secondary breaking.
Breaker manufacturers recognise customer needs are changing and this is reflected in the types of products they are introducing to the market.
Atlas Copco is about to release a new range of flexible "universal" breakers to the market, which it hopes to complete by Bauma 2010.
Mr Ahr said that although Atlas Copco is still a breaker specialist and will continue to make special models, the company's strategy is "changing a little bit".
"The hydraulic breaker was developed in the 60s and was always a special tool for specialist people. Today the market has totally changed. You can go into a hardware store and rent a mini excavator with a hydraulic breaker to remove the tiles on your patio - that's what we call an ordinary user. These users don't need a specialist breaker they need a flexible universal hydraulic breaker," he explained.
The universal breakers are designed to be stored on any carrier to ensure easy set-up for the user.
Sandvik is also focused on flexible breakers and this is reflected in its new BR 2155 and BR 2577 models featuring the new retrofit options, which will appeal to customers around the world, the company stated.
Mr Raghavan said there are many products that also have options but Sandvik is taking options to a new level. "These are retrofit options meaning you can fit them at the dealer workshops or at the customer jobsite."
He added, "We see a definite shift towards the emerging markets in terms of market share and we think that emerging markets will play a major role in effecting our business in the future. We therefore plan to develop flexibility in our breaker design so that our breakers can be made suitable for both the developed markets as well as the emerging markets."
An important focus for the hydraulic breaker industry is reducing noise and vibration levels.
Mr Ahr said one of the current environmental issues is the EU's outdoor noise directive which is forcing all earthmoving manufacturers, including the hydraulic breaker sector, to guarantee certain sound levels.
"We have already reduced noise levels before but now we are doing even more to reduce noise and vibration levels. Experience has told us that in order to achieve this you need a certain balance between energy and weight. You need to have a certain breaker with a certain output power and you also need to have the right balance with the weight so you can reduce the vibration - and if this is achieved, then the source of the noise is also reduced," he explained.
He added the hydraulic breaker has one main problem which is that the operation noise caused by the body vibration (coming from contact with the concrete or rock) is higher than the noise coming from the hydraulic breaker itself. He said reducing this noise is a huge challenge.
Avoiding metal-to-metal contact, which is achieved by isolating the breaker's power cell from the guide system, is another step taken to lower noise. Atlas Copco reduces vibration levels in the same way as it reduces noise - by isolating the percussion mechanism (the engine from the body) with suspension.
Meanwhile Mr Ahr said in order to reduce the fuel consumption of the breaker, the efficiency of the tool must be increased.
"The hydraulic input power comes from the carrier and is needed to create the mechanical power to destroy the rock or concrete. Efficiency is very important and how you increase this in hydraulic breakers is a challenge. This is because you have to keep the clearance between the cylinder and percussion piston as small as possible - to keep the internal leakage to the lowest level as possible."
Elsewhere, Mr Raghavan said Sandvik's flexible breakers offer sound suppression as standard - "even for the emerging markets". He added operator comfort and environmental requirements are taken into account in new machine design.
He said although engine emissions are mainly the concern of the carrier manufacturers, Sandvik plays its part by ensuring the hydraulics don't put a big strain on the base machine, which helps reduce overall emissions.
"Vibration levels are an on-going process and our newly designed products as well as the ones already in existence fully conform to European standards," he said.
He added Sandvik is looking at how to reduce noise and engine emissions levels even further.
However, he said, "This is a breaker - it is supposed to break and whatever it breaks there will be noise - it cannot be made completely silent. There is some work already in progress - we will come out with more noise suppressed breakers when it is appropriate to do so."
He added Sandvik would welcome a common testing or monitoring agency which could certify and publish the energy and noise levels of breakers - currently there is no such organisation.
He explained one of the reasons why such a regulating body has not already been put in place is because co-operation is needed among manufacturers and there are many different global equipment standards to consider.
However, he added, "I am sure there will be a way in the coming years when people find a common ground to discuss this and bring it forward."
The financial crisis has affected the demand for some of the bigger breakers in the market, but instead of waiting for this part of this business to pick up, manufacturers have identified new areas of potential growth.
Mr Ahr said, "Even these days Atlas Copco invests in new products we don't stop investing, we don't wait until the market is beginning to return, we want to be prepared for D-Day. Everyone is hopeful for Bauma 2010 and we have a lot of programmes running at the moment for new breakers."
Mr Raghavan said with major economies of the world initiating steps to stem the decline, Sandvik anticipates that the worst is over and the turnaround should happen soon.
"The market is very volatile and what is applicable today is no longer valid the next day. Under these trying circumstances, it will be very difficult to predict the near future."
He added, "We have the right (flexible) product for all markets so we have the necessary ability to react at short notice and whichever market, either the emerging markets or developed markets rebounds the fastest, we are ready to cater for them."