Future loading: A focus on the global wheeled loaders market.

By Becca Wilkins07 October 2009

Komatsu’s WA470LC-6 and WA480LC-6 wheeled loaders have a new drive line equipped with a large capaci

Komatsu’s WA470LC-6 and WA480LC-6 wheeled loaders have a new drive line equipped with a large capacity torque converter (LC) for optimal efficiency.

Wheeled loader manufacturers are focusing on the next generation of machines which will be more environmentally-friendly and feature improved levels of operator comfort and safety. Becca Wilkins reports.

A large proportion of time is being spent developing the next wave of wheeled loaders which will feature Tier 4 interim/Stage IIIB compliant engines. As a consequence comfort and safety features will also be improved, however, engine development remains the primary focus.

David Beatenbough, vice president for research and development at Liugong said, "At this point in time the Tier 4 emissions is the biggest product driver that we are facing and certainly most of the R&D matters are being directed towards meeting the requirements."

Compliance challenge

Complying with the next stage of engine emissions regulations is a time consuming process which presents various challenges. According to Mr Beatenbough there are two areas of focus - the amount of space required for the engine and engine components and the cooling system requirements.

"We have to completely re-design the rear chassis section and the engine covering to give us more surface area for the cooling system and to give us more space for the engine, while at the same time retaining visibility. So it is quite a challenge to package everything inside the machine. It's achievable - for a price," he added.

A spokesman for Liebherr agreed there are space issues relating to the installation of Tier 4 interim engines and after-treatment systems.

"The amount of heat that has to be dissipated is normally higher, so the cooling system has to be modified. Other factors to be bear in mind are ensuring the cooling fan drive does not consume too much energy and that noise emissions are minimised," the spokesman said.

Mr Beatenbough said contractors are increasingly concerned about the environment, however, he added they are far from embracing Tier 4 regulations.

Meanwhile, he added the issue of fuel efficiency is still a top priority, albeit less of a talking point than it was last year.

"Up until a year ago fuel efficiency was all people wanted to talk about and then the price of oil dropped and people don't care quite so much anymore, but it's still a critical issue."

Hitachi's Peter Stuijt echoed this sentiment, saying although fuel economy is not being mentioned so frequently compared to 12 months ago, it remains a key concern.

He explained Hitachi's most recent wheeled loaders - the ZW140PL, ZW150PL and ZW180PL - are fitted with Optimum Traction Force, which can be set to increase efficiency.

"The operator can choose from four work modes, according to the needs of the job and their preference. The electronic matching control senses the hydraulic pressure and controls traction force, which optimises productivity, while keeping tyre wear and fuel consumption to a minimum," he said.

Elsewhere, Komatsu's load-sensing hydraulic system, which features electronically controlled variable displacement pumps enhances the efficiency of its upgraded WA470LC-6 and WA480LC-6 models.

A spokesman for the company said, "This new technology saves more fuel by always providing the exact hydraulic flow required, without any losses, thus improving the work speed and providing precise control."

In addition, Komatsu's Komtrax 2.5 system is standard on its wheeled loader range and provides an overview of monthly and daily fuel consumption.

Optimising operation

The level of comfort in a wheeled loader has improved immensely but manufacturers agree there are still areas to be enhanced in future with the help of electronic systems and automation.

Mr Stuijt said Hitachi wheeled loaders feature a spacious cabin, all-round visibility, low noise and vibration levels, temperature control and storage space. However, he added electronics can help the operator optimise control of the wheeled loader, for instance by assisting with gear selection and in penetrating stock piles.

Mr Stuijt explained, "Making the operator environment more automated is also related to regulations so it's not so easy. Of course we are doing everything we can to make the operator's job as easy as possible by reducing strain, through managing the wheeled loaders effectively - for example the steering is important."

Although joystick control is currently not a standard option in Hitachi's wheeled loaders it is something he said that the company is looking to incorporate in future models.

Case, for example has introduced joystick steering on its E Series wheeled loaders in order to reduce operator fatigue and improve machine productivity.

Meanwhile, Mr Beatenbough said Liugong offers different options when it comes to operator comfort in its wheeled loaders because the company believes some markets are willing to pay for higher levels of comfort than others. Central to the operator's comfort, he added, is Liugong's adjustable inner suspension seat and climate control and noise levels are also important.

He said automated machine functions are a growing trend. "Electronics and automation is very much a focus for the future but we believe in using well-proven technology in the market place and the reason we don't have it now is that it's not bullet proof yet."

According to Mr Beatenbough rear-visibility cameras installed on wheeled loaders and in-cab video monitoring functions are becoming more popular.

Mr Stuijt agrees that contractors would like improved rear visibility. "That's going to be addressed in the future - I think a rear view camera will be a standard or optional feature. The camera would give really excellent all-round visibility and due to the nature of the wheeled loader this may be something that everybody may want to improve."

Product push

Mr Stuijt said Hitachi is still aiming to increase its share of the wheeled loader market as well as expanding its model line-up.

Hitachi's deal with Kawasaki will help achieve this goal with the introduction of three larger wheeled loaders planned to coincide with the next stage of engine emissions regulations.

The wheeled loader alliance was formed last year and meant Hitachi could take a 34% stake in the new company. Hitachi has an option to fully acquire the company three years after its initial investment. Wheeled loader manufacturer TCM, which is 50.1% owned by Hitachi is also participating in the collaboration.

However, the new ZW140PL, ZW150PL and ZW180PL models are Hitachi's latest products which are equipped with parallel linkage (PL), making them suitable for a wide range of attachments.

The ZW140PL and ZW150 PL feature Hitachi's Hydro-Static Transmission (HST), which, according to the company offers greater mobility when the bucket or attachment is fully loaded and smoother control on a gradient. The HST system's speed selector provides a range of four maximum travel speeds to suit the particular requirement of each job.

The ZW180PL is fitted with the Total Torque control system which features manually adjustable settings between traction force, penetration force and front speed to increase productivity and reduce fuel consumption.

Elsewhere, Liugong has introduced the 10 tonne 899 III wheeled loader which has a 5.4 m3 bucket capacity. According to Mr Beatenbough the 399 kW machine is the largest wheeled loader manufactured in China.

The company is preparing to distribute these machines globally and has identified specific target markets.

"In better days Russia would have been a prime market and I'm sure in future it will be again. India and Africa are areas of focus too and certainly the mining territories in Australia, plus there's quite a bit of interest in North and South America," Mr Beatenbough said.

He added in general the global wheeled loader market is currently ‘pretty sick' and in China it is the one product line that has really taken a hit because many infrastructure projects currently taking place are excavator, rather than wheeled loader projects.

Mr Beatenbough said the two target markets for the next couple of years will be Latin America and India where Liugong has already set up subsidiary companies. India is also where the company recently opened its first manufacturing plant outside China.

The company is also focusing on growth in North America and Europe and despite Chinese products not always having a good reputation, the company's challenge, according to Mr Beatenbough is to get passed that and show people that the product and support is good.

He said, "There is tremendous pressure to grow our sales and I'm convinced that the secret to being successful and earning our name - apart from ensuring the product is right, which we are already sure of - is to deliver the product support. When the customer needs it, it has to be there and if we can do that I think our growth will be very fast."

Hybrids ahead

Although the economy is beginning to steady in some countries, the wheeled loader market, like the entire construction equipment sector is still in a difficult state.

However, manufacturers remain positive for the future and as well as focusing on the Tier 4 interim engine developments they are concentrating on new concepts - the main contender being hybrid technology.

Volvo has demonstrated it is one step ahead in this field with the introduction of its L220F hybrid wheeled loader concept. However, many other manufacturers are considering how they too could incorporate this technology in future models.

Mr Beatenbough said Liugong is working with universities to try out a few different ideas and although it being too soon to talk about these he added a hybrid model could be available from the company in the next three to five years.

He added, "A year ago I had an engine supplier seriously questioning whether they were going to develop a Tier 4 final engine because they thought the market would be hybrid by that time. Now with the oil price a third of what it was I'm not hearing nearly as much about that, but I can very clearly say that in the long-term hybrids will be very important."

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