Ground breakers

27 February 2008

Recent product development hasfocused on manufacturing quieter breakers as well as reducing machine vibration in order to improve operator comfort and safety. Silenced breakers are also popular for use in built up areas, where construction work is increasingly common. Sandvik's research department has been analysing the cause and effect of whole body vibration (WBV) in hydraulic hammer applications and has devised some techniques and methods to help reduce these effects. (See box story for more on this).

Torsten Ahr, product manager for hydraulic breakers at Atlas Copco, said the company's breakers of today are quieter, with less vibration transmission to the carrier than their predecessors.

“But we will have to do even better in the future,” Mr Ahr added. “Regulations coming from the likes of the EU and other similar organisations around the world are requiring increasingly quiet machines for environmental as well as health and safety reasons, and we obviously will have to comply with them to sell our products.”

K. W. Koo, company president of Korean-based export-oriented breaker manufacturer D&A, said, “Silenced breakers are very important for the European market. It is also important to have small breakers, because it is becoming more difficult for companies to use hand tools due to the vibration.”

New Products

This year the majority of new models were introduced at Bauma including Sandvick Rammer's new range of S 23 and S 25 hydraulic hammers for use on backhoe loaders. Both will be available as standard and silenced versions, the latter known as City hammers, and are delivered ready to mount on any make of backhoe loader. The S 23 and S 23 City are designed for use with 3 to 6,5 tonne machines, while the S 25 and S 25 City are suitable for use with 5 to 8,5 tonne machines.

The Bauma showground provided the location for the launch of Caterpillar's latest addition to the D series of hydraulic hammers – the 3,9 tonne H180Ds. An increase in the size of both the piston and the tool itself means that it provides+15% greater productivity than its predecessor, a company spokesman said.

A heavy-duty suspension system, fitted as standard, significantly reduces shock loads applied to the machine during operation to improve comfort and extend the life of critical machine components, the spokesman added. Larger heavy-duty tie rods are used to allow for the increase in hammer performance and other features include an Auto Shut Off (ASO) and sealed accumulators.

Ingersoll Rand has launched the new 20,8 kg IR 20BV breaker, extending the company's breaker range to five models. A spokesman for the company said Ingersoll Rand's breaker range offers high power output and performance with low vibration levels. A new steel handle assembly is also featured in this and the existing IR 25BV, IR 30BV and IR 40BV models, enabling the same levels of top fatigue resistance.

Meanwhile, Volvo Construction Equipment's (Volvo CE) one-piece dampening spring with rubber side buffers, featured in the HB series of hammers shields the excavator operator from reflection and recoil forces, enhancing comfort and increasing productivity, a company spokesman said. The low noise design also reduces fatigue for the operator and worksite labourers, the spokesman added.

Furukawa Rock Drill launched two Second Generation hydraulic breakers at Bauma this year, which minimise vibration loads for the operator, according to the company. A new shock-absorption system minimises transfer of the vibrations to the base of the machine, a spokesman for the company said. He added a new breaker guiding system in the casing and rubber gaskets in the bores has allowed for a noise reduction of 6 dbA.

Bobcat launched the HB1180 hydraulic breaker for high-end skid steer and tracked loaders and mini excavators and also introduced the new HB280 hydraulic breaker, the smallest model in the company's 80 series, specifically designed for the 820 kg Bobcat 316 micro-excavator.

A spokesman for the company said like the other breaker models in the series, the HB280 is designed to meet customer requirements for improved performance, efficiency and reliability. The spokesman added the model incorporates a very effective soundproofing system. Smaller breakers were also introduced by Cat including the 105 kg H35 D hydraulic breaker for 1,1 to 2,4 tonne carriers and 145 kg H45 D hammer recommended for carriers between 1,5 to 3,2 tonnes.

Sales Trends

One of the highlights at Bauma was the launch of Atlas Copco's 10 tonne HB 10000. The model is the largest breaker currently available worldwide and provides up to +50% greater productivity than the HB 7000, Atlas Copco's 7 tonne breaker and the largest it produced until the introduction of the HB 10000. Mr Ahr said the company's biggest breaker has sold well since the Bauma exhibition.

“Our original plan was for us to sell five units a year, but initial response has exceeded our expectations. We have already signed deals for three, there are another three orders in the pipeline and the hammer has only been available since April.

I am confident we will sell 20 units next year,” he said.

Sandvik Rammer's re-named maintenance free hammer range, which is now known as the Compact Range (previously called the In Range), has achieved the biggest sales growth for the company in the last six months. Olli Siltanen, general manager for products at Sandvik Rammer, said these machines, which are typically used on skid-steer loaders, mini excavators and for demolition robots, have proved particularly popular with rental customers.

“This maybe happening because customers are perhaps looking to put their capital into other things or perhaps they are working with less capital. The cycle of construction work is becoming shorter and equipment needs vary from week to week. Therefore, sometimes it makes more sense for a company to rent some equipment rather than buy it,” Mr Siltanen said.

He added sales of primary breakers have also increased for Sandvik with its biggest model, the 7 tonne hammer having broken all previous sales records this year.

Market Growth

Mr Siltanen said Sandvik has seen recent growth mainly in Europe and Australia adding that the latter has potential for further growth because of its strong economy and growing construction industry. He added demolition and quarrying industries in particular are driving European growth for the company, which he attributes to the high demand for rock materials. However, he added that Russia and Asia Pacific are the biggest future growth markets for Sandvik.

He explains, “Our business intelligence has been looking at the construction market in these countries because oil prices are high and therefore these countries are investing in construction and equipment is needed."

Mr Ahr said sales of Atlas Copco breakers are currently strong in Western and Eastern Europe and future growth is predicted in the latter market. Another area in which the company expects to gain market share is the US through its American subsidiary. The plan is also to push its presence into the Asian market, he added.

In future the company wants to increase the number of strong and reliable market places and Atlas Copco has already devoted considerable resources to increasing its production capacity, as well as efficiency, Mr Ahr said. The medium and heavy breaker lines are produced at the former Krupp factory in Essen, which Atlas Copco acquired in 2003.

“We have doubled the capacity of our Essen plant over 2003 levels, and this is still not enough. During 2007, € 12 million has been invested in new production capacity, but the investment started in 2003 and a total of more than € 20 million has been made,” Mr Ahr said.

A similar level of investment has and is being made at the small breaker factory at Kalmar in Sweden. Mr Ahr said this level of investment also puts the company in a good position to compete with the plethora of breakers appearing from the Far East.

Speaking about global competition, Mr Siltanen said the major players operate within Europe but on a local level Korea and China are present in the market. However, he added that the quality of Chinese and Korean products would have to be vastly improved if these countries are to become serious global competitors.

He added, “I am not only talking about the products. If you want to be good global supplier you have to organise goodlogistics, back up and support.” Mr Koo said, “We mainly sell our equipment overseas. There's too much competition and too many small companies in Korea that come to the market with lower prices. Their quality is not the same as ours."

Technology

Mr Ahr said the technology used on medium and heavy breakers will not change dramatically in the near future, especially when considering basic functions.

“There are always ways to increase the acceleration of the piston, or make it more sensitive to rock conditions as we have done with our AutoControl system, which is able to measure the rock hardness and adjust the breaker accordingly. There will be further developments in these areas, but I think a hydraulic or combined gas-oil hydraulic system will continue to accelerate the piston to generate the hammer's energy. The next step will be to move away from this technology to something else, but what that would be is wide open at the moment."

Mr Siltanen said customers are increasingly demanding the company's Compact Range maintenance-free products.

He explained, “Five years ago customers had to check on the hammer at least every two hours during a job and the maintenance interval was much shorter. So we are going to develop the hammer so that maintenance intervals are increased to maybe double or triple that."

Where the basic hydraulics that power the breakers are concerned, Mr Ahr believes that the end of the development line has also almost been reached.

“Consider that the piston in any breaker is travelling up and down many hundreds of times a second and the oil flow direction also alternates very rapidly. This creates a lot of stress in the lines running to the carrier. Our developments from the 1970s through to today have been aimed at protecting the carrier from these stresses and I think there is nothing better we can do in terms of hydraulics at this point in time."

Outlook

The future of the breaker market will depend upon the rate of the construction industry in general. For the time-being the situation in Europe is buoyant and so manufacturers are seeking to produce machines which outperform previous models in terms of efficiency and reduction of noise and vibration levels.

Speaking about Sandvik's future growth, Mr Siltanen said, “We believe in the next five years there will be a similar growth compared to the last couple of years. Of course if there is a downturn in the global economy then there will be a different story."

He added competition is also growing and apart from the uncertainty of the US market, he does not see any big changes occurring in the near future. He added the election and ConExpo taking place in the US next year could present possible turning points for the market.

According to Mr Ahr, apart from reduced noise and vibration, Atlas Copco will continue to look at ways of maximising productivity.

“Designing and producing ever bigger breakers is not always the answer. If demand was there for an even bigger breaker than the HB 10000, we might develop one, but we are always looking for ways to provide higher output from our lighter breakers.” Mr Koo said he sees a bright future, “The market for excavators is still expanding now and manufacturers still can't meet demand. That means the breaker market is growing and I think it will grow by +20% to +30% over the next few years,” he said.

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