Interview: Bauer Maschinen CEO on electric power and automation
By Andy Brown01 March 2023
It feels appropriate, in keeping with the ethos of Bauer Maschinen and its CEO, Dr. Ruediger Kaub, that the company’s stand at Bauma Munich was completely carbon neutral. Sustainability was one of the main themes of many of the exhibitors but, Dr Kaub told me over a coffee, he felt it was important that the company didn’t just “talk the talk” but made the investment needed to make the stand truly sustainable.
“When we put the concept up for our booth, I actually said that I really want us to be climate neutral. We really looked into every segment, what we can do to reduce our CO2 footprint,” he says. “All of the woodwork used in the booth will be reused, it’s not going to be burned, which reduces the CO2 footprint.”
Bauer’s electric equipment
The Bauer Maschinen Group produces a wide range of foundation engineering equipment, such as rotary and deep drilling rigs, foundation cranes, trench cutters and pile drivers. The German-based business has electric offerings in its product portfolio, including the electric eBG 33 drill rig and the new Cube system.
Kaub, who is friendly and quick to laugh, says that while sustainability is about more than electrification – “It’s not just electrification, it’s much more for Bauer” – it does play a key role, and he is refreshingly honest about the challenges that electric equipment can bring. The first issue is cost.
“Our customers are really serious about sustainability. But they have to calculate their projects, and they have to run their projects profitably. And a machine like that [electric] costs substantially more and it’s not that easy to operate on a normal construction site, because it’s still relatively new,” he says.
“To handle a cable like that on a normal construction site comes with additional efforts and hence additional costs. There are companies taking sustainability to the next step, but they have to see benefits. Someone has to carry the additional costs.”
What are the challenges with electric equipment?
Some cities are offering subsidies for electric equipment and others are mandating that a certain percentage of equipment on a site must be electric, something that Kaub says will only increase. This will give electric equipment a boost, but for many it is new; with anything new there is a learning curve. Kaub says that “some customers are afraid to run an electrified machine. They look at us and say, ‘Okay, what kind of maintenance guide do I need? Do my people have enough experience?’”
Electric equipment often has an altered design and different maintenance – it requires a business to do things differently. However, Kaub is sure on the direction of travel.
“The industry will take time to really step in more and more into electrification. But it will come, whether it is battery, direct electric drive, fuel cell powered by hydrogen. We will see all sorts of combinations, we will definitely see that transformation, but it will take years.”
What is the biggest problem in construction?
As anyone who has been keeping even a cursory interest in world affairs and the state of the construction industry knows, there are real challenges facing the sector. One of these has been the lockdowns in China, the world’s largest market for construction equipment sales. On this market, Kaub says, “Our business in China was severely affected by the Covid restrictions. It’s just unbelievable. But we have production facilities in China from where we are now supporting the rest of the world, so to speak, mainly into Asia, surrounding Asia but more into Middle East, Africa as well as into Europe and North America.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had an impact on sales, but the overall picture is healthy. Sales in Europe have been strong and North America is “booming” for the company with Kaub calling it a “fantastic market” and helping to ensure that the company’s sales for 2022 were about where they predicted they would be.
An undoubted positive for the company is the ability to step into ‘new’ business categories. Kaub says that there are opportunities for the firm’s cutter technology, such as making the foundations for offshore wind farms. Another area of opportunity is in major urban cities that want to extend their subways – this is work suited for the company’s new Cube system.
New construction technology
The Cube is an electrically powered cutting system. What makes it different is that the system was developed in container dimensions, meaning it can be used in micro tunnels with small diameters of just 3.8m. Kaub calls the Cube “a first in its kind.”
He adds that, “No one else has technology even close to it. At the next Bauma, I want to display the first projects where this innovation has been utilised.”
All of the smartest companies – and people – learn from experience, and Bauer is certainly a case in point. All knowledge from different sectors of the business is shared, as is knowledge when they do something new.
Talking about working in offshore wind farms Kaub says, “In a project like this, we learn a lot. It is not just offshore, and it stays offshore. For example, in that project, we work a lot with remote control of equipment. When you actually have a drill on the seabed at more than 3,000m depth in the ocean this drill is fully automatic and remote; if you do not have that digitalised, then you are lost.
“That’s something where we really work on systems which will definitely also benefit our equipment, our so-called normal equipment on the surface, whether it is electrification, better digitalisation, control or automation. It’s all coming together.”
Sustainability, digitisation and automation are all mega trends in the industry and can play key roles in productivity gains. What does Kaub see in the future for the industry and Bauer? “My big vision is, at the end of the day, our machines have to work completely remote controlled, mostly automated.
“We are working on more of these assistance systems… our vision is that we take the operator away and maybe he sits in an office, and he has a big screen watching three machines. We still need to have the human being watching.”
Even as the industry becomes more automated, construction needs operators watching their machinery. It also needs people like Dr Kaub, watching out for wider global trends and implementing solutions in innovative ways.