IRN looks at the flow of new mini-excavators coming onto the market

By Murray Pollok10 November 2011

Paul Hyslop of Hanix UK.

Paul Hyslop of Hanix UK.

Sales of mini excavators are starting to recover from the lows of 2009 and 2010, and as they do, so the flow of new models has started to resume. Murray Pollok reports.

For many mini excavator manufacturers the year 2011 will have something of a ‘back to life' feel about it, with the excess inventory problems of 2008 and 2009 behind them and greater scope now to start launching new models.

That was already evident in January, with several high profile mini launches planned in the first half of the year, including the first machines produced for Caterpillar by Wacker Neuson under their recently announced alliance (more below); several new machines from Kubota to be launched at the Samoter exhibition; and important new 1.5 t units from Hanix Europe, among many others.

Let's start with Hanix Europe, the Manchester, UK-based company that markets the Japanese produced excavators almost everywhere in the world, with the exception of Asia and Japan.

The company specializes in mini and midis, with around 11 models from the 800 kg H08B to the 7.5 t H75C. The existing range are mostly B or C series, with just two more recently produced ‘D' series machines in the 1 t and 5.5 t classes. Now, the company is moving ahead with all-important new 1.5 t class ‘D' series models - the H16D and the H17D (with extendible tracks) - to replacing the aging H15B-2 and H15B Plus-2 minis.

As you would expect, the D models have an updated look that brings them into the 21st century, not least with a more compact tail that significantly reduces the rear turning radius from 1.44 m to 1.07 m. The tail is also better protected by a wrap-around counterweight.

The changes are far more than cosmetic. Gone are the Mitsubishi engines of the old machines, replaced by Kubota D782 engines - Kubota will be used for all new Hanix excavators in the future. On the H16D, digging depth increases by almost 150 mm to 2295 mm on the standard boom, and maximum digging power is also higher, by around 3% at 14.8 kN.

Both the 16 and 17 are slightly heavier than their predecessors, up around 100 kg, with weights of 1650 kg and 1700 kg (cab version with rubber tracks), respectively.

Other new features include proportional controls; a shifting of the boom cylinder from below to above the boom to offer better protection; and variable output piston pumps replacing the gear pumps used previously, which Hanix says better directs power to where it is needed. Two speed travel is now standard and straight line tracking control is also offered.

As you would expect, the cab is improved, with a wider door, adjustable seats and easier controls - for example, the PTO pedals on that were on the floor are now on the joystick. At the rear, the refueling cap is now outside, so the engine cover doesn't need to be lifted to fill the tank, and on the boom there are now simple ‘plug-in' hydraulic connections for attachments.

Paul Hyslop, sales director of Hanix Europe, acknowledges that the company was playing catch-up in this class, but is pleased to finally be able to offer the 1.5 t machines; "The old models were still good technically, but with the new models we have brought them up to speed to remain competitive in the market. We tried to target the best machines in the class and be at least as good as them."

He says that other ‘D' series models will follow, with a two year plan to replace many of the C range. Next up will be the H28DR, a 2.7 t zero tail model (and the smallest zero tail available from Hanix), available from July, with two 8 t machines to come in 2012. A 4.5 t unit - plugging a gap in the range - is also on the cards.

Also planned is an expanded range of attachments. Hanix recently announced that it would be using Steelwrist as its supplier of the tiltrotator attachments that are so popular in the Nordic countries, but the company is also looking at a wider range of tools, including crushers and clamping devices.

Unlikely though it may sound, when it came to mini excavators Caterpillar has also being playing catch-up, although just in the under 3 t segment of the market. That was tacitly acknowledged when Caterpillar announced last summer that it had signed a 20 year manufacturing alliance with Wacker Neuson for sub-3 t machines.

The first fruits of the alliance are now being seen, with Cat launching this year three models, the 935 kg Cat 300.9D, the 1.4 t class 301.4C and the 2.7 t class zero tail swing 302.7D CR. For the time being these ‘global' models - being built by Wacker in Linz, Austria - will be sold alongside Cat's existing 301.6C, 301.8C and 302.5C mini models, although Sam Mottram, Caterpillar's sales support consultant for the alliance products, tells IRN that over time the Cat produced models will be phased out.

Mr Mottram tells IRN that the alliance was an efficient and quick way for Caterpillar to obtain three mini models that it didn't have in its own line-up. "I think we had realized that our models just didn't fill the market needs...We could have done it internally, but there is an existing player with a reputation for quality products. [It allows us] to fill a market need and increase our range without tying up resources."

They are also models that would have been much in demand from rental customers, not least its European Cat Rental Store network. "To us, a 900 kg mini is a niche. To rental stories it is not", says Mr Mottram, "Our 1.6 t model - our smallest - is very stable and strong, but we could see that the market [for smaller sizes] was developing very fast, especially in Europe."

He points out that when Cat first launched the 1.6/1.8/2.5 t minis in 1998 it was these models that were the principal size classes. Since then, the market has gone smaller, with between 4000-5000 micro-excavators sold in Europe each year.

So how will the products be differentiated from the Wacker machines? The three models are based on existing Wacker Neuson models - the 803, 1404 and the zero tailswing 28Z3 units - but Mr Mottram says this differentiation issue is important, especially for Cat's dealers, many of whom support big Cat Rental Store operations.

"We're doing our upmost to make them look like Cat machines, but underneath they are engineered by Wacker Neuson...[However] we will put more features as standard, such as a dozer float."

They will have the same Yanmar engines as used by Wacker, but there will be simple differentiators, such as the use of the single Cat key, and the use of the same parts and filters as Cat-made machines.

Mr Mottram says rental companies and Cat Rental Stores have played a key role in pushing for the new minis and that, with the Wacker Neuson units, "we're giving them what they've been asking for. The response from them so far has been very positive." Several machines are currently on field trials with Cat Rental Store operations in Europe, although Mr Mottram didn't want to single out any particular companies.

The launch of the three machines will be staggered. The smallest - the 300.9D - will be available in Europe after the Samoter exhibition in March, with the 301.4 and 302.7 units coming in the summer. Europe, Africa and the Middle East will be the first areas to see the machines, with the rest of the world getting availability in the second half of the year. The first to be introduced in North America will be the 2.7 t model. All three are designed as global machines, with the exception of Japan where there are different designs.

Of the other Japanese manufacturers selling internationally, Takeuchi has a new 7.5 t model being introduced at ConExpo in March and it continues in the development of a 2 t electric model, which is still in concept form and being tested in Japan. There is unlikely to be a launch of that model before 2012. For UK customers, meanwhile, Takeuchi is now introducing the 3 t zero tailswing TB128FR, which has already been available internationally for some years.

Komatsu, meanwhile, has been busy completing its MR-3 range of mini excavators. In December it introduced the midi PC55MR-3, with an operating weight of 5280 to 5350 kg. It has a "tight tail design", is powered by a Komatsu 4D88E-6 engine and comes with proportional controls.

In addition to that, IRN understands that the final model in the mini MR-3 range, the 2250 kg- 2550 kg weight PC22MR-3, will be introduced in February. This model, which will replace the PC20MR-2, features proportional controls, an X-leg undercarriage design, and - like the PC55MR-3 - will feature Komatsu's Komtrax satellite monitoring system as standard.

The company's mini excavator range now encompasses 11 models from the 900 kg PC09-1 up to the new 5 t class PC55MR-3.

An extremely important player in the mini excavator market - and a key supplier to the rental sector - is Kubota. The company tells IRN that it is also planning new launches early this year, with one or two introductions at Samoter, but a spokesman told IRN that it was unwilling to supply details in advance of the show.

Hitachi is another manufacturer that has been busy in recent years adding ‘dash 3' models to its range of minis, including 1.4 t, 1.6 t, 1.8 t and 2.7 t ZX units. That leaves just a few, older design ‘-2' models left in the mini range, including the ZX10U-2, ZX17U-2 and ZX22U-2.

Joep van den Maagdenburg, product sales manager for Hitachi Construction Machinery Europe (HCME), tells IRN that modifications to these models are now being considered, but that a wider relaunch of the range will follow in two to three years time.

Mr van den Maagdenburg says that the last few years of recession has forced all manufacturers to take a close look at their product ranges, and the costs of producing larger ranges of different sized machines. He says it may be that Hitachi will slim down its current 13-model range of minis, with possibly a smaller number of base models that can be modified for specific applications.

Another change likely is that building up large inventories, as was done at the peak of the boom years, will no longer be an option for manufacturers. One consequence of this, he thinks, is that rental companies and other big buyers will need to plan their purchasing more carefully to be assured that they get the machines they want, when they want.

"We can't build machines like in the past", he says, "with all the models just available. The larger national rental players are convinced of the need for annual planning to make sure they can get machines."

The recession also slowed Hitachi's launch of additional auxiliary equipment options. Now that work has resumed and Mr van den Maagdenburg says one example will be auxiliary hydraulic pipes for applications such as clamshells, which he says is a popular application in Europe and in particular in the Nordic countries. Also planned are hose rupture valves, or check valves, as a safety measure when the excavator is lifting over 1 m in height. He says there will be late summer availability for this feature.

Of course, last year also saw a number of new minis coming onto the market early in the year, linked to the Bauma exhibition, including the E10SR micro model from New Holland Construction. Now the smallest in the company's range, the E10 has adjustable tracks, with a maximum width of 900 mm and a minimum of 750 mm. Digging depth is 1750 mm and maximum digging reach is 3300 mm.

Bobcat used Bauma to launch its new E45 and E50 zero tail swing (ZTS) mini-excavators in the 4-6 t category, with operating weights of 4634 kg and 4905 kg, respectively, and a maximum digging depth of 3524 mm. With an eye to fuel efficiency, both models have as standard an auto-idle feature, which the operator can engage at his discretion.

Also adding minis to its range last year was Volvo, which added four models in the 1.5 to 2.0 t class. The new machines were the EC15C, EC17C, EC18C and EC20C and all are powered by Volvo 3-cylinder 12.3 kW diesel engines. These replaced the EC15B (XR, XT and XTV variants) and the EC20B (XT and XTV versions).

The entry level EC15C, with a maximum operating weight of 1540 kg, has a maximum digging depth of between 2.1 - 2.3 m and a bucket breakout force of 1290 daN. The 1650 kg EC17C used the same 31 litre/min hydraulic gear pump as the EC15C but has a higher specification cab, and the EC18C shares the dimensions of the EC17C but uses a 44 litre/min variable displacement pump for increased performance.

The top of the range EC20C is available in both canopy and cab versions and, like the EC18C, can be specified with a variable width undercarriage, with widths varying between 994 mm and 1336 mm.


JCB takes on
plant thieves

JCB is now offering as standard some form of anti-theft device on more than 80% its machines sold in the UK and Ireland from 2011, including its mini excavators.

All JCB's backhoe loaders, telescopic handlers and tracked and wheeled excavators will be fitted with both an immobiliser and the JCB LiveLink satellite tracking system.

UK and Ireland sales director Yvette Henshall-Bell said: "Plant theft is a huge problem in the UK and it's getting worse...We are the only manufacturer offering, as standard, anti-theft measures on such a wide range of products. While it was rare two years ago for customers to ask for theft protection on machines, more and more are now asking for them."

The company also fits as standard the UK's industry registration system known as CESAR, which comprises microchips containing ownership details embedded into the equipment.

JCB said machines equipped with CESAR, immobilisers and LiveLink could benefit from insurance premium reductions of up to 45% from JCB Insurance, which would represent an annual saving of up to £157 on a mini excavator.

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