Mini excavators: highly competitive environment

05 June 2013

The Caterpillar 301.7D - needed as things get more and more cramped in Europe's cities

The Caterpillar 301.7D - needed as things get more and more cramped in Europe's cities

Europe’s mini excavator market is a busy one, with at least 30 manufacturers from all over the world producing machines for sale in this region, and yet it has been a difficult few years for Europe.

Even though these machines are still popular, manufacturers are pushing harder than ever to make their new models stand out in a depressed market.

Many launched whole new ranges at April’s Bauma show in Munich, Germany – the largest construction equipment show in the world – and some had high hopes for a market boost following the exhibition.

Volvo Construction Equipment launched its new D-Series compact excavators at Bauma, for instance, and utility products and attachments director for sales region EMEA, Per Leis, said flexibility and efficiency were essential design concerns when it came to gaining market share.

“The global financial crisis and on-going debt problems in the Eurozone have clearly affected the industry and the way in which work is carried out,” Mr Leis said. “Short time rental is becoming increasingly popular – to control project costs, people want to hire by the hour so they can maintain maximum flexibility in their business.”

As a generalisation, Mr Leis said that rental demand for compact machines has grown dramatically since 2008, and that in Europe, machines for rental purposes now accounted for over 60% of compact excavator sales.

“Compact excavators are so cost sensitive, so flexibility of use and efficiency are essential,” he said. “To this end, the new range of Volvo compact excavators has factory fit CareTrack telematics as an option, which means rental companies can remotely monitor machine hours and positioning from a PC.

“We have also optimised the hydraulics to enhance efficiency, while auto-idling reduces engine speed when the controls have been inactive for a specified time, which further enhances overall fuel efficiency.”

The new D-Series models include the 2.5 tonne ECR25D – a machine which Mr Leis said had been particularly tailored to suit the requirements of European transport regulations.

“From the outset in the design of this machine, we wanted to have a powerful machine with a transport weight – including trailer and up to four attachments – of less than 3.5 tonnes,” he explained.

“What this means for our customers is that they get a highly productive working machine that can be easily transported between sites on a regular trailer, towed by a normal van or car.”


For its part, Caterpillar is comfortable with all the competition in Europe, according to mini excavator product specialist Dave Wood, who said the manufacturer is confident in the strength of its range and dealer network in the region.

“Sales so far in 2013 have been pretty much as we expected – relaxed and a little down on last year, with the southern region of Europe still very soft. It will be interesting to see if the market ticks up after Bauma, and we do expect to have sales from the show and hopefully it will move on from there,” Mr Wood said.

“We’ve actually now got more machines in our range than ever before – with 14 in total, 12 of which are new in the last two years alone.”

Indeed, the company showcased a range of its mini excavators during April’s Bauma show, including the 1.7 tonne 301.7D at the lower end of its range and the 8.4 tonne 308E2 CR SB at the upper end.

“The 301.7D has been brought out because there is demand from the Italian market especially, but we see it being a very useful machine elsewhere as well. As things get more and more cramped in Europe’s cities there is need for a compact radius version of a 1.7 tonne machine,” Mr Wood said.

“For Europe, the under 3 tonne size class is the big market for mini excavators, but demand for models over 3 tonnes is growing, up to the 8 tonne size class. A lot of this is led by the rental sector as well, which is big territory. But the launch of the 8 tonne class machine is really an answer to emissions legislations.”

The 308E2 boasts a 48.5kW engine that complies with current EU Stage IIIB emissions laws. But as well as its new engine, the machine also boasts a range of other technology including a new load sensing high definition hydraulic system that is said to improve fuel efficiency by 10%, and a new COMPASS (Complete Operation, Maintenance, Performance & Security System) control panel.

Built into the COMPASS monitor are an anti-theft system, which requires a five-digit alphanumeric password to start the machine, and an Economy Mode that the manufacturer claims can lower fuel use by up to 20%. An automatic engine-idle system drops engine rpm to idle after four seconds of inactivity.

Mr Wood said customers were increasingly focused on all aspects of improving efficiency, not just new engines.

“Load sensing hydraulics for all machines now are becoming more and more of a need,” he said.

“The big point nowadays is fuel efficiency, and we talk about the overall operating costs. The COMPASS system is now on all our mini excavators as standard between 3 tonnes and 8 tonnes. As well as security, it offers more features like continuous hydraulic flow and the ability to set hydraulic flow rates.”

Niche applications

Elsewhere, manufacturers have been busy developing alternative types of drive system for mini excavators, to cater to a range of niche applications. Terex, for instance, showcased its 1.9 tonne TC16 twin drive model at Bauma – a model with both diesel and electric drive. Equipped with both a standard 13.1kW diesel engine and an 11kW electric motor, the machine can switch between the two depending on the application.

But there is something of a debate emerging in the industry over the development of hybrid and electric technology for mini excavators.

Meanwhile, the TC16 twin drive also features load sensing hydraulics for a further productivity boost. Indeed, advanced hydraulics are becoming more and more common on these mini machines.

New models from Bobcat include the E25, a 2.6 tonne mini that also features advanced hydraulic features. A new main hydraulic control valve and optimised pump offer higher working pressure and load sensitivity, while additional hydraulic flow can be called upon to improve simultaneous operations.

Other efficiency considerations include an automatic system to switch off the work lights after 10 minutes when the key is not in the ignition, preventing the battery from going flat.

Also, an auto-shift travel motor allows an automatic transition of speeds – the machine shifts automatically from low to high speed and vice versa, improving travel performance in any working conditions. The operator activates this feature by pushing the button on top of the blade control lever.

Komatsu’s latest mini excavator – the 5.3 tonne PC55MR-3 – also aims to maximise productivity. As with many of the latest rival models, it boasts an advanced hydraulic system. The auxiliary oil flow rate can be easily adjusted on the monitor panel, directly from the operator’s seat.

A double auxiliary circuit can also be fitted as an option, as can an auto-idling system – technology that reduces the engine’s rpm to a minimum if control levers are left in neutral position for more than a few seconds.

Similarly, an auto idle system kicks in on Yanmar’s new 2.6 tonne class SV26 mini if the machine has not been used for more than four seconds. The system is optional, and the machine as a whole is said to offer a compromise between compactness, power, comfort and accessibility.

Meanwhile, JCB has launched three new mini excavators in the 1.5 to 2 tonne weight category – the 8014, 8016 and 8020 CTS machines. Improved hydraulics are also key features here and JCB claims that load holding capacity on all three models has been increased by 52% compared to previous generations thanks to a new hydraulic valve block.

Powered by a 14.2kW engine, the machines have a triple section gear pump as standard on the 8104 and 8016 with a variable pump on the 8020 CTS. The variable hydraulic pump can also be specified as an option on the 8016 and 8018 CTS models.

JCB chief innovation officer Tim Burnhope said, “As we saw with the successful introduction of the 8018 CTS last year, having close consultation with our customers and listening to their requirements has led to more than 30 detailed improvements on our 1.5 to 2.0 tonne mini excavators.

“These many improvements will continue to reduce ownership costs for the customer, boost productivity and improve comfort and controllability for the operator on site.”

Market requests

Hyundai Heavy Industries has also introduced a new model – the 2.6 tonne class R25Z-9A. It said the market had requested such a model, and that it filled a big gap in the Hyundai range between models R16-9 and R27Z-9.

The mini excavator has a Tier 4 Mitsubishi engine with Z rating – Zero-Turn-Radius, which means that it can turn within its own contours and so can work in confined spaces – and can be fitted with buckets with a capacity of up to 0.07m3.

This mini excavator will be supplied on the European market with a glass ROPS/FOPS cab. It has a spring-loaded seat, foldable pedals, sensitive joystick and storage space. Hyundai said this was particularly important for small construction equipment, as mini excavators are often used in difficult work environments, such as demolition work inside buildings with poor visibility or lighting.

Another new model was showcased by Kubota, which had the 1.1 tonne class U10-3 on its stand at Bauma. This is also a zero tail-swing mini, and features a hydraulically-adjustable track gauge, which can reduce the width of the machine down to 750mm to allow navigation into extremely narrow spaces. On the other hand, the track gauge can be expanded to 990mm, providing a 7% increase in stability.

On the upper end of the mini excavator spectrum, Sany had a 7.3 tonne class SY75C on show at Bauma – a 0.28m3 bucket capacity machine. Powered by a Tier 4 Interim/EU Stage IIIA-compliant 10.5kW engine, this machine also features a load-sensing hydraulic system that is said to make operation easier and more efficient.

Sany said it had also introduced new fault diagnosis technology which is said to extend overall service intervals and reduce maintenance costs.

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