Mini Excavators: Small comfort
By Sandy Guthrie24 May 2016
Times would appear to be good in Europe for mini excavators, with all their inherent advantages for small and awkward jobsites, and interest apparently growing for short tailswing models – in fact, they seem to be dominating the construction machinery market.
Per Leis, compact and rental product development manager for Volvo Construction Equipment in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) sales region, said, “As Volvo CE is reacting rapidly to the increased demand for compact excavators, the pressure is on our industrial systems to deliver enough machines – but this is a very positive challenge to have.
“And with the excellent feedback from customers and current development of this product segment, the future for compact excavators at Volvo CE is very bright indeed.”
This sunny view is reflected in the general figures for the market. The European market for mini excavators reached its highest since 2008 last year, according to specialist market forecasting company, Off-Highway Research.
A total of 48,173 machines were sold in 15 major western European countries in 2015. With a total of 127,828 construction machines sold in Europe last year, this meant well over one in every three of these was a mini excavator.
Off-Highway Research figures show that by far the two largest markets for mini excavators are the UK – 13,373 units sold last year – and Germany – 11,857 machines – which means that together they accounted for more than half of European demand last year.
France and Italy are also relatively large markets for mini excavators, but were found to be not what they once were. In the pre-crisis years, these two demanded mini excavators in similar numbers to the UK and Germany. But while the German and UK mini excavator markets have rebounded to almost the same levels as seen in 2008, France and Italy remain only about half their former size.
The leading suppliers in the European mini excavator market are specialists like Kubota, Takeuchi and Bobcat. However, many of the long-line manufacturers like JCB, Caterpillar and Hitachi have respectable market shares.
Since all of the Takeuchi machines sold in Europe and about a third of the Kubota ones are manufactured in Japan, the region is a net importer of mini excavators.
However, a number of manufacturers in the region use their European factories to supply the rest of the world. JCB and Wacker Neuson are the obvious examples. In Wacker Neuson’s case, it also makes Caterpillar’s mini excavators under 3 tonnes through an OEM supply agreement. These are sold around the world, excluding Japan, under the Cat brand through its dealer network.
With the demand for machines comes new technology, as no company can afford to sit still, and Wacker Neuson is no exception.
With a dual power option, its 803 mini-excavator can be connected to the HPU8 external electro-hydraulic power unit, which allows the excavator to be operated electrically and completely emissions-free.
Wacker said the ease-of-handling was particularly relevant for end users. It said that if the excavator was required for demolition, reconstruction or repair work or interior restorations, the operator could drive it with the diesel engine from the truck to where it is needed.
Two openings are inset in the dozer blade in which the HPU8 unit can be suspended for transport. Wacker said the operator, therefore, brought along the power unit via this transport support.
Once on site, the operator connects the external power unit to the excavator’s undercarriage, and so the swing radius over 360° remains unrestricted in electrical operation, which means full freedom of movement in application, said the manufacturer.
Zero emissions machines have also been on the mind of Bobcat. At the Bauma show, it presented a fully functional prototype of its new E10 Electric model, a new zero-emission, electric powertrain version of the E10 1 tonne micro-excavator.
Developed at the new Bobcat Innovation Centre in Dobris in the Czech Republic, in conjunction with electric vehicle specialists, the E10 Electric micro-excavator is a new version of the E10 model with the factory installed option of an alternative all-electric powertrain.
Along with zero emissions, the E10 Electric model also claims very low noise levels on site with an LpA of only 64dBA.
The alternative powertrain option in the E10 Electric model comprises an electric motor that can be powered both by a pack of rechargeable Li-Ion batteries or a 400V mains electric supply via a plug-in power cable.
Bobcat said the batteries could be recharged quickly – less than an hour to reach full capacity – and when fully recharged, the excavator is said to be able to work independently of the mains power for 2 to 3 hours.
The new E10 Electric model also offers the capability of carrying out work while charging via the mains power cable.
The new E10 Electric version has the same zero tailswing (ZTS) profile and identical external dimensions as the standard E10 machine and is said to offer the same or better performance.
Bobcat said that as the new machine was designed to be used in demanding indoor demolition applications, it was equipped with auxiliary lines and an efficient oil cooler system for continuous hydraulic breaker operation.
Best possible use
Sister-company Doosan Construction Equipment has launched the new DX19 1.9 tonne mini-excavator.
The new DX19 model is designed to offer increased productivity, excellent operator comfort in a large and easily accessed cab and maximum durability and serviceability.
Doosan said that the optimised hydraulic system in the DX19 mini-excavator made the best possible use of the engine power available from the Kubota D722 diesel engine providing an output of 9.9kW at 2,500rpm. It said this resulted in fast cycle times, which were combined with smooth control of class-leading breakout forces, including a digging force over the bucket of 20.8kN.
Caterpillar’s new 304.5E2 XTC mini hydraulic excavator is the first model in the Xtra Tool Carrier (XTC) line up.
Built on the E2 platform, the 304.5E2 XTC claims to have an innovative skid steer coupler interface for added versatility and work tool integration. This manual coupler allows for the use of compact loader tools, including general purpose bucket, multi-purpose bucket, forks, dozer blade, brooms, power box rakes and trenchers.
Cat said that coupler operation was controlled through a flick of the XTC switch on the right hand console in the operator station. Then the standard right hand joystick then becomes the loader.
The company said this new model allowed operators to achieve improved productivity in material carrying applications, and also led to reduced backfilling times.
The 304.5E2 XTC also includes the standard features and benefits of the E2 model lineup. For example, it has automatic two-speed 100% pilot controls, and Cat claimed superior bucket rotation, blade float and safety were built into every Cat mini excavator.
All operator stations are ROPS certified, and Cat said its interlock system which prevents hydraulic movement when the safety bar is raised, added further to operational safety, as did the automatic swing brake, retractable seatbelt and travel alarm – which is optional in Europe.
In addition, the Cat 308E2 mini hydraulic excavator is now available in a variable-angle-boom (VAB) configuration that is designed to provide an expanded working envelope and increased application flexibility.
While providing a maximum dig depth of 4,290mm, the VAB extends the 308E2’s maximum reach by 760mm to a total of 7,780 mm. Compared with the standard boom-and-stick configuration, dump clearance is extended by 1,410mm to 6,080mm.
In addition, the VAB is said to allow the 308E2 to work closer to the blade and tracks, resulting in added lift capacity when working in confined areas.
Rental is key
Rental is always going to be a key market for compact equipment such as mini excavators. Volvo’s Leis said, “Volvo CE is performing above expectation on the European compact excavator market at the moment. We have received several large orders from rental customers on top of a very high normal demand, as many rental customers are renewing and increasing their fleets, especially in France and the UK.
“There have also been many urban infrastructure projects, as well as housebuilding in central Europe, Italy and Germany.”
He said that Volvo CE had increased market share for compact equipment as a whole over the last year but especially in the compact excavator segment. He added a readiness to answer to the specific demands of the rental sector was one reason for this success.
The trend for demand for short radius machines has been noted by Volvo CE, as well as interest in complete transport solutions such as attachments, trailers, etc.
The result has been the launch of a new series of 3.5 to 4.0 tonne short radius compact excavators, alongside conventional compact excavators.
“Our current most popular product is the Volvo ECR25D due to its complete transport solution,” he said.
Also, Volvo’s new EWR150E short tail swing wheeled excavator has been designed for city use and claims the shortest swing radius in this weight class of any Stage IV machines on the market.
Combining features of both the EW140D and the EW160E, with what Volvo claims is state-of-the-art qualities of its own, the machine has a short swing radius of just 1,720mm.
It said this had been achieved without compromising on reach, lifting or digging performance – 8.7m digging reach using the 2.45m arm.
Engine to the back
Volvo said one of the key elements of the design that made all this possible was that the engine was now at the back of the machine. When the machine swings round to work on a road or pavement, the back of the machine stays on one side of the road and leaves the traffic in the lane on the other side unaffected.
Moving the engine to the back is also said to improve visibility, particularly on the operator’s right-hand side.
JCB has introduced a contractor specification for its 8018 mini excavator. It said that by working in partnership with its customers, it was able to offer tailored specifications and option packs to suit a wide range of industry sectors, and the JCB 8018 contractor specification is said to provide utility contractors with a mini excavator specifically designed to work in busy urban job sites.
Among the features are 500-hour extended greasing intervals, electrical proportional auxiliaries, and LED work lights with additional guarding. There is additional counterweight protection, a hand-held tool circuit, and street pad dozer blade protection.
JCB said it was introducing the contractor specification to reduce operating costs, enhance safety and ease operation.
The rubber street pads on the dozer blade, fitted as standard are designed to prevent damage to the highway while working. The company said these could be removed easily without the use of any tools, and stored safely in the toolbox in the cab.
The JCB 8018 contractor specification can be ordered with a full operator’s cab or a canopy. In the case of the cab, the lower door window glass is replaced with a steel panel to reduce the risk of damage on site.
Going up slightly in size, JCB said it was building on the introduction of next generation 6, 8, 9 and 10 tonne midi excavators last year.
It is releasing four additional models, with operating weights of 4.8 to 5.7 tonnes – available in conventional, reduced and zero tailswing configurations. The four new models are the 48Z-1, which replaces the previous 8045Z/8050ZTS; the 51R-1 to replace the 8050ZTS/RTS; the 55Z-1, which takes over from the 8055ZTS/RTS; and a completely new 57C-1 model.
Easy and efficient
Hyundai’s latest addition to the mini excavator market was the R17Z-9A, launched last year. It said the machine’s variable undercarriage provided easy and efficient operation in any limited space work environment.
The 1.7 tonne machine rounds out the company’s mini excavator range Hyundai, and the company said the machine slotted into the Hyundai mini line-up between the R16-9 and the R25Z-9AK.
It is powered by a Kubota D902 engine which is rated at 11.7kW. The engine claims efficient fuel combustion and reduced noise engine technology.
When fitted with a 960mm dipper arm, the R17Z-9A provides a maximum dig depth of 2,190mm. This mini excavator claims to have true zero swing capability and it has two speed travel – 2.2 km/h at the lower end, and 4.1 km/h at the higher end of its range.
The machine has two, rather than four, canopy posts, and the boom cylinder is placed in the traditional position under the boom, rather than on top like some competitors.
Hyundai said that operators could fully customise their work environment and operating preferences to fit their individual needs.
An array of indicators and gauges are displayed on a monitor which keep the operator aware of machine performance at all times. The monitoring system includes seven warning indicators, water temperature gauge, fuel gauge and hour meter.
Kobelco’s new Series 6 excavators – the SK35SR-6 and SK30SR-6 – claim to deliver high performance with exceptional fuel economy.
The company said that new attributes would also feature on the new SK28SR-6, which will replace the SK27SR-5 model. These include improved lifting capabilities, arm crowding and bucket digging force,more than 100% increase in fuel capacity and increased engine performance.
Powered by a Yanmar (3TNV82) engine, there is said to be a reduction in fuel consumption over dash-5 models. Kobelco claims, for example, that fuel consumption is reduced by 25% in S-mode, while a 15% decrease can be realised in H-mode.
A new hydraulic system using the third pump, which was previously used only for dozer blade and swing operation, directs additional power to the boom and arm circuit. The company said this ensured fast and smooth operation, even under heavy loads, and resulted in greater fuel savings.
The Series 6 models also feature Kobelco’s Integrated Noise and Dust Reduction cooling system (iNDr). This system enables easy access to the air filter, which is now mounted in front of the radiator system, prevents damaging the radiator during cleaning and is said to reduce downtime for day-to-day maintenance. It also contributes to a decrease in machine noise.
Hitachi Construction Machinery (Europe) – HCME – has launched its new ZX19-5 mini excavator, and it claimed its square-shaped cab was the most spacious in its class.
The ZX19-5’s boom cylinder has been moved on top of the boom to protect it from potential damage, said HCME, which added that its front minimum turning radius was smaller.
A folding travel pedal which can be used instead of a hand lever has been added, which the company said improved the speed of operation. In addition, the Zaxis-5 mini excavator is equipped with two lights on the cab, enabling it to work earlier in the morning or later at night.
The ZX19-5 has a new blade – manufactured from high-strength steel – which is claimed to be more durable than the previous model. The angle of the blade has been changed in an effort to make it easier to dig more precisely and for use in removing thin layers of earth from the ground while dozing.
The large cylinder guard has also been designed to protect the blade cylinder from potential damage.
In addition, the hydraulic hose on the front attachment has been placed inside the boom on the ZX19-5.
The Kubota U10-3 mini excavator now comes with optional side lever pilot controls. The levers are mounted on foldable sidebars, which the company said meant accessibility into the operators’ station was not affected.
It said the Kubota U10-3 side lever model still held all the features of the standard U10-3, with zero-tail-swing.
The two-speed travel pedal allows operators to switch between high and low speeds, which Kubota said made it easy for the user to work at their own pace while allowing for efficient travel of the machine between locations.
Richard Sayers, Kubota UK’s construction senior dealer manager, said, “At Kubota we don’t just strive to make our machines as productive, efficient and reliable as possible, but also firmly put the operator in the driving seat of our designs.”
Takeuchi recently introduced three new mini excavators – the 1.1 tonne TB210R, the 2.9 tonne TB230, and the 4 tonne TB240. Engine outputs range from 8.7kW to 26kW.
The company said the new minis were designed to be highly flexible, compact, robust and efficient.