New opportunities in compact equipment

By Helen Wright01 February 2013

Komatsu will introduce the 5.3 tonne operating weight PC55MR-3 mini excavator this year – a compact

Komatsu will introduce the 5.3 tonne operating weight PC55MR-3 mini excavator this year – a compact radius design featuring a Stage IIIA-compliant engine.

Austerity programmes in developed nations and slower growth in major developing power houses such as China and India make for a patchy picture for construction equipment sales forecasts around the world, and manufacturers of compact machines are looking harder than ever for the next opportunity.

There is no doubt that the traditional markets for mini excavators, skid steer loaders and compact wheeled loaders remain Europe, North America and Japan. But China is catching up – particularly when it comes to mini excavator sales, which are expected to reach 52,000 by 2016, according to Off-Highway Research – while other markets are also igniting manufacturers’ interest.

The versatility and ease of transportation of compact equipment, together with more complex projects, economic growth, rising labour costs and increased mechanisation are expected to combine to increase demand in emerging economies.

According to data from Off-Highway Research, sales of skid-steer loaders in India have been steadily growing year-on-year, for instance, and are expected to reach 1,000 units by 2016, up +98% since 2011.
This may be a drop in the ocean compared to sales elsewhere, but represents a glimmer of promise that cannot be ignored.

Indeed, CNH views the country as a key growth market for skid-steers, despite current low sales volumes. It introduced a new range of machines – the Case SR130 and SR150 models – to the Indian market last year as part of its strategy to increase the brand’s presence in the country.

Other manufacturers eyeing the Asian market include Ihimer, the Italian-Japanese compact equipment joint venture which started selling its mini excavators in China last year through IHISCE, which itself is a joint venture between IHI and Chinese company SCE Electrical Holdings. SCE is based in Xiamen and manufactures mini excavators for the domestic market.

IHISCE and Ihimer used November’s Bauma China show to present further products to be sold in China, including the recently developed 3 tonne and 3.5 tonne operating weight AS30 and AS34 compact tracked loaders, and the 1.2 tonne operating weight AS12 skid steer.

Ihimer sales and marketing director, Igino Elefante, said Bauma China would be a “Springboard to launch the Ihimer brand on the markets of the Far East and Oceania. This is a new range designed, developed and manufactured in Italy by the Tuscan company, which is now reaching out globally to the world market of earthmoving machinery.”

Meanwhile, Volvo Construction Equipment vice president of sales support for China, Richard Million, was also optimistic on the prospects for compact equipment in the Chinese market, but he said demand was currently mainly focussed on mini excavators in the 5 to 6 tonne weight category.

“The 5 tonne mini excavator segment is the biggest market in terms of compacts in China, but 6 tonne models have been gaining ground as well. At the end of last year we launched an 8 tonne mini – the EC80 – so we think demand is moving from the mini to midi range,” Mr Million said.

He said that while the construction equipment market in China was down substantially last year, the compact excavator market saw a slightly slower rate of decline.

“The market for compact excavators last year performed a little better than the wider market, and we see a similar trend in 2013. As the cost of labour increases, we expect the market for compact machines to develop in China. The next area of demand could be for 3 tonne excavators, and we do see potential for the market to move down to these sizes,” he explained.

“Based on the size of the skid steer and backhoe market we don’t currently have any plans to introduce these products in China, but we are actively monitoring the market and if we see the market moving towards these products in any significant way we will look to move quickly to establish something.”

Asia potential

Wacker Neuson is also considering opportunities in Asia, and showcased several of its compact equipment models at last November’s Bauma China event, including the 5 tonne category 50Z mini excavator. Speaking during the exhibition, CEO Cem Peksaglam said the group saw the potential for introducing a range of compact machines targeted specifically at this region.

Caterpillar, meanwhile, has expanded its range of mini excavators built through its alliance with Wacker Neuson with three new models in the 1.6 tonne to 2.5 tonne weight range.

The new 301.7D, 302.2D and 302.4D add to the three existing minis being built by Wacker Neuson (0.9 tonne, 1.4 tonne and 2.7 tonne models) and replace C series machines previously built by Caterpillar. The sub-3 tonne range now comprises six machines with operating weights of between 0.9 tonnes and 2.7 tonnes.

The three machines are available with canopy or cab and all are equipped with the same 13.2 kW Yanmar 3TNV76 engines. Digging depths on the three machines, with standard arms, are 2.19 m, 2.48 m and 2.43 m.

The 301.7D can be specified with either a fixed or extending undercarriage. The 302.2D comes with an extending undercarriage as standard and delivers a greater dig depth and lifting performance. A longer dozer blade is optional on both the 301.7D and 302.2D.

Other mini excavator launches include machines from Volvo, Bobcat, Mustang, Gehl – manufacturers that are working hard to make their latest machines as versatile as possible.

Bobcat has increased the flexibility of its new M-Series models by introducing an extendable arm option for the 4 to 5 tonne class E42, E45 and E55 models, for instance.

The extendable arm increases the range of the E42 and E45 models to 24 in (610 mm), with maximum dig depths of 12 ft 6 in (3.8 m) and 12 ft 10 in (4 m), respectively. The E55 with extendable-arm option has a 30 in (762 mm) range of motion and a maximum dig depth of 14 ft 7 in (4.4 m); approximately 22 in (559 mm) more dig depth than an E55 with the standard arm configuration.

Meanwhile Mustang and Gehl, which are both owned by Manitou, have each launched five-model zero tail swing ranges – mini excavators which keep the radius of the upper body within the width of the tracks, as oppose to short tail swing machines, which have some upper-body tail swing outside the tracks.

With operating weights from 1.7 tonnes to 8.2 tonnes, the machines are designed around Yanmar Tier IV Interim-compliant engines ranging from 10.1 kW to 40.7 kW. The models in the Gehl range are known as the Z17, Z27, Z35, Z45 and Z80, while Mustang’s new models are the 170Z, 270Z, 350Z, 450Z and 800Z.

The advantage of zero tail-swing models is that, with no cab overhang beyond the tracks in any direction, they are able to operate directly against a wall or other obstruction without causing damage to the structure or machine.

Nathan Ryan, product manager for Mustang compact excavators said, “Consumers are looking for more zero-tail-swing models in the 1.7 to 8.0 tonne range than ever before. This new compact excavator product offering addresses the demand we have recognised in the mini-excavator market.”

Skid Steers

Gehl and Mustang, two brandds owned by Manitou, are among a string of manufacturers that have also released new skid-steer models. Mustang has introduced the new 4000V, a vertical lift model that boasts a rated operating capacity of 1814 kg. The Gehl version is the V400.

Vertical lift skid steers have a lift path which follows a vertical line, as opposed to radial lift arms which swing out in an arc before reaching their maximum height. Vertical lift models are better for loading operations, while radial lift designs are better for digging.

Both of the new machines from Mustang and Gehl can lift to a height of 3.6 m and are powered by 74 kW Cummins engines.
Gehl product manager Sean Bifani said, “The V400 fulfills the market’s demand for a high capacity skid loader. Paired with its high lifting height, the V400 enters the high-end of the skid loader market, where product options are minimal.”

Bobcat, meanwhile, has launched a new series of skid steer and tracked loaders – the 500 range – and claims thes machines improve performance and cycle times by around +16% over existing models.

The 500 range follows the introduction of the larger 600, 700 and 800 platforms over the past two years and comprise six models with operating weighs in the 2.7 tonne to 3 tonne range. The six models are the S510, S530, S550, S570 and S590 skid-steers and the T590 tracked loader, and they replace the existing S150, S160, S175, S185, S205 and T190 loaders.

The S510 and S550 models are radial lift loaders, while the S530, S570, S590 and T590 models have vertical lift paths particularly suited to lift and carry and material handling applications.

Examples of improvements include a +10% larger cab, with the surface area of the door increased by +40% to improve visibility and make it easier to enter and exit the machine. Windows on the sides and rear of the cab have been increased in size to provide more visibility to the tyres or tracks and the back of the machine.

New models

New Holland also has plans to launch new models, and will unveil its L230 skid steer loader and C238 compact track loader at this year’s Bauma exhibition in Munich, Germany, in April. The two models maintain the compact dimensions of their predecessors while delivering more rated operating capacity, more horse power, more torque and more hydraulic power.

The 3.8 tonne operating weight L230 and 4.6 tonne C238 will replace the L225 and C232 and feature a 90 hp (66.2 kW) turbocharged Stage IIIA engine. Both machines can mount large buckets of up to 0.58 m2 capacity and New Holland claims they can run for 8 to 10 hours without refuelling.

JCB also concentrated on fuel efficiency with its new line-up of 17 skid steer and compact tracked, which it claims are +16% more fuel efficient than rival models and will save customers around € 2,000 (US$ 2,600) per year.

The range is now complete and all the models went into full production at the end of 2013. The new machines include the 225, 260, 280, 300 and 330 wheeled skid steers and the 225T, 260T, 300T and 320T tracked loaders. The 260 and up use a vertical lift version of the JCB Powerboom single arm, providing maximum reach at full height, while the 225 and 225T are radial lift models.

The range also includes 8 small platform machines, the 175, 190, 205 skid steers and the 190T and 205T compact tracked loaders, which are vertical lift machines. They are complemented by the 135, 155, and 150T models, which feature a radial lift design, which offers improved digging.

JCB said the majority of its skid steers and compact loaders are sold in North America, however, it added that international demand for smaller skid steers and tracked loaders is growing at a fast pace, particularly in the Middle East and Europe.

Vermeer has also completed its family of mini walk-behind skid steers with the addition of the S450TX, a 227 kg rated operating capacity machine offering a 649 kg tipping capacity. Vermeer has incorporated a four-pump hydraulic system, which provides performance and efficiency when powering attachments, and also offers a choice of engine and track options.

Ditch Witch also manufactures walk-behind tool carriers, and has launched two new models – the SK750 and SK755 – that can be fitted with either a 25 hp (18.4 kW) or 33 hp (24.3 kW) Kubota engine. Both machines can accept more than 70 attachments and boast +30% greater ground clearance than previous models, improving maneuverability.

It is clear that the bread and butter markets for compact construction equipment are likely to remain North America and Europe for some years to come, but manufacturers are also keeping a close eye on the development of international demand, particularly in Asia.

Indeed, it seems almost inevitable that demand for this type of equipment will increase as developing countries mature and the cost of manual labour rises – the only question is how long this transition
will take.

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