Planning ahead: A focus on the European wheeled loaders sector

By Becca Wilkins18 February 2009

Germany-based Josef Porzner Company is using a 15 tonne JCB 436 ZX wheeled loading shovel at its gra

Germany-based Josef Porzner Company is using a 15 tonne JCB 436 ZX wheeled loading shovel at its gravel quarry on the banks of the river Main.

Despite a downturn in the European wheeled loader market, manufacturers are continuing their quest to increase machine productivity and reduce the impact this equipment has on the environment. Becca Wilkins reports.

In the face of the downturn, some wheeled loader manufacturers are adapting production to meet lower levels of demand but the priorities of enhancing machine productivity and reducing fuel consumption remain unchanged.

Volvo's global market communications manager, Arvid Rinaldo told CE, "When it comes to making even more economical and environmentally friendly construction equipment machinery we are continuing to develop our products 100% full speed ahead - as this is what we think is going to sell in future and we have to stay competitive."

He said the current key product driver in the wheeled loader sector is reducing fuel consumption. This, he said, is because customers are becoming more environmentally and economically conscious. However, he added although environmental issues are increasingly important to the customer, economics is still the bigger influence. He added if a manufacturer can produce a product that is both cost effective for the customer and environmentally-friendly then it is guaranteed to be a success.

Fuel factors

Hitachi's product manager for wheeled loaders, Peter Stuijt, agrees reducing fuel consumption is a very important factor in new product development and is one of the reasons why the company has introduced hydrostatic transmission to its new ZW wheeled loaders - the 11 tonne ZW140 and 12 tonne ZW150. The new models join the ZW180, ZW220, ZW250 and ZW310 units, which, according to the company, "have already made a significant impact in key European markets."

The ZW140 and ZW150 are equipped with 96 and 107 kW engines respectively which help to lower the amount of fuel used and increase productivity across a wide range of applications, Hitachi said.

"Operators will find the new machines highly efficient due to an innovative hydraulic drive system - the hydrostatic transmission (HST). The HST offers greater mobility when fully loaded, smoother control on a gradient and under acceleration and deceleration," the company added.

The HST system's speed selector provides a range of four maximum travel speeds to suit the requirements of each job. When the first range is selected, the maximum speed can be adjusted to four incremental levels, which increase efficiency and simplify operation in confined spaces. The ZW140 and ZW150's Optimum Traction Force can also be set to increase efficiency.

Integrated electronic ‘matching control' senses the hydraulic pressure and controls traction force. Hitachi said this optimises productivity while keeping tyre wear and tear and fuel consumption to a minimum. The throttle limit in the new ZW machines also helps to lower fuel consumption as does the cooling system which features a hydraulically operated cooling fan that adjusts according to the fluid temperature.

Meanwhile, Caterpillar's new high efficiency drive train model for wheeled loaders, which it will launch at the Intermat exhibition, taking place in April this year, also aims to "drastically reduce" fuel consumption.

Hybrid technology

Construction equipment manufacturers are currently investigating the use of hybrid technology. It is a system that few have actually installed on their machines and Volvo is the first to integrate it in a wheeled loader - the L220F - which is due for launch in 2010.

Mr Rinaldo said, "We are working on many areas to make wheeled loaders vastly more fuel efficient and the hybrid technology is one step in our future path. We see it as the most interesting and promising path when it comes to potential. In our first machine we are looking to install a very simple hybrid system within the existing components of the machinery to make the technology both affordable and trustworthy when it comes out the first time."

He told CE the hybrid model is the start of a paradigm shift within the industry with potential of up to +50% fuel savings. The first model is expected to feature fuel savings of up to +10% but he added the company would rather under promise and over deliver.

"I think the hybrid wheeled loader has already had a great impact on the market especially as Volvo is launching new technology and this sends a signal to the industry - that hybrid is something we should all probably get used to and be glad to get used to," Mr Rinaldo said.

Elsewhere, Hitachi is still considering the use of hybrid systems. Mr Stuijt said, "We are looking at this technology very closely and of course we are very interested and think that maybe at some point in the future there will be an opportunity to use it, but our recent priorities have been to comply with the Stage IIIA exhaust emissions regulations and to extend our model line-up. The next priority is to comply with Stage IIIB."

Operator comfort

One way to improve machine productivity is to enhance the safety and comfort of the operator's working environment.

According to Hitachi, all controls, switches and pedals in the ZW140 and ZW150 cabs are ergonomically designed and positioned for ease of use with an optional multi-function joystick or double lever. The company stated the cab is spacious and comparable to that of a larger Hitachi wheeled loader and its fully adjustable air suspension seat and tilted steering column provide comfortable and variable working conditions. Enlarged windows and generous rear view mirrors give excellent all-round visibility, allowing the operator to directly see the movements of the bucket for safer operation and increased loading efficiency, Hitachi added.

Mr Stuijt said, "We are trying to please operators in Western Europe as much as possible because operator comfort is really important in this part of the world and the operator is often part of the buying decision."

Meanwhile, the new cab on Volvo's new F-Series L45F and L50F Stage IIIA (Tier 3) certified mid-sized wheeled loaders provides more space for the operator, according to Mr Rinaldo.

The new models feature a Torque Parallel (TP) loader linkage which provides pallet visibility, along with a clear view of attachments. The machines also feature separate power steering and load-sensing hydraulic pumps. According to Volvo the advantage of this is that separate pumps ensure full steering power is achieved, regardless of the load on the main hydraulic pumps. In recognition of the importance of operator comfort the company has also integrated its Volvo Care Cab into the new units.

Each cab is based on fully viscous mounts for reduced noise and vibration and operators can breathe easily when operating in dusty conditions due to a cab filtration system, according to the company. The ergonomic cab ensures that the steering wheel, steering column, seat, armrest and levers can all be adjusted to suit each operator. Controls and front-pillar mounted switches are all within easy reach and easy view, Volvo stated.

Elsewhere, the 30 tonne Case 1221E wheeled loader - made by Hyundai - is the largest model in the company's E Series. It is making its international show debut at Intermat and features an isolation mounted cab to reduce noise and vibration. The machine also has a fully adjustable steering column, suspension seat, arm and wrist rests which provide the perfect driving position for every operator, Case said.

A spokesman for the company added, "A combination of easy-to-read analogue gauges along with a digital display monitor provides comprehensive systems information and a diagnostic port for technicians."

Pillarless glazing to the front and side of the machine results in all round visibility, with top to bottom glazing at the front of the machine allowing a good view to the working area, the company said.

The Case 1221E is compatible with the Case EST electronic service tool, allowing for rapid fault diagnosis, while all electronic components are centrally located within the cab to ensure that they remain clean and dry. Z-bar loader linkage with twin bucket cylinders, for high material retention and powerful breakout forces comes as a machine standard. The new model also features selectable Ride Control providing smooth travel with increased load retention for load and carrying operations.

"An automatic mode engages Ride Control at speeds over 9,5km/hour when set, allowing the operator to focus on the machine and the site conditions, improving productivity and promoting safe operation on site," the spokesman said.

Market

The wheeled loaders market and the wider construction equipment industry, has experienced a dramatic turnaround in the last six months - going from record highs in demand to one of the most rapid and widespread declines ever seen.

Mr Rinaldo told CE, "I guess everyone has seen it but what is so unusual is that the market has stopped in almost the whole world and we have never seen that before. We have never seen this kind of quick market turn around- this is unique," he added.

However, Mr Rinaldo said up until the recent drop in demand the company had witnessed good growth in Europe and is now recovering some market share. Mr Stuijt said in some countries there had still been good growth even up until September 2008, but over the last few months it has taken a turn for the worse. He added until fairly recently product availability has been a problem and there wasn't sufficient products to supply the market.

"The demand was so high that we couldn't keep up - like most other competitors," he explained.

However, he added at the moment market opportunities are fairly limited. "Everybody is just waiting until at least the financial crisis settles down," he said.

Outlook

When the European wheeled loaders market picks up customers will be searching for competitive and innovative products. The focus on the environment will play an even bigger part in new product development, but considering the current economic climate price and overall machine productivity will also be vital.

Mr Stuijt said, "In future customers will be more interested in environmental issues. I think everyone is becoming more concerned with the results of what we are doing in terms of fuel consumption and pollution, recycling and so on."

Mr Rinaldo said manufacturers of wheeled loaders and the wider construction equipment sector must now contribute as much as the on-highway industry is to making more environmentally friendly machinery in order to make the world a more sustainable place.

In the meantime, he said the return of a more stable wheeled loader market would mainly be as a result of government intervention.

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