Reach for the sky

10 April 2008

There is no question that the demand for high reach and heavy-duty demolition excavators has been extremely strong over the last year. Without exception, equipment manufacturers across the board are reporting strong demand for their demolition equipment, even if they are unwilling to report actually numbers.

There are arguably three leaders in the manufacturer-designed high reach field – Hitachi, Komatsu and Liebherr (in alphabetical order), with Cat, Case and New holland following along behind, in turn followed by relative newcomers JCB and Volvo – but without hard and fast figures, it is almost impossible to say how many machines are currently being produced on an annual basis or rank the leading suppliers. D&Ri did make an attempt to collect market data, but obviously this was dependant on the manufacturers being willing to supply sales data on a confidential basis – given the competitive nature of the market, in the end many were unwilling to do so.

As a result, any number ascribed to sales of demolition excavators in 2007 would be little more than a guess. What can be said with confidence is that demand for high reach and heavy duty specified machines over the last two years has been considerably greater than in the past, and that almost everybody involved in the sector expects that this growth is set to continue.

Take Hitachi as an example. Mark Burghoorn, who is responsible for Hitachi Construction Machinery's international sales of specialist equipment, told D&Ri: “We have seen sales in 2007 grow by 300% compared to the equivalent figure for 2006, and we expect this growth to continue since the company will have greater production capacity available to use during 2008-2010.”

This positive note is echoed by Komatsu's Simon Saunders, product manager for Komatsu Europe's demolition equipment. While unwilling to disclose numbers or even percentage figures where sales volumes are concerned, he said: “We can confirm that 2007 deliveries andsales have grown significantly over 2006. Of course, we believe that the release of the Dash 8 range of demolition machines has contributed strongly to this growth. We expect the rate of growth to be sustained for some time to come as the new European countries continue to develop.”

As we have reported before, full line manufacturers have tended to restrict themselves to the 'volume' end of the high reach demolition excavator market, i.e. Working heights from 15 m (40 ft) up to just over 40 m (132 ft). The three largest OEM built machines are currently the Cat 360 UHD at 39.6 m (130 ft), the Case CX800 (albeit with a Kocurek boom) at 40 m (131 ft) and the Liebherr R 974 C VH-HD at 41 m (135 ft).

However, it may be that this is about to change, at least as far as Cat is concerned. Following a conversation with Cat's demolition industry specialists Danielle Thevenoz (Europe, Africa, Middle East) and Neil LeBlanc (North America), it is tempting to speculate that we might see something a bit bigger from Cat in the not so distant future. Mr Leblanc said: “Cat's stated goal is to be market leader in every business sector we operate in, and we have a variety of programmes that are in developmental stages that it is too soon to talk about. Nevertheless, our goals are to get up higher and to obtain greater capacities from our work tools. One of the benefits we believe we offer is the integrated solution we can provide with a Cat machine and a Cat work tool optimised for that machine's performance.”

Ms Thevenoz echoed this: “Work tool ranges are limited by the machines available. Since Cat is a manufacturer who offers a total solution, if market requirements go in a specific direction, we will attempt to meet that need.” She qualified this by adding; “there is a trend towards higher reach than we currently offer, but the number of units involved is very limited – nevertheless, our product line needs to match the changing needs of our customers, so we could envisage the possibility of going higher.” Perhaps a case of 'watch this space'.

Currently Cat offers a basic 5 model range of what it calls its Ultra High Demolition (UHD) machines, ranging from the 35 tonne 325D UHD through to the 385C UHD, with 11 variants depending on the undercarriage specified for the machine. According to both Mr LeBlanc and Ms Thevenoz, in both separate market segments at least 95% of the UHD machines sold are supplied with Cat's 'retrofit front' that allows the machine to switch from the UHD boom to a standard earthmoving boom.

Ms Thevenoz said: “Contractors want to be able to use the same machine across a broad spectrum of construction activities.” Mr LeBlanc was of the same opinion for his area of responsibility: “North American contractors are not only being asked to knock buildings down – they are also being asked to carry out site preparation work following on from the demolition. The versatility this option provides is considerable, as well as substantially reducing the payback period on what is a relatively expensive piece of capital equipment.”

JCB entered the demolition excavator sector with its JS330 high reach model, primarily in the UK, just three years ago. This machine was followed by a high reach version of the JS460 (the largest crawler excavator currently produced by the company). And it is apparent that 2008 is likely to be a big year for the company.

According to general manager – waste, recycling and demolition Jonathan Garnham, 2008 will see a number of product launches for JCB's demolition division, along with a push into markets that the company has, until now, not been overly active in.

He told D&Ri: “Our prominent launch of demolition machines was into the UK market, but we also have had considerable success in other countries around Europe, such as Germany, Italy and France, with also promising results in Turkey and Romania.”

“We also see a number of potential developing markets, such as Ukraine and Azerbaijan, for example. Eastern Europe will also be an emerging market as a result of the substantial volume of regeneration work that is predicted in that region.” He went on: “And North America is a market we will look at during 2008. We have carefully controlled the introduction of demolition equipment over the last three years, both in terms of models and the areas we are selling into. This has allowed us both to develop the range and also develop our understanding of customer requirements in this demanding sector.”

He was bullish about the future: “We see the demolition equipment market expanding for a host of reasons. Demolition techniques are changing and we are seeing the call for more equipment to be deployed – to remove manual work but also to allow more efficient selective demolition to meet ever higher recycling rates.”

This later point was also a consideration for Cat's Mr LeBlanc: “I believe that North America has almost caught up with Europe where the use of high reach is concerned. We tried introducing the product 10 years ago, but got few takers for the machines. Today, it is a different story. The regulatory framework for recycling is getting there, and insurance is becoming a major factor. This is driving an interest in high reach because of the increasing use of controlled demolition techniques to maximise recycling as well as for safer operation. This cannot be done so easily with a wrecking ball or blowdown. We at Cat see the high reach excavator as becoming the tool of choice in North America when combined with the appropriate processing tool.”

Volvo is the newest comer to the OEM high reach excavator fold. In the past, in Europe at least, it operated in conjunction with Kocurek to produce high reach versions of its machines. Bauma 2007 saw the launch of its own design high reach boom mounted on an EC700B. This was followed by the EC330, and the 55 tonne EC460 high reach (27 m/88.5 ft) will see its first showing at the ConExpo trade fair in Las Vegas in March. Director of global demolition solutions Eddy Powell told D&Ri that the EC460, and the fourth in the range, the EC290 high reach, should be available during 2009.

Progress has been excellent, he said: “The product itself we are happy with and our customers are accepting it well. Our standard demolition machines are also doing well. We expect to ship 70 units in 2007 – with the bulk of this being post Bauma. This is a mix of heavy duty and high reach, and we hope to ship over 100 units in 2008, of which we predict more than 20 will be high reach but this will be largely dependant on overall capacity. Once a production plan is in place it is hard to squeeze additional machines into the schedule – and it is also hard to turn it off.”

He conceded that where Volvo and high reach demolition is concerned, it is still early days. “It will take three years before we have a full grip on the market, a full product line and for our dealers to be comfortable with the product itself,” he said

Reaching high

Since full line manufacturers do not currently supply machines over 40 m, it is left to the boom specialists to meet this need and there is unquestionably a demand from contractors around the world for increased height capacity. The extreme example of this (for the moment, at least) is the 90 m (296 ft) machine currently being manufactured by Rusch Kraantechnik in the Netherlands – D&Ri has extensively covered this machine in the past, and hopefully will be present when it is handed over to the customer, Euro Demolition. At the time of writing, the carrier (5110 mining shovel) modifications are almost complete and the other major structural elements should be completed by the end of this month. Ruud Schreijer, Rusch managing director, told D&Ri that the company will then start on the hydraulics and electronics.

He also told D&Ri of another two monster machines that have been ordered, again based around Cat 5110 mining shovels. The first is a 75 m (216 ft) machine that will be able to carry a 5 tonne crusher or a 10 tonne shear. The second will sport a 33 m (109 ft) boom with a forward reach of 20 m (66 ft) that will carry a 10 tonne shear. He also hinted at something in the pipeline that “would make these look like toys”, but could not say any more at this stage concerning what this might be.

In volume terms, Ipswich, UK, based Kocurek is arguably the leading European supplier of modified machines (although there are several others, such as STC, HJ Van Vliet, PMI) and it is responding to the pressure of this demand. Not so very long ago, sales manager Ron Callan told D&Ri that Kocurek felt 50 m (165 ft) was the highest boom that was required. In recent months, however, it has supplied machines that go a considerable way beyond this, such as a Komatsu PC1250 with a 55 m (180.5 ft) telescopic boom for a Swiss contractor, and two 60 m (197 ft) telescopic boom equipped Hitachi 1250s to two UK contractors – DSM and 777 Demolition.

D&Ri also understands that Kocurek will shortly be working with Liebherr to provide another UK customer, with what will be the biggest high reach in the UK, and one of the biggest in Europe. The machine in question is a Liebherr 984 and it will sport a telescopic boom of around 65 m (213 ft). Unusually, the conversion will be carried out in conjunction with Liebherr, who will then supply the machine to the customer, rather than the more usual arrangement whereby the customer buys the carrier from the manufacturer, after which it is sent to Kocurek for modification.

Kocurek's approach to meeting customer demands for greater heights is of a different nature that that adopted by Rusch. According to Mr Callan: “We are increasing the working height of the booms that we can provide in incremental steps, rather than taking giant leaps upwards.”

Jewell Equipment, part of the Paladin Group of companies that also includes Genesis Equipment, occuples the place in the North American market that Kocurek holds in Europe, and it too reports increased demand for higher reaching booms.

Adding weight

Another of the major drivers for high reach demolition excavators is the need for greater tool weights on high reach machines. In the past, a tool weighing 2.5 tonnes was considered the norm and especially where the highest reaching of machines were concerned.

Nowadays, however, customer demand appears to be for weights well in excess of this. Full line manufacturers are not going to the 'extremes' of Rusch's 90 m glant, with its 12/6 tonne tool weight at 80/90 m, but many are looking at responding to some degree.

Hitachi's Mark Burghoorn told D&Ri: “We have identified the need for heavier demolition attachments at height. A Zaxis ZX670LCH-3 with a maximum pin height of 27 m (88.5 ft) and a maximum tool weight of 5 tonnes is under development in Japan that may well be brought into the European market. In addition, we are also evaluating other options. Hitachi in Japan has a number of larger demolition machines, such as the ZX1000K, ZX1400K and ZX1800K, and we are currently studying the possibilities open for these machines in Europe.”

When asked about heavier tool weights, Komatsu's Mr Saunders was less forthcoming. “Specific detalls of our development plans are confidential, but for any new developments by Komatsu, we follow a rigorous design and development plan, which involves significant testing.” It is a fair assumption that somewhere in this development programme is an element looking at providing heavier tools.

Kocurek is also seeing the demand for increased tool weights but is being cautious about its response. Mr Callan told D&Ri: “We are being pushed by our customers to provide heavier tool capacity in the same way as we are where increased working heights are concerned. But it is not a straightforward operation to increase tool weight capacities. You might need to shorten the dipper arm, the attachment cylinder needs to be bigger, the linkage needs to be strengthened – a lot of work is involved to increase the tool weight. In many ways, it is easier to increase the height of the boom than it is to increase the tool size.”

“In a way, we are trying to dampen the enthusiasm for heavier tools – we are looking at increasing tool weights, but gradually, in the same way that we are increasing working heights”, he summed up.

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