Two-speed wheeled loader market

By Chris Sleight11 September 2012

Doosan’s new three-model range for Africa and the Middle East feature upgraded air conditioning and

Doosan’s new three-model range for Africa and the Middle East feature upgraded air conditioning and a breather system on the ZF axles to prevent clogging from sand and dust.

Stage IIIB/Interim Tier 4 engine emission laws in Europe and North America now cover the 56 kW to 560 kW power range. In terms of wheeled loaders, that covers all the mainstream earthmoving classes, from about 1 m3 bucket models, right up into the larger sizes of machines that are only usually found in big mining operations.

Flexibility provisions in the laws mean that not every new loader coming onto the markets in Europe and North America is fitted with a Stage IIIB/Interim Tier 4-compliant engine, but as time moves on, their numbers will get greater and greater.

This means there is a growing divide in the wheeled loader market between these highly regulated markets, and countries with less stringent requirements, or none at all. Unlike in the past, the latest generation of low emission machines for Europe, North America and now Japan don't look like they will be suitable for sale as used machines in other parts of the world.

The problem lies in the after-treatment used in the exhaust systems to cut down on particulate matter (PM), or soot. This only works if ultra-low sulphur diesel is used, and this is a grade of fuel that is not widely available outside the most developed countries.

Technically it is not impossible to 'de-tier' a machine. Replacing the after-treatment with a standard exhaust pipe and updating the machine's software might be the extent of it in many cases, although that would of course need to be done with the manufacturer's assistance. That might mean used machines could be re-configured to be suitable for unregulated markets.

However, there would be legal issues in less regulated markets - countries where there are laws in place on engine emissions, but which are not as strict as those in Europe, Japan and North America. De-tiering an engine would mean it no longer had the same emissions characteristics as those certified by the manufacturer, and so could not be lawfully used.

This isn't a problem right now for the industry. The first Stage IIIB/Interim Tier 4 models have only been on the market for two years or so. However, when these loaders (and other machine types) start to go up for sale as used equipment, there could be a shortage of buyers, and this in turn might impact on residual values.

New models

But in the meantime, the latest wave of emissions laws has meant manufacturers have had to renew their entire ranges of wheeled loaders in Europe and North America. As well as launching low emission, more fuel-efficient Stage IIIB/Interim Tier 4 models, some have taken the opportunity to update their offerings for the non-regulated markets, with features aimed at the specific needs of customers in the developing world.

Doosan provides a good example of this approach. Its new models for Europe and the US this year include the DL 300-3, DL350-3, DL 420-3 and DL 450-3. These larger models, which feature bucket capacities from 2.7 to 4.5 m3 have Scania engines, while smaller models in the range feature Doosan's own Stage IIIB/Interim Tier 4 units.

There are options available to boost performance, such as locking differentials and lock-up torque converters on the ZF transmission and axles, while in the cab there is an upgraded display panel which allows the operator to control and monitor various machine parameters.

Options to improve operator comfort include electrical steering, and the operator can use the sophisticated on-board electronics to adjust parameters like the bucket's upper and lower stopping points. This means a 'return to dig' position or a specific dump height can be pre-set.

But at the same time, Doosan has unveiled three new models targeted specifically at the African and Middle Eastern markets. The DL250A, DL300A and DL420A cover the 2.5 to 4.5 m3 capacity classes and feature Doosan Tier 1 (DL250A) or Tier 2 (DL300A and DL420A) engines.

Changes from Doosan's previous Mega range to make the machines more suitable for Africa and the Middle East include an improved air conditioning system in the cab, for example, while the ZF axles are equipped with a new breather system intended to prevent clogging from dust and sand, which can raise the temperature of the axle oil as well as damage seals.

Back in Europe, this year's Intermat exhibition saw the launch of Hitachi's first Stage IIIB wheeled loaders. The model on display at the Paris, France, exhibition was the ZW250-5, a 2.9 to 3.7 m3 machine powered by a 179 kW Isuzu engine.

The machine features two power modes, a standard one for normal operations which offers the best fuel efficiency, and a heavy duty mode for more demanding tasks. There is also a quick power boost switch, while a fuel saving option is the automatic shutdown, which prevents fuel being wasted in idle periods.

Volvo was one of the first manufacturers in Europe to make Stage IIIB wheeled loaders available, having launched many of its new, larger models at the start of 2011. This year has seen it follow-up with smaller machines from the range in the shape of the L45G, L50G, L60G, L70G and L90G. These cover the 75 kW to 130 kW classes, with buckets of 1.3 to 2.5 m3 standard sizes.

The low emission engines provide more torque at low revs, and Volvo says that combining this with load-sensing hydraulics has helped reduce fuel consumption and noise. Both the L45G and L50G come with an infinitely variable hydrostatic transmission, which is available in high or low speed variants. The larger models feature Volvo's Fully Automatic Power Shift (FAPS) transmission, which ensures the loader is in the best gear by sensing engine and travel speed, engine braking and other factors. Operators can chose from four gear-shifting patterns.

New models from Case this year include the 521F and 621F in the 2.0 to 2.1 m3 bucket classes. With Tier 4 Interim engines from sister company FPT, the machines are said to offer -10% fuel savings compared to their predecessors, while the front axle from ZF offers a 100% lock-up facility, which Case says provides more traction than the previous limited slip differential.

A reversible fan is standard and its low operating speed offers lower noise levels and vibrations in the cab. Cool air is drawn in from above and to the sides of the machine, then blown out of the rear of the loader over the engine, and Case says the improved efficiency of this system lengthens the life of the coolant fluid +50% to 1500 hours intervals. Transmission and axle oil changes, along with the associated filters, have also been lengthened out to 1500 hours.

JCB has launched several updates to its wheeled loader range this year, starting with its biggest machines and working down. The first machine to come out this year was the 457, which weighs in at 19.3 tonnes. JCB has opted for the familiar configuration of Cummins Interim Tier 4 engines teamed with ZF axles and transmissions.

As well as delivering more torque and power, the engine runs at a lower speed than on the predecessor, which JCB says translates to a 6% fuel saving. A four-speed transmission is standard, and there is also an option for a five-speed configuration, which includes a lock-up torque converter for greater traction.

One of John Deere's latest additions meanwhile is the 340 hp (254 kW) 844K Series II, which features improved stability and an increase in tipping load compared to its predecessor. Deere also emphasises the new axles on the machines as an area of improvement.

These high capacity components have automatic temperature monitoring as well as cooling and filtration for the oil. Oil change intervals are now 2000 hours. Both axles have hydraulically actuated differential locks with on-the-fly engagement, which the operator can select for more traction. There is also an auto differential lock function, which comes on when the wheels spin without any intervention from the operator.

Compact loaders

In parts of Europe in particular, there is a preference for compact wheeled loaders, whereas in other countries a skid-steer loader or backhoe loader might be used.

An interesting new addition in this area from Liebherr at this year's Intermat exhibition was the L 506 Stereo wheeled loader, a 0.8 to 1.5 m3 bucket capacity machine with a 5 tonne operating weight. The 'Stereo' name comes from the dual manoeuvring system, comprising a central articulation point - up to an angle of 30° - as well as a steered rear axle. Liebherr says this reduces the turning radius by as much as -20%, which would be a clear advantage on confined sites.

Intermat also saw Atlas Weyhausen update its models above 55 kW in line with the new Stage IIIB laws. The new e-series models comprise the AR80e, AR90e and AR95e and are fitted with Deutz engines - 70 kW on the two smaller machines and 85 kW on the AR95e.

Atlas Weyhausen says the engines have helped to improve power and performance on the new models, while changes to the design - a greater operating weight and 50 mm longer wheel base on the AR 80e for example, have increased the model's tipping load. Other improvements include a restyled hood and updated cab.

Meanwhile Kramer, part of Wacker Neuson has launched the 550 and 650, two 0.6 m3 bucket class machines, which the company says offer high performance in a small, light package.

Kramer favours a rigid, rather than articulating chassis, with all-wheel steering. It says this combination helps improve stability over articulated models while still delivering a manoeuvrable machine. The 650 comes with a 48 hp (36 kW) engine, while the 550 is described as a machine for more price-sensitive buyers who do not require as much power.

The right tool for the job

These new launches demonstrate how the wheeled loader market is splitting. In Europe and North America new models not only have the low emission engines that are required by law, but also come with a range of options and a level of sophistication that means they can be fine-tuned to a range of applications.

The various new compact wheeled loaders developed by Atlas Weyhausen, Kramer and Liebherr perhaps illustrate this best, with machines that are designed to be multi-functional as well as nimble on the region's twisting roads and confined sites.

In contrast, machines built for developing markets lack much of this sophistication, but include other features that might not be found on European or North American machines.

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