Excavators remain the number one piece of construction machinery sold around the world. In 2018, more than 450,000 units were sold globally – with this year expected to break a total sales figure of over 400,000 units – according to figures by specialist research company, Off-Highway Research.
The machine quite literally shapes the landscape on which the construction industry builds, and although excavators come in many different sizes, this article will focus on the medium to larger sized excavator segment.
JCB’s chief innovation and growth officer, Tim Burnhope, highlighted the importance of the medium sized excavator, saying, “The machine of choice for groundworks has always been the 13-16 tonne excavator. They are quite simply the workhorse of the building site; digging footings, pouring concrete, grading hardcore or gravel and laying asphalt.”
It’s difficult to disagree with him. With their medium size these machines can easily fit onto residential sites, but being larger than a compact machine, the excavators can shift more material.
Since March 2019, JCB’s range of excavators has included the company’s X Series line-up, offering machines between and 13-16 tonnes.
Construction operator environment
The new machines are based on the earlier 210X and 220X models in the 21-22 tonnes class, which launched last year. According to JCB, both of these models received positive feedback from operators; providing improved levels of strength, durability, comfort, reliability and efficiency against their predecessors.
The 13 to 16 tonne models, the 131X, 140X and 150X, now also feature the same cab as the larger machines, providing the operator with an environment that is 15% bigger than before.
Noise reductions of up to 68% within the cab have been achieved through complete sealing and pressurisation. Return on investment has also been considered; durable strike points are strategically placed on the machine to help keep ownership costs down. The company also says that fuel efficiency is improved by as much as 6% by implementing an increased diameter pipework system to induce high-flow rates.
Just because excavators are working machines doesn’t mean that their styling can’t be appreciated; aesthetics are still a key consideration for some purchasers, more so in some regions around the world than others.
The machine has been working at the Ochtendung lava plant – situated within the Fresserhöfe mining region – for nearly a year . It is there that the company mines lava from the Tönchesberg, a volcanic cinder cone.
Stage V excavator
The Case CX750D is used for the direct extraction of raw materials in the lower part of the mines. Volcanic clinker and lava sands sit as loose rock and are separated directly from the mine wall using the machine. The material is then loaded onto haulers or broken down with a crusher for processing.
The company purchased the Mass Excavator (ME) version of the CX750D, which has a maximum breakaway force of 366kN and a larger bucket cylinder. The fixtures have also been designed for extreme loads, with a reinforced high density (HD) boom, a shortened 3.02m HD arm and an armoured 4m3 rock bucket.
Korea-based Doosan has launched the company’s first Stage V medium sized crawler excavator – the DX300LC-7 – a 30 tonne machine. The excavator is powered by a new Doosan engine which produces 202kW of power. The new engine does not require exhaust gas recirculation, which boosts the amount of air available in combustion, thereby improving efficiency.
As standard, the new excavator comes with four cameras around the machine, providing the operator with a 360° external view. Also factory installed is DoosanConnect – the company’s answer to the wireless fleet monitoring software that so many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are now providing and which provides a host of data for OEMs and customers alike.
Stephane Dieu, Doosan Heavy Excavator product manager, discussed the equipment on board the DX300LC-7. According to Dieu, the machine requires good quality fuel with low sulphur levels (the same fuel that is used in cars). In the previous generation, in machines using a diesel particulate filter (DPF), the DPF was replaced after 4,000 hours. This time maintenance intervals are as long as 8,000 hours.
Construction equipment telematics
When asked about Doosan’s monitoring software Dieu said, “The DoosanConnect system allows owners to follow their machines, at any time, from anywhere. It could be from the office or from a mobile application.
“You can monitor many aspects including efficiency, fuel consumption, operating hours, working modes and any maintenance that needs to be carried out. It also allows you to know exactly where your machine is located, and to set up alerts if the machine goes out of geo limitation zones that you can define.”
This September LiuGong launched its latest generation of excavators, known as the F-Series, at the BICES show in China. The series comprises 15 product sub-platforms with over 40 size classes ranging from 1.5 to 90 tons – a spectrum of sizes that the company believes caters for approximately 90% of the global market demand.
The new F-series machines are the sixth generation of excavators from LiuGong and focus on integrating technology with environmental protection.
Short-tail and zero-tail swing model variants have been developed for the Western European and North American markets. A standard version of each model is available for the Chinese market.
LiuGong’s new excavators are equipped with the latest electronically controlled hydraulic system utilising a low-speed and high-torque engine. A main electro-hydraulic proportional control valve has been installed for better flow management along with an intelligent cooling system. The company claims that these systems improve efficiency and that oil consumption is up to 20% lower than the previous generation of excavators.
Excavator network integration
Elsewhere, in Europe, one of Hitachi’s ZX300LC-6 medium sized excavators has been working for NBG, a Romanian aggregate supplier, dredging materials from the Arges River for use in concrete production, at a busy 1.5km2 site that is approximately 30km west of the capital, Bucharest.
NBG’s machinery manager, Razvan Vişan, said, “We selected the ZX300LC-6 because we needed a strong machine with a high ground clearance. It also had to be capable of increasing productivity.
“I have worked with other brands in the past, but have found that the Hitachi machines are easy to maintain, offer low fuel consumption and are exceptionally durable.”
Vişan was also supportive of Hitachi’s data report service, ConSite, saying that it was a great help for monitoring fuel consumption.
Hitachi says that ConSite can help to identify faults. If a fault occurs, the software will send the fleet manager and the purchaser’s authorised Hitachi dealer an emergency alarm report in order to increase response time, minimising unscheduled downtime. The software also constantly monitors the oil. For example, if oil quality deteriorates or the oil becomes contaminated a local dealer will be notified so the cause can quickly be identified.
Efficiency is beneficial to nearly all stakeholders in the excavator market and Caterpillar’s latest excavators are certainly helping ease the demand for fuel on jobsites.
Caterpillar’s current 30-tonne excavators — the 330 and 330 GC — have been available commercially for over a year and through technical engineering have not just improved fuel efficiency, but also increased operating efficiency, lowered maintenance costs, and improved operator comfort.
The new Cat 330 features standard integrated Cat Connect technology, an equipment management system that tracks the location of the machine, how efficiently it is being operated, how much fuel is being burned off each hour and rapid information on machine diagnostics.
Elsewhere, in the second quarter of this year, Komatsu America introduced the new PC290LCi-11 Tier 4 final emissions-certified hydraulic excavator.
The new PC290LCi-11 features intelligent Machine Control (iMC) which is based on Komatsu’s sensor package, including stroke sensing hydraulic cylinders, an IMU sensor, and GNSS antennas. This technology utilises 3D design data loaded in the control box to accurately check its position against the target to semi-automatically limit over-excavation.
“The PC290LCi-11 is perfect for applications where the customer is looking for good stability and working range, while avoiding the transportation limits of larger-size-class excavators,” said Andrew Earing, product manager, tracked equipment, Komatsu.
Medium and large excavators crawler excavators are sold in high numbers in almost all regions of the world, although they tend to be most popular with emerging markets. For example, this segment has seen a surge in sales in recent years in China. However, their popularity is truly global and new technological innovations by OEMs will help to see that they remain the construction industry’s equipment of choice.
Hyundai’s Russian rapport
Hundai Construction Equipment (HCE), headquartered in South Korea, announced recently that it has secured a supply contract worth US$30 million from a Russian client. In the deal as many as 260 excavators will be manufactured and around a further 300 items of machinery such as wheeled loaders, skid steer loaders, will also be delivered.
The sale is so large that it alone represents 35% HCE’s total sales in Russia last year. The company has said that it will manufacture the ordered machinery at its Ulsan plant in Korea and deliver them sequentially to its client by the end of this year.
Currently, HCE is one of the three major construction equipment manufacturers in the region, accounting for more than half of the total sales of the Russian market, along with Komatsu and Hitachi.
Caterpillar’s next generation
Ryan Neal, North American excavator product specialist, Caterpillar
With the launch of the next generation excavators, how important is it to cater for different markets worldwide?
We’ve come to one platform and the only differences will be engine tier specifications and certain machine applications. So, one area may not require a long undercarriage where some territories require this, such as the US, but the machines themselves will look the same, whether they are sold in Saudi Arabia, the US or in China.
We have our performance machines, which have all of our technology, and we also offer a GC machine which is meant for less applications. Not all territories in the world are going to want grade control or payload features. They don’t necessarily see the benefit of it, which is why we offer a GC model. Most of the highly regulated countries, such as North America, Europe and Australia, will go with our performance machines while there are other territories, such as China and India, that tend to be more interested in our GC model.
Have the demands of customers changed over the last couple of years?
Yes, for example with grade control. Machines such as bulldozers and motor graders have been using grade control for years, but it hadn’t really caught on in the excavator market; we’ve had it out there, but there hasn’t been a big demand. People now though are starting to understand the value of having a known location on the end of a bucket tooth, so they know exactly where the bucket is.
Can the technology in new equipment, such as excavators, help with the skills shortage?
In my opinion, there’s no better excavator in the market for this cycle that we’re in right now with a lack of skilled workers globally. The machine that we offer today has so many operator features that help them out on a daily basis. Before I came to Caterpillar, I was an excavator operator and you do everything with them. You grade with them, you can pick stuff out of trucks with them, you are loading trucks, it’s a Swiss army knife of a machine. We have safety features that keeps somebody in the machine from hitting anything, we can stop this happening.