Compact power: The latest developments from the compact equipment sector
By Becca Wilkins07 May 2009
Demand for compact equipment has fallen across the globe. However, manufacturers continue to develop new machines in anticipation of the return to market stability and to meet growing interest from emerging markets.
The challenging trading period in the construction industry has led to compact equipment manufacturers facing the difficult task of reducing costs while continuing to enhance the levels of machine comfort, safety, control and ultimately, productivity.
Joep van dan Maagdenberg, product sales representative for mini excavators at Hitachi said, "What is most important for operators is comfort and performance. For the buyer, the most important factor is a low cost of ownership and we are always looking at ways we can improve this."
Volvo's, global product marketing manager, Jennifer Brigman-Westphal, agrees in the current economic environment customers are concerned with rising costs.
"Volvo is looking at lowering operating costs overall. This may be realised by increasing operator comfort, thus increasing productivity during the course of the day."
Volvo now has an auto idling system, which helps reduce fuel consumption and has helped lower operating costs on the company's new C series compact excavators.
Meanwhile, Bill Seidel, vice president, product portfolio and brand marketing for Case, told iC fuel efficiency is one of the most important and most recent areas of focus with regards product development and is something which has a major impact on customers' costs.
"It doesn't matter where you are in the globe, fuel is a critical factor - it's a cost factor for the contractor," he said.
As well as being fuel efficient, Mr Seidel said machines must be highly reliable, easy to service and feature noise and vibration control. These four factors make up what Case calls its "customer value proposition" and according to Mr Seidel all four elements have equal value to the customer. However, high performance and productivity are also vital he added.
The company completed Tier 3 (Stage IIIA) engine installations in its compact equipment during 2008 and into 2009 some of which are also Interim Tier 4 (Stage IIIB) compliant. However, according to Mr Seidel, the most significant launch from Case during 2008 was the updated skid steer models.
Chris Ringlstetter, vice president of marketing, at Doosan Infracore International, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) (Bobcat's parent company), said increasing productivity in compact equipment is an important factor in product development.
"Customers want equipment that not only meets their needs, but allows them to be more versatile, efficient and effective on the jobsite," he added.
Visibility is key to improving productivity according to Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager for skid steers and compact track loaders for John Deere Construction & Forestry.
The company's Interim Tier 4 CT315 compact tracked loader offers a 360° view that is uninterrupted to the sides, both above and below the lift arms, he said. This means the operator can also see the tracks and the ground around the machine with the boom in the resting position.
One of the biggest product drivers in recent years has been operator comfort, which is often linked with improving productivity and ultimately reducing operating costs.
The 1.2 m wide and 2.3 m long, without attachment, 2.3 tonne T110 compact tracked loader from Bobcat features "superb" operator comfort and high performance in all types of weather and ground conditions, the company stated.
The cab has a large front opening providing "excellent" visibility of the work area and attachments and the domed roof easily sheds rain water and offers good head clearance. The use of dual tilt cylinders and the open design of the Bob-Tach quick-change attachment system allow for easy entry and exit from the cab. The cushioned suspension seat is fully adjustable to the operator's weight and features the Bobcat Interlock Control System (BICS) for safety.
The cab in John Deere's new CT315 is designed for optimum comfort, visibility and functionality. Standard features include high-back, ergonomic and adjustable seating and armrests that adjust for comfort during operation.
Meanwhile, Caterpillar's new 279C, 289C and 299C compact rubber-tracked loaders, currently available in the US, Europe, Africa and the Middle East (EAME), are equipped with a foot throttle to enhance machine control and ease of operation. This feature allows the operator to adjust engine speed to suit the application, while also reducing sound levels and conserving fuel, the company said. The machine also has independently adjustable and console-mounted joystick controllers, which provide forearm support.
Mr Ringlstetter said, "Keeping an operator more comfortable translates to more time spent in the seat operating and thus, increased productivity and profit. It also helps owners and contractors attract and keep the best operators."
The traditional markets where compact equipment once thrived are suffering. With no sign of an imminent recovery in these regions, some manufacturers believe opportunities lie in the emerging territories, which were becoming more receptive to this type of equipment before the financial crisis took hold.
Mrs Brigman-Westphal, said, "Whilst the next months and quarters are uncertain we are still optimistic about the opportunities for many global markets in the longer term. Infrastructure projects in China, India and other Asian countries should mean that the construction sectors in these areas should grow in the future. In other international markets such as the Middle-East, Russia and Brazil there have also been announcements of infrastructure development which should lead to growth in the long term."
Case, meanwhile, believes markets such as India and China will return from the current downturn even stronger than before. Mr Seidel said the market in China was flat from 2007 to 2008, however Case's combined market share - for both heavy and light equipment - was up +37% in this market. He added territories such as China and India, which in the past have relied on cheap manual labour, are beginning to see the benefits of using compact equipment.
"I think China is probably the best example of that - if you went to a big city there five years ago you would have seen major building projects where men and women were working with shovels- now you are seeing a lot of excavators and wheeled loaders and you're also seeing the compact equipment."
Mr Seidel added the emerging markets are beginning to invest in mechanised construction equipment because of the efficiency it brings to projects. "It means projects can be completed faster and probably at a cost that's equal to man power," he said.
Bobcat said due to their compact size and attachment capabilities, the company's machines help contractors break into new markets and applications.
"The versatility of the equipment allows it to fit into multiple jobsite tasks, allowing contractors to find work in a slow economy and when their primary markets are down."
The lull in production means manufacturers must use their time wisely in order to prepare for the return of a more stable market.
Mr Seidel said Case is not pulling back on investments and future developments. The company continues to develop its support infrastructure and distribution network he added. "So we're not sitting here waiting for the economy to pick up we are actually preparing ourselves for an inevitable turnaround."
Mr Ringlstetter said Bobcat is aiming to gain market share now and more so when the market picks up worldwide. Meanwhile, Volvo said it would be driving forward its plan to improve efficiency as well as continuing to invest in new products and services that meet customer demands.
"We believe these actions will place us in a strong position for when the market recovers," Mrs Brigman-Westphal said.