29 April 2008
Demand for better performance and efficiency from construction equipment means that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly turning to hi-tech components to deliver these improvements. With construction equipment sales at an all time high, delivery times are lengthening, placing pressure on both OEMs' production operations and their components suppliers.
The high demand for construction equipment means that not only are OEMs recording record results at the moment but so are their parts suppliers. Many components suppliers are investing heavily in research and development and new facilities in order to gain a larger market share.
Hydraulics and electronics specialist Sauer Danfoss has reported a +60% rise in earnings in the first half of 2006, compared to the same period last year, on a +11% increase in sales. The company recorded a net income of US$ 48.7 million despite spending around US$ 7.4 million on plant restructuring.
Germany-based drive and control specialist Bosch Rexroth posted a +12.6% rise in sales to € 4.6 billion (US$ 5.85 billion) in 2005. According to the company, this rise allowed it to build additional production facilities in Europe, Asia and North and South America as well as invest € 193 million (US$ 245 million) in research and development.
“This heavy investment means that we are working not only on application-orientated solutions that our customers can implement directly in series production, but also on new technologies, that will enable us to extend the current technological boundaries,” said Bosch Rexroth president Manfred Grundke.
Driveline supplier Dana is also investing in new production facilities and has opened a new plant to assemble off-highway axles and transmissions in Gyor, Hungary. The new plant is being used to supply both Dana's European customers and export markets.
“The location of the new plant will help us to develop a supplier network in Eastern Europe, which will benefit our off-highway customers globally,” said Dana European heavy vehicle technology president Rino Tarolli. “This investment is part of Dana's product development and manufacturing strategy to sustain the momentum of our off-highway business.”
Changing an engine on a piece of construction equipment has implications for an OEM's choice of driveline, hydraulics and electronics, as well as the function of the whole machine. Introduction of the first phase US Tier 3/European Stage IIIA engine emissions regulations at the beginning of 2006 (see engines feature, iC, July/August 2006) resulted in a wave of new engine launches over the last few years.
The first launches were for engines in the 130 to 560 kW powerband, which was the first to be affected by the new regulations. But from 1 January 2007, engines in the 75 to 130 kW bracket will also come under the new legislation, so most recent engine launches fall into this category.
Deutz, Caterpillar, Cummins and Perkins have all launched new Tier 3 compliant engines in the 75 to 130 kW powerband.
Deutz's new Tier 3 compliant four cylinder 2013 series engine offers a maximum power output of 129 kW. Caterpillar's new 4.4 litre C4.4 engine is the smallest engine in Cat's range to feature its ACERT technology and is available in four versions offering between 52 and 106 kW. According to Cummins, its new 82 kW output QSB3.3 engine is a 3.3 litre unit that offers a performance equivalent to a 4.5 litre engine but with the advantage of being -30% lighter.
Lower down the power range Perkins and Deutz have all unveiled new engines in readiness for the next phase of the emissions regulations. Perkins' 400D series offers power outputs in the 8 to 49 kW range and will go into full production at the start of next year (see iC, June 2006 for a full report). Deutz's new 2008 and 2009 series of water cooled engines are already commercially available and deliver between 27 and 53 kW, depending on the specification.
Many OEMs have launched new machines powered by Tier 3 compliant engines over the last year and have also taken the opportunity to re-configure other performance critical elements. Adding innovative technology to new models is vital for OEMs to maintain or gain market share and the latest components are helping the OEMs to deliver these advances.
Dana's Spicer driveline and transmission components and systems offer solutions for a range of construction equipment, including site dumpers, wheeled excavators, telehandlers and wheeled loader. But the systems are being continually developed, according to the company's chief engineer Fabrizio Panizzolo, “Dana's focus on research and development is very important for deliverying improved productivity, comfort, safety and ease of installation and service.
“New product research and development is vital in the dynamic construction equipment industry. One of our most recent innovations is combining hydraulic, mechanical and electronic technologies, such as electronically controlled hydrostatic transmissions that can be linked to a vehicle's CANbus system.”
Poclain Hydraulics has developed a new acquisition unit to help OEMs offer test facilities for their power transmission systems. According to Poclain, the SmartDrive Canalogger combines the hydraulics and electronics of its existing systems to give operators and mechanics a clearer view of the hydraulics during operation. This allows problems to be detected before they lead to a breakdown and for the machine to be 'tuned' to offer maximum performance.
Also new for the driveline market, is Bosch Rexroth's new LAGL series steering units, which are available in both open and closed centre versions. The units are available with between 500 and 1000 displacements per turn to give OEMs the option to use the unit on a wide range of applications.
According to Bosch Rexroth, the valves for steering circuits, such as pressure relief valves, shock relief valves and anti-cavitation check valves, can also be integrated into the unit.
Sauer Danfoss has developed a new cartridge valve coil for hydraulic systems, which it claims will help OEMs to increase service intervals and overall machine life. According to the company, some coils currently on the market fail when exposed to voltage spikes, excessive heat or water for extended periods of time. But its new coil has been designed specifically for the off-highway construction sector and can tolerate very high temperatures and voltage extremes.
The compact coil is encapsulated with plastic with an outer metal frame for durability. The coil has been subjected to rigorous testing before it was launched and can tolerate temperatures between -40 and +71 °C and voltage spans of 75 to 133% of normal.
“We wanted to design the coil for applications which operate under conditions that are particularly demanding for components,” said Sauer Danfoss product portfolio manager Dave Wohlsdorf. “Some road maintenance applications experience downtime because the components are not designed to handle the combination of exposure to water, chemicals, high temperatures and vibrations.
“For an OEM or end-user, downtime is downtime and costs money, no matter what causes it. A valve coil may not be the most noticeable part of a machine when it is running but it does a very important job and will help reduce machine breakdowns.”
Supply of tyres has been a big issue for OEMs in the last few years. The shortage has in part been a result of the international construction boom and consequent high demand for equipment and raw materials, particularly in China, India and the Middle East. A massive fire at tyre manufacturer Bridgestone's 40000 m2 factory 110 km north of Tokyo, Japan in September 2003 has also had a huge impact on the tyre supply chain.
New production facilities at Goodyear's Brazilian factory are expected to come on line next year and expansion of Bridgestone's factory in Shimonoseki, Japan is expected to be completed in early 2008.
Michelin has also said that it is working on expanding production for the off-highway market but is still working on developing new tyres for the off-highway sector. The latest new product from Michelin is the XMCL tyre, which it claims can improve the productivity of compact earthmoving equipment and telehandlers. The new tyre lasts up to +46% longer than Michelin's previous models and the crown and sidewalls of the tyre are around +10% more resistant to punctures.
Caterpillar has also developed a new tyre for skid steer loaders, which eliminates the risk of flat tyres, while improving stability and ride. The Flexport tyre has elliptical shaped holes molded through the outer ring of the tyre's sidewalls which helps reduce cracking that is common on conventional solid tyres.
Many OEMs have been addressing improving operator comfort and the ease of operation of construction equipment in the last few years. These enhancements extend right from more comfortable seating and controls, through to air conditioning and sound proofing.
Controls supplier Penny + Giles has added a new CANbus option to its JC6000 multi-axis joysticks. The new facility means that the machine's controls can be more easily integrated with the rest of its electronic systems to offer improve efficiency and responsiveness. The CANbus option uses two Hall sensors in each of the XY axes to provide safe and reliable operation through use of contactless technology.
Penny + Giles has also developed a protective boot for its JC120 single axis fingertip joystick to protect against dust and dirt and give consistently accurate operation. The boot is made from Neoprene, which is also resistant to oil, greases and other petroleum-based products.
US-based Sy-Klone has developed a new air pre-cleaner for ventilation systems on construction equipment. “Operators often report problems of maintaining cabin pressurization which can lead to debris intrusion and eventually ventilation systems failure,” said Sy-Klone president James Moredock. “Our Gideon Technology air pre-cleaner can help maintain pressure and reduce the strain on cab ventilation.”
The Gideon system features a high capacity canister filter, which Mr Moredock claims can last several moths. “One of our customers was replacing the filters on a Cat D8R dozer every two or three days, which at US$ 45 a time was costing him almost U$ 4600 a year,” said Mr Moredock. “Now they've fitted a Gideon pre-cleaner they can go more than 1000 hours between filter changes.”
Construction equipment sales are expected to peak this year, which means that maintaining sales through increased market share will be the focus for many OEMs in 2007. Adding new innovations and technology to increase the productivity and efficiency of their construction equipment ranges will be vital to achieve this and is likely to call for more bespoke parts, leading to increased co-operation between OEMs and component suppliers in the future.