Great excavations: Volvo's biggest bucket/breakers

FAMCO debuts Volvo CE’s G-Series wheel loaders in the region, but stealing the show: Volvo CE’s largest excavator, the EC750D, and its first foray into heavy-duty breakers

The EC750D, Volvo CE’s largest excavator, depresses one side of an A40F articulated dump truck with its colossal bucket, demonstrating the control and stability of both.
The EC750D, Volvo CE’s largest excavator, depresses one side of an A40F articulated dump truck with its colossal bucket, demonstrating the control and stability of both.

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Over the course of several days on a spit of land behind the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah, Volvo CE and Futtaim Auto and Machinery Company (FAMCO) brought the spirit of Volvo Days, held in Eskilstuna, Sweden to the UAE.

The occasion was the launch of a range of Volvo CE equipment fine-tuned for the Middle East’s markets, including the mid-range G-Series wheel loaders with Z-bar linkage (launched in June 2015), as well as the H-Series wheel loaders and C-Series paver. However, the show stealers were the EC750D excavator, Volvo CE’s upgrade on the existing EC700, as well as the OEM’s first line of heavy hydraulic breakers — produced in partnership with an unnamed South Korean manufacturer.

A team from Sweden was also out in force at the event wooing the potential custom with live product demonstrations, rolling test drives and a slick presentation that ended with the catchphrase ‘Building Tomorrow’.

“We’re hosting 200 customers here,” says Frank O’Connor, MD for the UAE at FAMCO. “It’s important for us to demonstrate our products to our customers, and for them to see Volvo CE and FAMCO working hand-in-hand.”

The billing of products like the G-Series wheel loaders as being specifically designed for emerging markets (physically demanding markets that run on less regulated fuel) is a game changer for both producer and dealer.

O’Connor notes: “Five years ago the conversations would have been just about price — how much? Now customers are presenting us with spreadsheets on the total cost of ownership. They want quality, but they also want machines that can operate double shifts, and they want to know how we can support that.

“We talk about the benefits, not just the features — it’s a tough market so we need to differentiate our offer. And that conversation is about uptime, quality and support. Relationships are also hugely important to us.”

Further market trends highlighted by the FAMCO team included a shift towards the discussion of residual values, fuel efficiency and smart financing. The dealer is also feeling the shift in the market towards rental and leasing — with options to purchase at the end.

“The market is changing, and we should encourage that and help customers to cope with the ups and downs,” notes O’Connor. “Liquidity is an issue and we can take some of the strain away from customers. I want to talk to customers about the projects they’re working on to ensure they’re not exposed.

Shahir El Essawy, business director for the Middle East & Africa at Volvo CC comments: “Benefiting the bottom line of our customers is also about improving usage: offering the right solution for the second life of the machines. In terms of the event, it’s the highlight of our year, and we’re happy with the turnout.”

Adnan Dawood, regional GM for marketing at FAMCO, adds: “Building Tomorrow ties in with Innovation Week. It’s all about the future of construction over the next five to 20 years. Innovation brings a competitive advantage.”

BIGGER BUCKETS

The EC750D is the largest Volvo CE excavator launched in the region to date, with a bucket capable of handling the big volumes required by the aggregate quarries just minutes away from the site of the event in Ras Al Khaimah.

The Volvo CE representative speaking for the EC750D noted that the machine is purpose–built for mass excavation — though exactly what this means varies from country to country. For example, the local application in Saudi Arabia is to handle a lot of sand, while in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah it is for quarries.

The EC750D on display wielded a 5.1m3 bucket that can work at fairly high material densities of up to 2t/m3, but Volvo CE has other rock buckets, including extreme–duty buckets targeting less developed markets.

However, the best configuration for any customer always comes back to the application, as FAMCO’s O’Conner says, and should ideally be tailored to the specific project.

Volvo CE’s expert notes: “When we select the bucket we look at three factors: first of all the configuration of the boom and arm — so depending on the length it will give us a maximum weight that we can use, including the bucket and the material; secondly, we look at the material itself — how dense it is and how it can be classified in term of the different digging forces that you need to apply to it.

“In much of the UAE, the rocks are small and there is a lot of sand, but when you go up into the quarries or limestone, they often can’t blast it (as is the case in Qatar), but they can dig it... In such cases we might come back to them with a different bucket that’s maybe not so wide — because it will be soft enough to dig, but at the same time it’s virgin material that’s still tough — so a smaller bucket will get better penetration into the material.”

Technically, the EC750D has increased performance compared with the DC700. The main difference is an 11% increase in the engine power, owing to its Volvo D16 engine.

However, Volvo CE has also changed the hydraulic system to a fully electro-hydraulic system — as in its other excavators — giving better control, fuel efficiency and productivity.

The power of the hydraulics has also increased with the upgrade to the EC705D.

On taking a test drive, the excavator was responsive and its movements smooth, despite the massive size and power of the machine.

Taking the increase in engine power, upgrades to the hydraulics system and overall ease of operation into account, the Volvo CE representative cautiously estimates that that EC750D excavator is around 50% more productive than its predecessor, while in terms of fuel efficiency, the machine is 50% to 100% better.

The performance still depends on the skill of the operator, as well as the appropriateness of the application. On a road project site digging 20m below the surface, 20 smaller excavators are still going to be more efficient... but in the envisaged type of quarry application, the EC750D is a force to be reckoned with.

BREAKING THE MOULD

The final piece in the puzzle in Volvo CE’s regional tour-de-force was the launch of its heavy hydraulic breakers, which have taken popular South Korean breaker technology and re-engineered it with Swedish expertise.

The heavy breakers are a first for Volvo CE, and this was their introduction to the UAE and the region at large — though they have been hard at work in Qatar, with 178 units racking up 2,500 hours to 3,000 hours a piece.

Olle Watz, attachments product manager at Volvo CE, explains: “We partnered up with one of the 25 breaker manufacturers in Korea, and we essentially went into the engineering and got to work redesigning the whole thing.”

The result is a range of heavy breakers that are very Korean in their essence, but with a number of innovative features from Volvo CE, including internalised hydraulic valves in a thickened steel structure — allowing for greater hydraulic pressures — and the use of hardened steel chisel bushings measuring 500 Brinell throughout, rather than on just the 2mm of outer surface, to secure the chisel.

These subtle adjustments ensure that the breakers last longer than their counterparts.

The model of working with an existing company and product is a time-tested strategy for Volvo CE, which likewise bought 40% of Steelwrist in Europe to add the attachment to its range without the need for a lengthy period of research and development from scratch.

Watz notes: “If you can go to a well-placed and well-manned smaller company and invest or link up with it in a joint partnership then you can combine the benefits of the financial strength and the quality processes of Volvo CE with the flexibility of the smaller company.”

Candidly, Watz admits that the heyday for breakers was 10, 15 or even 20 years back — and certainly before the global economic crisis of 2008 drove many producers to attempt to price each other out of the market.

However, Watz explains, Volvo CE is not so much looking to sell standalone breakers (though by no means is this being ruled out) as it is looking to sell the excavators as part of a package including its breaker technology.

Volvo CE’s engineers have been working with the intent of optimising the breaker hydraulics with compatible excavators.

Mismatched valves can pressurise the oil and damage the hydraulic pumps.

The devil is in the detail, as per Volvo CE’s analysis, and so Watz states: “We are providing a warranty on the package: one year unlimited hours on the excavator and breaker.

“If a company is providing only breakers, they won’t care if your excavator breaks down; we do — and so we inserted the features that you need in order to prevent a breakdown.”

Volvo’s thorough range of features extends from automatic lubrication and reinforced housing to specialised Japanese rubber seals.

Only time will tell whether this strategy is one that will win over customers and prove successful in the region, but Volvo CE’s heavy breaker line will certainly be one to watch.

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