The Right Load
By Mitalee Kurdekar
The market for wheel & backhoe loaders is seeing a spurt in its growth rates. Being a common construction equipment for many decades, the market in India for these products is increasing to meet the demand of fast-paced construction activities both in the public sector as well as the private sector. With many infrastructure projects in the public domain now being executed through the PPP model, the impetus to complete them in a shorter time-frame means that the use of such equipment will rise, resulting in much stronger demand.
While some prefer wheel loaders over backhoe loaders given the obvious benefits of mobility, flexibility and low maintenance costs, larger sites opt for backhoe loaders based on the advantages it offers in terms of fast pace of work and operator convenience. In short, both products have a sound future in store.
An interesting feature of the global demand for such loaders is that it seems to originate more from the Asia Pacific region, particularly from China and India. This is no surprise, as increasing globalisation has ensured that economic activities have shifted to China and India. With farmlands and rural areas in these countries giving way to industries and consequent construction activities, it is natural that the demand for loaders and like construction equipment will spiral upwards. With an eye on costs to remain competitive, these countries are gearing up for the use of modern automated equipment more than ever before, and this is leading to technological advancements in this arena.
We are seeing growing demand for larger classes of equipment.
The Indian Government’s initiatives and focus on implementing new infrastructure projects has been a key catalyst for the loader industry in the country. Efforts around the Make in India programme, which some OEMs have taken advantage of, have added a further impetus.
In this context, Dimitrov Krishnan, VP and head, Volvo CE India, explains, “The government continues to place priority on building roads and bridges—allocating a budget to build 35,000 kms of road under phase-I of the Bharatmala project, along with allocations for urban rail and airport expansion projects. The drive to improve infrastructure will unquestionably facilitate further growth in the economy and the construction equipment industry.”
Jasmeet Singh, head – corporate communications and corporate relations, JCB India, states, “We feel the future prospects are also strong for the backhoe loader, as every construction site requires a general-purpose machine, which is not only versatile but is also mobile. The significant outlay announced by the Government in Union Budget 2018 for creating physical infrastructure in education, health, link roads and affordable housing will continue to boost the demand for backhoe loaders. Rural roads also present significant opportunities for this segment, followed by areas such as sea ports and airports.”
In fact, every OEM in this industry is pinning their hopes on a better future in terms of roads and other infrastructure development in India. Nischal Mehrotra, director – sales & marketing, Liugong India, suggests, “The year 2018 started on positive note. With more and more projects being awarded under the roads segment and the Government’s vision of constructing 48 kms per day, this segment has been a key driver. Furthermore, by 2020, the ports handling capacity is slated to exceed 3,000 MTPA, coal output is projected to touch 1 billion tonnes and the cement industry is expected to see 600 million tonnes. Not to forget, the road segment, which is slated to grow further.”
Explaining how the Government of India programmes are supporting their cause, Ajay Aneja, brand leader, CASE India, offers, “As part of the Government’s Make in India policy, CASE Construction has had a boost in manufacturing in India. We are also exporting and using India as a manufacturing hub. We see a lot of support from the government on this front.”
Indian entrepreneurs with their penchant for research & development (R&D) are making use of these opportunities. Manish Arora, business head, Mahindra Construction Equipment, points out, “Mahindra and Mahindra, with its strong R&D department of over 2,000 engineers and its decades of experience in engineering products that last long and provide great value, has attained a feat of developing a truly Made in India backhoe loader without any overseas collaboration. Mahindra & Mahindra’s engineers have studied all the applications of construction machinery in India and designed the Mahindra EarthMaster to meet the toughest duty needs of Indian contractors.”
Productivity, reliability and profitability continue to be the primary deciding factors for buying the equipment.
Our wheel loaders have three working modes, thereby giving options to operators.
Evolving Business Requirements
Although wheel & backhoe loaders continue to be some of the most common construction equipment, the business requirements of the customers using them have evolved over the years and, more importantly, this evolution is now gathering pace. As Singh puts it, “Productivity, reliability and profitability continue to be the primary deciding factors for buying the equipment for customers; however, safety and operator comfort are also becoming critical parameters in the overall buying decision.”
He adds that, “JCB has also taken cognizance of evolving customer needs and has come up with solutions pertaining to reduced cost of operation, enhance reliability, performance, ease of use, safety, serviceability and design in its new ecoXcellence range of backhoe loaders.”
On the other hand, Krishnan suggests, “Demand for wheel loaders grew steadily over the past five years, and we are seeing growing demand for larger classes of equipment. With Volvo CE, our customers can do more with their equipment and downtime is minimised. Our lower fuel consumption improves cost efficiency and means work environments are cleaner.”
Speaking of the dynamics of demand, Surat Mehta, head – SDLG business in India, says, “There will always be demand for backhoe loaders in India but, certainly, our feeling is that for general construction in particular, users will start to look to wheel loaders over backhoe loaders. Our wheel loaders provide ease of operation, reduced noise levels, comfortable cabs and ergonomically-designed controls, all of which help reduce fatigue and enhance productivity.”
We will be making more attachments for our backhoe loaders to enable them to carry out newer applications.
Safety, security and operational convenience are some of the other evolving requirements. VG Sakthikumar, MD, Schwing Stetter Sales and Services, suggests that, “In recent times, safety has become one of the prime requirements for all equipment owners. In view of this, we have introduced a failsafe system for the engine ignition only when the gears are not engaged. This is achieved by using proximity sensors in the drivetrain. Another feature is the automatic levelling system for the loader bucket. This feature enables the operator to make the bucket easy for loading in the horizontal position.”
While safety and security are driven by the new regulations being put in place and are further being improvised from time-to-time, the need to appreciate operational efficiencies and operator comfort is something most OEMs have recently been concentrating on. Mehrotra states, “Our entire range of wheel loaders has AC cabins with ROPS/FOPS mobility engineering. The newly-designed cabins allow the operators to work for long hours without fatigue. Furthermore, our wheel loaders have three working modes, thereby giving options to operators to use the mode as per the application.”
Explaining the multipurpose utility of Mahindra backhoe loaders, Arora claims, “We have a large set of attachments for our customers to choose from. We will also be making some more attachments for our backhoe loaders to enable them to carry out varied and newer applications, thus making them a truly versatile machine. The range of attachments includes a host of various buckets for specific applications. Other applications include earth drills, rock breaker, jib crane, forklift, pole erector, among others.”
There are some states in the country that have made it mandatory to have telematics in construction equipment.
Brush with Latest Technologies
The best example of how OEMs have responded to the latest customer requirements with technological advances is the real-time systems with which they help customer operators. Modern-day operators need more assured operational performance around safety, security and operation diagnostics. Customers, on their part, are keen to manage the performance of their equipment or network of equipment on service, safety and security parameters through real-time alerts. Most OEMs have therefore developed such tracking systems to assist in this purpose.
Explaining how such advanced product offerings are being developed, Singh professes, “At JCB, we continually innovate to ensure that our customers receive the best-in-class equipment. The latest from JCB is the innovative and intelligent range of machines that exhibit a blend of technology and digital innovation. We have stepped up our offerings to provide the latest solutions based on the evolving customer trends through customer-centric apps and by integrating Internet of Things through our advanced telematics technology, Livelink.”
He further says, “With the advent of digital technologies, users can now control their entire fleet in real-time and all the critical machine information is available on their smart devices in the form of digital applications.”
Volvo CE’s CareTrack claims to be a telematics system that gives equipment owners access to a wide range of machine monitoring information that can help save time and money. Krishnan explains the role that the telematics offered in their range of equipment plays. “The system generates a wide range of reports with data on aspects such as fuel consumption, operational hours, geographical location and more. CareTrack allows owners to tap into a wealth of actionable data including fuel consumption, idle time, machine location, fluid levels and service alerts. With the time and labour savings CareTrack offers, customers say they view it as an investment rather than extra costs,” he confesses.
We have a failsafe system for the engine ignition only when the gears are not engaged.
These changes are truly paving the way. Aneja agrees that technological advancement is the need of the hour. He says, “Telematics provides real-time access to machines and results in enhancing performance and efficiency of machines. An Asset Monitoring System lends the freedom of machine monitoring and remote diagnostics alerts at the click of a button on a mobile or desktop computer. In fact, there are some states in the country that have made it mandatory to have telematics in construction equipment.”
Given such developments, wheel & backhoe loaders will only prove more useful to customers in future. Also, going forward, these loader systems will find application in many industries, but construction and mining remain the two main user segments. With the heightened road construction activity, development of tier-II cities and the backing of the Government’s Smart Cities programme, India is going to be the market to watch for wheel & backhoe loaders. In fact, the Make in India initiative could well provide an impetus to OEMs to further their ambitions of reaching global markets through exports from India. All in all, this industry seems to be on the right path to growth.