Digging for victory
They are not machines that could excite an onlooker; technology wise they have come a long way – BY JAYASHREE MENDES
Last month, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) awarded roads and highways projects amounting to Rs 34,800 crore totalling 2,819km for the year FY16. Yes, we heard the huge sigh of relief that went out from road equipment makers who have been struggling for some time hoping for a revival in road projects thus starting the chain of business once again. The emerging demand for equipment means that motor grader manufacturers will have to better position themselves to meet requirements through existing and newer planned solutions offerings that will deliver higher equipment uptime for faster surface preparation and finally quality finished roads. Coupled with this, they will also need to further strengthen their efforts on requisite product support.
Considering the lull in the market that has been around for some time, most manufacturers have had time to look at design
and come up with new ones that are more attractive and ergonomic. Sanjay Saxena, BU head and VP, heavy equipment division, Sany India, says, “We have relooked at the design. Today, our load sensitive hydraulic working system helps distribute hydraulic flow at different working mechanisms according to actual needs, respond rapidly and control precisely, resulting in excellent levelling quality. It automatically regulates the flow volume of the system according to external load, saving engine power and lowering fuel cost. The intelligent fan cooling system monitors the system’s temperature real time; the hydraulic motor controls the rotating speed of the fan steplessly, resulting in low power consumption and low noise, while slewing bearing operation device features high precision, long maintenance periods, low failure rate, and low maintenance cost.”
A new entrant in the motor graders market, Schwing Stetter has designed and created GR150 with an engine that is BS III certified and has dual stage fuel filtering technology. The closed turn circle assembly with hardened slewing gear not only protects it from the dusty environment but makes it maintenance free. VG Sakthikumar, MD, Schwing Stetter Sales and Services, and chairman of Mechanisation Committee, Builders Association of India, says, “Being an ARAI certified product, the GR150, a 150hp motor grader, can be used in applications such as road building, cutting a ditch, earth moving or fine grading. Our components are sourced from renowned manufacturers, which ensure its reliability and performance while being low on maintenance. Talking about the ergonomics, GR150 has a hydraulically operated engine hood in the rear, making it very easy to carry out engine maintenance. Also, all the maintenance controls are at the ground level, so that they can be accessed easily.”
The stress on higher productivity and profit potential not to forget lower maintenance cost for owners is top of the mind
for Dozco. Their Hidromek (earlier Mitsubishi brand) motor graders carry out applications from small road construction
and site development to construction and maintenance at large expressways. Filter replacement schedules are optimised to extend service intervals. Pankaj Kumar, VP, equipment sales, Dozco India, says, “Hydraulic controls (blade lift, centre shift, side shift, circle drive, front wheel and articulation) on the grader assists customers in improving profitability essentially through more efficient use of machines, thus saving time, improving job-site safety, managing project costs better, and providing precise job specification deliverables. Also, daily operator maintenance checks and filter replacement positions are centrally located to assist personnel to complete service requirements quickly.”
With business improvements for the construction and infrastructure industry looking up, it is bound to create offtake of motor graders in 2016 as compared to 2015. With a revival certain in road construction and mining sector, there are positive indications of fresh offtake between 600 and 800 units enlarging the market size. However, the acquisition will be featured by intense competition based on pricing wars, making it challenging for manufacturers to build up space.
A spokesperson from JCB said that the first signs of a Ushaped recovery are already visible in the industry as they are
noticing some ground movement in roads and highways sector. Moreover, the announced investments in various sectors
and projects like Smart Cities and high speed railway corridors will hopefully upsurge the demand for construction equipment
in the coming years. The government from the very beginning has shown a strong intent towards infrastructural development
and they are hopeful of a full recovery soon.
Manufacturers are also making available grade control technologies for customers to select depending on the level of job infrastructure and completion requirements. M Raj Kalyanarajan, facility manager, Caterpillar, says “Our motor graders can be factory fitted with an AccuGrade Ready Option (ARO), which is the foundation for the addition of other machine control and guidance technologies. ARO includes the integration of all the wiring harness, switches and brackets required for fitting of blade controls technology. Caterpillar’s grade control portfolio includes 2D cross slope, 2D sonic, 2D laser, 3D GNSS: global navigation satellite systems, and 3D UTS: universal total station.”
Sany India has taken grade control systems a notch above the rest. Saxena says that the SAG series motor graders are equipped with hydraulic-mechanical transmission system and offers advantages such as: Offers advantages of both hydraulic and mechanical transmission, which is powerful; rear axle applies no-spin differential lock technology, enhancing synchronization; large torque rotary motor and worm-gear case with overload protection, making the blade more powerful in ground leveling; the load sensitive hydraulic working system helps distribute hydraulic flow at different working mechanisms according to actual needs, respond rapidly and control precisely, resulting in excellent levelling quality; and automatically regulates the flow volume of the system according to external load, saving engine power and lowering fuel cost.
Motor graders increase tractive effort while improving steering and side draft control as they have enough tractive force achieved by 150hp engine and the weight of components are well distributed across the axles. Sakthikumar says that steering is hydraulic power assisted with a priority valve. Steering can be achieved by two methods one is by articulation joint and the other is by front axle. GR150 has the lowest turning radius of its kind in articulation mode and this makes it manoeuvrable in intricate project sites. The front axle steering is obtained by a single hydraulic cylinder so the steering is uniform, accurate and operated by steering wheel.
A special feature that Dozco India offers is a circle drive slip clutch to prevent horizontal shock load forces associated
with unintentional blade contact with obstructions that could cause damage to circle drive gear. In hard underfoot conditions
such as cutting packed haul roads, the Hidromek motor grader line up has provided in-seat bank-cut system makes it possible to control the position of the blade from the cab.
Motor grader is an expensive machine and its use was made mandatory on national highways by the NHAI at the time of conceiving National Highways Development Programme (NHDP). Many states adopted NHAI specifications subsequently, and the use of these machines started on state highways as well. However, in view of the small value of road building contracts for district and rural roads, use of motor graders is not mandatory due to high level of sophistication, high owning and operating costs and space constraints for rural road construction, motor graders are not viewed as a preferred option so far. For rural road construction, many contractors prefer to use a grader attachment mounted on a skid steer loader or loader backhoe, or even on a tractor.
The market demand for used motor graders is growing. Rental penetration and rental business is picking up. For rental, manufacturers have the advantage of minimising the maintenance and inventory cost, which is advantageous for contractors. Rental business will go up when a contractor has two or more projects running simultaneously and needs the equipment urgently on a shorter time period.
Innovation is one of the cornerstones of any business strategy. And excavators have come a long way in the Indian market. From hydraulic excavators to back hoes to dragline to crawler excavators and suction ones, the range straddles the diverse requirements of customers. While most excavators address the cutting edge technology segment, some popular ones are widely accepted in the market for cost effectiveness, easy maintainability and low operating costs.
Traditionally, excavators with operating weight 10 to 24 tonne are classified as medium range and in the last five years, their sales constitute above 70% of the total sales, out of which 20-24 tonne category accounts for approximately 50% and 10-15 tonne is approximately 20%. The remaining 30% is shared by 7-8 tonne approximately 17-18% and 12-13% by large excavators which are predominately sold in quarry and mining segments.
Dheeraj Panda, BU Head and VP, excavators, Sany India, says that the 20 tonne is the most popular category in India, owing to best working economics (earning/investment) of earthwork and preference of hirer customers for 20T category machines.
Excavators are usually in the middle of a sequential chain at the work site and perform the crucial task of keeping this
chain moving. “A large number of plant and machinery at the site is dependent on the efficient working of the excavator. Thus, reliability of the machine is critical and customers would always expect it from machines. Fuel efficiency and
lower operating costs are other critical parameters which form an important part of customers’ decision making. Thus manufacturers look for use of technology and innovation towards giving customers a better value for money proposition,”
says a spokesperson from JCB India.
Sany India expects the excavators market to grow 15% year-on-year for the next three to four years. “There are various infrastructure projects in the pipeline in road, rail, urban, irrigation and other domains. This will drive the growth. There
are several manufacturers with broad product lines but superior product quality and unmatched after sales support will be key differentiators,” says Panda.
Late last year, Tata Hitachi Construction Machinery Company, a leader in the Indian hydraulic excavator market, launched the EX110 ‘Super’ Series Hydraulic Excavator. BKR Prasad, sales & marketing, Tata Hitachi, says, “The EX110 Super with additional improvements is tailor-made to match the Indian operating conditions. A result of our world-class design and R&D expertise, it displays unparalleled versatility with its compatibility with a wide variety of attachments and the many variants it has on offer.” The EX110 Super sports a new and ergonomically designed roomy cabin amongst a host of aesthetic design improvements, which help in boosting the efficiency of the operators. Tata Hitachi has the widest range of hydraulic excavators in India with more than 30 models starting from 2t up to 800t capacity catering to mining and infrastructure applications. While the ‘ZAXIS GI’ series excavators address the cutting edge technology segment, the popular ‘EX’ series is
widely accepted in the market for cost effectiveness, easy maintainability, and low operating costs.
The bulk of the Indian excavator market is in the 22T and below 20T segment – in 2015 alone, approximately 9,000 excavators
were accounted in this category. JCB has six different models in this segment – the JS30, JS81, JS120, JS140, JS205 and the JCB 220 LC xtra, which offers them an opportunity to present a full range of machines to customers. Its state-of-theart
Pune factory manufactures excavators, wheeled loaders and compactors, and these made in India products are not only sold in India, but are exported to countries around the globe.
Sharwan Agnihotri, head, marketing, Hyundai Construction Equipment India, says, “After consistent decline for about three years till 2014, the Indian CE industry has started showing growth from early 2015. The growth rate was in the vicinity of 6-8%. Q4 2015 pleasantly surprised the industry as the growth rate was high. This was centralised towards 20t segment and most of the manufacturers soon ran out of stock. The contribution of 20t class segment in total sale of excavators
has grown from 50% to more than 55% in 2015.”
According to the Feedback report released during Excon 2015, excavators are the most rented earthmoving equipment after backhoes. The hiring market in itself is quite fragmented; there are few large scale organised hirers – the market comprises
mainly of medium to small scale plant hirers. Medium scale hirers are partnership firms with a regional presence, while small scale hirers are proprietorship firms.
As per the industry report, 40% of excavator sales is towards the rental segment. The rental market has greatly contributed to the industry as they cater to the needs of builders and contractors. Even though the industry went through a downturn, this segment has contributed to the purchase of the new equipment in the last five years quite substantially. Advanced hydraulics technology which enables faster work-cycle at optimum fuel economy of operations is worth noting as a trend. Secondly, informatics systems used in machines provide real time data of operating parameters, location and other details for better fleet management.
As the Indian market matures, there will be a higher demand for specialised machines like excavators. Mining and quarrying
are two of the major applications where tracked excavators are used, and accounts for approximately 30-40% of the overall
excavator market. Roads and highways are huge growth enablers for the construction equipment market, as also growth enablers of the CE industry because they not only use the large construction equipment but also generate secondary demand in cement, steel and mining, which all require a large number of earthmoving and construction equipment. However, there need to be a push from the government´s side that will gather momentum as it moves along.