Whatever others may say, the backhoe loader is here to stay. It now comes with new modifications that make customers happy.
By Jayashree Kini Mendes
It goes without saying that backhoe loaders are one of the most versatile and compact equipment that matters most to the construction and real estate industry. But in recent years, this machine has taken a beating in the industry as some owners have replaced this machine with mini excavators. But the resilient machine that it is, and considering the space constraints at various sites, the backhoe loader is not going to succumb to pressure. Incidentally, various R&D departments of equipment makers all come with engines not more than 74 gross horsepower, relatively simple emissions aftertreatment systems, standard digging depths in the 14-foot class, and design concessions that bring down the acquisition price, compared with higher power counterparts.
Amarnath Ramachandran, president and director, LeeBoy India, says, “The backhoe loader is the highest selling construction machine in India. This cuts back to a point in time when initial investment was the only criteria in purchasing a machine. So, a person who had Rs 12-15 lakh would buy a backhoe and a person who had Rs 30 lakh would buy a 20t excavator. Gradually, as more and more tasks are mechanical and competition increases amongst contractors, fuel efficiency and productivity coupled with cost is important.”
In 2013, LeeBoy introduced a model that has a lot of features which are optional amongst the market leaders. This includes a) Power-shift transmission b) SAHR parking brake, C) axial piston pump and flow sharing valve for genuine fuel efficiency d) hydraulic pilot controls for ergonomic comfort and e) cabins with HVAC and 4 speaker stereo systems. In India, the prime focus is Type 1.
Over the last few years, this equipment may not be a priority to equipment makers in India, but that has not stopped them from setting up production facilities in India. This has only intensified the competition. What maes the equipment market interesting is that more often than not, the competition is not confined between different global and Indian players alone. The demand from end-users for better application-oriented equipment and machinery has seen stiff competition between different machines also. And OEMs are responding. There is a strong focus to offer customers value propositions based on innovation, technology and ergonomics.
Amit Bansal, sales director, building construction products, Caterpillar India, says, “Over the years, the industry size of backhoe loaders (BHLs) has grown phenomenally. There are various sizes of BHLs available in the market as per job requirement. We have seen an improvement in loader heights to enable them load over high body trucks. The bucket capacities of both loader and excavator ends have also gone up marginally to deliver higher productivity. There has been a lot of focus on operator environment to help him become more productive and work safely. All these aspects collectively have improved the performance and productivity of BHLs.”
Speaking about the developments in productivity and performance, Shalabh Chaturvedi, head, marketing, CASE India, says, “We understand power and performance are critical for the success of a machine. The new generation engine, developed by Fiat Powertrain Technologies Industrial (FPT Industrial), provides outstanding performances such as faster response time and up to 10% better fuel economy. FPT S8000 Engine is a 3.9-liter 4-cylinder engine, with a mechanical injection system. It is ARAI certified as BS3 thanks to its EGR internal technology.”
Another company that has pioneered the concept of backhoe loaders in India almost four decades ago in India is JCB India, says Jasmeet Singh, head, corporate communications and external relations, JCB India. “Given its versatility and mobility, the machine finds great use at almost every construction site, in both urban and rural India. This multi-purpose machine performs a variety of tasks at sites and is primarily used for digging, dozing, levelling and in general site applications. This world-class range of loaders is manufactured at their Ballabgarh facility, which is the world’s largest backhoe manufacturing plant with a production capacity of 110 machines per shift. All the products are manufactured on the company’s global manufacturing policy of “One Global Quality”,” he adds.
In the last three years, the main advances are on telematics, but all the main players continue to pursue a price policy deciding themselves that this is all that the customer needs. “This will improve only when the Tier IV norms come into place in 2020 where players will be forced to upgrade their systems,” says Ramachandran.
Backhoe loaders are the backbone of construction and will continue to remain so, especially in emerging markets like India. From a buyer’s perspective, a backhoe is probably the best machine available from the return on investment viewpoint. Plus, the investment is not as high compared to other specialised machinery. For these reasons, the backhoe scores points with the hirer segment. Further, the contractors and sub-contractors outsource their requirement of machinery to these plant hirers instead of buying and maintaining the machines themselves. In many cases the contractors buy the machines themselves, too.
Singh says that their 2DX backhoe loader, the smallest one available in its portfolio and specifically designed to suit the rural applications, is gaining popularity in some unique applications like plantation, construction of rural roads, fibre optics laying, truck unloading, tractor trolley loading. The 3DX is India’s most popular backhoe as it provides low heat and noise inside the cabin, ergonomically positioned controls and more leg space for ease of operation. The large 4DX is the most productive loader in India and is best suited for mass excavation or digging in hard strata. JCB loaders are the most fuel efficient machines in their category as they come fitted with the indigenous, world-class, most fuel efficient JCB “ecoMAX” engine.
The growing popularity of the backhoe loaders in the global market has also necessitated new inventions in the production of the same by its manufactures. Case has come up with the below mentioned inventions in the production:
Operator comfort and productivity: This spacious cab has redesigned ergonomics to offer better operator comfort. The large size glazed windows provide outstanding all-round visibility, improves air ventilation to the operator and it makes easy communication to the back of the machine. All the controls have been specially positioned to offer easy access and faster control. The cabin has a large buddy seat along with storage compartments, mobile charger, document holder, bottle holder and radio.
Eagle Eye Telematics: Case brings to a revolutionary technology, “Eagle Eye” for enhancing the performance and efficiency of the machine. This is an Asset Monitoring System that combines Internet, Cellular and GPS technologies. This system helps to keep an eye on every significant detail such as real time location of the machine, operating hours, cumulative hour meter reading and warning text alerts for critical parameter.
With the infrastructure industry being at the forefront in terms of investment by the government, sentiments are more positive and the long term outlook for the Indian market is very promising with huge potential, says Chaturvedi.
According to a recent research report by Persistence Market Research (PMR), the global backhoe loader market is set to reach $4 billion by 2026. Keeping in mind the wide range applications of this equipment across industries including construction & mining, utility, and agriculture & forestry, there is definitely an upward growth. “Additionally, construction and mining industries continue to be amongst the key contributors to the growth accounting up to 53% revenue generation for backhoe loaders in 2016. With various initiatives like Smart Cities, Make in India and the infrastructure development across Tier-II and Tier-III cities, it is expected to increase the volume of sales of backhoe loaders in India,” he adds.
Ramachandran says, “There are many specialised attachments for backhoe loaders like trench cutters, rock breakers, crane, manlift, grabs for planting electricity poles, etc. These are in a very nascent stage in India.”
Over the years, the cabins have undergone several improvements to make them more operator friendly like the option of air-conditioning, suspension seat, ergonomic controls, etc. Bansal says, “There has been a lot of focus on improving fuel efficiency as well. Connected worksite solutions have helped improve overall utilisation and performance management of the equipment. Our backhoe loaders are engineered with some of the best-in-class features like load sensing and close centred hydraulics, which has got much better hydraulic efficiency, thereby ensuring minimal wastage and better fuel efficiency at optimal performance. In addition to that the components are designed keeping in mind the machine duty cycle so as to deliver better product life that exceeds customer’s expectations.”
To deliver all the above expectations of customers, backhoe loaders manufacturers are investing strongly in R&D. Ramachandran says, “Our R&D division is currently engaged in launching two large motor graders – 18t and 22t for the mining, export and high productivity road segment. Next year, we plan to launch a small motor grader for rural roads and are also looking at a four wheel steer variant of our 699 backhoe loader. We are looking at a piling drill attachment on our 525 excavator to augment our overburden drill attachment which we currently have.”
Chaturvedi says, “Our R&D team constantly endeavours to develop clever innovations to make equipment more fuel efficient for reducing emissions on the environment. The company has introduced Eagle Eye Telematic System, a real time vehicle tracking and communication based on GPS technology that helps deliver better value for money. Among the other initiatives in the same direction, we have successfully lowered the sound levels in all the construction equipments enhancing operator comfort, which in turn increases productivity.”
The company has an extensive network of 65 dealers with over 250 touch points spanning the length and breadth of the country. CASE India has introduced globally followed world class manufacturing processes at the Pithampur plant. It has started exports to develop as well as developing countries that reflect the quality of the products. CASE continues to invest in the manufacturing operations in India ensuring customers in India get access to the high technology products comparable to the best in the world.
Bansal says that Caterpillar loaders have load sensing closed centred hydraulics in their machine which gives better fuel efficiency. High durability has always been the DNA of any Cat equipment across the globe. “The excavator style boom which has better reach over obstacles is again a great feature of Cat backhoe loaders. Moreover, we are the only one in the industry to offer both the types of hoe operating levers which is interchangeable to ‘x’ and ‘+’ very easily and quickly. Some segments or applications demand higher productivity or performance as their job is time bound or the revenue for the job is based on the output. For that kind of applications, we have recently launched a “High Flow” variant where at operating range, higher performance is delivered. This results in higher performance at optimal fuel consumption.”
The purchase or hire of backhoe loaders is primarily driven by construction activities in the country. With the government’s focus on infrastructure development and projects being expedited with many more being launched, the road segment is driving a sizeable growth in loaders. The Clean India campaign will further push this loaders to the fore.