Cover Story/Machine Matters: Educated excavators

Full-size excavators have always held center stage on jobsites but have often been restricted to playing the dawdling heavy. With improved controls and electronics, today’s 40- to 50-metric ton excavators are able to extend their range and are being cast for jobs requiring more dexterity.

Taking direction
Many of the 40- to 50-metric ton models now include computerized management systems in their standard machine configurations. Peter Robson, product manager at Komatsu, says these next-generation electronic monitoring systems are taking a big step forward. “The machines have been telling us what is going on in them for some time, but now they can tell us what to do to correct the problems they diagnose,” says Robson. “They can report how much fuel they’ve used, how well the machine has been utilized, and how hard the unit was worked.” With this detailed information, you can ramp up the machine’s efficiency by reviewing operating conditions. Komatsu EMMS (Equipment Management Monitoring System), for example, continually monitors all critical excavator systems, alerting and guiding the operator if an abnormality occurs. “Komatsu excavators report vital health and machine efficiencies daily by Komtrax to your desktop or an alert to your cell phone,” says Robson. This often prevents a small problem from becoming an expensive major service issue later on.

As North American operators find they are doing more jobs in close urban areas, increased control sensitivity becomes both a production and safety concern. Terry Sheehan, president of Kobelco, says systems like Kobelco’s Intelligent Total Control System (ITCS) add computer control to hydraulics to provide smooth responses for very fine finishing and grading applications. “Operators need power and finesse,” says Sheehan.

Call it “featherability” – the precision movements an operator is able to do with more responsive machine controls. Smart hydraulics like those found on the Case CX 460B excavator make it easy to do fine, small adjustments.

Keeping fuel consumption low and productivity high is a juggling act but advanced engine electronics are bringing noticeably better fuel economy to this season’s excavators. A new power management feature on the Cat 345D L, for example, lets the operator select from alternative engine and hydraulic power settings to conserve fuel during light-duty work. Cat offers an optional tool control system that lets the operator pre-set flows and pressures for up to 10 work tools using the in-cab monitor. The operator can then select the tool when it’s needed without resetting the hydraulic system.

And data from John Deere’s JD Link system can be integrated directly into 23 different business software programs, giving the contractor an almost seamless line of communication between operations and the office. Deere’s Powerwise III system balances engine performance and hydraulic operations to provide consistent power for digging and low-effort, precise operator control.

Fleet monitoring systems such as JCB’s new LiveLink are reducing the risk of machine theft by keeping a wireless eye on equipment. The JCB LiveLink plugs into the machine’s diagnostic system and reports hours worked, fuel consumption and general machine health monitoring. Working with Qualcomm, the system lets contractors set curfews and geo-fences for the machines, instructing the equipment to demobilize itself if it detects tampering. Matthew Taylor, JCB’s chief operating officer, says, “JCB LiveLink is an extremely powerful deterrent to thieves by making the machines harder to steal and simpler to recover when they are.”

Bundle up
Volvo’s EC460CLD is an example of how manufacturers are bundling specific application features on excavators. Volvo’s attachment manager, Walter Reeves, calls the company’s EC460CLD the “demolition solution” because it is configured straight from the factory for demolition work. “In the past, contractors had to have their new excavators fitted with extra protection after they took delivery of the machine,” he says. “Costs for those modifications add up and what initially looked like a good deal for an excavator becomes more expensive than what the contractor had intended to spend.”

Factory installed demolition modifications such as side protectors, full frame-mounted guarding, double thickness doors and swing-ring guard are engineered to make the machine fit for rugged duty and work efficiently with the overall engineering of the machine. An optional boom-mounted camera gives operators better visibility for high-reach jobs and the cab tilts and pivots up to 30 degrees to give the operator more comfort.

Supporting players
The contractor’s best way to control costs is to keep the machine in service and manufacturers are taking innovative steps to help. Doosan, for example, guarantees it will deliver replacement parts in 48 hours and if it fails to deliver, it will give the owner a rental machine or gift card equal to one month’s rental rate.

Manufacturers are also increasing dealer and customer service training. Kobelco is investing $1.5 million in its training center in Calhoun, Georgia, and hopes to expand the facility to include a customer service center in the near future.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 39,100
Max reach @ ground level 38′ 9″
Max digging depth 25′ 8″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 53,790

Komatsu is now including its third generation Komtrax technology standard on all 8-Series excavators. The first five years of Komtrax service are included in the 300HD-8 and 400CL-8 (pictured) configurations.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 38,598
Max reach @ ground level 37′ 2″
Max digging depth 27′ 4″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 55,528

Case says the fully electronically controlled engine on the CX460B delivers up to 18-percent better fuel economy. According to Dave Wolf, marketing manager for Case, the new B-series excavators moved 25-percent more cubic yards of material per gallon of fuel during Case testing.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 35,000
Max reach @ ground level 39′ 9″
Max digging depth 26′ 9″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 58,000

Cat’s 345D L excavator, which replaces the 345C model, has 10 percent more horsepower than the C-series machine and uses less fuel than the C-series model. Cat’s D-series excavators will accommodate C-series buckets.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 32,380
Max reach @ ground level 37′
Max digging depth 25′ 4″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 48,700

Doosan’s DX420LC (pictured) and DX480LC excavators’ choice of operating modes let the operator use 85 percent of the engine power in standard mode and push engine power to 100 percent for heavy work.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) —
Max reach @ ground level 41′ 0″
Max digging depth 29′ 6″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 34,647

Reduced fuel consumption on JCB’s JS460LC is due in part to the One-Touch Idle feature on the servo control lever that drops the engine speed to idle at the touch of a button. Auto-Idle can be selected to reduce rpms when the control levers are not selected.

John Deere
Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs)40,200
Max reach @ ground level 38′ 10″
Max digging depth 27′ 2″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 57,111

Deere’s 450D LC’s redesigned cab provides more legroom and 47 percent more glass for better visibility. Daily oil and coolant service checks are simplified with an access door on top of the hood.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 17,191
Max reach @ ground level 37′ 9″
Max digging depth 25′ 3″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 46,297

Liebherr’s R974 excavator is sized for civil engineering applications such as laying heavy-duty pipes and mass earth moving.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 38,790
Max reach @ ground level 38′ 10″
Max digging depth 25′ 7″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 65,640

Kobelco excavator let operators set the controls to reflect the control pattern with which they are most familiar.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 32,580
Max reach @ ground level 39′ 4″
Max digging depth 25′ 4″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 59,524

Engineering for future applications is evident on the Terex TXC420LC-2 featuring spare switches on both joystick grips that will control additional attachments.

Lift over end, 20′ radius at ground (lbs) 40,180
Max reach @ ground level 38′ 8″
Max digging depth 25′ 3″
Bucket digging force (lbs) 54,900

The undercarriage frame on the Volvo EXC460 excavator is ‘X’ shaped to provide a natural flow of forces from the swing bearing to the track frames. The underside of the frame is covered with a steel plate, protecting hydraulic hoses and the swivel joint, providing long wear. An optional heavy-duty steel cover is available.