Today, with profits booming and orders coming in faster than manufacturers can fill them, necessity is hardly the biggest driver of innovation in the equipment world. Even so, manufacturers continue to innovate, which begs the question: Why?
You couldn’t find a better answer than Sir Edmund Hillary’s response to the reporter who asked him why he climbed Mount Everest: “Because it is there.”
As you read the stories of this year’s five Innovation Award winners it becomes obvious that the people who worked on these projects were driven not just by profits or promotions but, like Hillary, by a restless curiosity and the desire for excellence. To quote Sir Edmund again: “It is still not hard to find a man who will adventure for the sake of a dream or one who will search for the pleasure of searching, not for what he may find.” Our congratulations to this year’s dreamers and searchers, the 2006 Innovations Award winners.
IN-SERIES HYDRAULIC HAMMER
Allied Construction Products tackles tool breaks and comes up with a service-free hammer.
We wanted something truly original and useful,” says IIkka Niema, Rammer senior design engineer, when describing the company’s in-Series hydraulic hammer line. “The result was a new concept in breaking – the world’s first service-free hammer.”
In fact, Rammer liked the product so much that it named it after Niema, with the “in” in the name representing Niema’s initials. The hammers, marketed by Allied Construction Products, were introduced to the U.S. market last year.
Led by Niemi, the design team came up with the following features:
The trapezoidal tool remains at the center of the in-Series distinction, says Al Springer, Allied’s national sales manager. “It offers considerable benefits over traditional small hammer tools,” he says. “It cannot get jammed and it provides extended service life. It comes with a lifetime warranty against breakage.”
Other in-Series hammer features include:
In the past year, the in-Series has also added a patented mounting bracket that allows a wide range of mounting configurations with a single bracket. The hammers can now fit a variety of compact excavators, skid steers, bakckhoes and other compact carriers. It also accommodates traditional bolt-on brackets used on quick-attach couplers. The bracket allows customers to use a single hammer on a wide range of carriers, which is especially useful to rental companies.
The in-Series hammers come in four sizes – Model 8, Model 11, Model 15 and Model 22, ranging from 152 to 453 pounds in working weight, with operating pressures from 1,450 psi to 2,180 psi and blows per minute from 400 to 1,900.
Allied Construction Products and Rammer make some bold claims with this product, all aimed at a contractor’s hammer wish list: no tool breaks, no greasing, no replacing tie rods, tie bolts or side bolts, and finally, no nitrogen gas checking or charging. The design allows concrete chips and dust to vibrate out away from the tool, letting you use it without fear of breakage.
JOHN DEERE SC-2 COATED BUSHINGS
Nine years of work finally pays off with a slurry coating that’s harder than chrome and eliminates a bushing turn
Metallurgists have created many useful powdered metal coatings and alloys in the past few decades. But until last year the idea of a slurry coated product that could stand up to the tectonic levels of pressure and abrasion experienced by undercarriage bushings seemed farfetched.
There were two problems.
First, previous coatings were not hard or corrosion-resistant enough. “Customers have always wanted parts that would last longer against wear, corrosion and impacts,” says Dr. Gopal Revankar, a materials scientist at the John Deere Technology Center. “Coatings similar to SC-2 are used for extending the wear life of ground-engaging parts in agricultural, construction, forestry and mining industries.” But as rugged as these coatings are, he says, they were still too porous or contained too many inclusions to be suitable for applications where a high level of resistance to wear, corrosion and impacts is needed.
Problem number two, Revankar says, was getting the slurry coating to bond to the base metal part with sufficient strength that it won’t slough off during the fusing process, sag during fusing when the slurry is still semi-liquid, or separate in use. And machining a less-than-uniformly thick coating after it emerged from the fusion process was out of the question since the material was so hard.
Also the process had to avoid creating or using volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are commonly used in the ceramic and metal powder industry. If the coating were based on VOCs it would have been subject to EPA and OSHA regulations.
Research led Revankar to develop a coating technology in which a heavy metal powder, when mixed with several organic additives, produced a water-based slurry that suspends the powder to help simplify the coating application process. “It took a long time to come up with an aqueous formulation that could hold the heavy steel alloy powder in suspension,” he says. And by being an aqueous solution, the system avoids environmentally harmful chemicals.
Initially, the slurry coated powder failed to fuse due to the reaction between the powder and the gases used as protective atmospheres during the fusion process. But Revankar discovered the powder did not react adversely to the presence of pure hydrogen, argon or helium, and hydrogen was chosen as the preferred gas since it’s the least expensive. The other key to getting the process right was the application itself, and here advances in robotics, manufacturing and the ability to exactly control the temperature during the fusing process made everything come together successfully.
More perspiration than inspiration
“I almost gave up when I could not suspend heavy powder in a liquid medium which also had to contain no VOCs,” Revankar says. “I had to run many experiments with various chemicals to study their effect on the slurry and also their mutual interactions. That’s why it took more than a year to complete the initial research work. Improvements to slurry formulation continued based on the actual slurry application work. The success came about not as a breakthrough, but rather as a result of patience and perseverance.”
The end result was something nobody had seen before – a 1/16-inch-thick coating that’s inseparable from the base metal and 25 percent harder than chrome plating. What’s more, the SC-2 coating solves the dilemma of hardness vs. toughness that has challenged materials engineers for centuries. Thus for example, if you make steel extremely hard and wear resistant it also becomes brittle. And if you formulate your steel to be ductile or tough and shock resistant then it wears quickly. “That phenomena does not apply here,” Revankar says. “The coating represents a composite material containing extremely hard particles embedded in a very tough (but not very soft) matrix. This gives us a good combination of both properties without sacrificing or reducing either property.”
Next came the testing phase. In the lab, the SC-2 coatings were subjected to a sand-wheel test and performed four to six times better than uncoated but hardened steel parts. To gauge impact, Deere scientists dropped a 220-pound weight from 30 inches 500 times on an SC-2 coated part and the coating did not fail. Finally, an SC-2 coated bushing was crushed in a hydraulic press. Even when the part was broken into pieces the coating remained securely bonded to the base metal.
Long time coming
“I had worked on several methods previously to improve wear performance and had obtained several patents,” Revankar said. The SC-2 coating research work was started in 1995 and completed in 1996 when several types of wear parts were coated on a prototype basis and tested in the laboratory and in the field. Revankar received a patent for the SC-2 coating in 1999, but at that time the coating was being developed for general applications, not specifically bushings.
“As the word about the SC-2 coating spread throughout the John Deere manufacturing units, Tim Wodrich and Todd Niemann, engineers from the Deere construction equipment crawler division, approached me to discuss track chain bushing wear problems and the potential benefits of their solutions,” Revankar says.
In the field Wodrich and Niemann set up dozers with one track clad with normal bushings and one track with SC-2 coated bushings, then ran them in extremely abrasive soil conditions including fine sand. These tests led to the conclusion that the coating was cost effective and could increase bushing life by a factor of two or more.
The SC-2 coating is currently being used on Deere undercarriages. It will also be available in the aftermarket for Deere machines and other brands where the chain is the same size as Deere’s. Remaining undercarriage wear parts such as the chain link and rollers and bucket teeth are next in line, Revankar says.
Selling a bulldozer because you don’t want the expense or downtime associated with turning the bushings is like throwing a baby out with the bathwater. Yet time and again we hear of contractors who unload their dozers before they reach their third or fourth birthday rather than turn the bushings. This despite the fact that three or four years (4,000 hours) is only half the useful life of the engine and most other components.
With the super hard SC-2 coatings, however, that early bushing turn is eliminated. And by bringing the lifecycle of the bushings in line with the rest of the components, Deere has enabled its customers to reduce total lifecycle costs and make more efficient use of their equipment dollars, and has changed an equipment maintenance paradigm that vexed contractors for years.
This massive attachment can take a bite out of concrete, asphalt or rock and spit it out in uniform, gravel-sized pieces.
If Larry Beller has to do something more than once, he’ll find an easier way to do it. And that, in a nutshell, is why he invented the IronWolf Crusher in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, twenty years ago. “What I tell most people is the reason it’s in existence is that I was a lazy heavy equipment operator,” he says.
But Beller isn’t lazy. He’s an incurable innovator who’s always thinking outside the box. “As far as ingenuity, I’ve never met a man like Larry Beller,” says Ron Major, chief engineer and operations manager for IronWolf.
Beller’s frustration with how ineffective traditional equipment was at excavating Alaska’s frozen-solid soil inspired him to build the first IronWolf Crusher, a loader attachment that can break concrete, asphalt and rock into 3-inch-minus-sized pieces with a single pass. Even though Beller invented the Crusher in 1985, IronWolf’s marketing campaign started getting information about the product to potential customers on a large scale just last year.
Beller worked for Arco Oil in the 1980s, building ice roads into new drilling sites. The standard procedure for piercing permafrost, which is harder than asphalt, was using a bulldozer with a ripper. “You could scratch and scratch, but you didn’t really have much production out of it, and when you did rip something you couldn’t use it,” Beller says. “You had to run the dozer tracks over it to break it up.”
Because Beller had been a field service engineer for CMI – now part of Terex Roadbuilding – he had some knowledge of hydraulics and rotating cutting equipment. He modeled his design on a CMI milling machine, but built it as an attachment rather than a whole machine in order to limit the use of hydraulics, which, at the time, didn’t perform well in Prudhoe Bay’s temperatures of minus 60 to minus 40 degrees. Beller’s solution was a simple attachment that consisted of an engine and a drive pump that drove two motors, which turned the cutter drum.
Most other cutter drums being built at the time were for milling machines and they had a tooth pattern that augered material to the center. But Beller wanted the processed material to go straight over the cutter drum and then drop, leaving as flat a surface as possible for road building applications. Augering also segregates rock to the middle and fine material to the sides. Beller, however, wanted the end product to remain mixed and consistent. He worked with different tooth designs until he got it right. “Now we have a drum that can blend, it can mix, it can crush – one drum can do almost everything now,” he says.
A gamble pays off
While still working for the oil company, Beller built three prototype machines at a small shop. Two are still working in Prudhoe Bay, and they have been joined by about 15 more. They do everything from soil remediation to road pad construction to mining ice from frozen lakes for ice gravel. The attachment has improved ice road construction many times over, Beller says.
The first production model IronWolf Crusher went to Montana in 1990. Triple Tree International, a contractor building roads in the mountains for the U.S. Forestry Service, bought the machine for the price it cost Beller to build it. “We had to prove it would work first,” he says. “We were gambling there because we’d never tried to crush native rock. In my mind I knew it could crush rock, but I didn’t think it could crush round rock.”
The cutter housing of the first IronWolf Crusher lasted only 60 hours, but to Beller’s surprise the attachment pulverized round river rock as well as large rocks in the ground. After a week, Triple Tree had completed 16 miles of road and the Crusher’s housing, which wasn’t designed to withstand the impact of loose rock, was worn out. So Beller opened up the housing 6 inches to make room for three sets of replaceable fracture boards. With the current design, the cutter drum picks up rocks and then hurls them against the fracture boards, which Beller says do more to crush the rock than the drum itself. The cutter teeth are also replaceable. “The housing will last a long time now if you just keep replacing these wear points,” Beller says.
IronWolf is constantly tweaking the attachment. Most of the improvements have centered around making the Crusher more bulletproof, Major says. The hydraulics are more powerful now, the engine compartment is more rigid and the appearance is more aesthetically pleasing.
The long road to the mass market
Beller retired from the oil company in 1990 and has been to every ConExpo/Con-Agg trade show since 1993. But he had put all his effort and financial resources into producing the IronWolf Crusher, leaving little time for marketing. The result was a product without an identity. Beller knew he had to keep showing up at trade shows, though 1999 was the first year he had a display model and video in his booth.
New investors joined the company two years ago, and now Beller has the help of people experienced in marketing and manufacturing. IronWolf has an expanding dealer network in the United States and is in the final stages to receive a CE (European Community) Mark, which will allow it to sell products in Europe.
Beller says the company’s newly acquired manufacturing facility could triple production in one year if enough dealers sign up. But he doesn’t want to increase production too fast and be left with a large inventory. “It’s a real fine line to walk between production and sales,” he says.
In the second half of 2005, IronWolf produced four units per month. The attachments are built one by one because the company has to design mounts for different carrier machines. The more units the company makes, however, the more reusable mounting configurations it has in its system.
Major loves going to sales demonstrations, where contractors’ reactions to the IronWolf Crusher give him high hopes for its future. After watching a video of the attachment and reading sales literature, contractors will say, “‘that machine can’t do that,'” Major recounts. He watches their faces as the demo is performed and says their jaws drop. “It’s amazing,” he says. “You just don’t believe it until you see it.”
After 25 years of working at different equipment manufacturing operations, Major experiences some of that wonder himself. “Never have I been a part of something that was so exciting because of the uniqueness of the product,” he says. “Always before there’s all these other people that make the same thing, maybe painted a different color.
Contractors building roads or doing any kind of site preparation in rocky soil could increase productivity by using this attachment, which eliminates the need for blasting and reprocessing material or hauling it away. Larry Beller’s story and his invention – one among many – are compelling. On an equipment operator’s salary, he developed and built a machine that could do something no other could. Then, knowing what he had, Beller spent years improving it and trying to find a way to manufacture and market it. As word about this attachment spreads, I think many contractors will benefit from Beller’s determination.
TEREX|CEDARAPIDS CR662RM ROADMIX MACHINE
Material transfer vehicle doubles as a paver, can be used on base courses
Taking a hard look at today’s asphalt paving specs, Terex Roadbuilding engineers knew they needed to add a material transfer vehicle – now required by a significant number of state DOTs to ensure mix uniformity – to their lineup. They resisted, however, any “me too” approach.
Instead they decided to capitalize on a product they’ve sold since 1995: the rubber-tracked Remix paver. Using this paver as a base machine, engineers attached a conveyor assembly that swivels 55 degrees in either direction for offset paving. The setup allows material to be dumped directly into the machine’s 16.7-ton receiving hopper, where two counter-rotating augers in each feed tunnel reblend and channel the asphalt to the delivery conveyor. By quickly moving the material from the receiving hopper to the conveyors and then to the project’s paver, the resulting mix has a consistent temperature from truck to mat. Terex Roadbuilding says it’s the first and only MTV to reblend 100 percent of the asphalt, reducing the chance for material and thermal segregation.
“The paver on our RoadMix machine is an evolution of our current production CR562 Remix paver,” says Bill Rieken, Terex Roadbuilding paver application specialist. “It has two sets of large counter-rotating augers that aggressively reblend the material inside the paver, so it produces uniform density and temperature.” The load-out conveyor in the back prompted the company to move the delivery auger gear box drives from the tractor’s rear to the front of the hopper.
Converts to a paver in less than a day
The result, says Terex Roadbuilding, is a tracked MTV that offers such low ground pressures it can be used to help place base courses on non-paved surfaces as well as all subsequent lifts. Since it is essentially a paver, operators are already familiar with the control console, plus they have significant visibility to both ends of the machine. At approximately 54,000 pounds, the RoadMix is easy to load and transport. When you don’t need the unit as an MTV – which the company estimates paving contractors use about 35 percent of the time – in less than a day you can convert it into a paver. “You can get a return on your investment for 100 percent of your paving period,” Rieken explains.
The RoadMix offers the capabilities associated with MTVs, including non-contact and continuous paving, a high-capacity receiving hopper and off-set paving with a swiveling conveyor.
Tweaking the design
Most of the machine’s design challenges were readily solved, reports Mark Koelm, Terex Roadbuilding paving engineer. Adding the long conveyor to the back changed the machine’s overall center of gravity, so designers needed to add weight to the front as a counter balance. “We added this weight to the main frame of the paver,” Koelm says.
Material throughput was also a concern since the RoadMix had to match the 600-tons-per-day production of today’s asphalt plants. So the company increased the diameter of the four delivery augers from 10 to 12 inches. The larger diameter allows the augers to move the same amount of material at a slower speed, which also reduces wear.
The conversion from MTV to paver requires replacing the conveyor end with a screed, which is the same type of screed fitted for conventional company pavers. The same hydraulic pumps drive the conveyor during the machine’s MTV configuration and the spreading augers when the unit converts to a paver. The paver’s operator’s station also includes controls for the conveyor’s electric-over-hydraulic controls.
The RoadMix debuted at ConExpo-Con/Agg ’05 and was in beta testing throughout most of last year, reaching production in December. The RoadMix tractor will be sold with two options: the conveyor and/or a screed. “For smaller paving contractors, this gives them the opportunity to use the machine as both an MTV and a paver,” Koelm says. “Larger operators will appreciate the fact it’s easy to transport and shares a lot of wear parts and components with our paver line.”
ConExpo-Con/Agg is a chance for manufacturers to showcase their latest and greatest, and Terex was no exception. The simplicity of the RoadMix Machine was an immediate eye-catcher. Since I’m a fan of machines that can be used in more than one way to add money to contractors’ pockets, this piece of equipment quickly found its way into my Innovations file. Adding icing to the cake is that this machine can be easily transported and used in the construction of all asphalt lifts.
VERMEER’S WATER PLOW BLADE TRENCHING TOOL
For an easier approach to trenching, just add water.
The Water Plow Blade began life when Vermeer engineers and solutions specialists began to cast around for a way to boost trenching production. Chris Fontana, Brian Kenkel, Jim Reeves and Keith Hoelting work in the Cutting Edge Department for Vermeer, charged with developing new tooling concepts and products for the company. “Soft, wet soil is easier to excavate than dry material,” says Fontana. “Brian and Jim felt that if there was an efficient way to deliver water to the leading edge of a trencher plow blade, it would reduce friction and enhance the performance of the trencher while eliminating a lot of the vibration created by the blade and passed along to the machine.”
The more the engineers kicked the idea around, the more promising it sounded to them. The next step was to confer with Vermeer design engineer Keith Hoelting and begin developing a prototype system. “Vermeer gives our engineering department a great deal of latitude,” Fontana says. “We are encouraged to take an idea and run with it. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Fontana and his colleagues went to work, and built four or five different versions of the Water Plow Blade before settling on a prototype. “What was interesting about this concept is that everything we tried worked,” Fontana recalls. “So we knew we were on to a good idea. The real challenge was to develop a system that would work while keeping the cost for our customers to a minimum.”
The first prototype Water Plow Blades featured internal piping that ran down the back edge of the blade and delivered high-pressure blasts of water to material directly in front of the cutting edge of the tool. Because the back edge of the tool now featured an integral water delivery system, the Vermeer solution specialists realized they would need to create a replaceable cutting edge for the plow blade. “Even though the addition of water to the trenching process extends tool life, sooner or later you’re going to have to replace the cutting edge,” Fontana observes. “The replaceable cutting edge is easy to change out and holds to our mission to keep overall costs down.”
Production boosts in wet and dry soil
As testing continued, Fontana and his fellow engineers realized the expansive high-pressure water delivery system wasn’t needed. “Tests showed that we only needed enough pressure and flow to get water to the bottom portion of the plow tool – to the portion of the tool that carries the most frictional drag through the soil,” he notes.
Changes to the piping brought the water to the bottom of the tool, where simple channels built into the side of the cutting edge effectively deliver it to the cutting area. “Managing the amount of water flowing to the tool is key to making this system work,” Fontana says. “So we added a system that gives you full control over the water flow. You can now minimize water use while maximizing ground speed for productive trenching regardless of ground conditions.”
As testing continued, the Vermeer engineers discovered the blade was also effective in wet soil conditions. In sloppy ground, material can be sticky and hold onto the blade. In those situations the blade enhances performance by creating a buffer between the cutting edge and the material. “We discovered that with the addition of chemicals like polymers, con-det or even plain dish soap, material won’t stick to the tool,” Fontana notes.
Once field testing began, Fontana and his co-workers were pleased to see the blade performed almost exactly as their calculations suggested it would. “We learned that some ground and weather conditions affected the tool’s efficiency,” Fontana says. “In some areas of the country, the water delivery system might be unnecessary in the summer. But in the spring or fall, when the ground becomes hard packed, you can see definite production benefits from the blade. So we spent a lot of time identifying those ground conditions and recording where the benefits of the system really stood out.”
Next came beta tests with a contractor. These tests were conducted with the system installed on a large track-type trencher. The contractor was skeptical, Fontana recalls. “He didn’t like the idea of having to manage water during the plowing process,” he says. “He thought it was just something else he was going to have to fool with and keep track of.”
But the substantial production boost delivered by the new plow blade quickly changed his mind. “He had to run a whole new cost/benefit analysis because the water plow blade so dramatically changed the mileage he was putting in the ground and increased ground speeds he was working with,” Fontana says.
But the biggest benefit, Fontana says, was the decreased frictional drag the plow tool was experiencing. “This contractor was replacing plow tools once or twice a year,” Fontana says. “But I know he’s still using the original plow blade. It’s more than three years old now and still going strong. So his maintenance costs have decreased dramatically.”
In its final incarnation, the Vermeer Water Plow Blade has improved plower productivity by 50 to 60 percent in proper ground conditions. The system has proven to be so successful that Vermeer has introduced it as an option across its entire trencher product line. “We still see contractors who are hesitant to add another system to their trenching process,” Fontana says. “But enthusiasm for the Water Plow Blade is growing, mainly because contractors see how dramatically it can boost their
In an age of electronic wizardry, I find it appealing that Vermeer engineers, simply by introducing water to the cutting edge of a trencher plow, could boost that machine’s productivity by more than half in the right applications. It’s a great object lesson that effective innovations don’t always require tons of high-tech hardware and physicists in lab coats to come to fruition. Sometimes all it takes to make a great leap forward is an old farm boy looking at the ground and wondering how he can cut through it faster. To me, that’s the essence of the philosophy that has made many American companies like Vermeer so successful in construction applications around the globe.