ZQuip: Modular Batteries Solve Equipment Runtime, Charging Issues


Battery technology company ZQuip has developed a modular battery system that can eliminate the fear of equipment runtime, and power machines weighing 5 to 50 tons.

The company’s system can convert diesel construction equipment to zero-emission electric power by using modular batteries that can be swapped out when depleted with charged batteries. They can also charge each other. It’s a system that appears to have solved the problem of charging and running battery-powered equipment.

On this episode of The Dirt, we hear from ZQuip’s Managing Director Chris Lafleur and Engineering Manager Rob Bauer to find out how the modular system works and why it could be the answer to creating a productive and cost-effective zero-emission jobsite and fleet.

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In This Episode:

  • 00:00 - ZQuip Modular Electric Construction Equipment
  • 00:40 - What is ZQuip?
  • 03:30 - What are the Advantages of Having a Modular System?
  • 07:08 - How Modularity Solves Many Electrification Problems
  • 09:08 - 3 Ways to Power a ZQuip Machine
  • 13:30 - ZQuip Telematics
  • 14:48 - Electric Equipment Cost Savings
  • 16:16 - How to Get Power to Your Construction Site
  • 20:05 - Final Thoughts


Bryan Furnace (00:00):

Today we're here for yet another electric equipment talk, but this one's a little different. We're getting more into modularity when it comes to these electric machines, which means it's starting to become a little more feasible on certain job sites to utilize this technology because your machine doesn't go down the second you run out of juice. Here to talk with us today are the guys from ZQuip and they're going to give us a heads-up of what technologies are being developed behind the scenes. So my first question is for the audience, we've all heard about electric equipment and other people's take, but you guys are doing something that's pretty unique. Can you give us just a quick overview of what ZQuip is working on?

Chris Lafleur (00:54):

Sure. So ZQuip is a system that creates the most productive and efficient zero emission job sites out there. We've been really working toward the goal of making electrification and zero emissions actually work for people. It's got to be productive, it's got to make sense from a cost perspective. And so at Moog, we've done a lot of work with OEMs. We've done a lot of work in the construction space for the last 5 to 10 years, and our group has just constantly been on the lookout for what are the reasons people don't want to go zero emission, what are the impediments to adoption and how can we make something that really works better for everybody, that it's not a, "Oh God, we have to do this," it's something that you feel good about and it's something that you can actually get work done and not be forced to do.


So ZQuip, it's all about finding the right way to make an entire site and a fleet of machines and everything that you have going on in the site work well from a zero emission standpoint. And a lot of that comes down to the core modularity, interchangeability and just the functioning of everything together. So to give you an example of how the system works, at the machine level, it is the simple conversion of diesel machines from diesel to electric using interchangeable battery modules. So we can convert anything from 5 to 50 tons so that they each use the same batteries between all machines of makes, models, sizes. You can think of it as having your Milwaukee and your DeWalt and your Makita's all using the exact same batteries on the site so that you never have to worry about what's on there.


Aside from the machine level, then we also provide a layer of software and management on top of that so that you don't have to worry about the range anxiety, you don't have to worry about the con ops of making this all function properly. The biggest problem out there right now with the industry is that you can't just take an electric or a zero emission machine and plop it down into a diesel site. There's a lot that goes into it and a lot of overhead for how do you manage that properly, how do you fit it into your system and make it so that you can actually be productive with it. And so that's our point of view on this, is it's not that this stuff can't be productive, it's that the current systems are just inadequate to make it work. So ours is made to really be easy for that so that when you go zero emission in some way, we can make it so that you actually get productive, cost-effective, efficient work done.

Bryan Furnace (03:29):

So one of the things that's really intriguing to me and I think is going to help with one of the huge hurdles that you face when you get that knee-jerk reaction of electric equipment is the modularity of what you guys are doing. Can you talk about some of the advantages of the modular system versus these other units that are in the market that have these incorporated hard and fast batteries?

Rob Bauer (03:51):

The modular system has a ton of advantages. So one of the simplest and most obvious ones is just having the power you need, where you need it and when you need it. So we can swap batteries at any time. It only takes a few minutes to do it. There's not a lot of special training or tools required to do that, and if you're running along and the day is taking a while and the job's going sideways, then you just put more batteries on and then you go about your day, it's all fine. In addition to that, you can still fast charge the batteries and you can even transfer energy from machine to machine. You can pull a wheel loader up next to an excavator and transfer the energy in either direction. So there's a lot of opportunities with this modular system to make sure that you get your work done. That's the number one most important thing on the job.


In addition to that, it's uptight. So because the system's modular and we share a lot of components across machines, if something does break, it is simple to remove from the machine, pop on a replacement and the job can continue while that repair is being handled offline. The machine isn't down so you can keep working. These machines will have much higher uptime than a diesel machine. The repairs will take much less time than a diesel machine. As a subtle thing on that, the electric machines actually allow you to run the hydraulic systems cooler so you'll have less hose breakage issues and everything else. That really has nothing to do directly with ZQuip. It's just a nice fringe benefit that you're going to break less hoses and just have less of those problems. The last is utilization.


Everyone who's putting all the batteries they need into the machine to make the machine work, what they're doing when they're engineering that system is they're thinking about what does your worst day look like and then they're putting enough battery in that your worst day you can get your work done. In our case, we allow you to load however many batteries you need for the day. Most machines have multiple docks to accept batteries. So you can put just one battery on and the machine will work perfectly fine, not for that long, but perfectly fine. Or you can load multiple batteries.


By doing that, you can take the energy that you need for that day. You're not taking extra battery along. The batteries are not inexpensive, that's clear. This is a journey to be on, and so you want to take the energy that you need. If you're not using a machine for a day, you want to take those batteries off that machine and put them on the machine that you are using and have available. You take your assets that you have and you make sure they're being utilized. It just creates a lot of flexibility and opportunity.

Bryan Furnace (06:04):

So if I'm understanding this correctly, if I've got a skid steer, a wheel loader and an excavator, I don't have a set of skid steer batteries that are sized for the skid steer, a set of batteries that are sized for the wheel loader. These are all interchangeable. So as a business owner, I'm going to invest in this technology one time for the rough power demands that I think I need and you guys are going to come alongside me and help me figure out what that is.

Rob Bauer (06:29):


Bryan Furnace (06:29):

And then if the skid steer's not on the site, those batteries are available, we can set them out there and we can use them in the loader. We can rotate them through whatever we need to do.

Rob Bauer (06:38):

Yep. In fact, most likely you probably won't own all the batteries that you're ever going to need. You own the batteries that you're going to need for your average day. If you have some particularly difficult day coming up, you're probably going to rent an extra battery or two for that day to make sure you can get the work done that day. Even more than that, we anticipate a world where you can call a rental house and have them drop it off, DoorDash for batteries, that if the day goes sideways, you can just recover from it and just get that battery that you need.

Bryan Furnace (07:08):

This is fascinating because you're retooling the entire way I think about a job site, especially when it comes to the whole electrification conversation. We're coming at this on the dirt contractor side as I'm going to have to somehow get all of this infrastructure in place to handle all of my charging, and then I'm going to have to figure out how I'm going to cart half of my machines that are working three miles down the road on this job site back to the central charging station and figure out how we're going to... That's a logistical nightmare.


But now all of a sudden, I'm almost thinking about these little self-contained units that are all over the job site that you're just going around and you're plugging in what you need. And then if needs change, you're either going to have the ability to swap some batteries around on machines on the site. And then now all of a sudden my wheel loader goes down, but it turns out it's something that we can modularly just pop off really quick. So he's really only down for the 20 minutes it takes for the mechanic to take off that hydraulic pump or the faulty battery or control or whatever it is, he throws the new one on. The machine was down for 20 minutes. Mechanic can go take care of that someplace else, or we send it off site to get serviced. Am I grasping what we're talking about here?

Rob Bauer (08:21):

You got it.

Chris Lafleur (08:22):


Bryan Furnace (08:23):

This is fascinating. This is totally changing the way job sites will operate. And I understand that as an industry, we're not quite ready for this to just go full force right this second. But at the same time, when I think about what that could potentially do for the job site, because the other thing that no one really likes to talk about in these electric conversations is just the amount of raw power that you get out of electric motors. It's not even comparable to what you're getting out of a diesel engine.

Chris Lafleur (08:52):

No. It's amazing.

Bryan Furnace (08:52):

So the power possibilities are pretty unbelievable too, also the fact that the amount of torque you can apply without slippage. There's so many advantages that no one really talks about because we're so fixated on the power distribution side of this thing.

Rob Bauer (09:07):

The other guys are terrified because they can't get the energy back on without an overnight charge. They're down for the day. They're done. We're a couple of minutes and you have three ways of doing it, you can fast charge, you can swap, you can transfer energy across the machines.

Bryan Furnace (09:21):

So can you walk me through those at a high level? What do those three options look like? What is a charge going to look like for me? What is a hot swap going to look like? And then what is your direct machine to machine or battery to battery transfer going to look like?

Rob Bauer (11:33):

Okay, let's take the most obvious one first, fast charging. So let's say you're in an urban environment where there is a fast charger available. You can actually set something up if you have a site that's going to be there for a little bit, or maybe you just happen to be working in a place that there's fast charge available. You plug the machine in just like that you'd plug in a Tesla. Depending on what machine you're talking about, you're talking maybe an hour to get a substantial charge to work another several hours. So that's the simplest thing, just fast charge it and that's fine. Then you can go to a swapping option. So in the morning you bring your heavy duty truck, you've got five batteries, that's what you need for the day. You load them on, you take off the dead ones, you put them back on the truck and they go back to the shop that night to get recharged.


It's straightforward. It's like refueling your diesel. It's not any more complicated than that. It's not even more time-consuming than that. It's a few minutes of battery to get it done. So you can just swap and be done. And then the last option is really more about site logistics and that's the machine to machine. So many machines on the site move pretty slow. If you're talking crawler excavators, it's pretty darn slow, and then you got wheel loaders and others. Imagine you can pull up one machine next to any other machine. Any machine can be a donor, any machine can be a recipient. You plug one into the other and you transfer the charge in whatever direction you want to go.

Bryan Furnace (12:47):

What time are you talking about for a transfer there?

Rob Bauer (12:49):

That's at fast charge rates. So it's the same rate that you do with a fast charger.

Bryan Furnace (12:54):

Is a machine required to do the transfer or could we do a potential battery to battery transfer? Or in other words, where I mentally go with this is if I've got a trailer with four or five batteries and I'm just running around during lunch hours or when there's breaks or downtime and we're doing a quick transfer.

Rob Bauer (13:11):

You can leave the battery module right on the truck or the trailer and you can transfer the energy right off of it. You don't need the machine. In addition to that, you can actually take something like a wheel loader or a skid steer, telehandler, drop a battery next to a machine over lunch and just set it on the ground. It's meant to sit on the ground. You plug it in and it's your fast charger, it's your portable fast charger.

Chris Lafleur (13:32):

As we talk to so many people with this, you get the feedback of like, "This is a lot of work. How am I going to figure this out? There's so many things going on." I don't know about you, but every site I've ever seen is a choreography beyond anything else that we're planning here. And it's that extra leap of, it's the unknown and it's tricky to figure out the right way to do that. But the way that our system works, you can see every single machine that you have with the ZQuip battery in it, you can see the state of charge with each of those, you can see where they are. And then we also have it built in, even in the first generation of this to say, "I have a 20 ton excavator out there trenching. I'm expecting it to be working for six hours, and this is what we think the battery is going to go."


If it's anything off of what the expectation is, we can help you plan ahead for that, so there wouldn't be any surprises. And so that's the thing. When you go to electric also, the machines are smart. These are fast supercomputers, man, and they're all connected to each other. And I think that the initial uncertainty and fear of how is this going to work will very, very quickly be taken over by, "Oh my God, this technology is amazing."

Bryan Furnace (14:48):

It's funny because the industry is so biased right now and they want to dismiss the technology before they've really thought it through. I mean, you still have the fact that you're getting rid of one of the most costly components of a piece of equipment, which is the diesel motor itself. I mean, how much maintenance, upkeep, issues? You have something grenade in the engine, and now suddenly you're out $15,000 and I have no idea what electrical components cost, but I don't know that a motor is going to cost me $15,000 right off the rip.


I would argue you're probably going to get out of it for significantly cheaper than that. And because your batteries are all modular, if something happens with a battery, the entire machine isn't down. You're not replacing $15,000 worth of batteries. You're replacing 8,000, 5,000. I don't know what the number is. Just in all of those aspects, you're getting cheaper with the actual operation of the machine, not to mention you're charging off of the grid, which is at a cheaper rate than you're paying for diesel at the pump. So there's so many advantages

Chris Lafleur (15:55):

And the downtime of the machine. When that machine is down, every hour it's down is costing you money. And so with this, the components are less expensive. We replaced a 75 horsepower diesel engine with a 320 horsepower electric motor that cost the exact same amount, and the electric motor was about this big.

Bryan Furnace (16:16):

So let's address another big, stumbling point for people. What is the most efficient way and the most practical way for me to get power out to my site? If I am one of these contractors that I'm doing new residential subdivisions or I'm trenching in utilities out in the middle of nowhere, how is this technology really going to be viable for me?

Rob Bauer (16:36):

So we talked before that it might be that you're in a place where it's convenient to charge, but we all know that that's not every site. So you may end up having to bring batteries. It might be on just a heavy truck or on a trailer or something like that. The battery's just to get you a rough idea. You're talking anywhere, depending on exactly what it is, somewhere between 2 and 3,000 pounds. That's the battery module itself weighs. So you can get quite a few of them on a heavy equipment trailer, not a problem. So one way, you can just simply truck them out, you can take them back with you every night, charge them overnight, bring them back in the morning, put them on the machine. If you have at least two machines on the site, that's no problem. One machine can help the other one do the loading.


We also have self-loaders and all these things, but just keep it simple. Two machines and they take care of each other and they load batteries. That's great. That's one way. Another way, and it sounds counterintuitive, let's say you're building a distribution center. That's an eight-month job that you're doing heavy dirt work for eight months thing there. The first three weeks, you're probably going to charge your ZQuip modules off a diesel generator, and then you're going to get some temporary power in on that site. Three weeks, a month into that site, you got some temporary power set up over by the offices, and that's where your hub's going to be. That's where you're going to do your charging, you're going to have a fast charger. We have available heavy duty outdoor fast chargers that are skid based.


You just plop down, wired in, and that's where you do your charging. That works great. So for three weeks you're working off a diesel generator. Even at that time, it's still more efficient. You're using less diesel to do the work than if you had diesel engine on the machine. So even in that time, there's something to make up. As soon as you go to the grid, you're good to go again. For some types of sites, let's say you're doing a public project. Many public projects in certain states have small scale solar or small scale wind that they're setting up. Whoever's setting up the whole site might choose to put that part in early. Then you do have some limited power. That power might not even be hooked to the grid, but it's available to you to do your charging. So there's a whole ton of ways that you can get the energy you need to make it go.


That's the whole point. That's the hallmark of ZQuip, is flexibility. When we started this, I come from a construction background. I owned a construction company before I came to Moog. I was a framer and doing residential construction, and one thing I know about construction people is they are darn determined to get the work done every day and they will pivot and do whatever they have to get done. When we started on this project, I came from the construction world and knew how important it was to be able to get energy out to the equipment because no one's going to stop and wait.


Some of the other team was like, "We'll just charge. We'll just fast charge. We'll take the machine back and do it." Once we worked together for a while, we realized we did not have to choose. We could do both things, and then we realized we could do the sharing from machine to machine. Now you got something, now you got a flexible system. And that's when this whole thing really came together because we came at it from different perspectives. Others came out of the automotive industry. I came out of the construction industry. We argued for a while, and then we came to this solution.

Bryan Furnace (19:29):

This is very interesting, very cool technology. And like I said, out of all of the solutions that have come to the table so far, this is the one that I go, "Okay, I could see that being a legitimate solution." As we've talked about in all the other conversations, I think there's a lot of infrastructure conversation that has to come alongside the actual on-the-job-site technology. But at the same time, this is one that I go, "Man, that's a pretty stinking viable solution." So Chris, Rob, thank you guys so much for the time. I really appreciate it.

Chris Lafleur (20:03):


Rob Bauer (20:04):

We had a great time.

Bryan Furnace (20:05):

Well, thank you again for the gentlemen coming on the show from ZQuip to tell us what's coming down the pipeline and just give us a better idea of how these companies are thinking about implementing this new technology on our job sites. As we've all been aware, the traditional, having a giant battery in one machine and it's dedicated isn't the most feasible option for most contractors out there, but that's not necessarily the only technologies that are headed our way. So as always, I hope this helps you and your business and gives you a little peek into the future. We'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.