What would you tell a manufacturer if it asked you to help it design the ultimate backhoe?
That’s the approach Volvo Construction Equipment took when it decided to add a backhoe loader to its offerings. Volvo started with a clean sheet of paper, spent four years working out the design and tested the results against competitive units in a series of six customer clinics here and in Europe, the last of which validated the design for the North American market.
The first in this series of machines, the Volvo BL70, debuts this month. But prior to the launch Equipment World spent a few days trying out a prototype at Volvo’s facilities in Asheville, North Carolina. There we met with Joel Powell, product marketing manager for compact equipment and Todd Gorman, test and development manager, also in the compact equipment division, who walked us through the dozens of carefully considered refinements this machine offers.
If anything catches your eye about this new 14-foot class backhoe it is the massive amount of steel and iron that comes together in the swing tower. The cast-iron king post hangs on 21/2 inch-thick chassis plates top and bottom with full-length pins. Swing cylinders are mounted up high for protection and to simplify the hose routing.
The narrow, box-welded cross-section of the boom gives you good visibility to the trench. It picks up its strength and rigidity from its curved profile. “The curved boom also offers a number of functional advantages, including more digging capability up under the king post area, lower transport and access height, easier digging over obstacles and better reach over truck sides,” Powell says.
All of the hydraulic hoses are inboard and shielded. “This machine has every option you can have on the backhoe including a hammer circuit and an extendible dipper, and yet there are no external hoses to get pulled off in a trench,” Gorman says.
The backhoe bucket
The backhoe bucket rotates 194 degrees so you can dig straight wall trenches and it easily clamps material against the dipper stick. Its curved cutting edge allows you to better secure pipe and other round objects. For craning the bucket linkage comes standard with a 5-ton lift eye. The sides of the bucket are tapered slightly to reduce friction and the back is well rounded to encourage clean out. The standard issue, heavy duty 24-inch bucket sports five Esco Series 17 Super V-point teeth rather than the more typical four. The extra tooth keeps the bottom of the trench cleaner and prevents the bucket from straddling a gas conduit.
“One thing Volvo learned is that contractors are often unhappy with standard buckets because they don’t last,” says Powell. Volvo’s solution was to design a bucket to the highest possible specs including a heavy-duty one-inch cutting edge, multiple wear straps on the bucket shell and heavy-duty side cutters.
The swing cylinders, the boom and the bucket are all cushioned at the end of their strokes to eliminate jolts and increase precision with smooth lateral movements. “Another thing that came out of our customer clinics was that they wanted the excavator bucket to have damping on the curl side,” Gorman says. Without cushioning most buckets speed up and often spill material in the last few degrees of their swing. “On our machine it slows down as it’s coming into the final position so you retain all the material in the bucket,” he says.
The stabilizers have a swept-back design, giving the machine greater stability forward and reverse or side-to-side if you are craning, moving heavy loads or digging. Standard anti-drift valves prevent the stabilizers from drifting down during digging or lifting or accidently lowering during transport. Also standard are the flip-over pads on the stabilizer arms – rubber for paved surfaces and cleats for dirt.
The machines can be ordered with either an SAE backhoe (J297) or SAE excavator (J1117) control pattern. You can also order a field conversion kit that changes from one pattern to the other in minutes. “Rental outlets and dealers would typically keep some of these kits in stock to respond to the customer’s preference,” Powell says.
Loader bucket options
On the opposite end of the machine, Volvo’s backhoe comes with a standard general-purpose bucket or an optional multipurpose bucket. Both carry 1.3 cubic yards of material and come armed with your option of Esco bolt-on teeth and/or a reversible cutting edge.
The multi-purpose bucket offers nine different functions. In addition to the usual digging, dumping, dozing and craning functions, the bucket’s clamshell design opens up to enable you to snatch up stumps and other objects, bottom dump, scrape, backfill, fork and level.
The multi-purpose bucket also features flip-over forks mounted on a longitudinal rail on the top edge of the bucket. You can slide the tines to the width you need for lifting applications and flip the forks over to the backside of the bucket where they lock down out of the way.
Like the boom and dipper stick, the twin loader arms feature box-welded construction with generously sized pins. The pins are also hardened and set in grooved bushings that are double sealed in molybdenum resin. This gives you a 50-hour grease interval and provides a fairly effective barrier against dirt.
The one-piece hood tilts up on a hinge near the cab, so it’s never in your way when you’re doing service checks. Under the hood is Volvo’s four-cylinder, four-liter, 90-horsepower diesel engine. Turbocharging is standard on all models.
Fills and checks are on the left side of the machine. Filters are on the right. Routine service points are accessible from the ground to enhance safety and speed up servicing. The engine radiators and oil cooler are stacked in front and tilt apart for easy cleaning.
While the Volvo backhoe is being made in Europe (see “Direct from Poland” on page 40), the company chose a popular Goodyear tire to make sure American contractors could easily get service and replacements. The front tires are 12.5/80-18, 10PR. The rear tires are 19.5Lx24, 12PR and there is a 21L option available as well. The rear tires use a Goodyear IT525 tread pattern. The rear wheels have a 10-bolt pattern and the fronts offer eight bolts. Spring washers under the bolts help keep them secure.
Three step entry
Since most injuries on a backhoe come from getting on and off the machine, Volvo designers put three big and well-spaced steps up to the cab. The steps fit within the outside dimension of the tires so they’re less likely to get damaged or torn off and they bolt on, so if somebody does damage one, they’re easy to replace. Entry doors are placed on both sides of the machine as a standard feature. On top of the cab 55-watt halogen worklights come standard, four in front and four in back.
In the cab
On the backhoe end, the glass comes all the way down to your boot laces for visibility up under the boom. This panel also slides up and overhead out of the way. The side panel glass can be opened partially for limited ventilation or folded back 180 degrees. For climate control, Volvo uses two separate air-ducting channels. “Since cold air falls we have the air conditioning hitting your upper body first where you need it,” Powell says. Conversely the heat comes out at your feet first via different ducts. In the open-canopy version, ROPS posts are placed at the side instead of the rear, which would restrict visibility. All the switches are sealed and a lockable instrument panel cover gives you extra protection against vandalism.
A suspension seat with weight and lumbar adjustment comes standard and an air-ride seat with push button controls is optional. “So many times people get in a nice machine with a terrible seat and that’s the first thing they feel,” says Powell. “So we’re not even offering a non-suspension seat.”
On the loader side is an infinitely adjustable tilt steering column. A forward-neutral-reverse lever is mounted on the left side of the steering column, as per most backhoes, but on top of the right-hand joystick is a pilot operated thumb lever that gives you a second way to control machine direction.
Putting the F-N-R lever under your thumb gives the backhoe the same high-productivity, run-and-gun feel as the more advanced wheel loaders. No longer do you have to let go of the wheel, slap the lever and grab the wheel again. Your left hand stays permanently on the wheel, right hand stays on the joystick and away you go. A transmission disconnect button next to the F-N-R switch allows you to dedicate full power to your loader in loading cycles.
Once you’ve tried the thumb switch, you’ll probably forget the lever ever existed. Not only does it feel natural, but it probably cuts two to three seconds off of a typical load-and-dump cycle.
Deep mud no obstacle
The four-wheel-drive version of the machine we tried in Asheville had no problem wallowing into and out of the worst conditions. The deep, wet and extremely sticky mud we encountered at Volvo’s demo site clung to everything it touched, but it could not stop the backhoe once the four-wheel drive kicked in – even though it sank repeatedly up to the axles in spots.