As the compact excavator continues to dig for a sizeable share of the local yellow metal equipment market, several leading suppliers have recently introduced new offerings or updated models to the market, writes Munesu Shoko.

The compact excavator is deemed the next ‘big’ piece of equipment in the global equipment market. However, the local market still remains small compared with its developed counterparts. Despite the gradual uptake of the solution, local suppliers believe the compact excavator will eventually dig for a sizeable share of the market in the long term.

Latest compact excavators on arrival lounges

There are several new launches from many of the active participants in the southern African compact excavator market. Bell Equipment entered the market for the first time with the introduction of its three models from its new excavator partner, Kobelco. Force 8 has also recently launched a new 10 t model from its principal, YANMAR, while HPE Africa, the local supplier of Hyundai Construction Equipment has seen constant improvements being made to its existing models.

Bell Equipment’s three models

Bell Equipment first launched compact excavators in March 2018 with the introduction of three models at bauma CONEXPO AFRICA – the Kobelco SK55SRX (5,5 t), the Kobelco SK75SR (7,5 t) and the Kobelco SK135SR (13,5 t).

“All the three models feature a short rear swing that reduces the turning radius for superior manoeuvrability in limited spaces, making them ideally suited to the compact construction, agriculture and forestry industries,” explains Stephen McNeill, Product Marketing Manager at Bell Equipment.

The three compact excavators all share the same machine-efficient technology as their larger counterparts, enabling them to meet Kobelco’s design intent for greater performance capacity and improved cost efficiency while taking due care for the environment.

“The machines feature Kobelco’s Intelligent Control System (ITCS), an advanced computerised system that provides comprehensive control of all functions, enabling them to respond to sudden changes in hydraulic load to ensure that the engine runs as efficiently as possible, with minimum wasted output,” says McNeill.

A unique innovation on Kobelco’s SR machines is the proprietary Integrated Noise and Dust Reduction Cooling System (iNDr), comprising of an airtight engine compartment with a single, offset duct that connects the air intake to the exhaust outlet. The design, together with the generous use of insulation material, minimises engine noise, while the iNDr filter in the intake aperture prevents dust penetration, for a quieter, cleaner engine. It also supports the performance of the cooling unit and enhances ease of maintenance.

“The models feature two digging modes – H mode for heavy duty and higher performance and S mode for normal operations with lower fuel consumption. This promotes the philosophy of more work with less fuel,” says McNeill. “To further save fuel, and reduce emissions, the standard Auto-Idling-Stop feature (AIS) shuts down the engine automatically when the engine is on standby. The hour meter also stops to help retain the machine’s asset value.”

The rectangular cabs are ROPS (Roll Over Protective Structure) compliant and have been designed to offer the operator a quiet environment with a reclining seat, plenty of room and greater visibility. Large analogue gauges with large print displays and glare-reducing visors are easy to read regardless of working conditions. The machines also offer easy access and ground level maintenance for quick and efficient daily checks and routine servicing.

Force 8’s new arrival

Force 8 recently brought the very first 10-t YANMAR SV100 in the country. MD Justin Nicoll says the first machine arrived in January this year and has already clocked over 1 000 working hours.    

“Like all midi-sized YANMAR excavators, the SV100 features a hydraulic quick hitch coupler, air-conditioned cab, dozer blade, cylinder protection, steel tracks, hydraulic PTO (double acting), swing boom (180 degrees), fuel saving modes and a reduced rear tail swing, close to being zero,” explains Nicoll.

Fuel efficiency is a key design focus area for the new YANMAR SV100. Fuel efficiency has improved due to the perfectly-matched hydraulic system, combined with features such as Eco Mode and Auto Deceleration. Switching to Eco Mode controls the engine speed for increased efficiency and greatly reduces fuel consumption. Switching the operating levers to neutral automatically drops the engine rpm and reduces both fuel consumption and noise.

Continuous update

HPE Africa first imported its Hyundai R60-9S model in 2013 and has been a major player in the southern African market in this class since then. “We did not recently launch any new mini excavators, however there are constant improvements to the existing models,” explains Alex Ackron, MD of HPE Africa. 

HPE Africa supplies the Hyundai R35Z-9, R60-9S and R80-7 mini excavators, which are backed by superior aftermarket support and preferential warranties. Major talking points are the X-leg centre frame and reinforced box section track frame which provide enhanced strength and longer service life to withstand tough working conditions. “In the R80-7 and R35Z-9, the hydraulic system is precision designed for fast operation with fine control capabilities,” explains Ackron.

The R60-9S’s advanced hydraulic system includes an arm flow summation system, boom holding system and a swing parking brake for smooth control. The R35Z’s zero-tail swing allows the machine to work in confined areas where space is at a premium.

Demand dynamics

Speaking about the state of affairs in the compact excavator market, Nicoll says demand is consistently high for the company’s products. “The market is fairly quiet though for a variety of reasons; construction is having a really tough ride nationally and currency woes are not helping pricing either,” says Nicoll.

Ackron notes that certain size categories have experienced a decrease in sales over the past year, while the 5,1-7,5 t class, which represents 60% of the market, has remained flat. The top three industries where HPE Africa sees most of its demand are construction, plant hire and forestry/agriculture.

According to McNeill, from analysing market data over the past five years, the compact excavator market is experiencing steady growth. “Although the growth isn’t huge we see a good market for compact excavators, which are ideally suited to light construction, demolition, grave digging, agriculture and forestry applications. We have seen an increased number of these machines going into compact construction applications where space is a challenge,” says McNeill.

When it comes to demand drivers, McNeill reasons that perhaps one of the biggest drivers is the favourable cost and higher productivity of a compact excavator compared with manual labour. “Customers are also looking for a more productive machine to replace the conventional TLB. Compact excavators present a good opportunity for plant hire as a versatile, light weight machine that is easily transportable and light on fuel. With zero tail swing, the compact excavator can operate in areas with space constraints unlike larger machines,” says McNeill.

The same view is shared by Nicoll, who says labour laws are onerous on all contractors and mechanisation is an attractive option. “That’s a widely held point of view. Our products are sought after for their build quality and value for money which drives specific interest in our brand,” says Nicoll. “We have made very good inroads into agriculture and this is now a significant component of our market. Our machines are ultra-compact and well suited to the confines of orchards and vineyards.”

Ackron is of the view that compact excavators appeal to the industry for many reasons, and among the key drivers is that they work well in confined spaces; there is increased need for mechanisation; call for smaller capital expenditure; offer excellent power-to-weight ratios; and the machines are fuel efficient and easy to transport from one site to another.

“Mini excavators are ultimate tool carriers. They can work with special attachments such as trenchers, augers and forks, which adds to the versatility of the machines. Typical applications where they excel include digging holes, trenching, demolishing small structures, repairing sewer lines and landscaping,” says Ackron.

In terms of uptake, McNeill says there is no specific industry that has taken the lead; Bell Equipment has evenly sold machines across construction, agriculture and forestry where they are said to be performing well in varied applications. “We have sold several of the 5,5 t machines. However, we are seeing interest in all three of our models with the 13,5 t machine having the potential to become the most popular model due to its suitability to the forestry and agriculture industries.”

According to Ackron, the 5,1-7,5 t is the best-selling class in HPE Africa’s stable; these lightweight excavators have a small footprint and cause less damage to work surfaces, like grass and asphalt, making them ideal to work in gardens and parking areas. Nicoll says Force 8 has a remarkably linear demand between its models with no size outselling the others. “It’s owing, most likely, to a spread of sectors that we sell equally into, with each having a preferred weight category,” says Nicoll.

Market outlook

Ackron says in the short term, he sees a decrease in sales mainly due to lower volumes across all capital equipment sold. This is as a result of the current economic and political influences. “In the long term we foresee an increase in mechanisation, which will result in sustainable growth of mini excavator demand,” says Ackron. 

Nicoll says excavators are Force 8’s core product and the company has always been optimistic about the future of the compact excavator market. “We have committed many years to developing our brand and supporting it appropriately. Sales volumes will certainly increase as the versatility of the product becomes increasingly apparent to existing and as-yet underdeveloped sectors of the market. We need some currency stability though as the premium brands are quite expensive at present. We also worry that there are possibly too many competitors for what is inarguably not a very big market by Asian or European standards,” reasons Nicoll.

Based on current market trends, Bell anticipates a steady increase in the market to follow in the footsteps of First World countries where the TLB market is shrinking and the compact excavator market is growing. “There will always be a place for the TLB and the market will never fall away completely, but a dedicated excavator is still a more efficient machine in terms of productivity and performance, which is why we are seeing this shift towards the compact excavator,” concludes McNeil.

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