CONEXPO CRUSHES IT!

Published: 16/6, 2023

Throngs of attendees, exhibitors pour into Las Vegas for a sustainability-oriented trade show.

Any doubts about the North American construction industry’s post-pandemic resilience were put to rest this past March, as the 2023 edition of Conexpo literally and figuratively overwhelmed Las Vegas with a turnout that would have made Elvis Presley envious.

According to Conexpo’s organizers, the five-day show (held in conjunction with the International Fluid Power Exposition) drew more than 139,000 registrants, a 6% increase over 2020’s figure (though there are doubts as to how many actually risked that year’s uncertainties to make the trip to Las Vegas). More than 2,400 exhibitors of all sizes from 36 countries showcased their products and services across more than 3 million ft2 (278,700 m2) of space encompassing all four Las Vegas Convention Center exhibit halls and several expansive outdoor demonstration lots.

Many of Conexpo’s product announcements and company news will be presented in more detail in this and future issues of PDa. For now, here is a sampling of the many, many highlights from five action-packed days in Las Vegas.

 

Turning up the juice on electric-powered machinery

As is typical for a construction megashow, big equipment took center stage, with much of it based in Conexpo’s far-flung Festival Lot (not much of a festival for the feet, but that’s another story). Sustainable power, a recurring theme over the past few years, seemed to proliferate even further for manufacturers large and small. For example, Volvo Construction Equipment contributed its EC230 electric excavator pilot, its Zeux autonomous concept wheel loader, and HX04 prototype hydrogen articulated hauler, while Caterpillar featured four battery electric machines as well as a series of prototype batteries for off-road equipment ranging from 48V to 600V.

Hyundai showed three compact excavators—HX35AZ, HX40A, and HX48AZ—all of which feature a distinctive new “Tiger Eye” design with large cabs, larger windows for increased visibility, and enhanced operator comfort. Specific models include load-sensing hydraulics incorporating adjustable auxiliary flow, zero-tailswing, and a new auto safety lock function to prevent unintended use. Hyundai also used Conexpo 2023 to debut its HS120V skid steer loader and HT100V compact track loader, representing the company’s re-entry into these compact equipment categories. And perhaps the booth’s biggest attention-getter was the HW155H a 2t, hydrogen-powered wheeled excavator, developed in anticipation of a proliferation in fuel cell technology.

Komatsu is likewise trying to make good on its goal to have a fully carbon-neutral product line by 2050. The 20t PC210LCE battery-powered excavator, introduced last fall at Bauma 2022, made its North American debut with Proterra-designed lithium-ion battery technology that the company says delivers up to 8 hours of operating time. A Proterra-design portable charging station was also introduced to facilitate jobsite recharging. At John Deere’s sprawling exhibit, shared with Wirtgen Group, the company showcased three E-Power battery-electric machines—the 310 X-Tier backhoe, the 244 X-Tier compact wheel loader, and the 145 X-Tier excavator concept. All are part of the company’s drive to offer more than 20 battery-electric or hybrid machines by 2026.

More mini and micro-mini equipment makers are getting in on electric power as well. AUSA unveiled its first zero-emission electric dumper—the 1.18-yd3/3,300-lb capacity D151AEG. Powered by lithium-ion batteries, the D151AEG can complete a full shift on a single charge. It features an integrated charger that can quick-charge the battery from 20% to 80% in just two hours.

“We are extremely pleased with the results achieved at this year’s Conexpo-Con/Agg. We came to the trade show with high expectations, but the response to our products, especially the D151AEG electric dumper, was even better than we had initially anticipated”, remarked Ignasi Moner, AUSA US’s CEO couldn’t have been happier with the reception of D151AEG electric dumper, exceeding the company’s already high expectations for the show.

“The dumper has a long journey ahead in North America,” Moner said in a post-show statement. While AUSA is already a major player in the European dumper market, he added, “we have been taking innovative ideas and concepts over to North America for a number of years. Our machines are increasingly successful and popular in this market.”

There were some new names amongst the battery-powered models on display, including US-based VOLTEQ Equipment’s SKY which boasts 1,000-lb (454kg), lifting capacity, more than a dozen attachments, and remote control from up to 160 ft (49m) away. Firstgreen Industries of Czechia offered the Elise 900, reportedly the world’s first fully electric skid steer loader, with a lifting capacity of more than 2,600 lbs (1,180kg), and the 31-in (787mm) wide MiniZ 400 compact track loader with a lifting capacity of 880 lbs (400kg).

Another new name to the US market was Italy’s Messersi, whose zero-emission line includes two electric-powered tracked dumpers—the 1,110-lb (500kg) TC50e and the 2,650-lb (1,200kg) TC120e to complement a variety of conventionally powered compact dumpers, mini-excavators, and loaders.

Manufacturers are also finding ways to expand their market footprints. Longtime electric mini equipment maker Avant Tecno announced the formation of a new subsidiary dedicated to manufacturing OptiTemp battery packs featuring a unique thermal management system that will power machines such as the new e527 and e513 2,000-lb (900kg) loaders for an entire workday on a single charge.
In addition, the company claims OptiTemp batteries delivery the same capacity across temperature extremes, and, with a special rapid charger, can be restored to nearly full power in just 90 minutes.

“After working with electric loaders and batteries for decades, we realized that there was no battery pack in the world that would be perfectly optimized for compact loaders,” Mikko Piepponen, Chief Operating Officer at Avant Power said in a statement. “That’s why we decided to start making batteries ourselves.”

 

Totally Automatic

Develon, Doosan’s rebranded construction equipment line, continued the rollout of new construction equipment line, with new additions such as the 116-hp (86.5kW) DTL-35 compact track loader and 2t DX20ZE-7 electric mini excavator. Develon also showcased the latest developments in its Concept-X autonomous equipment solution. Called Concept-X2, the system includes a new DD100-CX dozer and DX225-CX crawler excavator with GNSS-based driving and blade control, automated 3D grading with a tiltrotator accessory, enhanced machine-learning-based auto digging and loading, an integrated work planning algorithm, and E-Stop safety technology.

Develon officials see additional compact equipment models Concept-X2 and as integral parts of their plan to become a top-5 player in the U.S. construction market by 2025. Opportunities for Concept-X2 will likely begin in the mining arena, and gradually expand to other markets, company officials said. Develon has also developed a prototype hydrogen-powered machine, and is now evaluating options for the necessary support infrastructure.

Honda is also getting in on the autonomous vehicle market, debuting its 1t-capacity Autonomous Work Vehicle (AWW), which employs a suite of sensors to operate autonomously, using GPS for location, radar and lidar for obstacle detection and cameras for remote monitoring. The company says AWVs can transport and deliver construction materials and supplies at precise points along a pre-set route.

To help contractors better understand the “brains” behind autonomous construction vehicle technology, motion control specialist Moog Construction provided a demonstration of a programmable autonomous compact track loader, which the company says has already helped deliver solar panels at a U.S. utility-scale solar energy site.

Moog director of strategy and partnerships Joe Baldi says the technology is well suited for such large, remote locations, as well as handling repetitive tasks at a time when contractors are also contending with labor shortages.

“Autonomously delivering material provides a more consistent process and ensures crews have what they need where and when they need it to keep projects on track,” Baldi says. “As the technology evolves, we’ll see other ways it can be safely integrated into other types of construction projects.”

Moog’s TerraTech “ecosystem” of software, digital connectivity, and advanced mechatronics products for all-electric equipment design and development was featured in Bobcat’s S7X all-electric skid-steer loader and autonomous concept machine RogueX, both which made their debut at Conexpo, as well as the new T7X compact track loader, already in production.

 

But wait, there’s more!

Lest one think Conexpo 2023 was all about things on wheels, there was plenty of news on other fronts as well. Attachments, buckets, drills, shears—they were all there.

Where to begin? How about at the Montabert booth, where the company unveiled a new four-model line of boom- and stick-mounted demolition shears for carriers from 17t to 40t. The shears feature an oversize to cut the toughest materials, and an integrated speed valve helps to lower cycle times. HB steel blades are interchangeable onsite. 360° rotation is standard for accurate positioning. Montabert also showcased the SD hydraulic breaker series for carriers up to 12t, as well as easy maintenance and replacement of bushings, pins, and tools.

For aggregate producers, Montabert’s recent acquisition of Tramac means an expanded line of breaker boom systems provide horizontal reach of 14-65 ft (4.3-20 m), up to 360° of swing arc, and 1,500-13,000 lbf (6.6-58.8 kN) of hammer impact. And, Montabert is now the exclusive US distributor of the Lehnhoff SQ-V Fully Automatic Symmetric Quick Coupler system for 8t to 43t excavators.

Another new tiltrotator option was featured at Kinshofer’s booth, with the new TR045NO for 2t to 4.5t excavators. With a 2x 45° tilt angle, the lightweight (330 lb/150 kg) model can handle a breakout force of 8,800 lbf (40 kN) and tilt torque of 4,795 lbf (6.5 kN).

At the Sandvik/Rammer booth, lifecycle manager for attachment tools Fernando Marques said the company has focused on optimizing its hammer line for the “different expectations” of the U.S. market. “While noise is not as big an issue for most contractors as it is in Europe, there is a big interest in ‘plug and play’ attachments that will get maximum power from the smallest size,” Marques explained.

Rammer has thus sought to beef up its line of rotary and static pulverizers with premium hoses and connections, new jaw patterns, and automatic greasing systems. The company is also expanded its Cleveland, Ohio-area US headquarters for distribution and customer support, as well as potential domestic manufacturing of pins and other components.

Versatility was also a common theme for Italian attachment maker Mazio, which now boasts engineering facilities in the Florida and Columbia. Sales Director Jose Caraballo proudly discussed the firm’s distinctively purple-colored lines of crushers, pulverizers, and multi-processors, as well as a new tilt-rotators that not only rotate 360°, but they also side-to-side by up to 55°. The Mazio Tilt-Rotator features a hydraulic quick coupler that allows the operator to remain in the cab while rotator.

Mazio is also building a presence in the telematics market with the Derek advanced asset management system, with a built-in accelerometer that Caraballo says can help owners ensure that the equipment is being used properly.

“It also has global connectivity, which means that owners can get product data no matter where the machine is located,” he says. Each self-contained Derek monitoring unit lasts approximately seven years—“about the same life of the machine it’s monitoring.”

Epiroc presented a preview of its new SmartROC T25 R drilling rig with a remote-control system and future-proof digital functions that improve efficiency and help to reduce the rigs’ climate impact through fuel savings. Continuing the theme of sustainability, Epiroc’s upgraded SmartROC T40 tophammer rig for quarrying and construction consumes less diesel than any other diesel-hydraulic rig in its class, according to the company. There was also the new DTH 5 hammer that Epiroc says offers twelve configurations and a 5% higher penetration rate compared to its predecessor and lasts approximately 10% longer.

Aiming to capitalize on substantial US government investments in transportation infrastructure construction, Simex put the spotlight on equipment such as the D-BLADE 200, a floor saw with diamond blade for linear cuts up to 8 in (200mm) deep in create, as well as creating expansion joints on continuous surfaces. Simex says the D-BLADE’s clean and burr-free cut produces minimal waste material and avoids trench deformation, facilitating the filling phase and ensuring restoration quality

Allu brought a bit of Finnish innovation to the desert with the North American debut of its Veloci screening bucket designed for compact excavators, loaders, telehandlers, tractors, and skid steers. All five Veloci size models utilize polyurethane screening stars that create a rotating motion inside the bucket, screening and mixing the material, producing a quality end product for use. Veloci models also feature a double-skin floor for use in demanding environments and/or dealing with demanding materials.

Also new was Allu’s variable drum (VD) that allows users to quickly replace blades without the need to open the chain box, allowing a typically three-hour task to be completed in approximately 50 minutes.

For larger crushing needs, UK-based RubbbleCrusher made its North American debut at Conexpo with its portable 800-lb pull-behind RC150V jaw crushers, and its track-mounted counterpart, the RC150T. Both feature a hydraulically driven jaw allowing the crusher to be run both forward and in reverse, making it easy to clear blockages and process sticky asphalt material.

And probably the best view of Conexpo was provided back at the Avant Tecno booth, where sister company Leguan debuted its model 225 lift, specially designed for outdoor work and challenging terrain. The company’s largest spider lift to date, the Leguan 225 can elevate 550 lbs (250kg) to a working height of 74 ft (22.5m), with 110° of platform rotation.

 

Taking the long view

If nothing else, Conexpo attendees left Las Vegas with a good look of the construction industry’s not-so-distant future—one in which alternative power sources and technology take a greater role, but also one that still requires the human touch. Artificial intelligence can do a lot, but its creativity goes only so far. And, there’s still no robot yet that can deftly scope and make a perfect cut with a concrete saw, or determine the next move with an excavator.

Some changes are happening incrementally, others have made great leaps (witness the aforementioned preponderance of electric and battery-powered equipment). And what might have been a prototype or even simply talked-about concept this year might well be in full production this year when

Conexpo reconvenes on March 3-7, 2026.

The key, it seems, is to be ready for anything. At least that’s the approach that powertrain manufacturer FPT is taking. As the heart of most everything that moves, engines and transmissions might seem to be the last component to undergo significant change. Yet Braden Cammauf, FPT’s brand vice president for North America said at Conexpo that the company already has an e-power line-up in the works, even as it continues to customize gasoline and diesel models for its customers in a variety of unique industries.

What provides FPT a valuable degree of nimbleness, Cammauf said, is a recognition is that its business is not simply about powertrains, but power itself.

“We of course watch trends across economies and industries, and will make decisions as technology evolves,” Cammauf commented. “Being aware, being ready, and bringing solutions to the market when they’re needed is how you build loyalty, and build success.”

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