Manufacturers are adapting to meet the tough operating conditions of the region
It’s easy to marvel at the skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, ambitious metro projects and other architectural wonders taking shape across the GCC. But the less glamorous, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of all this construction is the equipment needed to build these projects.
With construction projects in full swing around the region, demand for equipment needed to build them is also growing. In keeping with this trend, sales of concrete pumps – particularly truck-mounted ones – have been on the rise since the crisis period of 2008, explains Jens Bawidamann, regional director at Putzmeister Middle East.
“We have had extraordinarily good business for our truck-mounted pumps, especially for our newer models,” Bawidamann says, noting that the German manufacturer has seen continuous growth in the Middle East over the past five years, with especially strong sales in the GCC.
Putzmeister has had success with truck-mounted pumps in longer boom lengths, and the company has launched new machines in the past few years in the 30m, 40m and 50m classes. “They are more user-friendly, efficient and maintenance-friendly, and customers are really realising that now.”
A recent addition to the German brand’s line-up is the BSF 36-4 16H, a pump with a 36m boom length. Other boom lengths popular in the range are 42m, 49m and 56m.
Commenting on how the process of buying a pump normally works, Bawidamann says that Putzmeister typically buys trucks and mounts them with the pump, enabling it to offer a complete unit. The pumps are normally mounted on a Mercedes-Benz or MAN chassis, with the Actros most commonly used for truck-mounted pump applications.
“If a customer wants another brand, he can purchase the truck according to our specifications. So if it’s Volvo, then he would place an order, and Volvo will send the truck to Germany. We will mount our pump on his truck and then deliver the complete unit.”
Italian concrete equipment-maker CIFA has also been faring well in the region, with double-digit growth in recent years all over the Middle East, says Adalberto Marcello, head of Communication, Digital Marketing & CRM. CIFA supplies truck-mounted pumps in its Steeltech and Carbotech ranges in the region. Pumps in the Steeltech range have booms made of steel, as the name suggests, whereas those in the Carbotech range are made of carbon fibre, designed to be lighter and longer-lasting.
In the Middle East, the Steeltech models with boom lengths of 42m and above are the most popular, Marcello says. While the Carbotech range is also available, it is currently more popular in Europe, which has stricter limits on the loads trucks are allowed to carry.
As the market for truck-mounted pumps continues to grow, Truck & Fleet ME wondered: What are Middle East customers looking for when buying these machines?
Marcello and Bawidamann both firmly emphasise the importance of product reliability and support from the dealer and manufacturer. “Customers look for a solid partner to be able to assist them in everyday needs. They expect us to be reactive, responsive to their needs and queries, especially when it comes to spare parts and service,” Marcello says.
Bawidamann points out that ease of use and maintenance is essential. “They need machines which are easy to handle for operators, user-friendly and reliable. The resale value is also important.”
Premium vehicle and equipment manufacturers often admit that Middle East customers tend to be highly purchase price-conscious, which means it can be a challenge to convince them to buy quality equipment and original spare parts, rather than cheaper alternatives. Bawidamann points out that since a concrete pump is one of the highest investments for a ready-mix business, buying reliable equipment is crucial. “This is the most important machine in the ready-mix plant. If it stops, the whole factory stops. That’s why reliability is so important.”
A rugged and reliable product is even more crucial in order to withstand operating conditions in the Middle East, notorious for being among the toughest in the world. “First of all, you have lots of dust, humidity and heat, which is not good for any machinery. You also have a different level of skills in the people who are operating the machines,” Bawidamann says.
“Third is that the projects are on a much bigger scale here than in Europe. The amount of concrete which is pumped here per year is maybe the highest in the world.”
It’s certainly a long list of demands and challenges for equipment to face, so it’s worth examining how manufacturers are adapting to the demands of the region. One way to do this, of course, is through launching new features and systems geared towards making concrete pumps more user-friendly, safe and efficient.
In response to customer feedback, Putzmeister has been working on ease of maintenance on its concrete pumps, Bawidamann says. One approach is to rely more on bolt connections than welding on newer machines, making it easier to carry out repairs. Previously, pipe holders were welded, and if they cracked during operations, customers would often weld by themselves – not advisable, as they’re made of a special kind of steel, Bawidamann says.
Meanwhile, technological advances are playing an increasing role in making concrete pumps safer and more efficient. CIFA has introduced the Smartronic system, available as an option on the Steeltech series. The electronic system oversees safety aspects of the pump to prevent operator error, Marcello explains. For instance, it can prevent the truck-mounted pump from tilting if stabilisation is incomplete.
Additionally, the system is also capable of recording data, working hours and so on, providing a convenient interface between the machine, operator and service team. The Smartronic system enables the operator to detect and fix errors as they arise.
Marcello admits that CIFA’s clients in the region often prefer machines with fewer electronics, which could mean a reduced likelihood of things going wrong. However, the company is actively looking to promote the system, and clients are beginning to recognise its advantages, which include fuel efficiency.
“The machine is completely managed by an electronic system, one of the main tasks of which is to adapt torque delivery from the truck engine. So it helps to adapt the correct pumping speed and truck engine revolution in order to be more efficient in fuel consumption. In our previous machines, people could have very high RPMs or very low RPMs. Both conditions are not optimal for fuel consumption.”
Green efficiency: the plug-in hybrid mixer
As part of efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, CIFA has unveiled a new product in its concrete mixer line-up: the plug-in hybrid truck mixer from its Energya series. It is available in two models, E8 and E9, and is much quieter than a traditional mixer while also using up to 30% less fuel, Marcello says.
In a conventional truck mixer, drum movement is generated by a hydraulic system. In the hybrid mixer, on the other hand, the drum is rotated by an electric induction motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. The batteries can be charged either from the power grid or through a generator powered by a diesel engine on the truck. This allows the truck mixer to be fully operational even when the batteries are dead or the truck is switched off.
During loading operations in the plant and when discharging at the work-site, the truck’s diesel engine can thus be turned off, and the drum can be powered by the electric motor connected to the battery. During transport, the diesel engine recharges the electric battery if necessary, ensuring that the truck mixer can operate autonomously.
“When you brake with a standard truck, you just lose the kinetic power that you have when travelling,” Marcello says. “With Energya, you’re able to put part of that energy inside the batteries to be used later in making the drum turn, so it adds a lot of efficiency.”