Back to the front – backhoes

Stian Overdahl surveys the latest generation of backhoe machines and their role in infrastructure construction

Backhoes are popular in the agricultural sector, but here they are urban warriors

Backhoes are popular in the agricultural sector, but here they are urban warriors

The backhoe loader is a key machine in the all-important infrastructure sector, but is also finding new uses as the Middle East continues to urbanise. Stian Overdahl surveys the latest generation of machines

The backhoe loader is undeniably the most versatile of all the machines in the construction equipment market, and as the market contracted in recent years and contractors try to do more with less, the backhoe is a crucial machine. It’s also one of the key machines for infrastructure projects, which continued on even when many other projects ground to a halt.

There’s a number of long-established backhoe brands in the market (think JCB, Caterpillar, Case), as well from quality offerings from brands that are less established in the segment, include LiuGong, and Hyundai (HI), the latter launching its first backhoe in the Middle East only last year. Of the five traditional main market segments (excavator, wheel loader, grader, dozer and backhoe) the backhoe is one of the most competitive, and the result is that customers are spoilt for choice, while the new generations of machines are the toughest ever built.

With history on their side (this year they celebrate the 60th anniversary of inventing the backhoe), JCB has long been acknowledged as number one in the market. In the last six decades JCB have produced more than half a million backhoes, with factories in the UK, India and Brazil, and according to Nic Grout, JCB Middle East General Manager, the Middle East is JCB’s second biggest export market for backhoes.

The company has engaged in an energetic refresh of its range, and the new generation models, including the JCB 3CX and 4CX ECO, offer fuel savings of up to 16% over the old machines. Key features of the new models are power brakes providing proportional braking and fuel economy improvements, combined hammer and bi-directional circuit for excellent versatility in attachment use and a nine metre factory-fitted hose reel for improved productivity and versatility.

In terms of application, Grout sees the main use in the Middle East being construction of new infrastructure, compared with developed markets like Europe, where the backhoe’s main use is maintenance and expansion of existing infrastructure.

Caterpillar is seeing success in the market with their F-Series backhoes (ranging from the centre-pivot 416F to the larger sideshifts, up to the 444F), which have a significant redesign on front end, in the first instance to allow for the after treatment systems required in the heavily-regulated emission markets.

And while the engine after treatment isn’t needed in the emerging markets, the new shape has incorporated improved loader performance as well as lowering the nose of the machine to improve visibility, says Adrian Forrester, market professional at Caterpillar for the backhoe segment.

“While the loader tower had to be widened, to accommodate the packaging of the higher regulated engine, we managed keep the all the loader hydraulic lines routed close in to the loader tower to allow for better visibility through to the front bucket.

“The front nose of the machine was also lowered, by over 10cm, for better visibility to front worktools, and we retained a flat front nose design to make it easy to position the machine as close to trucks as possible when truck loading.”

Another of the big changes came to the loader performance, and the arms were completely redesigned following customer feedback.

“A new geometry brought about improved breakout forces with the strength demanded by our customers. Speaking to customers on the topic of loader performance affirmed the need to make truck loading easier, and so we embarked on a mission to deliver loader arms which would perform with reduced cycle time, extending the reach capability, increasing the load-over height, and providing near true parallelism for good material retention, especially when using pallet forks,” says Forrester.

“Complemented by the Return-to-Dig system, the F Series is an incredibly productive loader for its size class.”

Given their use as a do-everything tool, the more power and strength that can be crammed into a backhoe the faster they will complete tasks, and the more functionality on-site. Terex Construction launched its new TLB840 backhoe loader in the Middle East in early 2011, a machine “designed to maximise our customers’ productivity and profitability in these challenging times.”

With over 50 years of building backhoes, the model is the ninth generation backhoe for Terex. A 94 horsepower (70kW) machine with a 14ft (4.2m) dig depth, the TLB840 has a curved backhoe boom which provides greater clearance to reach over obstacles and load closer into trucks, and a reduced height for increased transport clearance.

An additionally feature of the boom is a “Deep Dig” outerslide extending dipperstick which allows for the clamping of objects between bucket and dipper, and an optional thumb attachment is also available for grab and grip applications.

This year at Bauma, Terex showed off the larger TLB890, designed alongside the 840 and with similar features, but aimed at the larger 15ft (4.57m) dig depth class segment, with a 100hp (74.5kW) engine.

The TLB890 also benefits from a higher spec hydraulic system with more flow and a piston pump option, and greater breakout forces on some services, says Jon Beckley, global product manager – backhoe loaders for Terex Construction.

Across the globe, and required specs vary, since operators are carrying out differing activities, as well as some needing to diver further distances.

“Local terrain variation drives some of the different uses and customer needs,” says Beckley. Asked about trends in application efficiency, and it’s a mixture of high-tech, new attachments and operator trends.

“Laser leveling, tracker, telematics and GPS based dig system are showing up, but these are not BHL specific they run across all construction equipment,” explains Beckley.

“There are some new attachments such as compactors and patch planers being used. Meanwhile the percentage of servo excavator controls verses mechanical is increasing year on year as a younger generation of operator take over the machine.”

Speaking about trends in the backhoe market, and as the Middle East develops, new uses are found for the backhoe. Dragan Krznaric, Middle East business director CNH CE, believes that the rapid urbanisation that has occurred in the Middle East (and is still ongoing) has created need for infrastructure build and maintenance within urban areas, often within confined spaces, to the benefit of the backhoe segment.

“The relatively compact dimensions and multi-purpose usage possibilities of backhoes make it an ideal tool to perform these kinds of task. Indeed, backhoes are very important segment of the market and thanks to the versatility of the machine we see further growth in demand, with new range of applications being added.”

Case Construction Equipment contests the market with its T-Series of backhoe loaders, of which the 580T is the most popular. Case has a long history in the market, building its first backhoe loader in 1957, and having sold more than 600,000 units since that time, and has recorded a number of firsts, including an extending dipper, and the first company to offer a Powershift transmission on a TLB.

Features of its 580T include powerful engine and high-capacity hydraulics, powered by a 72 kW (97 hp) Fiat PT engine. Its reinforced tool carrier front loader arms features exceptional rigidity and strength, and its S-shaped backhoe boom provides better accessibility for truck loading, better visibility for the operator and increased strength and durability, says Krznaric: “Our industry-unique Case extendahoe, with the extending part of the dipper arm being on the outside, provide best-in-class protection of extending element and hydraulic parts.”

Another result of urbanization is the development of the waste industry, and JCB’s Nic Grout believes that their efforts to innovate in the waste segment should return dividends.

“As the waste industry in the Middle East becomes more sophisticated, JCB’s full range of Wastemaster machines, including the 4CXWM, will become the machine of choice for the waste and recycling sector,” he says.

The 4CXWM can power a large range of specialist attachments, and is designed to perform in the non-stop working environment found at waste centres.

“Globally, the backhoe loader is already one of JCB’s biggest selling machines into waste, recycling and demolition applications, with large volume sales in Asia and South America and a strong presence in specific European markets. The JCB 4CXWM offers unrivalled versatility at a price which is less than the wheeled excavator typically seen on site. Its ability to perform a variety of roles also eliminates the need for other machines such as forklift or pallet trucks –further increasing cost savings.”

Using JCB’s vast knowledge of designing these workhorses, the new 4CXWM model of backhoe incorporates additional length rear stabilisers and a front frame using hydraulic legs, a combination which raises the entire machine well clear of the ground, and improves operator views into a bin when compacting material with either a grapple or compaction wheel attachment.

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