Designing construction equipment: Evolving trends

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Priyaranjan Kumar writes about the evolving trends in design and development of construction machines while looking at important aspects influencing it such as safety, emission regulations, design to costs, localization, aesthetics, ergonomics and telematics.

Priyaranjan Kumar

Priyaranjan Kumar

The global Construction & Heavy Equipment [C&HE] industry is witnessing a transition in the operating and customer environment because of ever-changing regulations, rising infrastructure development activities and the shifting demands of fleet owners and operators. C&HE OEMs are focusing on emerging markets, which are expected to spend US$6 trillion in infrastructure development in next 4-5 years. China is expected to remain the dominant region in global C&HE production during this period.
Some of the major trends in design and development of construction machines are shaping in response to questions like ‘How the demand of machines will evolve?’ ‘What changes needs to be incorporated due to regulations?’ ‘What are the market dynamics in global as well as in emerging countries?’

The major evolving trends in Design & development of C&HE machines are:

The developed countries are far more advanced in terms of safety and emission standards for construction and earth-moving equipment and developing countries are fast catching up with such standards. There is very high emphasis on ‘operator safety’ and the trend has been to design and develop products with ‘Roll-Over Protection Structure’ [ROPS] and/or with ‘Falling-Object Protection System’ [FOPS].
ROPS refers to operator compartment structures [cabs or frames] intended to protect equipment operators from injuries caused by vehicle overturns or rollovers. This is done by strengthening the vehicle’s potential for energy absorption. While the FOPS system provides protection for anoperator using an engineered reinforcement installed into a vehicle to reduce possible injuries in the case of a falling object.
In the absence of clear standard/regulation for operator safety, more and more OEMs in India and China are introducing ROPS and/or FOPS as an optional feature in their machines. These features are helping OEMs to better-position their products in the highly competitive market.
The future trend is towards machines with remote operators and a significant investment is being done by global large OEMs in that direction.

Emission Regulations:
In last 7-8 years’ lion’s share of R&D investment of C&HE has gone in meeting the stringent emission regulations. Tier-4 or equivalent regulations are driving major changes in the machine
-To accommodate after-treatment devices [SCR/DPF/EGR] resulting in larger engine compartment
-Better cooling and under-hood air-flow
-Redesign of: Air System, Fuel System, Lube system and Hydraulic system.
-Cost reduction to offset added costs with new emissions modules

Emission regulation has not only impacted the C&HE OEMs but also the engine and engine accessories suppliers.

Design to Cost > Competition from Chinese local companies
Cost has always been major drivers and with more and more local players’ ability to imitate and come-up with cheaper products is throwing serious challenge to global OEMs. Companies are going for professional help to do ‘Competitive Tear-Down & Benchmarking Study’ and ‘Should-Costing’ of their products vis-à-vis competition to design and develop more cost effective products. OMEs are doing portfolio rationalization by using Common components, subsystems or technologies across product lines or brands.
Global OEMs are adapting frugal engineering methodology and more innovative ways to design products to meet the cost challenges from local Chinese OEMs,whereas, Chinese companies are willing to buy a completely newer technology on sale, to match-up there products with global leaders.

Localization to Globalization
The earlier trend was to bring successful products from developed countries to ‘Lesser-Regulated Countries’ [LRC] by de-featuring and with only the basic machine functionalities. But with changing global market dynamics and trend is reversing. Today, India is world’s largest producer and consumer of Backhoe-Loaders, while China is biggest producer and consumer of Wheel-Loaders. OEMs are developing India & China focused platform which is then taken to world market. Therefore the trend is changing from “Global > Local” and becoming “Local > Global”

Aesthetics, Ergonomics and Telematics
Aesthetic style, ergonomics for operator comfort and use of more and more electronics & telematics are also the latest trends in the C&HE space. These OEMS have moved from box-shaped structures to more curved-profile and are developing their Signature style to create distinct brand-identity. As the demand for better looking products is increasing, OEMs are roping design studios and styling experts at the concept stage of development.
As operator comfort has direct impact on his productivity; operator comfort and user-friendliness is another big trend. Operators are also very influential in buying decision; hence OEMs are providing air-conditioner or HVAC options in their machines. Significant emphasis is given on providing user-friendly infotainment system and ease of machine operation.
Use of electronics and telematics has increased over last few years. Whether we talk about preventive maintenance to reduce warranty related issues or remote monitoring of usage [or abuse] of machine or fleet management solutions or preventing fuel theft from machine or load sensing for better productivity; electronics and telematics making it all possible.

Use of Advance Engineering and Simulation
36 months to 26 to 18 months has been the new industry norm for completely New Product Development [NPD] from concept to all the way to start of production. In a typical NPD program it not just the product that needs to be designed, but the complete manufacturing set-up needs to be worked to make the machine production ready. Use to advance engineering and simulation like CAD, CAM, CAE/CFD, virtual validation and digital manufacturing has helped to reduce to NPD/NPI cycle time. Today, one cannot imagine designing a new product without use of these advance engineering tools and hence that has led to emergence of engineering and technology service providers who are supporting the OEMs to take product from drawing board to shop-floor and to meet the faster time to market.

(The author is Head Industrial Machinery Global Services – APAC, TATA Technologies Limited.)

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