When it comes to alternative-powered construction equipment, there’s little doubt that electric-powered compact machines have gained the most traction.

“The 48-volt battery packs and the duty cycles of compact machines are well matched,” said Ray Gallant, vice president of product management and productivity for Volvo Construction Equipment, which has five electric models either in production or announced for the North American market.

“From a technological standpoint, electric-powered compact equipment was one of the easiest to go after,” said Chris Lucas, product manager for excavators, JCB North America, which debuted its 19C-IE electric compact excavator in 2019.

“Considering compact equipment can be operated with a smaller battery size at lower voltage, we plan to make a shift to battery-type excavators for 10-metric-ton and below,” said Thomas Jaejin Lee, director of product management, Doosan Infracore North America. The company currently has plans to introduce four electric compact excavators here by 2024.

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Electric power gains momentum.

The use of electric power in construction machines is not new. Electric-powered machines have had a long run in the mining, demolition, aerial lift and industrial forklift segments. But now they’re making their way onto general jobsites.

Electric construction machines were a trade show curiosity as little as six years ago. Now compact equipment manufacturers expect to be questioned on whether they are working on an electric model.

Volvo Construction Equipment made one of the early splashes in this category when it announced in 2019 it would cease development of new diesel compact excavators and wheel loaders. A few months later it unveiled a prototype electric compact excavator and a wheel loader at bauma. Both machines, the ECR25 and the L25, are now currently in production, and Volvo CE is adding three more electric models to its North American line up. (The company continues to support existing diesel fleets.)

Other early electric compact adaptors with production units have included JCB, Takeuchi, Toro and Kato-CES.

Much of the electric model work has centered on the compact excavator, with manufacturers using either internal design capabilities or partnering with companies such as Green Machine, Moog Construction and WhisperDrive to create an electric version of a current diesel unit.

 

Ray Gallant

 

“We’re really paying attention to the charging infrastructure. How do we get the power out to the jobsites and how do the jobsites have to evolve?” -- Volvo CE's Ray Gallant

 

An intriguing alternative enters the market.

Most current electric models are electric/hydraulic, in which a lithium-ion battery replaces the diesel engine and powers an electric motor and conventional hydraulics.

But an intriguing alternative is now also on the market: Doosan Bobcat’s T7X compact track loader not only replaces the engine with an electric battery and motor, but it also eliminates the hydraulics, instead using an electrical drive system consisting of electric cylinders and drive motors. The company partnered with Green Machine Equipment and Moog Construction in creating the T7X.

Doosan Bobcat started experimenting with electric-powered machines about five years ago, said Joel Honeyman, vice president of global innovation. “We wanted to take some new technologies from other industries and do some unique things with the platform,” he said.

“With an all-electric system, it’s power on demand, only using the energy you need for the task at hand,” said Dave Grabau, key account manager, Moog Construction, a Doosan Bobcat partner on the T7X. “You’re not running at wide open throttle or dumping hydraulic fluid over a relief valve and wasting that energy. The powertrain is not limited by emissions tiers, such as 55 kW (74 horsepower). 

Now you can get more work done in a 5-to-6-ton machine that has a usable power range of 100 to 150 horsepower,” Grabau said.

Currently in production, the first T7Xs are being added to Sunbelt Rentals’ fleet.

Three big hurdles: cost, run time per charge, and charge time.

While there are contractors who are natural early adopters, most are concerned with practicalities, particularly when it comes to the three big barriers to electric machines: initial cost, run time per charge and charging time.

Primarily because of the present cost of batteries, electric machines typically cost two to three times that of a comparable diesel machine.

JCB, however, did a return-on-investment study that showed a 50% ROI within three to five years, Lucas said. “There are no maintenance costs with electric machines,” he added. “All you’re doing is charging the machine and filling up the hydraulic fluids.”

Electric machine prices will come down as increasing volume supports driving down component costs, Honeyman said. “On the flip side, the operating cost of the T7X is one-tenth of that of a comparable diesel-hydraulic machine,” he said.

Most OEMs are now citing a range of 4-to-8-hour run time for “average” use on compact equipment and an 8-hour overnight charge.

Customers naturally compare run times on a fully charged electric machine with a full tank on diesel units, but that doesn’t show the whole picture, say our experts.  

“An electric machine behaves differently than a diesel machine,” Honeyman explained. “When you let off the joysticks of an electric machine, there’s no idle. An operator can get a day or more of productive work out of it because they’re typically not running the machine eight continuous hours a day.”

Honeyman added: “In comparison, the telematics data on our diesel machines tells us that significant time is spent with the machine simply idling.”

Charging infrastructure still under development.

That brings us to the question of how best to charge electric machines.

If the goal is zero-emissions, it makes no sense to charge your electric machine with a diesel generator.

“We’re really paying attention to the charging infrastructure,” said Gallant. “How do we get the power out to the jobsites and how do the jobsites have to evolve?”

After developing its electric compact excavator, JCB came out with a universal fast charger, designed to charge the company’s fleet of E-Tech machines. “We always try to make sure we include multiple charging options,” said Rebecca Yates, senior product manager for material handling JCB North America.

To be effective, temporary electric job site power must be deployed rapidly without permitting or site prep requirements, maintains Desmond Wheatley, CEO of Beam Global. His company’s solution is a solar-powered, off-grid charger, the EV ARC 2020, which it showcased in the Volvo CE booth at last year’s Utility Expo. The two companies just announced a partnership in which Volvo CE North American dealers can bundle the ARC system with the purchase of its electric equipment.

Electric charging requires a thinking reset, Wheatley said. While fast chargers seem attractive, their use is driven by the experience at the fuel pump. “If a machine has access to a charger during idle times, you can just top it off like you do with your cell phone,” he said. “You just charge it whenever you’re not using it and not wait until it’s empty.”

Aiding this approach will be the advent of wireless job site charging, Wheatley said. With the addition of a ruggedized receiver to the bottom of a machine, instead of being plugged up it could charge while parked over a charging pad. “The wiring is already basically in place, you’ve just got to extend it to the underside of the vehicle,” he said.

Whatever their eventual form, electric charging systems will likely be primarily rental items, Wheatley said.

Where are electric machines being used?

Interior demolition and material handling are obvious applications for electric compact machines, but JCB has also seen its customers use them cleaning out under-highway culverts. “They can use an electric compact excavator without having to rent a $300 a day diesel exhaust extraction system,” Lucas said. “It’s healthier for the operator.”

Rental markets are also a natural market for electric machines since many contractors like to dip their toe into new machine concepts via rental. As mentioned, Sunbelt Rentals is taking the first production runs of Bobcat’s T7X. Takeuchi also announced earlier this year that United Rentals is adding its newTB20e UR electric excavator to its fleet.

 “Around 60% to 70% of our electric excavators have gone to rental companies,” said JCB’s Lucas.

End user perception: electric machines are more powerful.

OEMs have noticed a curious thing when they demo their electric machines: “Customers are actually telling us that these machines are more powerful,” Gallant said.

“We dialed in the power of the T7X to match our current diesel/hydraulic unit, the T76, but every customer who operates it said it has a lot more power,” Honeyman said. “On a diesel unit, you must power up the throttle and be at full rpm to get full torque. With electric, you have full torque as soon as you activate the drive.”

The lack of noise, vibration and emissions are also noticeable to early testers, Gallant said. “These are big factors in operator fatigue and comfort,” he added.

 

Joel Honeyman

 

“An electric machine behaves differently than a diesel machine, When you let off the joysticks of an electric machine, there’s no idle. An operator can get a day or more of productive work out of it because they’re typically not running the machine eight continuous hours a day.” -- Doosan Bobcat's Joel Honeyman

 

The universe of electric compact models is growing.

Manufacturers have made a flurry of electric compact machine announcements in the past two years, with many still waiting to reach production. Not all are currently offered in North America, and the vast majority are compact excavator announcements. Here’s an overview:

  • Case Construction Equipment: Case made a big splash at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020 when it unveiled its 580EV backhoe. This year it offered a first look at its CX15 EV compact excavator, with plans to introduce it in North America in 2023.
  • Doosan Bobcat: In addition to the previously mentioned T7X CTL, the company offers an E10e compact excavator and expects to introduce a E32e model later this year. Other compact excavators are anticipated, as well as electric attachments for the T7X.
  • Doosan Infracore North America: Four compact excavators, including the DX20ZE-7, are planned for introduction in North America between now and the second quarter of 2024.
  • Gehl/Manitou: Gehl, a brand of Manitou Group, showed off a prototype of its 165E skid steer during CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020.
  • Green Machine Equipment: A business unit of ViridiParente, the company partners with several OEMs on electric machines and offers its own brand of equipment.
  • Greenland Technologies/Hevi Equipment: A recently announced electric machine lineup includes the 8-ton GEX-8000 wheeled compact excavator.
  • Hyundai Construction Equipment/Cummins: The two companies are jointly developing an electric 1.9-metric-ton compact excavator prototype, field testing the units this year.
  • IHI: Currently offers 9VXE-3 electric compact excavator.
  • JCB: The company unveiled its 19C-IE electric compact excavator in 2019 as part of its E-Tech line, which includes telehandlers, scissor aerial lifts, industrial forklifts, and portable power packs.
  • John Deere: Deere showed off its prototype 310 X -tier E-Power electric backhoe at the 2021 Utility Expo. In addition, electric model development was mentioned as part of the company’s new compact excavator agreement with Wacker Neuson.
  • Kato-CES: Offers four models of electric compact excavators.
  • Komatsu: Komatsu and Honda Motor have formed a partnership to create the Komatsu PC01 compact excavator powered by a Honda battery and electrified power unit.
  • Kovaco Electric/First Green Industries: The Slovakia-based company offers the Elise 900 skid steer and MiniZ 400 compact utility loader.
  • Mecalac: The E12 excavator is in concept stage.
  • MultiOne: The company offers the EZ7 and EZ 8 compact loaders.
  • Sherpa: Sherpa has five electric compact utility loaders, including its new Z10 E100 and Z10 E200.
  • Takeuchi: This year, Takeuchi unveiled the TB20e UR electric excavator, which will be available at select United Rentals locations. The company’s first electric prototype, the e240, was introduced at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 and its e210R, produced with Green Machine, debuted in 2019.
  • Tobrocco-Giant: The company currently produces two electric compact wheel loaders, the Giant G2200E and Giant G2200E X-Tra.
  • Toro: Toro introduced its e-Dingo 500 compact utility loader in 2020.
  • Volvo Construction Equipment: Volvo CE unveiled a compact excavator and loader at bauma in 2019. Those two models are now in production and another three electric models are now open for reservations with deliveries expected next year.
  • Wacker Neuson: Electric equipment was specifically mentioned in Wacker Neuson’s recent compact excavator deal with John Deere. In Europe, the company has several electric products, including a compact excavator, compact wheel loader, and dumper.
  • Yanmar: The company announced its SV17e excavator prototype last year, aimed initially at the European market.
  • XCMG: Introduced the XE35U-E compact excavator at the 2020 CONEXPO-CON/AGG.

The interest is there.

“Widespread adoption of electric equipment starts when it becomes economically viable,” Gallant said. “But everyone seems to be willing to see where it develops, and that’s encouraging.”

Construction can be a “fast follower” to the EV advances made in the automotive sector, Grabau said. In the meantime, Moog uses high efficiency servo motors and electric cylinders to give the best run time and lowest battery cost.

“While we’re going to produce diesel equipment for a long time, there are customers and applications that really want this new EV technology,” Honeyman said.

Want to learn more?

Many would agree that a transformation of the construction industry has already commenced. Technology is changing the way buildings are designed, equipment operates and organizations function. Renewable energies are being leveraged more often and in more ways. A generational shift in the workforce is already underway.

AEM Vision Team and Futures Council members spent countless hours discussing how these influences, among many others, could transform the construction industry over the next 10 years. For more information on The Future of Building and other trends impacting the equipment manufacturing industry and the customers it serves, visit aem.org/insights.

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