Bigger and Better. Conexpo 2017 delivers on lofty pre-show expectations

Published 17/5 at 12:22

Floating around the Internet in early March was an image of a sign that read, ‘All Visitors to Conexpo Must Be Accompanied By A Grown-Up.’ Whether the sign was real or someone’s bit of computer cleverness, the sentiment was rather accurate. After all, there is nothing like acres upon acres of shiny new construction equipment to bring out the child in even the most seasoned contractor. And judging by the turnout of both manufacturers and visitors to the 2017 edition of Conexpo-Con/Agg, the Las Vegas Convention Center was, for about a week, the world’s largest day-care centre. Jim Parsons reports.

According to the Conexpo organizer, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the show attracted approximately 128,000 visitors, including an 8% increase in buyers from the US and overseas. More than 2,800 exhibitors, a Conexpo record, crowded all three halls and the expansive outdoor lots that covered 260,129m2 of exhibition space, a show record.

Conexpo was also marked by an overall upbeat sense regarding the course of the construction economy in the US and elsewhere. “I think there is a noticeable difference in the visitors at this show, and the difference is their optimism,” said president of Gradall Industries president and AEM 2017 chairman Michael Haberman. “Optimism was on display throughout the show, and the traffic was excellent.”

 

It’s showtime

Conexpo’s size is a reflection of the show’s emphasis on heavy equipment for all types of construction. But that same expansiveness also ensures there is something for everyone.

Witness, for example, Volvo Construction Equipment’s debut of the 50t class L350H loader, the company’s largest wheel loader with a 7.3m3 bucket, sharing the spotlight with a smaller North American newcomer, the 47kW EW60E compact excavator.

And hardly a trade show goes by, it seems, that remote control demolition specialist Brokk does not introduce a new product, and Conexpo was no exception. The company debuted its new model 500, a beefed-up version of its existing 5t model 400 to accommodate the muscle of the Atlas Copco SB 702 hydraulic breaker. 

Brokk North American subsidiary vice president Peter Bigwood said that by reinforcing the arm and undercarriage, the 500/702 combo can deliver 1,472Nm of breaking force, 40% more than the Brokk 400, with the added flexibility of easier, safer access to difficult and constrained work areas. “Essentially, you have a breaker rated for a 16t excavator working optimally on a 5t robot,” said Bigwood. 

Atlas Copco also got in on Conexpo’s big theme, dedicating a place of honour on its booth for its 11t HB 10000 hydraulic breaker, which celebrated its 10th anniversary. Atlas Copco also displayed several other new, smaller breakers.

Not everything at Conexpo was supersized. ASV, a Michigan-based joint venture of Manitex International and Terex, rolled out five compact track loaders, including the Posi-Track RT-30, a heavy-duty commercial machine in a 24kW radial lift package. 

The North American subsidiary of Finland’s Avant Tecno Corporation showcased its five-model line of lightweight, centre-articulated compact loaders.

Jukka Lyly-Yrjanainen, who has spearheaded Avant Tecno’s venture into the North American construction markets said that the products’ small size and distinctive green colour scheme have proven to be ideal attention getters. “They think at first it is just a one-tool machine, then realize they can handle more than 200 attachments,” said Lyly-Yrjanainen. “It’s a big industry, to be sure, and there are needs we feel our loaders are ideally suited to fill.”

Another Finnish company made some attachment news at Conexpo, as attachment manufacturer Allu announced a rebranding of its material handling technology appropriately named Transformer. “Allu attachments not only provides solutions that produce higher levels of profitability, but lead to changes that totally transform the way businesses are able to operate,” said Allu president Ola Ulmala.

For those in the demolition business, the Allu Transformer means only a single attachment is needed to process, mix, separate, feed, and load excavated soil, rubble, milled asphalt, and other materials. The Transformer can mix in binders if the material handling includes additive requirements or stabilization. 

Asian equipment manufacturers were also well-represented at Conexpo. Among them was LiuGong, which offered the first showing of its new vertical lift wheel loader outside of China. The features vertical lift loader arms on an articulating frame, and a mechanical self-levelling Z-bar bucket linkage. Together, they provide a heavier tipping load and a higher lift height and reach than conventional wheel loaders of the same power and weight. 

Fuel costs are greatly reduced, as the reduced operating weight of the vertical lift machine allows more material to be moved per horsepower than with a conventional radial lift machine. This allows customers to move more tons per hour for lower initial investment, and lower owning and operating costs than would be required with conventional radial arm technology. 

 

Fast-forwarding the future

While many Conexpo visitors might have been focused on how they will manage the upcoming construction season, Conexpo also offered an interesting look at how they will be doing work in five or ten years, if not sooner.

The centrepiece of Conexpo’s 6,967m2 New Tech Experience area was the world’s first excavator built entirely of 3-D printed components, which were fabricated by a research consortium based at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee. The New Tech Experience also provided previews of some of the projects contractors will be working on, from the Hyperloop high-speed transport pods to highways constructed of more durable, and more sustainable materials.

And as autonomous vehicle technology becomes a real possibility for everyday use, it is hardly surprising that manufacturers are looking for construction applications as well. Volvo provided a look at its prototype HX2 battery-powered autonomous load carrier, which the company says will reduced carbon emissions by 95%, and total cost of ownership by 25%. The HX2 is currently undergoing testing along with Volvo CE’s LX1 prototype electric hybrid wheel loader.

Volvo President Martin Weisburg admitted that it may be awhile before the HX2 is deemed ready for market, though the company is working on accelerating the process.

Conexpo 2017 provided visitors with a lot to think and dream about, perhaps to go along with those musings that usually occur during visits to Las Vegas’ famed attractions. But it was hard not to leave Conexpo without some positive feelings about the current course of the North American construction industry. How long it will last and how deep it will go remain to be seen. But for a week in March, a lot of people felt like kids again. And, so it would seem, rightly so.

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