Learn from history to move forward

Published 29/12, 2016 at 15:52

Where are we now? Where are we heading? Where did we come from? How big is the concrete cutting industry and how much is it worth? This year’s Concrete Cutting Survey attempts to answer some of these questions. PDi editor in chief Jan Hermansson reports.

Where did the professional concrete sawing and drilling activity actually start? I have asked myself this question many times, but I still have not been able to get a definitive answer. I know the Swedish history for concrete sawing and drilling with diamond tools, but was it similar in other countries? I have been searching for information on different associations’ websites, but none has any history of the industry.


Did Felkner invent the diamond blade?

During the 1940s and 1950s many houses where still being built from wood and drilling and cutting was done with wood saws and drills. However, when reinforced concrete became a more common building material other types of tools and machines where needed to cut and drill holes for services.

It is said that the first diamond tool blade was invented by the American pharmacist Richard Felkner some time during the 1930s. Felkner used rudimentary tools to strike an edge on the rim of a steel core and then added a mixture of natural diamonds, metal powders, and olive oil to create a wheel that cut natural and manmade stone products.

German engineers developed metal bonded natural diamond blades in the beginning of the 1940s. Felker developed the first US manufactured Sintered metal bond notched rim blades using natural diamonds. Les Kuzmick and Emilio Valenti designed and manufactured custom notching machinery and a furnace process for Felker. Kuzmick patented the process in 1941. But it took until 1960 for General Electric to develop the first man made synthetic diamonds. At the same time Musto Industries (MK Diamond) under the direction of Paul Mitchell developed a diamond blade manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, California. Emilio Valenti left Felker to work for MK Diamond on the development of MK’s notched and segmented synthetic diamond blade manufacturing.


Black & Decker with pixie threads and a diamond tipped rock drill

Back in the 1950s in Sweden it is believed that the contractor Ove Mårthen drilled the first hole in concrete in 1958. Black & Decker produced a drill motor that had so called pixie threads and were the same as on small diamond tipped rock drills. Mårthen put this type of drill on his Black & Decker and drilled his first hole in reinforced concrete. That day is considered the birth of the Swedish concrete sawing and drilling industry that started to evolve during the 1960s and 1970s. 

Currently the professional concrete sawing and drilling industry is a multi billion Euro industry. Some years back the global branch associations of the International Association of Concrete Drillers and Sawers were quite good at keeping track of the size of the industry. But not so now so there is little current information on the state and size of the industry.  However, in 2014 the value of the global concrete cutting market reached an estimated €9bn. This compares with a current estimate of around €12bn to €14bn. In 2014 the turnover was based on figures from 25 countries, most with their own concrete sawing and drilling associations. In total 1,904 branch connected concrete cutting contractors where represented in the study and the total number of concrete cutting contractors at the time were estimated to be 10,895.


A lot more concrete cutting firms today

The majority of markets have seen stagnation in the number of concrete cutting companies. But there has been an increase in the most dominating markets like Germany and US. Countries that have seen a strong growth are China, India, and countries in South East Asia, South America and Africa. The only country in South America that really was on the increase and has since experienced a set back is Brazil. Despite this Brazil has great potential for concrete cutting services.

The concrete cutting services has also increased in the former Eastern European countries, the Middle East, Thailand and Vietnam. A region that has decreased in this sector is Russia and some smaller former Soviet Union countries.

One country that has been inconspicuous about its concrete cutting activities is China and very difficult to estimate the size of its concrete cutting industry. It was previously believed that China had tens of thousands of small concrete cutting firms, most of them being one-man operations. In recent years, and due to the rapid change of the country’s infrastructure, a whole new sector of contractors has emerged with trained staff and a wide range of domestic and western tools and machinery. 

Just in the Beijing area there are thought to be 100 small or medium size concrete cutters and some much larger organisations, such as the Fayan Company. Fayan, run by Pan Hongtao, is considered to be China’s biggest concrete cutter and controlled demolition company (See page 22-24). Hongtao said that he was aware of the difficulty to estimate the size of the Chinese concrete sawing and drilling industry so Fayan is forming a Chinese branch association for professional concrete sawing and drilling companies in China. Fayan is also aiming at becoming a member of the International Association of Concrete Drillers and Sawers.


Time to update the world’s concrete cutting fleets

For suppliers of concrete cutting equipment the market situation is quite good in several regions, but competition between them is tough. Also in many countries concrete cutting machinery fleets are getting old and need replacing, but many contractors seem to hold on to their old equipment, instead of switching to new and be more competitive. Is the reason there is tough price competition between contractors? Or are there others reason like pricing, training issues or similar? At this year’s trade shows the amount of new equipment was reasonable, but even at Bauma most of the ‘new’ products were updates and very few real innovations. It is impossible to develop completely new products every time there is a major trade show. However, what we have seen at this year’s larger shows are the two new large scale high cycle wall saws from Hilti and Pentruder. Husqvarna also launched an interesting wall saw attachment to avoid overcuts.

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