Published 24/4 at 10:19

Throngs of attendees and exhibitors pour into Las Vegas for a sustainability oriented trade show.

Any doubts about the North American construction industry’s post pandemic resilience were put to rest this March, as the 2023 edition of ConExpo-Con/Agg literally and figuratively overwhelmed Las Vegas.  According to the organisers, the five day show (held in conjunction with the International Fluid Power Exposition) drew more than 139,000 registrants, a 6% increase over 2020’s figure. More than 2,400 exhibitors of all sizes from 36 countries showcased their products and services across more than 278,700m2 of space encompassing all four exhibit halls and several expansive outdoor demonstration lots.

Many of ConExpo-Con/Agg’s product announcements and company news will be presented in more detail in this and future issues of PDi. For now, here is a sample of the many, many highlights from five action packed days in Las Vegas.


Turning up the juice on electric powered machinery

As is typical for a construction megashow, big equipment took centre stage. Sustainable power seemed to proliferate for manufacturers large and small. For example, Volvo Construction Equipment contributed its EC230 electric excavator pilot, the ‘Zeux’ autonomous concept wheel loader, and HX04 prototype hydrogen articulated hauler. Caterpillar featured four battery electric machines as well as a series of prototype batteries for off road equipment ranging from 48V to 600V.

Hyundai showed three compact excavators —HX35AZ, HX40A and HX48AZ— all of which feature a distinctive new ‘Tiger Eye’ design with large cabs, larger windows for increased visibility, and enhanced operator comfort. Specific models include load sensing hydraulics incorporating adjustable auxiliary flow, zero tail swing, and a new auto safety lock function to prevent unintended use. Hyundai also used ConExpo-Con/Agg 2023 to debut its HS120V skid steer loader and HT100V compact track loader, representing the company’s re-entry into these compact equipment categories. Perhaps the booth’s biggest crowd puller however was the HW155H, a 2t, hydrogen powered wheeled excavator, developed in anticipation of a proliferation in fuel cell technology.

Komatsu is likewise trying to make good on its goal to have a fully carbon neutral product line by 2050. The 20t PC210LCE battery powered excavator, introduced at bauma 2022, made its North American debut with Proterra designed lithium ion battery technology that the company says delivers up to eight hours of operating time. A Proterra designed portable charging station was also introduced to facilitate jobsite recharging. At John Deere’s booth, shared with Wirtgen, the company showcased three ‘E-Power’ battery electric machines: the 310 ‘X-Tier’ backhoe, the 244 X-Tier compact wheel loader, and the 145 X-Tier excavator concept. All are part of the company’s drive to offer more than 20 battery-electric or hybrid machines by 2026.

More mini and micro mini equipment makers are getting in on electric power as well. Ausa unveiled its first zero emission electric dumper, the D151AEG. Powered by lithium ion batteries, the D151AEG can complete a full shift on a single charge. It features an integrated charger that can quickly charge the battery from 20% to 80% in just two hours. “We are extremely pleased with the results achieved at this year’s ConExpo-Con/Agg. We came to the trade show with high expectations, but the response to our products, especially the D151AEG electric dumper, was even better than we had initially anticipated,” remarked Ignasi Moner, Ausa US’s CEO. “The dumper has a long journey ahead in North America; we have been taking innovative ideas and concepts over to North America for a number of years. Our machines are increasingly successful and popular in this market.”

There were some new names amongst the battery powered models on display, including US based Volteq Equipment’s ‘Sky’ which boasts 454kg lifting capacity, more than a dozen attachments, and remote control from up to 49m away. Firstgreen Industries of the Czech Republic offered the ‘Elise 900’, reportedly the world's first fully electric skid steer loader, with a lifting capacity of more than 1,180kg, and the 787mm wide ‘MiniZ 400’ compact track loader with a lifting capacity of 400kg. Another new name to the US market was Italy’s Messersi, whose zero emission line includes two electric powered tracked dumpers, the 500kg TC50e and the 1,200kg TC120e, to complement a variety of conventionally powered compact dumpers, mini excavators and loaders.

Manufacturers also found ways to expand their market footprints. Longtime electric mini equipment maker Avant Tecno announced the formation of a new subsidiary dedicated to manufacturing ‘OptiTemp’ battery packs featuring a unique thermal management system that will power machines such as the new e527 and e513 900kg loaders for an entire workday on a single charge. In addition, the company claims OptiTemp batteries delivery the same capacity across temperature extremes, and, with a special rapid charger, can be restored to nearly full power in just 90min. “After working with electric loaders and batteries for decades, we realised that there was no battery pack in the world that would be perfectly optimised for compact loaders. That’s why we decided to start making batteries ourselves,” said Avant’s Mikko Piepponen.


Totally automatic

‘Develon’, Doosan’s rebranded construction equipment line, continued the rollout of new construction equipment line, with new additions including the 86.5kW DTL-35 compact track loader and 2t DX20ZE-7 electric mini excavator. Develon also showcased the latest developments in its ‘Concept-X’ autonomous equipment solution. Called Concept-X2, the system includes a new DD100-CX dozer and DX225-CX crawler excavator with GNSS based driving and blade control, automated 3D grading with a tiltrotator accessory, enhanced machine learning based auto digging and loading, an integrated work planning algorithm and ‘E-Stop’ safety technology. Develon sees compact equipment models Concept-X2 as integral parts of plans to become a top five player in the U.S. construction market by 2025. Opportunities for Concept-X2 will likely begin in the mining arena, and gradually expand to other markets. Develon has also developed a prototype hydrogen powered machine and is now evaluating options for the necessary support infrastructure.

Honda is also getting in on the autonomous vehicle market, debuting its 1t capacity ‘Autonomous Work Vehicle’ (AWV), which employs sensors to operate autonomously, using GPS for location, radar and lidar for obstacle detection and cameras for remote monitoring. To help contractors better understand the ‘brains’ behind autonomous construction vehicle technology, motion control specialist Moog Construction provided a demonstration of a programmable autonomous compact track loader.

Moog director of strategy and partnerships, Joe Baldi, says the technology is well suited for such large, remote locations, as well as handling repetitive tasks. “Autonomously delivering material provides a more consistent process and ensures crews have what they need where and when they need it to keep projects on track,” Baldi says. Moog’s ‘TerraTech’ ‘ecosystem’ of software, digital connectivity, and advanced mechatronics products for all electric equipment design and development was featured in Bobcat’s S7X all electric skid steer loader and autonomous concept machine ‘RogueX’, both which made their debut at ConExpo-Con/Agg, as well as the new T7X compact track loader, already in production.


But wait, there’s more!

There was plenty of news concerning attachments, buckets, drills and shears. Montabert unveiled a new four model line of boom and stick mounted demolition shears for carriers from 17t to 40t. The shears feature an oversize to cut the toughest materials, and an integrated speed valve helps to lower cycle times. The company also showcased the ‘SD’ hydraulic breaker series for carriers up to 12t. For aggregate producers, Montabert’s recent acquisition of Tramac sees an expanded line of breaker boom systems and is now the exclusive US distributor of the Lehnhoff ‘SQ-V Fully Automatic Symmetric’ quick coupler system for 8t to 43t excavators. Another new tiltrotator option was featured at Kinshofer’s booth, with the new TR045NO for 2t to 4.5t excavators. With a 2x45° tilt angle, the 150kg model can handle a breakout force of 40kN and tilt torque of 6.5kN.

At the Sandvik/Rammer booth, lifecycle manager for attachment tools Fernando Marques said the company has focused on optimising its hammer line for the different expectations of the U.S. market. “While noise is not as big an issue for most contractors as it is in Europe, there is a big interest in ‘plug and play’ attachments that will get maximum power from the smallest size,” Marques explained. Rammer has beefed up its line of rotary and static pulverisers with hoses and connections, new jaw patterns, and automatic greasing systems.

Versatility was also a common theme for Italian attachment maker Mazio, which now boasts engineering facilities in the Florida and Columbia and offers lines of crushers, pulverisers, multi processors, new tiltrotators that not only rotate 360°, but also side to side.  Mazio is also building a presence in the telematics market with the ‘Derek’ advanced asset management system. Sales director Jose Caraballo commented: “It has global connectivity, which means that owners can get product data no matter where the machine is located.”

Epiroc presented a preview of its new ‘SmartROC T25 R’ drill rig with a remote control system and digital functions designed to improve efficiency and help to reduce the rigs’ climate impact. Epiroc’s upgraded SmartROC T40 tophammer rig has been developed to consume less diesel than any other diesel-hydraulic rig in its class, according to the company. There was also the new DTH 5 hammer that Epiroc says offers twelve configurations. Aiming to capitalise on substantial US government investment in transportation infrastructure construction, Simex spotlighted the ‘D-Blade 200’, a floor saw with a diamond blade for linear cuts up to 200mm deep. Simex says its clean and burr free cut produces minimal waste material and avoids trench deformation, facilitating the filling phase and ensuring restoration quality.

Allu gave the North American debut to its ‘Veloci’ screening bucket. All five Veloci size models utilise polyurethane screening stars that create a rotating motion inside the bucket, screening and mixing the material. Veloci models also feature a double skin floor for use in demanding environments and/or dealing with demanding materials. Also new was Allu’s variable drum (‘VD’) that allows users to quickly replace blades without the need to open the chain box.

For larger crushing needs, UK based RubbbleCrusher made its North American debut at ConExpo-Con/Agg with its portable pull behind RC150V jaw crusher, and its track mounted counterpart, the RC150T. Both feature a hydraulically driven jaw allowing the crusher to be run both forward and in reverse, making it easier to clear blockages and process sticky asphalt material. Leguan debuted its ‘225 lift’, specially designed for outdoor work and challenging terrain. The company’s largest spider lift to date, the 225 can elevate 250kg to a working height of 22.5m, with 110° of platform rotation.


Taking the long view

If nothing else, ConExpo-Con/Agg attendees left Las Vegas with a good look of the construction industry’s not so distant future; one in which alternative power sources and technology take a greater role, but also one that still requires the human touch. Artificial intelligence can do a lot, but goes only so far. And, there’s still no robot yet that can deftly scope and make a perfect cut with a concrete saw, or determine the next move with an excavator. Some changes are happening incrementally, others have made great leaps (witness the aforementioned preponderance of electric and battery powered equipment). What might have been a prototype or even simply talked about concept this year might well be in full production the year when ConExpo-Con/Agg reconvenes in 2026.

The key, it seems, is to be ready for anything. At least that’s the approach that powertrain manufacturer FPT is taking. As the heart of most everything that moves, engines and transmissions might seem to be the last component to undergo significant change. Yet Braden Cammauf, FPT’s brand vice president for North America said that the company already has an ‘e-power’ line-up in the works, even as it continues to customise gasoline and diesel models for its customers in a variety of unique industries. What provides FPT with a valuable degree of nimbleness, Cammauf said, is a recognition is that its business is not simply about powertrains, but power itself. “We of course watch trends across economies and industries, and will make decisions as technology evolves,” Cammauf commented. “Being aware, being ready, and bringing solutions to the market when they’re needed is how you build loyalty, and build success.”

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