The Budget would hopefully open up a lot of avenues on a national and state levels which will drive demand for backhoes.
It´s a fact that the backhoe market has been reduced to one-third of the actual market size, and currently, supply is more compared to demand, and the industry is not very hopeful for a turnaround, especially in this financial year. Sanjay M Desai, Director, MSD Engineers, throws light on the Mumbai market. ´In 2011, the market for backhoes in Mumbai and Thane region was around 900 units. The market gradually came down to 700 in 2012, 400 in 2013 and 350 in 2014. So the market has dropped by more than half in 2014 compared to the figures of 2011. This is probably the lowest point.´ He adds, ´It is expected that the new Budget would hopefully open up a lot of avenues on a national and state levels. Along with the project approvals, flow of money will improve. As of today, there is fund crunch for the ongoing projects and the contractors have been affected by delay in cash flow cycle. In this scenario, most of the new purchases are being deferred by most of the contractors.´ According to Sunil Tiku, Senior Director-Sales & Marketing, Terex Equipment, the plant hiring segment, a major demand puller, is not yet out the woods. Money has not yet been paid to them by the original project contractors, for various reasons. Typically the demand from plant hiring segment will follow the capex programmes of large contractors, and we are seeing some good movement in this segment.´
In spite of the prevailing economic slowdown and its adverse impact on the earthmoving equipment sector, in the last couple of years, backhoe loader market has witnessed a spurt of new/upgraded models. LeeBoy India, which launched its first backhoe loader-the LeeBoy 699 (99 hp, 7.6T) in July 2013 - is all set to launch its new model - the LeeBoy 679 (80 hp, 7.5T) in November 2014. With a main objective of helping its customers increase the productivity and offer enhanced operating experience to the operators, Terex launched an upgraded version of TLB 740 and 844 series of backhoe loaders in March 2014.In July 2014, Caterpillar unveiled its upgraded model, 424 B backhoe. JCB India introduced a new version of India´s highest selling construction equipment JCB 3DX - the new ´JCB 3DXcellence´ in 2013; in November same year, CASE launched new EX Series backhoe loaders - the 770 EX, 770 EX Magnum and 851 EX - ranging from 76 hp to 96 hp. Escorts launched Digmax II in 2013 and ACE revamped its existing range with some added/improved features and renamed it ´Digmaster.´
Despite a heavily contracted backhoe market, almost by one-third; ever increasing competition - not only from new entrants but also from other product segments such as wheel loaders, skid steers and mini excavators; and heavily skewed supply demand equation, OEMs have not left any stones unturned. For the market leader, it is to protect and retain its customer base, while for others it is to bite into the major pie and also to develop new customer base spread across geographies. Concepts such as Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) have assumed greater importance in an environment where sales continues to decline. On the other hand, end-user segments are grappling with issues like shrinking business and escalating costs of operation and growing overheads. It was logical for OEMs to innovate further and come out with value-added features that help enhance productivity, whereas the end-user segments´ major focus is on fast and better output, efficiency of their operations, etc. In brief, improving machine performance, optimising O&M cost, and ease of operation has assumed greater importance. And that is what the backhoe market has been witnessing for the past two years.
Says Amit Gossain, EVP-Sales, Marketing and Business Development, JCB India, ´Product improvement is a continuous process at JCB. We add innovation and hard work to our customers´ valued feedback - the result of which is the launch of industry changing products time and again. This time, we have launched our next generation backhoe loaders. These new, innovative backhoe loaders will maximise the returns and substantially. We have received an overwhelming response from our customers till now. This range is developed to suit different user segments for different applications. Our customers are dedicated and hardworking and similarly, want machines that can work in any terrain, in any weather condition - our customers want robust, rugged and reliable machines. At JCB, our endeavor is to provide our customers with machines, which provide higher return on investment and the best-in-class fuel efficiency.
According to Tiku, ´The upgraded TLB backhoe´s further strengthened its position as the fastest digging and loading backhoe loader in its pack especially in the toughest strata. The reliable and efficient TLB 740 and 844S, will confidently beat any competitor in a match of digging, loading or dozing while SmartUC hydraulics on this machine helps save diesel even while maximizing work output. Terex backhoes perform faster while digging and loading at lower operating costs.´
´The 2WD variant of the 679 is intended for the domestic market and we are also launching a 4WD variant for the Latin American and other price-sensitive markets, informs Amarnath Ramachandran, Vice President & Head, Business Development, LeeBoy India. He adds, ´Our focus while engineering and manufacturing all these products has been to ensure that the machines are of high quality and serviceable globally. They are fitted with state-of-the-art aggregates and features that increase productivity for the end-user. The machines we make are sold in India and overseas.´ ´We have done some quality upgradation in the improved range with changes in engine, cylinder, structure, etc. Apart from the technical changes there are changes in cabin, bonnet, etc,´ says Dilip Magee, Head-Sales & Marketing (RCED & EED), Action Construction Equipment. He opines, ´We did these changes based on the feedback from our customers on certain problems, which they were facing. We also considered the customer feedback on added features they are looking for in the near future. Our customers appreciated the new look and improvisation of our backhoe loader range. Our machines have evolved and our customers are using these in difficult terrains of Himalayas with rock breaker, as an attachment. They are very happy with the quality and performance of the machines. We are hopeful that in the coming months we can do better.´
Rajinder Raina, General Manager - Marketing, Escorts Construction Equipment, says,´Like any new product, Digmax had its share of teething problems. It was obvious that all these problems had to be addressed but what was done additionally was to incorporate features that made it a product with contemporary technology and features. The structure has been made much more robust through improved design and metallurgy. A number of safety features have been added. There is a strategically placed SOS button for the operator when he needs external help. There are foolproof systems like audio warnings against wrong operations by the operator when the outriggers are engaged.´
Raina claims, ´Escorts has entered the market with a clear objective to reach the number two spot in next 2-3 years´ time from now and this would be possible only by having a top end product. In a de-growing market, Digmax II is the only product that has shown consistent growth which is a proof of positive response.´ Says Amit Bansal, Sales and Marketing Director, India Region BCP Division, Caterpillar Inc, ´The Cat 424B backhoe loader is recognized as best in class in performance, productivity, reliability and durability. In view of customer requirements, we have designed two models to choose from depending on the job and application requirement. The hydraulic system of the new 424B has been completely redesigned to deliver reduced fuel burn. It offers outstanding fuel efficiency in its class and is more appropriate for the hiring segment. Whereas the other model 424B HD delivers superior productivity and will appeal to customers who want to complete the job in a shorter time period. The 424B HD has heavier axle and transmission, bigger hoe bucket and sturdier hammer ready boom to meet more challenging tasks. Both the models have increased loader bucket capacity and also have the option to switch controls from ´ +´ to ´ x´ or vice versa.´
Ease of operation
Most of the OEMs have gone that extra mile to see drivers´ comfort levels, ease of maintenance and serviceability, and ease of operation are enhanced. Says Gossain, ´Operator comfort and safety are paramount for JCB. Our cabins are fitted with world-class operator control features, operator seat, space for the operator to keep his belongings, heat insulation, alerts for machine operation, etc. We also offer air conditioning in our backhoe loaders.´ He adds, ´JCB backhoes are the easiest to service, given its unique design of fully opening bonnet, which provides easy access to the engine compartment. Also, our backhoes have a detachable plate on the cabin floor, which gives access to transmissions.´
´The cabin is now fitted with suspension type operator seat, enhancing operator comfort reducing fatigue over long working hours. A FM radio set with speakers and mobile charging point has been included as standard fitment,´ informs Tiku.´Operator comfort, suspension type seat, high all around visibility from cabin, sensitive levers and above all safety and reliability of the cab structure makes for a safe and great working environment for the operator. Besides, the cab all other touch points, like daily and preventive maintenance ports for the engine, transmission, axles, structural joints, pins, bushes and above all hydraulic line inspection has been made easier and simple. A five minutes´ walk around the machine is good enough to get to all of these and helps an operator keep this machine fighting fit,´ Tiku adds.
According to Raina, backhoe loaders are serviced at work sites where the availability of tools, tackles and other support is minimal. A good machine shall be easy to service with minimum help. ´All the major components that need preventive maintenance are accessible just on opening of the bonnet. The cab position and design give wide angle visibility and comfort to the operator who is to carry out his job for more than 8 hour on the trot,´ he adds.
According to Magee, major features in backhoe loaders of different makes are common. There are no great advantages on one over the other. He avers, ´For ease of operation, we have put a dump switch to the gear lever, which was not there earlier. The cabin has been redesigned with better visibility in mind. Operator comfort has been taken care of in the new model and is now more comfortable in our machines than earlier. We have changed the bonnet. Earlier, we were providing a tractor type metallic bonnet, which was very hard to lift and serviceability was also not good. But now we have designed the structure more aesthetically with better and lighter material. It is easy to operate and comes with hydraulic jacks which can automatically lift.´
´LeeBoy has built-in features to enable operators to expend less effort with much greater precision of movement during working. This helps provide better controllability, maintain motion under any flow or load and take away the strain from the operator. Overall, they maximise efficiency and productivity and reduce cycle times,´ says Amarnath. According to him, the specially designed cabin provides excavator like comfort to the operator. It is the only cabin with curved glass to allow for excellent visibility of the swing area. The tinted glass is an additional safety feature. Ergonomic joysticks can be adjusted to an infinite amount of positions to enable maximum comfort for the operator and minimize fatigue.
Amarnath further adds, ´When the operator is operating the backhoe, the left-side features a large, easy-to-read, standard operator display for the starter switch, tachometer-cum-hour metre, warning and indicator lights. The front panel houses the electronic instrument cluster and rocker switches; the return to dig function feature for automatic bucket rollback and boom lowering after tipping enables the operator to handle only the machine driving functions when operating the front end loader. Ride control is enabled to ensure minimum spillage from the loader bucket on bumpy terrain for loading operations. This also stabilises the steering and ride comfort when operating the loader.´
Desai sums up on a high note. ´Looking at the future potential, from today´s level, the demand can more than double on a gradual pace. Within the next 4-6 months there will be good demand. The demand is dependent on cyclical nature of the industry. We are hopeful that we should see some sign of improvement post-monsoon which is in September-October. If the Budget provides a good sign for growth for infrastructure segments, then our industry will also grow as demand for equipment to these projects will go up. So, overall scenario shows that some momentum will come by September and results will start showing in 2016.´
Most of the OEMs have gone that extra mile to see drivers´ comfort levels, ease of maintenance and serviceability, and ease of operation are enhanced.