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Clean machines

The latest JCB machines have innovative new engines that should appeal to fleet managers and plant hire firms alike. Margo Cole reports.


JCB has stolen a march on its rivals by unveiling a new engine that meets the European Union’s Stage IIIB (United States Tier 4i) emissions legislation without the need for expensive aftertreatment or diesel particulate filters (DPFs). The Ecomax engine will be fitted to a wide range of the firm’s most popular machines, including backhoe loaders, telehandlers, wheeled loaders and excavators.

The emissions legislation sets stringent limits for particulate and nitrous oxide emissions from off-highway vehicles, including construction equipment.

Commercial production of the Ecomax engine has just started at JCB’s Staffordshire power train factory after the company invested £80M developing the engines and spent 110,000 hours testing them in 70 different machines.

“The received wisdom for the new emissions legislation is that you need DPF and after-treatment,” says JCB engine service manager Ollie Howlett. “Our approach was to innovate and develop a solution that eliminates the pollutant at source - in the engine itself rather than in the exhaust system.”

This is achieved through a cooled exhaust gas recirculation (ECR) system, a patented combustion chamber -“where the magic starts to happen, according to Howlett - and a variable geometry turbocharger.

“Our approach was to innovate and develop a solution that eliminates the pollutant at source - in the engine itself”

“This was never just about complying with the legislation; we had to deliver meaningful benefits to our customers. So the fuel consumption is very low, and there are significant maintenance and service-related benefits,” he says.

These include the fact that the new engines can run on standard engine oils - unlike those with after-treatment, which require specialist oils that can be up to 30% more expensive - and do not require additives (such as AdBlue).

Fuel and air filters have been upgraded for the Ecomax engines, and they also require extra filters on the fuel supply line and crankcase, but JCB claims service costs will not rise substantially compared with the previous Stage IIIA-compliant models, and extra costs will be more than outweighed by fuel savings of up to 10%

Ease of operation and servicing are bound to appeal to owner-operators and plant hire firms, but perhaps the biggest coup JCB has scored with the new engine is to make it derateable, so that machines fitted with an Ecomax engine can be sold on to countries where there are no legislative demands for exhaust emissions. At the moment there is a massive resale market for used machines in Africa, India and Eastern Europe.

Equipment is typically shipped there from the UK and Western Europe after a couple of years’ use, and fleet owners factor the price they can get for their machines into the cost/benefit analysis for investing in new equipment.

But Stage IIIB-compliant engines run on ultra-low sulphur fuel, which is unavailable in these territories, so, effectively, the introduction of the tough emissions legislation has wiped out this market, leaving owners wondering how they can recoup some of the cost of investing in new machines - and making them more reluctant to make that investment.


JCB has overcome this by designing and building the new engine in such a way that the components that make it Stage IIIB-compliant can be disconnected, so the machines can be recalibrated and sold into less heavily regulated countries where fuels have a higher sulphur content.

“Stage IIIB machines need to run on ultra-low sulphur diesel, and that’s not available everywhere, so there are limited resale options,” explains Howlett. “We considered the market and went for an innovative recalibration. The ECR can be turned off without any hardware changes, so the machine can be taken out of the emissions tier system and into a market where they use lower grade fuels.”

The first machines fitted with Ecomax engines were launched at the end of last month, and include JCB’s market leading 3CX and 4CX backhoes and the Loadall telehandler range.

“We didn’t look at [Stage IIIB] as an inconvenience but as an opportunity to introduce more efficiency, performance and productivity to our machines,” explains JCB chief innovation and growth officer Tim Burnhope.

The new backhoes, for example, are between 2% and 11% more fuel efficient than their predecessors and come in a range of power ratings from 55kW to 81kW, all of which are more productive than the previous models.

The firm has not had to make major changes to the styling of the new backhoes because the Ecomax engine does not require extra space, explains JCB group
engineering director Mick Mohan.

“The introduction of these three excavators is far more than an engine change. We have looked at every aspect of the machines”

“With no DPF and no aftertreatment there has been no need to make any changes to the sloping bonnet and grill. We’ve not had to make any structural changes to accommodate the Stage IIIB solution, so the visibility from the cab is not compromised.”

The new engines have sophisticated electronic control units (ECUs) embedded in them, similar to those in modern cars. As a result, backhoe operators no longer have to perform any daily checks under the bonnet, because they can all be carried out from within the cab, where displays show service and critical engine information.

This information can also be sent via JCB’s LiveLink telematics system to the fleet manager or machine owner - a facility that is likely to prove popular with plant hire companies, as they usually hire out machines knowing full well that the operator is unlikely to perform the required daily checks. With the combination of the new ECU and the telematics system the plant hirer can see exactly how the machine is being used and be alerted if there are any problems.

The system can report on a wide range of parameters, including fuel consumption, working time, travel and duty work cycle data, emissions data and service and critical warning messages.

The new Ecomax engines are also being fitted to three mid-range models in JCB’s JS excavator range, the JS115, JS130 and JS145, which the firm says are the only crawler excavators in the 11t to 15t sector to meet Stage IIIB requirements without the need for a DPF or aftertreatment.


Burnhope says that, when it came to the new excavator models, the Stage IIIB programme “has been about more than just developing a solution to meet the engine legislation”, adding that the firm’s aim was to reduce operating costs, make operation easier and improve fleet management.

Fuel efficiency is around 10% better than the previous generation, and new features on this latest range include a colour display in the cab that allows the owner or operator to select the working mode they want to use - with a colour coding system promoting use of the most economical mode.

“It puts the owner/operator in charge of productivity,” says Burnhope.

“The introduction of these three excavators is far more than an engine change. We have looked at every aspect of the machines,” he adds.

“These machines are perfect for the rental market and for contractors.”

In all, JCB is launching 66 new machines this year - more than any other year in its history - to meet the Stage IIIB requirements. The latest batch also includes new versions of the popular Loadall telehandler range fitted with Ecomax engines, as well as wheel loaders fitted with Cummins engines that are 16% more fuel efficient than their predecessors.

The firm is already working on developing engines that will meet the final stage of emissions legislation (Stage IV), which is set to come into force in 2014. Despite having achieved Stage IIIB levels by cleaning up the exhaust within the engine, Howlett admits that he expects every manufacturer - including JCB - “to go for SCR” to achieve Stage IV.

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