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Construction equipment: Driving design

JCB’s latest machines indicate where it is focusing its innovation, as Margo Cole reports.


Fast forward: JCB’s new ‘CommandPlus’ cab, has been developed using the assets available at the manufacturer’s Innovation Centre

Last month JCB unveiled a range of new machines for the European market, spanning almost all of it product categories - from mini and compact excavators to ­telehandlers and specialist kit for the waste handling industry.

The largest new on show was the 457 wheeled loader, JCB’s first large wheeled loader to meet EU Stage IV/US Tier 4 Final emissions standards. The company has once again managed to achieve the standard without the need for a diesel particulate filter (DPF), relying instead on an efficient combustion process, with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system and an exhaust fluid additive to meet the regulations.

It is also the first new machine on the construction side of the business to feature JCB’s new ‘CommandPlus’ cab, developed using the full capability of the Innovation Centre, which opened last year at JCB’s HQ in Staffordshire to give the firm’s designers all the tools they need to collaborate on develop new ideas.

“The CommandPlus cab is all about making it a more comfortable place to be,” explains JCB product marketing manager for wheeled loading shovels Peter Gallagher.

Design evolution for the new cab started back in September 2010, with representatives from individual business units joining forces with the firm’s industrial designers to list all the benefits that an end user might want from a cab. “We began with a broad brushstrokes concept phase that took us through to 2011, when we started testing and exploring what the boundaries of the CommandPlus cab were,” explains JCB head of industrial design Mike Turner.

An important early decision was to move from using off the shelf parts in the interior of the cab to bespoke parts made specifically for JCB. This included everything from the control switches to the seat fabric. “Everything the operator comes into contact with has to feel right,” says Turner.

By March 2012 the design team had the control system architecture up and running, and was able to benchmark the new cab concept against other machines in the market. “We needed to sanity-check that the assumptions we’d made were working and were not wide of the mark,” says Turner. “We’ve spent the last 18 months to two years making physical mock-ups, benchmarking and going back to the drawing boards.”

jcb pothole master

He admits to getting “obsessed” by the minutiae - right down to the slip and grip of the seating fabric and the width of the stitching on the seats. “We’ve gone into the detailed design of the seating cushions, and the density of the foam - things that seem small, like the design of the vents so they are easier to operate in cold climates.

“When it came to the colour palette for the interior we looked at the colour of dust in different countries; and we wanted the right grain in the plastic so it can easily be wiped down,” he adds.

According to Turner, the end result - based on feedback and internal site testing - is that “this is the cab our operators have been wanting from us”. “It gives them the flexibility they need, and demonstrates maturity on our part that we have really listened to what people want,” says Turner.

JCB chief innovation and growth officer Tim Burnhope says the “power wall” that is the centerpiece of the new innovation centre has proved invaluable during the design process for the CommandPlus cab. “It has allowed us to bring a lot of people together and ask what are the issues - for example how you’re using a switch,” he says. “It’s all about bringing the team together and questioning every bit of detail.”

Burnhope says Turner “had the most difficult job in the world” bringing together the wheel loader team and the tractor team to ensure the design of the CommandPus cab would work in both construction and agriculture - and ultimately be translated into something that could go into even the smaller machines.

“What emerged very quickly was a core group of people dedicated to cabs,” says Turner. “An important voice has been the test site feedback - even when we were at the early ‘fag packet’ stage.”

The result of all this collaboration is a cab that is 13% bigger than on the previous wheeled loader model, and has 22% more visibility. It is also quieter and far more intuitive for operators to use - all of which should lead to an improvement in efficiency - “the right cab environment to get on with the job”, as Turner puts it.

So, while all the big construction equipment manufacturers are looking at designing remotely operated machines to improve efficiency, Burnhope thinks it is still important that the ­company has invested significant time and money in creating a new cab.

“Everybody is looking at whether the operator will be on the machine or not, but in the short term the industry needs to work on is why it is that companies might want the operators not to be on machines,” he says.

“If it is the cost of the operator, that’s very low compared with the cost of fuel). But if it is about efficiency, then the operator should be as productive as they can be - and that means putting the operator in the best environment.”

New products

jcb pothole master

Among the machines launched last month was a special edition of the company’s classic 3CX backhoe loader, designed specifically for road maintenance.

The Potholemaster (above) - aimed at local councils and maintenance contractors - has all the attributes of a traditional 3CX, but also includes a 400mm wide dipper-mounted patch planer and a sweeper shovel located on the front loader arms. JCB claims the 400mm wide planer can be used for a wide range of applications, from single pass small pothole repairs to complete highway sections.

The front end of the machine is equipped with a 2.3m wide hydraulic sweeper collector shovel to pick up road planings

The Potholemaster also includes a hand-held power tool hydraulic circuit, so that operatives can use breakers and saws to cut around ironwork in the road and provide a clean end to the patch area.

“Traditionally councils and contractors have had to use a wide array of cutting, breaking and planning machinery, with separate road sweepers and rollers to carry out even the smallest of pothole repairs,” says the firm. “The single backhoe loader-based solution greatly reduces the number of machines required to carry out this type of work, reducing cost and increasing utilisation for the local authority.”

When it is not being used for road repair duties, the attachments can be removed, and the machine operated as a traditional backhoe loader. “Councils will have a machine that is capable of loading grit and clearing snow in the winter months, or helping with flood prevention and other duties in the summer,” says JCB. “This ensures that the customer can achieve maximum utilisation, without having to have additional machines that are only used on a seasonal basis.”

Another innovation just launched by the firm is a hybrid generator, which it believes will be ideal for construction sites where the load requirement varies throughout the day. “Generators are specified to meet the peak load requirement of an application, yet off-grid sites often face significant changes in load requirement throughout the day, leading to inefficient running of the generator and excessive fuel use,” says JCB.

The Intelli-Hybrid generator has a series of high capacity, deep cycle battery cells stored in the base of the unit. These batteries are charged by the generator during periods of higher load, when the engine is running at its most efficient output. During periods of low load, the engine can be stopped and the batteries continue to supply the power, reducing fuel consumption and cutting emissions.

JCB says that, typically, a 100kVA generator on a construction site will use up to 120l of fuel per day running at low load, creating up to 340kg of carbon. By turning the engine off for up to 10 hours in a 24 hour period and relying on battery power, up to 40l of fuel could be saved every day, with a similar reduction in emissions.
In addition, while the generator is operating on battery power, potentially through the night, there will be no noise emissions, making it an attractive option for urban sites.

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