New engine emission legislation has forced manufacturers to update their bestselling models. But price conscious customers want more than just new engines, as Margo Cole discovers on a visit to New Holland’s Italian production and test facility.
Earlier this year, the latest version of tough new emissions standards came into force across the EU and US for all non-road vehicles with diesel engines, including construction equipment like drilling rigs, compressors, wheel loaders, excavators and mobile cranes. The standards, known as Stage IIIB in Europe and Tier 4 interim in the US, are intended to reduce emissions of substances like nitrogen oxide and diesel particulate matter, which are linked with health problems.
As the names suggest, the current standards are a step on the route to the compulsory introduction of even cleaner engines (Stage IV/Tier 4 final), due to come into force for all but the smallest powered equipment in 2014.
Range of approaches
The major manufacturers have adopted a range of approaches to meet these standards, based on two different technologies, SCR (selective catalytic reduction) or EGR (exhaust gas recirculation). Whichever approach they opt for, the equipment companies are faced with substantial development costs and the challenge of launching more expensive machines onto the market at a time when the industry is in recession.
The regulations deadline is not just about making a machine that will comply and giving you a price increase
Antonio Strati, New Holland
While there are undoubted health benefits in cleaner exhaust emissions, few contractors had the issue at the top of their priority list, so they are reluctant to spend the extra few thousand pounds these new machines cost without some additional benefits. As a result, leading manufacturers have all packed their new Stage IIIB-compliant machines with a host of other upgrades so their customers are not simply paying the price for meeting the standards.
“The regulations deadline is not just about making a machine that will comply and giving you a price increase,” explains New Holland Construction European product manager for wheeled and crawler excavators Alain de Nanteuil. “We try to add something at the same time.”
His equivalent on the wheel loader side of the New Holland construction equipment business, Antonio Strati, adds.
“The regulations are something we must do, so we’ve tried to use these regulations to have a better product and meet customer needs. To develop a new machine costs a lot of money, but if you have to do it you should use this opportunity to have a better machine.”
New Holland started working on the Stage IIIB- and Stage IV-compliant models around four years ago. The firm and its sister company Case are majority-owned by Italian motor giant Fiat’s industrial division, which also includes Iveco trucks and commercial vehicles, and engine company FPT.
The regulations are something we must do, so we’ve tried to use these regulations to have a better product and meet customer needs
Antonio Strati, New Holland
The timetable for cleaning up engine emissions is further advanced in the on-road sector, so Fiat Industrial had already developed new engines for trucks and commercial vehicles before the standards came into force in the construction sector. “The truck business did it before us, and I think our work is a little easier compared to our colleagues in the truck business,” says Strati.
“The different planning of the regulations meant the truck side had to go first for technical innovations,” adds de Nanteuil, “SCR technology has been in Iveco trucks since 2004.”
With access to the in-house expertise used to develop the on-road engines, New Holland started to focus on identifying what other benefits should be included in the new range of machines.
“Before we begin the development of a new product we use external consultancy companies to do customer surveys to set us up in the right direction,” explains de Nanteuil.
Strati adds: “When we are creating machines, we try to get feedback from the market so that we can understand what are the customer needs and how we can improve our previous machines to meet these needs.
“We collect this information centrally, but then we have to try to find solutions that can be good for different parts of world, because the needs are not always the same.”
This process highlighted the importance of improved productivity and better fuel efficiency to New Holland’s customers. “For customers, fuel efficiency is very important because the fuel price has increased in recent years,” explains Strati.
As a result, the company set itself the challenge of creating a range of Stage IIIB-compliant machines that are more productive and fuel efficient than the previous versions - no mean feat when the base technologies used to clean up exhaust emissions inherently reduce fuel efficiency.
An important part of New Holland’s development process is what it calls the “clinic test”, when customers from all over Europe are brought together to try out the existing machines, prototypes for new versions, and competitors’ machines in the same market. Operators put the machines through a variety of tests, and data is collected on factors like fuel consumption and productivity.
“For customers, fuel efficiency is very important because the fuel price has increased in recent years”
Antonio Strati, New Holland
After the tests the operators give their views on the pros and cons of each machine, and talk about the issues that are of most importance to them and which are less important. While these issues vary from country to country – safety is far higher up the agenda in the UK than elsewhere in Europe, for example – the firm’s ultimate aim is to come up with designs that will work in most territories, with only minor tweaks for specific markets.
“Europe is complicated,” says Strati. “There are so many differences in each country - different markets, different approaches and different habits. There are some things where you get a lot of agreement, and others that are very different. In some cases we come up with different configurations to meet these different needs.”
Designs may be tweaked after the clinic test, after which prototypes will go to customers who use them on site, enabling the company to collect data about productivity, efficiency, performance and serviceability. New features on the models launched by New Holland this year – many of which were due to be on display for the first time at this week’s Intermat exhibition in Paris – include upgraded cabs to give better visibility and roll protection, as well as rear view cameras linked to the in-cab monitors, rather than a separate screen.
Having tried to accommodate the differing priorities of its pan-European customer base, de Nanteuil says the company now has a range of machines that can be sold on a variety of factors: increased income through better productivity; operator comfort and safety; fuel efficiency; and low maintenance.
But, he adds, there is an education element that comes with selling the new machines, as the drive to increase productivity and reduce fuel consumption has resulted in some models achieving the same power as their predecessors in a smaller package.
“Some customers just say ‘I need a 20t wheel loader’, because that is what they always had before,” he says.
“Ours is actually an 18t machine, so they should actually be thinking about what they want the machine to do, not what size it is.”
Testing and development at New Holland’s Italian base continues as the company moves towards Stage IV compliance in 2014, and customers can expect another generation of enhancements when those machines are unveiled.