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Over the next 10 pages GE turns the spotlight on the plant manufacturer sector. Phil Bishop investigates.

Foundations and ground engineering has always been a tricky arena for mainstream plant manufacturers. There simply is not the size of market that there is for excavators, dump trucks or telescopic handlers. Without mass production, economies of scale are hard to fi nd and innovation is hard to finance.

Little wonder then that new developments from manufacturers often follow the lead of contractors building their own equipment or attachments.

It is similarly unsurprising that development in computerised electronic control systems tend to lag behind, taking its lead from development in other construction plant.

This, in turn, follows the automotive industry, which, compared with the construction machinery industry, is as rich as Croesus.

There is another factor that makes economy of scale difficult for plant manufacturers. Not only is the market relatively small, but the variety of techniques being used for foundations, ground improvement and ground stabilisation means that if manufacturers are to satisfy the market they have to offer an increasingly diverse array of products.

These economics mean that few major construction machinery manufacturers engage in this market.

Caterpillar, Komatsu, JCB, Terex and their ilk are absent. Liebherr is one of the few majors to offer foundations machinery.

Instead of big players, the industry is fi lled by an array of smaller specialists who maintain close relations with their customers. Some, such as Bauer of Germany, Casagrande and Soilmec of Italy, and Pennine of the UK have their own contracting operations, giving them hard-to-beat knowledge of what the market requires.

So long as every customer appears to want something slightly different from its competitors, product standardisation will be difficult and industry consolidation unlikely. On the positive side it makes this sector a dynamic, innovative industry, always moving forward with new solutions as each manufacturer seeks to assert its position in the market.

At the Bauma fair in Munich, last month, manufacturers put on show their latest offerings. While the equipment was diverse, there were certain common themes: power and performance, safety and environmental benefits.

Engines and winches get more powerful to drill deeper and faster.

Going deeper means new mast designs. There will be new levels of automation and new techniques.

According to the Bauma organisers, equipment on show demonstrated a strong trend towards soil mixing methods, such as cutter soil mixing (CSM) for constructing below ground walls. CSM uses milling wheels to loosen the ground and then mix the added suspension into a soil-cement mortar.

Over the following pages GE will look at where ground engineering plant is moving, explores state of the art machinery from manufacturers and discovers how well they meet their customers' needs.

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