OPERATOR CORNER: The Netherlands …without a Volvo EC480DL excavator to take the strain.
by Cathy Smith
An elderly resident watches the demolition machines at work in the north Amsterdam suburb of De Banne. Despite experiencing a touch of nostalgia as his local shopping mall is slowly reduced to rubble, he confesses to being fascinated by the excavators themselves.
It is a compelling sight – a 50-tonne machine tugging out a steel cable from a concrete block with its giant serrated teeth, as if sucking up a string of spaghetti.
At the controls of the Volvo EC480DL is 21-year-old Pim Weinands. He learned how to operate heavy construction equipment at the age of 16, even before he could drive a car.
“The machines are spectacular – a real challenge. I thought, if I can make my money from operating these machines, then that’s for me.”
He has been working at the De Banne shopping center site for eight weeks. The main building structure has already been demolished and he is now busy breaking up the foundations of the 8,500m2 site, separating out metal, concrete and electrical wiring to be sent for recycling.
Although this is the first time Weinands has operated such a large excavator, since mastering the controls of the EC480DL he has become a huge fan. “The machine listens very carefully. It does what I want it to do. And after a couple of times you know exactly what it’s capable of and you start to trust it.”
A brand new neighborhood shopping mall has already opened nearby for the north Amsterdam residents and the old site is being cleared to make way for a new primary school.
Weinands works for Robert Eerens whose company, Eerens Sloopwerken (Eerens Demolition) based in Assen in the far north of The Netherlands, was brought in as a subcontractor to speed up the project with heavier machines. The EC460HR high-reach excavator started the job and the low-reach machine is finishing it off.
Robert Eerens sees something of Pim Weinands in himself, describing them both as being “carved from the same block”. He also started to train as an operator at the age of 16, although his passion for demolition began much earlier than that.
“Even at primary school I was crazy about demolition. When anything happened in my neighborhood, I was always there. I was more interested in demolition machines than my schoolwork.”
Eerens also shares Weinands’ enthusiasm for the Volvo machines, and the EC480DL in particular, although these days he sees it with his business hat on. “The machine is good for ripping up foundations. It’s very powerful but uses less fuel than the competitors’ machinery.”
The dealer who supplied all six of Eerens’ Volvo machines is Kuiken Construction Equipment Netherlands, based in Emmeloord, north-east of Amsterdam. Sales Manager Peter Cnossen says orders are starting to pick up again now the Dutch economy is officially out of recession, and customers who are ready to invest are not always just looking at the price tag.
“If they want to buy, they want to buy an A-class machine. Customers are very conscious of fuel efficiency, low hourly running costs and the total cost of owning an excavator. “Dutch customers are also very demanding,” he adds. “They want a crawler to be multifunctional – to be able to do earth-moving, demolition and recycling jobs.”
The EC480DL provides all that flexibility. Within a matter of minutes, Weinands is able to detach the grapple attachment on the boom and replace it with a 5.5-tonne crusher attachment to enable him to break up the concrete into even smaller pieces. Then a mobile recycling crusher will come to the site and reduce the rubble even further, crushing it into 4cm gravel. All 15,000 tonnes of concrete from this project will be taken away and recycled as foundation material for building new roads.
The Netherlands tops the European league for recycling demolition and construction waste. Cnossen says his customers are very environmentally aware, which influences their choice of construction equipment. Volvo CE, he explains, has a “clean and green” image in the Netherlands and customers are impressed by the low-emission Stage IIIB engines in the latest models.
As for Weinands, as he maneuvers his excavator across the remains of the 1960s shopping mall, he is happy to have had a chance to operate such a big machine so early in his career. The working life expectancy of a machine like the EC480DL is around 10,000 hours, so with only 200 hours on the clock, this one has a long way to go. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship.