UNITED STATES: Volvo CE is making extensive modifications to a fleet of excavators for a California-based demolition company
by Julian Gonzalez
As the sun slowly rises to the east of Sunnyvale, California, the still, dry air ignites with an escalating heat that is matched only by the city’s reputation for being a hotbed of high-tech giants such as Apple, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft. All are based, or have offices, in the Silicon Valley community.
Located 40 miles (64km) south of San Francisco, Sunnyvale’s ambition to attract more high-tech businesses is unwavering. To make room for further growth, FERMA Corporation, a national leader in the demolition industry, is using its own technologically advanced machinery, including a fleet of Volvo EC350EL excavators, to help clear the way for the city’s future.
In 1963, four brothers and a partner started FERMA as a site-clearing business. Over the years, it evolved into a pioneering engineering and demolition company that today knocks down everything from high-rise structures to small business buildings such as the one currently being demolished by two EC350EL machines on the future site of a Google parking lot.
“Our specialty is high-reach excavators – basically, the extremes of what a machine can reach in all directions,” says Marc Ferrari, president of FERMA Corp. “Right now, in North America, we have the highest-reaching demolition machine, just shy of 200 feet [60.96m],” he explains. “We currently have seven high-reach machines and some of those are modified for super depth. We also have a machine which currently extends to 110 feet [33.53m] below water with a variety of tools to handle a wide scope of underwater work.”
Similar to its hi-tech neighbors, FERMA is focused on staying ahead of the competition with a vision that makes it difficult for the rest of the industry to keep pace. Its mantra to create unparalleled value by using the latest in technology and machinery is the reason why Ferrari recently switched FERMA’s patronage to Volvo CE. Its EC350EL carries a D13 Tier 4 Final engine, a new electrohydraulic control system and Volvo CE’s unique ECO mode that can deliver up to 9% greater fuel efficiency, something that Ferrari says was hard to believe at first.
“We had heard outlandish claims from other brands, but this was actually true. They’re running on about eight US gallons [30.3l] per hour and because we run mostly tools, we have them running at higher RPMs for longer than most other applications. We’re always at the high end, or maxed, based on the type of work we do and the tools we use,” he explains. “Because we’re doing demolition, there’s always activity, so we achieve more than 90% working utilization while the engine is running versus the industry standard of around 60-75%. These machines, when they’re on, they’re working.”
The first of 20 Volvo EC350ELs arrived in August 2015 to join the EC480E high-reach excavator Ferrari already runs for FERMA. Volvo CE dealer Dan McCausland admits it was not easy persuading the demolition innovator that FERMA’s future was with Volvo CE.
“In the United States, Volvo CE has only been marketing excavators since around 2000,” says McCausland. “The machines have come a long way over the last few years with Tier 4 Final engine technology and their ability to run multiple attachments, such as a concrete processor, a shear, a hydraulic breaker and a bucket and thumb. Now, the operator can program all of the attachment hydraulic pressures and different flow settings from the monitor in the cab.”
Once convinced, Ferrari worked closely with local dealer VCES to instruct FERMA operators who were not familiar with the brand. “We’ve had a great deal of help from Volvo CE and VCES getting our operators comfortable with the Volvos, and dialing in the controls so they were similar to what they have been used to,” he says.
McCausland adds that Volvo CE is a big advocate of the demolition industry both in its support of the National Demolition Association (NDA) and in supplying machines specific to the demolition industry.
As the third-generation family member to lead the company, Ferrari’s innovative ideas, such as the heavy-duty bucket-and-thumb attachment he designed that can grasp objects as small as a one-inch (25.4mm) pipe, have helped FERMA’s annual gross revenue skyrocket from $40 million (c. €35 million) in 2012 to $70 million (c. €62 million) in 2014.
Just as impressive, Ferrari has used his innovations and his Volvo EC350EL fleet to recycle an average of 98.5% of the material demolished by FERMA at every site, a statistic that is practically unheard of in the demolition industry.
“We’re pushing the limits. We started on-site recycling back in 1983. We have played a big role in crusher technology and how we use it in the demolition sector. We also run mobile shredders, wood chippers and material sorters. With all of those technologies, we’ve basically pushed the limits in mechanical recycling to benefit the environment and our company goals. Our equipment might look like ordinary machines but they have special tweaks and modifications made for our needs.”
And just as FERMA pushes the limits with its novel ideas, Volvo CE has shown it can do the same by making things easier and more efficient for the Bay Area company.
“The EC350EL has two cameras and heavy-duty side bumpers. Volvo CE is quite supportive when a customer has unique needs to be able to work in a safe and protected environment. It says a lot about Volvo CE, how they tried to make me happy,” says Ferrari. “We also asked VCES to customize the controls. We now have digital-frequency wired-in radios in the machines. We took out the factory stereos, put in the radios, ran them through the factory speakers and wired in toggle controls for the microphones and the push-to-talk, so now the operator never has to take his hands off the excavator controls to talk to the personnel around him. It’s a very nice safety feature.”
Not as accommodating, however, are California’s strict restrictions on weight, which forced FERMA to make slight modifications to the EC350EL before it could be put to work in the Golden State.
“The threshold for us is 92,400lbs [41,912kg] so anything under that is legal,” says Ferrari. “When we tried out the Volvo EC380E, without all of our customizations, it was at 92,000 lbs. (41,730kg),” he explains, turning to the two EC350ELs working on the future Google parking site. “With all of our modifications, such as the added protections, the heavier bucket and thumb, its larger cylinder and the Volvo S series quick coupler, these machines currently spec out at just over 90,000lbs [40,832kg].”
To the untrained eye, the mechanical changes might be difficult to distinguish. However, Ferrari’s most obvious modification request can be spotted from several blocks away. Volvo CE gladly custom-painted the entire excavator fleet with FERMA’s unique green and white colors.
“They really did an amazing job. People can easily identify our company by the FERMA-colored machines.”