NETHERLANDS: Volvo CE’s latest demolition machine is proudly sticking its neck out
by Cathy Smith
Aalt Witman laughs as he describes the butterflies he felt in his stomach as he was about to start up the newly delivered Volvo EC480EHR ultra-high-reach demolition machine for the first time.
The Dutchman might have 23 years of experience as an operator but the boom he is more familiar with is just 11 meters long, not 28 meters like this one.
“It was a real challenge” he says. “The first time you look up into the clouds, it’s just…wow…you get a real fluttering in your stomach, but it gives you such a kick.”
This is the first of Volvo Construction Equipment’s new E-series ultra-high-reach demolition machines to be working in the Netherlands. Yet after just a couple of days in the cab, Witman is confidently tearing down what was once the maternity wing of Weezenlanden Hospital in the northern Dutch town of Zwolle.
Local residents, walking or cycling by, stop and watch from behind the metal grille of the demolition site – sometimes as many as 50 people at a time are gathered. Passers-by are fascinated by the long-necked machine, looking alarmingly lifelike as it pecks away at the masonry. Where the brickwork is particularly tough, the crusher head chews and gnaws harder and a large chunk of wall collapses to the ground leaving a gaping hole in the building, suddenly revealing the hospital stairway inside.
“This is precision demolition,” observes Erik Zwerver, the commercial manager of Boverhoff, one of the largest demolition companies in the Netherlands. “Everyone thinks demolition is dirty and rough but it’s like building backwards – you have to be very precise.”
Zwerver says the Volvo machine’s specifications, including an engine system that meets the demanding Stage IV (EU) and Tier 4 Final (US) emission reduction requirements, with its accompanying low noise level and improved fuel efficiency, gave it the economic advantage over potential competitors as far as Boverhoff was concerned. The hospital’s town-center location means the work has to be done with minimum inconvenience from dust, noise and vibration to people living nearby. The height of the machine enables the buildings to be brought down in ‘small bites’ and in a few days’ time the delivery of a multi-demolition extension boom will increase the working height even further to 31 meters. memories
This is currently one of the biggest demolition sites in the Netherlands and is noticeably changing the skyline of the town of Zwolle, in what is one of the largest growth regions in the country. In place of the 1960s hospital, nearly 300 new homes will be built. For some of the demolition crew it has been an emotional job. As Erik Zwerver points out, “Everyone has footsteps in the hospital – both good and bad memories.”
One of the crew had to dismantle the morgue, which was where he said goodbye to his father. Another, happier story was that of a worker who demolished the hospital room where his mother-in-law had recovered from serious illness.
For machine operator Witman, there is no time for sentimentality. For him, the first priority is staying safe and, as he puts it, getting home each night to have dinner with his family, which he says his new machine helps him to do. He likes the high-visibility cab, the extra cameras and the 30-degree tilt which makes looking upwards more comfortable. An 8-inch monitor in the cab enables good communication between machine and operator; another great feature is the total moment indicator, which flashes a warning if the machine is in danger of destabilizing.
For Boverhoff, the selling features of the EC480EHR were not just the increased height and heavier tool weight (3.5 tonnes) but also the fact that the machine was purpose-built for demolition by Volvo CE. And since Boverhoff specializes in demolishing big and complex structures, often in urban environments, the machines need to be easy for the company to move from site to site. The new electro-hydraulic system with retractable undercarriage and hydraulically removable counterweight makes road transport much simpler, too.
There were also environmental considerations. Before work could begin the company had already cooperated with the authorities to rehome a colony of 5,000 bats, which had taken over the disused hospital buildings. Once the demolition started it was the turn of the machines to show their eco credentials – the low-emission engine in the new E-series machine has surprised everyone with its low noise level and low fuel consumption.
Boverhoff owns more than 20 crawler excavators in the 30 tonne class and higher, 16 of them Volvo machines, some of which are also working on this site. An additional Volvo EC380E is on its way to Boverhoff and the company also owns four Volvo wheel loaders. All Volvo machines were supplied by the Volvo CE dealership Kuiken. Duco Pater, the regional sales manager, has come to see the latest addition to the Boverhoff fleet in action.
Pater watches the delicate movements as the jaws of the machine clamp on to the edge of a hospital window and pull down more brickwork: “This guy really knows what he’s doing,” he marvels.
“Boverhoff is a real ambassador for Volvo CE and it is very nice to see what you have sold actually start its work.”