SOUTH KOREA: A demolition firm hopes its new Volvo CE high-reach excavator will raise the bar for safety standards

by Jason Strother 


Doh Moon-gil, CEO and Chairman of Sungdo Construction, studies an overhead photograph of one of his company’s latest projects. The image shows the site, about 300 kilometers south of his office in Seoul, where his team is demolishing a sprawling 30-year-old hospital using the Volvo EC480E ultra-high-reach excavator, which the family run business purchased in early 2016.


“There are just some projects where a normal excavator can’t get the job done,” Doh says, adding that thanks to a customized 3.4-meter extension to the EC480EHR’s standard 28-meter long boom, his operators will be able to bring down the 10-storey medical center more efficiently.


“We also chose this machine thanks to Volvo’s after-sales service in Korea and its excellent reputation in the demolitions field,” he says.


Since it was founded in 1979, Sungdo has become South Korea’s leading demolition firm and was ranked 66 internationally in a 2016 magazine survey of top contractors. The company has been involved in some of the country’s most high-profile demolition projects, including the clean up of the collapsed Sampoong department store and the dismantling of the Cheonggye elevated highway. Doh Hyung-rok, second-generation in the family business, is now aiming to expand abroad, and leverage Sungdo’s experiences in the growing Asian demolition market.


This is the first EC480EHR in the country. Doh Moon-gil says another reason Sungdo bought this machine is because he believes it will not only open the door to new opportunities for his company, but will also elevate safety standards to new heights for his country’s demolition industry.


As the 73-year-old explains, the construction business was “the foundation” of Korea’s post-war economic development, which propelled the country from one of the world’s poorest in the 1950s to one of the wealthiest today. Yet he says he feels domestic regulations have not yet caught up with global norms.


This is where he hopes the introduction of the EC480EHR into the local market can usher in a new era of job-site safety.


“Right now it is common practice in the industry to lift a conventional excavator on to the top of a building and dig down, which increases the possibility of collapse,” Doh explains. “High-reach demolition is safer for operators as well as anyone else at the project site.”




The Volvo EC480E high-reach machine was designed with safety in mind. The cabin’s steel frame-mounted Falling Object Guard (FOG) and reinforced windows protect the operator from being struck by debris, while cameras on the boom, rear and sides allow for views of the entire work area.


In the tight, urban space where Sungdo’s crew is taking down what is left of the patients’ ward in Changwon City’s old Samsung Hospital, those features have
reassured everyone.


Towering way above the four-meter high, aluminum barricades that surround the 18,000m2 job site, the EC480EHR swings around mounds of concrete and rebar. Its cabin performs an effortless 180° spin as the machine changes direction to make way for passing haulers which transport the roughly 400 tonnes of rubble that is removed each day.


The Volvo excavator, fitted with a three-tonne shearing tool that can slice through metal and cement, comes to a halt and Mun In-hwan emerges from the cab. The 37-year-old is perhaps South Korea’s most experienced high-reach operator who says he has never felt safer while on the job than when he’s controlling the machine’s joysticks.


He says that over the course of his 14-year career as an excavator operator he has had “several close calls with death”. As a father, he wants to feel confident that he will be able to go back home to see his son and daughter.


Sungdo Construction left to right: President and CEO Doh Moon-Gil, Managing Director Doh Hyung-rok, Director Min Young-suk

“Doing the work without the high-reach would be really dangerous considering how unstable this building is,” Mun says.


Kim Gyeong-yong, Sungdo’s job-site manager in Changwon, says that in addition to the safety features of the EC480EHR, the machine has helped speed up the demolition work. “With the high-reach, we are able to complete in seven days what would normally take 10 days,” he says.


Kim adds that because this worksite is adjacent to the new Samsung Changwon Hospital and patients pass by throughout the day, minimizing the dust output is also a priority. The EC480EHR helps take care of that, too, thanks to its dust suppression system that includes up to four nozzles on the boom which spray a fine mist on to a structure’s surface.


Sungdo Construction has benchmarked new demolition methods in the past and founder Doh Moon-gil says he hopes the standardization of high-reach machines will be no different. He realizes that enhancing the quality and safety of demolition work in his country will not come easy. But from his position as Chairman of the Construction Policy Committee of the Korea Specialty Contractors’ Association, Doh says he is doing his best to improve standards within the industry.


“I’m advocating for the implementation of new safety regulations,” he says. “Once these are adopted, the demand for more high-reach demolition machines will also increase.”


EC480EHR operator Mun In-hwan