SWEDEN: A remote-controlled excavator takes versatility to a new level
by Tony Lawrence
The 30-tonne excavator suddenly appeared, powering up to the edge of the quarry face, its boom extended and brandishing a state-of-the-art drill attachment. The crowd of onlookers did a double take: there was no one in the cabin.
The machine came to a halt, its cabin swinging around through 90 degrees, as it got to work, drilling expertly into a rock shelf.
It was only then that the audience in the grandstand at the 2015 Volvo Days’ extravaganza in Eskilstuna in Sweden spotted the operator. He was standing about 20 meters away, armed with a handset and running the machine via remote control.
The EC300E crawler excavator on display at the machine show is the direct result of a close collaboration between Volvo CE’s Special Application Solutions, Norwegian drilling specialists AMV and Volvo CE’s Norwegian dealer. And, explains Volvo CE’s Perjohan Rosdahl, it is already causing quite a stir within the industry.
“Drilling contractors traditionally use specially designed drilling rigs to work in quarries and on infrastructure projects,” explains Rosdahl, the global commercial project manager with Special Application Solutions. “They, too, use remote control. But our excavators, fitted with AMV drills, are much more versatile.
TWO IN ONE
“The drills are very sophisticated but can be easily removed so that the machine can be quickly changed back into a standard excavator for other lifting or breaking jobs – so, effectively, you have two machines in one. That’s a huge advantage, especially for small and medium-sized contractors.”
Indeed, there could be three or even four machines in one. Volvo CE and AMV’s full range of drilling excavators, ranging from eight to 40 tonnes, are surprising even their own designers with what they can do.
AMV, based in south-west Norway, specializes in production equipment for mining, tunneling and the offshore oil and gas industry. AMV and Volvo CE’s Norwegian dealership signed up as strategic partners 18 months ago before formalizing the relationship through the Special Application Solutions team.
“It’s all about good communication from the very start,” says Peder Andersen, CEO of AMV Group. “Our first drilling excavator was a Volvo, which we produced on our own and which we soon found was something our customers wanted. Now we get direct technical assistance from Volvo CE – that has helped us improve the various hydraulic and electrical interfaces and quick-release couplings between the machine and the drill.
“Everyone wins, as well as our clients who know they are getting a Volvo product, with all the guarantees, backing and warranties which that entails.”
AMV are established experts in the use of remote control, which is also used on standard drilling rigs. The system is easy to use: the AMV system offers a unique monitoring screen within its handset as well as a GPS link providing drilling accuracy to within 20mm – the width of about two human fingernails.
The system also enhances safety, allowing operators to stand clear of high-risk work rather than stay in the cabin – such as during the use of explosives in quarries – as well as permitting them to walk around the drill and inspect its operation from any angle while continuing to work.
There are also other, unexpected advantages. “When we started this project, we thought the machine would carry out ordinary drilling as well as having the capacity to be used as a standard excavator,” says Anders Östberg, CEO of AMV Sweden. “But because of the boom, you can get higher than a standard rig.
“So they have also been using it for rock bolting [to strengthen quarry faces and thus improve safety]. We can then change the drill and replace it with a personnel basket, to lift people up to examine the work more closely. One machine can do all of this.”
AMV’s senior service engineer Kjell Vidar Hamre adds: “This machine has massive reach. It can be stationed five meters lower than where the drilling or bolting is being carried out.
“Standard machines are very powerful, with great traction, but still need an access ramp to reach the drilling spot in such situations, and they cannot swing their superstructure around like the excavator, or drill or bolt in virtually any direction. All of this means much greater productivity from our machine.”
Volvo CE created its Special Application Solutions team around four years ago to help promote such cutting-edge projects with suitable partners. Excavators are the biggest machine segment being adapted in this way to carry out highly specialized tasks, followed by articulated haulers and then wheel loaders. Martijn Donkersloot, Special Application Solutions product manager, says the Volvo Days event proved a perfect showcase.
“We had a lot of visitors seeing the excavator and saying it was just what they required. We had many customers from all over the world tell us: ‘This is fantastic – and perfect for our quarries.’ You can imagine an owner with a drilling rig on one side of his worksite and an excavator on the other – two machines mean more operators, more sets of spare parts and definitely more technicians who must be trained on both.”
Donkersloot and Rosdahl both think they have the best job in the world.
“We are a small unit but are represented right across the world, and it’s great to see projects like this coming together,” says Rosdahl.
“I have been in the construction industry since 1998, and this job has so much variety – there are new challenges and ideas cropping up every day, it’s a real learning experience,” says Donkersloot, who works in Volvo CE’s European, Middle East and African region.
“With the help of our partners we can modify our standard machines to the specific needs of the customer, helping them become more effective. Some of the specialist information gets fed back into our research and development, adding to our knowledge and experience. Take this excavator – we were having an issue with the drilling unit a few weeks ago so I called AMV. They told me to take my mobile phone into the cab and connect to the diagnostics of the drilling unit. From that, they were able to diagnose that the air pressure was too low, and to fix it there and then – while stationed hundreds of kilometers away.
“You can run this machine by remote control, and you can fix issues remotely as well. That’s hugely impressive,” he concludes.