Drink less, run more: Volvo CE excavators dominate the competition

Staff Report,

17 May 2021

Diggers with low fuel consumption from the Swedish brand provide returns both through increased fuel economy and reduced emissions, leading to higher profitability and increased sustainability

When building eco-cities of the future, using an army of inefficient, gas-guzzling construction vehicles immediately diminishes the integrity of a project. Fortunately, tests on Volvo CE excavators have proven they offer far greater productivity – while using less fuel – than competitors, ensuring potential profits don’t go up in smoke and CO2.

With the realization that sustainability has the potential to deliver great profitability in a post-oil future, the Middle East is spearheading the move towards carbon-free, smart cities. The worldwide recession of 2008 may have sharply reined in the grand ambitions of the region’s first such project, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, but ‘new town’ approach actually set a blueprint for what was to come.

Upgrading existing cities will never deliver the sort of startling results that all-new developments planned with carbon neutrality from the outset can offer. These new cities also offer the potential to be some of the biggest building sites the world has ever seen. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has four ambitious developments underway, in accord with its Vision 2030 program, most notably the flagship US$500 billion, 26,500 km2 NEOM project. Half the size of Switzerland, it aims to provide a global center for trade within easy distance of the Suez Canal, at the western end of a 170km-long hyper-connected eco-city known as The Line.

Qatar also recognizes the need to reduce its environmental impact, declaring that the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be the first carbon-neutral tournament in the event’s history. This will be made possible not just by the new 800MW Al Kharsaah Solar Power Plant, which is expected to cut 26 million tonnes of CO2 during its lifetime, but through a focus on sustainable stadium design.

Or, consider Dubai’s Sustainable City, a once-barren desert strip that transformed into a thriving green residential development of 500 residential villas and car-free streets covered in solar panels, with its 2700 residents encouraged to grow and eat local using the urban garden domes.

Side-by-side combat:-

But whether large or small, construction projects worldwide must now comply with strict legislation concerning engine emissions. It is no longer enough for contractors to submit the cheapest tender – if their construction equipment does not meet the required efficiency standards, their bids may well face automatic rejection.

However, it’s not purely a question of engine efficiency – it’s entirely possible that two competitive machines could each utilize an engine with the same Specific Fuel Consumption across their power curve, but still show a vast difference in the level of their fuel tanks at the end of a long shift carrying out identical tasks. The real key factor is overall productivity – and when that’s combined with ultra-efficient modern engines like those used in Volvo CE excavators, it means that the increasing demand to reduce CO2 on construction sites becomes a far less daunting hurdle to overcome.

So, to prove that its crawler excavators can do more work while also emitting less CO2 than those of its competitors, Volvo CE carries out numerous side-by-side (SBS) comparisons in real-life applications across the Middle East, testing their performance while tracking fuel efficiency. In each case, the results have been more than impressive and provided real benchmark figures that can be used to help prospective owners calculate TCO.

One of the most recent tests was carried out in March 2021 at a quarry, where a mid-sized mid-sized Volvo excavator was with one of its main competitors in the region. As well as operating weight, the machines were similar in terms of bucket capacity, boom and arm length, and age, although the Volvo had acquired an extra 31% more working hours.

The test involved two main tasks performed from a bench – the 90° loading of shot rock into a truck, and the 90° rehandling and loading of a truck with aggregate, with each loading comprising 10 passes. After 10 passes, the trucks’ payloads were recorded and the excavators’ fuel tanks replenished to reveal their consumption, before the process was repeated twice to provide a mean value.

Each task was also carried out using three separate speed modes, precisely matching the RPM of the various modes of the two machines, resulting in a total of 18 loads / 180 buckets per excavator. The experienced local operator who performed all the tests used the competitor’s excavator as his daily workhorse but had operated Volvo models of similar size in the past.

The results were spectacular! Not only did the Volvo excavator produce an overall 18% reduction in fuel consumption/hour compared to its well-known rival, it achieved this while providing an additional 19% of payload/hour. This meant that for each liter of diesel consumed, the Volvo delivered an extraordinary 46% more payload!

As a more specific illustration, when testing was carried out for shot rock loading in the 1400 RPM mode, the Volvo consumed 23% less fuel than its competitor. This enabled a 15% improvement in loading compared with its competitor, or a 49% greater fuel efficiency in terms of tons per liter.

But not all of this remarkable performance can be attributed to the powerful and efficient engine of the Volvo excavator. Increasing productivity comprises a whole range of criteria, ranging from something as simple as the Volvo machine’s more ergonomic control levers to the more telling edge it had over its rival in terms of actuator speed.

Both machines therefore underwent testing for speed of movement of the boom, arm, bucket and swing cycle – with the Volvo coming out on top for every single one! Its most dominant performances were recorded for ‘boom up’ (a 22% edge on its rival) and ‘arm out’ and ‘bucket in’ (both 18% better). Those are a prime example of ‘marginal gains’ that add up to a huge benefit – but more immediately appreciated by an operator would be the 17% improvement in 360° slewing speed. The Volvo’s narrowest wins all boasted a 10% faster time.

A further example of an SBS test shows the importance of rightsizing an engine to the machine to ensure optimum productivity. Here, a Volvo excavator went head to head with a more powerful machine from another major competitor at a UAE quarry – but in giving away just under three tons and slightly less engine power, it may have seemed like the Volvo was the underdog.

This time, the test involved 90° bench loading of a 24-ton dump truck with 50-150mm limestone rock, from a dump height of 3.2m. Again, three equivalent engine RPM and power modes were selected, and three truckloads per excavator per setting were averaged out to produce the final results.

Once the results were tallied, Volvo once again won by a knockout, with an overall 47% improvement in fuel efficiency and 17% less fuel consumption, with the biggest fuel consumption benefits (18-25% improvements) being seen in Normal Operation modes. Perhaps the most impressive figure from an individual test was that of fuel efficiency in the Volvo’s G1 setting (1530 RPM), where it boasted a 57% advantage. In each machine’s most fuel-frugal ECO setting, the Volvo revealed a 42% improvement over its competitor.

Even more impressively, the payload delivered using this most fuel-efficient (and lowest productivity) setting of the Volvo easily surpassed the payload provided by the competitor’s best productivity performance (in maximum power mode). In other words, the rival machine required a far higher fuel consumption to achieve significantly less payload than the Volvo managed! In a nutshell, the Volvo excavator combined the consumption of a slightly smaller machine with the productivity of a larger machine.

“I think it’s safe to draw similar conclusions across the rest of the excavators in our range based on these results,” says Olle Watz, Product Manager, Excavators at Volvo CE. “Yes, there may be minor variations, but relatively mid-range machines like the ones run in these tests can be seen as fairly representative of the whole line-up in terms of the simple and robust technology they employ, which is then upsized or downsized as necessary.”

It’s the way that you do it:-

Again, it’s important to stress that just one local operator was used across both machines to remove any variables due to level of experience or bad habits. Optimum excavator design is, of course, crucial, but it’s often been said that an experienced operator using an old, inefficient machine will burn less fuel than a newcomer using the latest model – and this is why Volvo CE stresses the important role that operator training can play in reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Several years ago, it conducted a study of 80 operators, ranging from rookie to professional, to determine the impact of operator skill. The results showed a difference of up to 30% in fuel consumption – even among the professional operators.

To establish the right type of training for a customer, Volvo CE carries out an initial assessment and then recommends options ranging from basic to advanced, such as the EcoOperator Program. After the training has taken place, it can then monitor and follow up on the operators’ improvements if their machines are connected to CareTrack.

To ensure even greater sustainability, Volvo CE can offer customers a tailored bundle of services to help them meet reduction targets. This process involves four steps – Insight, Analyze, Improve and Sustain – and the customer will be guided by a performance tracking or advisory manager from Volvo CE throughout.

First, Volvo CE collects CareTrack telematics data from connected machines in the customer’s fleet, then analyzes the data to identify opportunities for improvement, shows how the implementation of certain services would make a difference, and sets targets. Then, once the customer is happy with the recommended package of services and proposed outcomes, Volvo CE supports the customer in implementing them. Finally, Volvo CE measures the KPIs and the CO2 per ton reduction, gives feedback to the customer in a way that is easy to digest and sets new targets to sustain the improvements. These improvements could involve digital, training or consultancy services.

Alternatively, the company may recommend a consultancy service such as Site Simulation. By modeling a customer’s site, Volvo CE can calculate the optimum number and capacity of machines and driving routes to minimize traffic and distances travelled on site, as well as unnecessary fuel consumption and emissions through idling.

‘Current’ events of the future:-

However, just as The Line has ambitions to reach carbon positivity by virtue of clean energy, artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics, Volvo CE is also leading the industry’s adoption of exciting future technologies. Drawing on the vast experience gained in electromobility across the whole of the Volvo Group, the OEM has already launched the ECR25 Electric, the first model in its forthcoming 1.5 to 3 ton battery-powered compact excavator range. Volvo CE’s Site Simulation service can also be used to simulate charging infrastructure on site so that the customer’s transition to electromobility becomes as efficient as possible.

And, as a way of extending the possibility of e-mobility to larger construction equipment, for which batteries would be impractical, the Group’s Fuel Cell Test Lab located at Volvo CE’s Eskilstuna Technical Center has recently begun exploring the ways in which hydrogen can be sustainably used as a power source.

These measures will likely play a key role in the company’s aim of becoming completely fossil-free by 2040, ready to help smart cities not yet even on the drawing board be raised with minimum environmental impact. Until then, Volvo CE’s comprehensive fleet of traditionally powered excavators that are able to do things with a liter of diesel that their rivals can only dream of will ensure your green credentials – and your bottom line – remain healthier than ever before.

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