As investment in resources slows down across much of the world, heavy machinery equipment provider Hitachi is shifting its focus instead to marine construction.
In a recent statement, Hitachi said that an industry-wide slowdown in sales to resource sector clients was impacting makers of heavy equipment, but a combination of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the need to accommodate bigger and larger ships was driving a need to expand ports in many parts of the world, and that demand for excavators on pontoons was increasing in Europe and China.
The company says some aspects of the design of its models have needed to be modified to allow easy maintenance while the machine is working offshore. Unlike a standard mining excavator with the fast-fill system being located under the counterweight to provide easy access at ground level, for example, those found on pontoons are positioned at the front. Hitachi noted, however, that some of the large excavators used in marine environments share similarities with standard mining models, including having been designed to work non-stop in challenging environments and having similar technological features, including an on-board computer which monitors the performance of the engines and hydraulic system.
In addition to its current range in this area, including the EX1200-6, the EX1900-6, the EX3600-6 and the new EX8000-6 backhoe launched last year, Hitachi says it is working on an electric model with a low-range voltage to cater for an environment of high oil prices and tighter regulations emissions.
The company is also pushing the concept of customisation. An EX1900-6 excavator recently provided to the De Nul Group for work on dredging and marine construction works in Dubai, for example, contained a custom-modified front-end attachment to provide a maximum digging depth of 18 metres as well as extra piping for a breaker attachment, and featured two arms which could both be used as a breaker.
Still, the company acknowledges there are differences between marine operating environments compared with mining.
For one thing, equipment used in a marine environment can be subject to corrosion, meaning cylinders need extra care, more painting is required and lubricants must be refilled every four to five hours in order to prevent wearing of pins and brushes.
Working underwater also places more stress on the machine as it can be difficult for the operator to see the material being dredged, necessitating daily inspections and necessary care to prevent the bolts from loosening.
Hitachi’s move comes as a slowdown in resource investment across much of the world is impacting manufacturers of heavy equipment as sales on some of their highest margin items contract, prompting them to place more focus on other segments of the market.
Last month, Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of such equipment, announced a drop in full-year profit from $US5.681 billion in calendar 2012 to $3.789 billion last year despite a rebound in construction equipment sales as a pullback in resource capital investment saw its sales drop in that segment across every region in the world.