RER interviews Frank Multerer, CEO of MBW Inc., and Timo Stenz, Bomag light equipment product manager, about new technological developments and trends, the recent World of Concrete and Rental shows, the impact of Tier 4 and other concerns facing compaction.
RER: What are some of the new technological developments with your compaction products?
Multerer: MBW's gas-powered rammers are now completely free of metal-on-metal reciprocating wear surfaces in the percussion system. Less internal friction enables the percussion system to work more efficiently, i.e., less engine load yet harder hitting. More importantly, the patented design improves rammer life and service expectations. MBW's non-metallic wear surfaces maintain acceptable working tolerances six to seven times longer than rammers with conventional steel-on-cast-iron designs. When replacement is eventually called for, the non-metallic surfaces can be replaced in an hour, for under $150 in parts costs, to bring the rammer back to its original tolerances. Less internal friction also means lower operating temperatures, which preserve lubricant integrity and translates into longer component life, including the rammer bellows. MBW now offers the industry's only five-year warranty on rammer bellows.
In the last six months we have also been granted U.S. and international patents on our static and vibratory rollers. Unlike walk-behind and remote-control trench rollers, the MBW units are boom-mounted attachments for excavators. The advantages are staggering. Acquisition cost is 20 to 50 percent of a trench roller. One MBW boom-mounted roller can do the work of six trench rollers. The most innovative aspect to our new design is that our static rollers, which are essentially cohesive soil compactors, can be easily converted into vibratory rollers to compact granular or mixed soils. And because all of our attachment rollers must be built to the more demanding vibratory requirements, they solve a number of bearing, seal, bent shaft, axle and frame problems, typical of static compaction wheels. That's a real advancement in the state-of-compaction art.
Stenz: Bomag has put a lot of emphasis on making our products more durable to protect internal components and maximize longevity. We're utilizing a highly damage-resistant composite material for the engine hood on our BMP8500 articulated trench roller, as well as on our new generation of light tandem rollers.
We're continuing to offer new features that allow rental centers to provide cost savings and operating efficiency to their customers. The BMP8500 features drum extensions that allow its 24-inch working width to be expanded to 33.5 inches, essentially providing two machines in one. Bomag Ecomode technology automatically idles the engine after 10 seconds of no operation and speeds up immediately when re-engaged. This is available in both walk-behind and ride-on units across our product line, and it can save about 25 percent in fuel costs.
Our reversible plate compactors are offered with the Economizer soil stiffness indicator to help operators react quickly to changing conditions. By showing instant soil stiffness results on an LED light display, the Economizer gives the user confidence the job is completed correctly — and in the fewest possible passes — to save time and money.
Safety is obviously always at the forefront of equipment design. The BMP8500 comes with the Bomag Operator Safety System, which automatically stops the unit when it comes within five feet of the radio remote control, thereby protecting the operator.
Ergonomics for Bomag products are always being improved, too. Bomag BVP single-direction plates have the lowest hard-arm vibration levels among all industry standard plate compactors.
What are some of the trends you see developing in compaction technology, now and in the future?
Multerer: Let me touch on two trends, one positive, the other negative. On the positive side, an increasing number of manufacturers are offering technologies that monitor compaction performance in real time. The real-time aspect of these technologies takes operator guesswork out of the equation. MBW's Soil Compaction Supervisor is a bit different than other technologies in that it actually monitors what's happening to the soil in terms of improving soil stiffness (force/deflection) during the compaction process. The SCS does this from the bottom of the excavation upwardly through any number compaction lifts. Other real-time technologies monitor the increasing amplitude of the compactor itself as it travels over the surface of a lift. While these technologies differ significantly in approach, they are all vastly superior to the age-old method of guessing at compaction adequacy and offer real potential for improving earthwork performance.
The negative trend has an old compaction purist like myself concerned. I hate to say it, but the trend is being driven, at least in some measure, by rental. Rental folks have always been price sensitive. After all, a better return is produced if a lower cost machine can be rented for the same rate as one of higher cost. In response, manufacturers have been introducing smaller, lighter, lower cost vibratory plates. What rental folks may not realize, or care about, is that mass and amplitude are important factors in compactor efficiency and performance. This is problematic in that the operators of compaction equipment are frequently clueless as to when they've achieved an adequate compaction result. They're equally clueless that lightweight, low-amplitude plates typically require more passes, effort and time to achieve an adequate geotechnical result.
In the rental arena, the negative trend overwhelms the positive. While it's perfectly acceptable for rental folks to optimize their return on compaction rentals, are they, at the same time, informing their customers that lighter weight, lower-capacity compaction machinery presents a higher probability of compaction inadequacy and will likely require more passes, effort and time to get the job done?
What reaction did you get from customers at the World of Concrete and The Rental Show?
Multerer: The WOC was exciting; more than 200 people took their turn riding our Lowrider trowels. MBW's staff left WOC with orders, a thick stack of leads and cause for optimism. ARA was upbeat, tires were kicked and the buying activity was significantly stronger than recent years.
Stenz: Our BMP8500 articulated trench roller continues to be our hottest product. We took numerous orders at The Rental Show and have seen a ton of positive feedback from customers who have tested the machine in their rental fleet for the past year or two.
The Economizer soil stiffness measurement system is also sparking a lot of interest. Rental centers can see how this technology provides quantifiable cost savings and an operational advantage for their customers.
Are there any particular issues that are of concern to you at the moment as a manufacturer — cost of materials, cost of fuel, supply chain issues?
Multerer: Costs and supply chain issues are front-and-center for every manufacturer. My guess is that the industry will see significant price increases this year. But the bigger problem is getting what you need when you need it. Everyone in the supply chain is running lean, far too lean in the event of even a modest uptick in activity.
Stenz: There have been some issues with bad fuel quality, so we've counteracted that by putting an additional fuel filter on our tampers.
Do Tier 4 issues affect your product line? What are the challenges to keep up with Tier 4 standards and how is your company doing in this area? To what degree will the cost of equipment be affected?
Multerer: Tier 4 issues affect all of MBW's engine-powered lines. Rammers are especially hard hit because most manufacturers offer custom fuel tanks/systems and some manufacturers feature proprietary carburetion, air filtration and muffler systems. There are three primary issues; mitigating evaporative emissions, the cost, and the durability of materials that satisfy evaporative requirements. In these regards, there are some interesting trade-offs. For example, plastic materials that satisfy evaporative emissions requirements are higher cost and, among such materials, some are far less durable.
For rental folks that means there will be an immediate cost increase for Tier 4-compliant rammers plus the likelihood of delayed costs in terms of shorter life expectancy of some Tier 4-compliant components. Aside from that, on the manufacturer's side of the equation, compliance is relatively straightforward. Engine manufacturers have already done their work. What remains for rammer manufacturers is the evaluation of their options and associated trade-offs and costs. In this sense, Tier 4 is less about reinventing the wheel, more about respective manufacturer's choices in addressing compliance.
Stenz: Every manufacturer has had to adapt to Tier 4 and other EPA requirements, so it hasn't been a major concern to make the necessary adjustments. All Bomag walk-behind machines fulfill the requirements, and obviously as we introduce our new light tandem ride-on rollers, those are in compliance as well.