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Construction : Feature | October 2017 | Source : Equipment India

Making rapid strides

Motor graders have seen unprecedented growth in the past couple of years, which is expected to continue in the coming years as well with road projects continue to grow.

Motor graders have become one of the fastest selling equipment in Indian construction market with a lot of projects under execution and in the pipeline, including roads and highways. Their demand is linked with the contractors' desire for faster completion of projects as agencies and state authorities made it mandatory to use these equipment in the projects. The motor grader market is bullish on the positive market.

Current market
The Indian market for motor graders has seen a spurt in growth over the last two years. Amarnath Ramachandran, President and Director, LeeBoy India Construction Equipment, observes, 'The year 2016 saw an offtake of graders at 850-1,100 units. This is a huge growth from 7 per cent in 2014 to 98 per cent in 2015 and 53 per cent in 2016. The 2017 offtake should be between 1,100 to 1,200 graders. Since road building alone is constantly growing, the volume will keep growing to around 2,000 graders by 2020.'

Shalabh Chaturvedi, Head Marketing, CASE India, shares a similar outlook, 'With a lot of projects being taken up by the current government in construction and infrastructure, motor grader sales grew 10 per cent in 2014 and nearly doubled in 2015. Sales of motor graders peaked in 2016 recording a 53 per cent growth over the previous year. This year also we are expecting a similar growth in the motor grader segment.'

VG Sakthikumar, Managing Director, Schwing Stetter Sales and Services, says, 'Earthmoving equipment and road construction equipment accounts close to 70 per cent per cent of India's construction equipment market.'

Changing perceptions
The approach of Indian customer is slowly changing from cheaper to productive machines, which has lead to introduction of equipment with matching technologies to meet the directives on quality and time on project execution. According to Ramachandran, tight deadlines and increased incentives for faster completion of projects has led to the demand for more productive machines with very high fuel efficiency and low total cost of ownership. 'The customer's perceptions and expectations from motor graders, and in fact, any construction equipment is constantly evolving,' he comments.

Chaturvedi joins in, 'The Indian customer is becoming increasingly discerning and demands products with higher efficiency and performance, especially in applications where the project needs to be delivered within a certain timeframe.'

Sakthikumar says, 'The concept of mechanisation is readily accepted by the new entrants in construction as grading is vital in project execution within the committed delivery time. In India, the level of technology of the equipment manufactured is at par with international standards with some exceptions being the limited usage of electronic controls, hydraulic systems and engines adhering to the latest emission norms. New technology from XCMG enables better quality of service, low cost of ownership (low fuel consumption, less downtime, ease of maintenance, etc).'

Motor graders are largely used in road projects which is the most happening among infrastructure projects in the country. This has driven the demand for motor graders. According to Ramachandran, over 85 per cent of motor graders in India are used in road projects. 'Demand is shaping up very well here as there is still a huge infrastructure deficit. While road projects, both national highways and state highways, are moving at a good pace, there is also a large demand from railway projects - dedicated freight lines from Delhi to Mumbai and Kolkata and Smart Cities along the way.' As the mining and quarry sector picking up, demand for larger graders will also increase. LeeBoy is launching its larger 990 and 995 motor graders this year, targeting the mining sector.

In the current market scenario, Sakthikumar sees roads, apart from irrigation, river linking projects, tunnels, ports, airports, dam construction and real estate as opportunities for motor graders. 'With more greenfield projects coming up, the opportunity will further increase,' he adds.

Chaturvedi feels that the demand from road construction projects will continue to drive the motor grader market. He elaborates on CASE motor graders' presence in Indian market, 'CASE prepared for the introduction of its graders in India with around 5,000 hours of testing in different terrains over two years to ensure the products were perfectly adapted to local conditions. The official launch took place in November 2015 at the Excon show. The careful preparation paid off, as sales of the CASE graders immediately took off, making it the fastest growing brand in the grader segment in India. We reached the milestone of selling 100th motor grader long back in December 2015 and ever since there is no looking back.'

Policy support
According to Ramachandran, graders are part of all National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) tenders. They are also appearing on state roads as well. This shows that contractors have now accepted that graders are necessary to build roads. Chaturvedi states, 'Motor grader is an expensive machine and its use was made mandatory on national highways by the NHAI at the time of conceiving National Highways Development Programme (NHDP). Many states adopted NHAI specifications subsequently, and the use of these machines started on state highways as well. Such policies certainly promote the use of motor graders.'

The government has also given due importance to mechanisation and the necessary training for operators. Sakthikumar states, 'The government is supporting the Construction Earthmoving Material and Mining Act which will benefit not only the use of equipment in various projects, but the whole of the construction industry. In the infrastructure equipment sector, close to 60 per cent manpower are in the unorganised segment wherein policies for having systematic training of operators help to be in line with the industrial safety norms. Skill development initiatives will be beneficial for the industry. In the future, we expect the government to allow only the certified operators to operate the equipment.'

Technology trends
Technology has come a long way in Indian construction sector, however there is still a long way to go in achieving what we have planned. Says Ramachandran, 'The Indian industry, on the whole, follows global trends. However, we are still way behind what is already implemented on European machines. But, as emission norms tighten up, skilled labour becomes scarce, finishing deadlines become stringent, hopefully Indians will start investing in R&D and mitigate the gap in technology.'

He further adds, 'A case in point is the new emission norms that will drive engine manufacturers to bring in Electronic Control Units on to engines. These will enable interlocks to be built into controllers and transmissions and pumps. This will also bring in a lot more electronics into the grader which would otherwise have met with a lot of resistance. The availability of this platform lets us add value without much additional cost as the basic cost of electronics is already built in.'

LeeBoy's current portfolio for India was launched in 2012-13 and is already loaded with state-of-the-art technology. Ramachandran elaborates on the features, 'The LeeBoy motor graders have features including a variable fan drive, lock-up clutch to bypass the torque converter, an electronic pump controller, advanced electronic diagnostic and display, telematics for remote monitoring, advanced safety features to prevent misuse, fire suppression systems, etc.'

LeeBoy is also updating technologies going into its range. 'This year, we are introducing Power Distribution Modules in all our machines to eliminate relays and fuses. We are upgrading the base telematics system to have advanced diagnostics like monitoring temperature for water glycol, charge-air, transmission oil, hydraulic oil, engine oil, and individual hydraulic circuit pressure. This will reduce the need for highly skilled technicians in the field, as guidance can be given from the control centre at head office. The graders are 3D laser-ready for either Trimble or Moba,' says Ramachandran Chaturvedi adds, 'To increase the machine's durability, CASE India focuses on the use of quality engines along with regular maintenance across their equipment, which helps deliver excellent fuel efficiency. This is possible due to the highly developed hydraulic system of the motor graders.' CASE's graders feature an FPT Industrial 6.7-litre engine with triple horsepower ranges on the 865B model and dual horsepower on the 845B to match the power requirements of various applications and deliver optimum fuel efficiency.

'Engine with electronic control for easy troubleshooting, GPS systems for remote monitoring the location and performance of the machine, mould board material with improved wear resistance and automatic blade levelling systems are considered to be the emerging technologies/features that have to be made cost-effective to be afforded by any end-user,' comments Sakthikumar.

Products and features
Leading motor grader manufacturers have introduced feature-rich products to meet the new challenges in project implementation. LeeBoy currently offers two models: the 78xl-2 (13.5 t, 150 hp) and the 985 (15.5t, 173 hp). Both these graders are manufactured locally and backed by state-of-the-art technology proven in the US for over 53 years. Ramachandran explains more on the features, 'A state-of-the-art drive line is a key factor improving productivity. This begins with the field-proven Cummins engines. Apart from the 6BTA series of mechanical engines offered on the 785xl and 985, we are also launching Cummins Quantum series engines (these are CRDi and CAN controlled engines with on-board electronics) on the 985, 990 and 995 grader models. The fully automatic, power-shift transmissions are from ZF, Germany with electronic control units which are fully self-diagnostic and pre-programmed with interlocks to prevent misuse.'

He adds on other features, 'The integrated torque converter and lock-up clutch enables the operator to focus on hydraulic operations and if well-trained, the operator can get an additional 15-20 per cent fuel efficiency. Fuel efficiency is further enhanced by having automatic shifting, computer controlled electro-hydraulic variable demand fan drive system (which is far more efficient as compared to a fixed fan drive).'

There is high emphasis on ergonomic operator comfort. Ramachandran explains, 'The fully enclosed cabins are very comfortable with state-of-the-art electronics, HVAC, suspension seat with adjustable steering column, hydraulic pilot (low effort) fingertip controls with sliding adjustment for positioning of levers. The gear shifter is a ZF VTS 3 bump shift.'

Its design focuses on providing better control to the operator so that he can maintain movement under any flow or load and take away the strain from the operator. These features reduce operator fatigue, cycle times and maximise fuel efficiency and productivity due to ease of operations. Ramachandran further adds on more features, 'We use programmable displays from Murphy and Cobo and convert all analogue inputs to digital to facilitate inputs. This is then ported to our Insta-i telematics controller vide CANOPEN protocol for tracking and monitoring which shows geo-location vide Google maps, fuel level, fuel consumption (with theft loss alerts), number of hours worked, number of hours of idle running, service alerts, etc. We also offer Automatic Cross Slope and Grade Control System and laser control.'

Chaturvedi elaborates on the features inbuilt and optional with CASE motor graders: 'For maximum productivity, 'Multiradius mould board design' provides mixing effect that does not only push the material on ground but also rolls it, along with net variable HP (140-163 HP) that gives a unique mix of power and fuel efficiency. Advanced engine and hydraulics provide consistency of controls and response of hydraulic operations, as the ability to make small and precise adjustments in the blade position has a significant impact on profitability for the job. The grader is equipped with variable horse power FPT engine renowned for its fuel efficiency worldwide. The grader is offered with an automatic ZF transmission. The machine has a multi-curvature mould board which reduces the resistance coming on the engine and hence reduces the fuel consumption. The spacious cab has redesigned ergonomics to offer better operator comfort. The large size glazed windows provide outstanding all-round visibility, it improves air ventilation to the operator and it makes easy communication to the back of the machine. All the controls have been specially positioned to offer easy access and faster control. There is a semi-close cabin with a large buddy seat along with storage compartments, mobile charger, document holder, bottle holder and radio. CASE India focuses on providing easy engine compartment access along with daily service checkpoints for quick and efficient maintenance of equipment.'

Schwing Stetter offers XCMG range of motor graders in Indian market. Sakthikumar elaborates on the features: 'Our motor grader comes with load sensing circuit, dual circuit braking system and AC cabin as standard features. Wider side shift and shoulder stretch of mould board enable the grader to grade wider ground space which will reduce the number of passes that the grader has to make to cover the given area. Forward and reverse speeds are higher, so the manoeuvring of vehicle at the project site is quick.

Hydraulic load sensing system judiciously utilises the engine power when there is a load requirement in the circuit, i.e. only when the grader is operating and not when it is idling. When it comes to operator comfort, GR150II provides three-way adjustable seat, AC cabin, ergonomically designed accelerator pedal, cruise control, anti-slip platforms and gear shifting by means of a joystick to ensure the utmost operator comfort. The operator cabin designed for good visibility and sufficient lights are used to aid the same while operating it at nights. Hydraulic pull pin for adjusting the swing frame for canal grading greatly reduces the operator fatigue.'

Mould board is considered as one of the key parts in the machine and it is the one which constantly engages with the ground. In order to protect it from any damages when it encounters boulders in the grading path, GR150II has a special slip disc mechanism that enables the blade to automatically slip and avoid the boulders so that no impact load is transferred to the blade directly. ROPS and FOPS cabins come as optional features. Emergency engine shutdown switch, reflectors and horns also forms the standard feature with respect to safety of the machine.

The swing frame is made as conventional box sections and all the parts have undergone FEA process to detect and arrest all the possible weaker locations in the structure. Oscillating rear axles smoothen the vehicle manoeuvring over uneven surfaces. Greater front wheel lean angle minimises the side draft forces on the vehicle and improves stability while grading slopes.

Hydraulically operated engine hood makes engine maintenance easier and ground level greasing and tapping points reduces operator fatigue. Operator cabin behind the articulation points provides easy access for maintenance of pivots and articulation cylinders. GPS system in GR150II is still in the developing stage.

Choosing the right machine
The selection of a grader is based on the amount of work involved and planned duration of the project. 'LeeBoy will carry all models from which, the customer can decide the model that he can utilise optimally,' says Ramachandran.

According to Chaturvedi, the 150 HP range of grader is used in road construction while graders with more than 200 HP are generally used for mining purposes. They are high-powered and heavy machines and their usage is increasing gradually in the Indian market. 'CASE 845 B with 150 HP is ideal for the road construction whereas CASE 865 B with up to 200 HP is best suited for mining,' he suggests.

According to Sakthikumar, the existing range of machines does satisfy the current project requirements and the government standards, but the penetration levels of these machines in the district roads and village road projects are still lower. 'May be the emerging technology should consider this aspect so that some optimisations with respect to the blade width is done which give a chance for the contractors to think on mechanisation for grading. For fast track projects, heavier machinery can become popular as it cuts the time required,' he adds.

Future promising
According to Chaturvedi, the government's emphasis on developing the infrastructure for India, coupled with a growing demand for motor graders in the mining industry, the market scenario in 2020 looks very positive. 'We predict greater sales for us as market research reports corroborate the same,' he adds.

Sakthikumar predicts, 'The market is going to grow at least at a rate of 25 per cent for the next 3-4 years. The present government has placed major thrust on road building and motor grader is one of the essential equipment for this. It is required irrespective of national highways, state highways, rural roads and in city roads.' However, Ramachandran highlights the future with a caution referring to the opportunities in the neighbouring nations, 'Efficient project awards in the coming years by the government aid to developing nations in the neighbourhood gives opportunities to manufacturers to quote for EXIM Bank tenders. Our relationship with neighbours on infra projects is very poor.'

With the government speeding up the implementation of road projects, there are a horde of opportunities for motor grader market to attain further growth momentum in future. However, along with roads, if other projects such as mining and irrigation also perform well, we can witness a real spurt in demand growth for motor graders.

- Sudheer Vathiyath

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