In their continuing quest to make equipment more comfortable for operators, manufacturers are incorporating more and more comfort features to their compact excavator models. And while this development has a direct impact on end-users, how much does it affect the way you do business?
"Offering the operator a comfortable environment lessens fatigue and stress," says Drew Kohler, marketing manager for MMD Equipment. "Think about when you sit in a chair. If you had to choose to either sit on a piece of steel for eight to 12 hours while being exposed to the elements of weather, or sit comfortably on a reclining suspension seat with room enough to stretch your legs while being surrounded with air conditioning and having a place to hold your favorite beverage, which would you choose?"
When put in those terms, it's hard to deny the benefits of features such as suspension seats, air conditioning and cup holders. Traditionally, however, rental businesses have been slow to embrace such creature comforts, often due to the perception that they increase the cost of the machine and customers who rent don't expect a "Cadillac" anyway.
The truth is, many of the "bells and whistles" of yesterday are standard equipment today, largely because end users have come to expect a certain level of comfort from their machines. To keep you up to date on what today's compact excavators have to offer your customers, we've asked manufacturers what features are most appreciated by operators.
Many compact excavators offer a choice between an open environment supplied by a two-post ROPS (Roll Over Protective Structure) canopy and a fully enclosed cab with heat and air conditioning.
"The open environment of the two-post ROPS canopy version, in addition to providing excellent visibility, enables the operator to be able to enter or exit the operator area from either side of the excavator," explains Kohler. "Ultimately, the [Komatsu] two-post ROPS design helps produce one of the largest operator compartments in the industry and on average it is 31 percent bigger than other competitive models."
Bill Gearhart, assistant marketing/product manager at Yanmar, agrees that offering more room to the operator is a big deal in North America. "We're seeing compact excavators become more ‘Americanized.' We're increasing the width of the cab and increasing leg room," he says. "We're also installing seats in the U.S. to accommodate larger operators."
In addition to simple shelter, today's enclosed-cab compact excavators feature a host of features to please any operator.
"The fully enclosed cabs that are offered today are equipped with most of the creature comforts that you would find in a new car," says Kendall Aldridge, national sales manager at IHI/Compact Excavator Sales. "All IHI cabs are equipped with heat, AM/FM CD players, suspension seat, arm rest, windshield wipers, sun visor, front/side sliding glass, cup holder and power outlet. Air conditioning is standard equipment on some of the larger models and optional on the smaller models.
"Creating a comfortable environment for the operator is ultimately the goal for us as manufacturers," continues Aldridge. "The fully enclosed heated and air conditioned cab allows the operator to work in all weather conditions. The goal is for the operator to be as comfortable as possible so he or she can focus on the task at hand and be as productive as possible."
The price of comfort
Many ergonomic features come standard on today's compact excavators, taking the guesswork out of selecting options for your machines and justifying the cost to your bottom line. Some decisions still remain.
"The cost of A/C is about the same for any construction machine, therefore, as a percentage of machine cost it is going to be higher for a smaller machine," says Lowell Stout with Terex Compact Equipment. "A/C can increase the cost of a compact excavator by as much as 10 percent, depending on the size of the machine."
Aldridge notes that there is a price increase with comfort features, but that the difference is not cost prohibitive. "Typically the cost of a fully enclosed heated and air conditioned cab will raise the price somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000, depending on the size of the machine."
The big picture
Regardless of how you feel about comfort features on the compact excavators in your fleet, there is little argument that your customers appreciate them.
"Most comfort features just make overall productivity better over a long period of time," says Gearhart. "The more comfortable you make your customers, the more likely they are to come back."
In addition to pleasing your customers, you increase the saleability of your fleet. "The cab definitely makes the machine more attractive for resale when the [owner] decides to sell it," says Aldridge.
"The favorable trend toward ergonomics continues with used equipment," says Kohler. "For instance, customers in hot, arid areas of the country definitely prefer having a cab with air conditioning. Whether they are purchasing a new or used compact excavator with these features, it isn't as much about if the excavator is new or used but more reflective on the features for which their customers desire."
Maintaining the status quo
You might think that the more "bells and whistles" you add to a machine, the more maintenance will be required. In reality, it makes little difference to the service procedures and innovative cab designs are even improving ease of service in some cases.
"Maintaining and servicing a Komatsu compact excavator, with a cab or with a canopy, is quite simple because the entire operator compartment tilts forward for effortless access to the main hydraulic components and hoses and also the front section of the engine," says Kohler. "A fully opening, rear-hinged panel provides access to the rear engine compartment, while additional side hooks enable easy inspection of the radiator and hydraulic cooler, the fuel tank and the hydraulic tank."
Aldridge says for the most part, any ergonomic features are manually operated or fuse related. "If there is a maintenance-related problem, it is a very quick fix," he says.
Deciding how to outfit your compact excavator fleet is a decision best made based on the preferences of your customer base.
"Every rental company knows best who their target customers are and what they desire in the equipment they rent," says Kohler. "Rental customer wants and needs vary by region, climate and even by the cost of living in particular areas. At the same time, having options available on equipment for rent could prove to be an advantage for gaining additional business."
To Stout at Terex, rental businesses need to consider the total cost of ownership. "If a given feature improves the utilization of the machine and it does not bring with it increased maintenance cost, and the payback looks reasonable, then the purchase of that creature comfort makes good business sense," he says.
Aldridge at IHI agrees, adding: "Most rental companies are looking for one thing: return on investment," he says. "It really depends on where the rental company is located and what their rental customers are accustomed to. If a cab will allow you to rent the machine more in the rainy and cold season, then it's a no brainer."