The word hammer, almost by definition, is designed to beat itself to death,” notes Peter Bigwood, president of Atlas Copco Construction Tools, Inc. “The minute you put it on the job, the process of self-destruction is beginning.”
With the pounding hydraulic hammers are required to take, manufacturers have moved to simplify designs in an effort to enhance durability and performance. “In any piece of equipment, generally speaking, the fewer parts the better,” says Bigwood. “A part equals something more to go wrong. The more you have parts interacting and moving, the more wear and eventually repair and maintenance that will be required.”
“Designs featuring fewer components offer far better efficiency and performance, superior power to weight ratio and, in most cases, less carrier impact and more production,” adds Tim Miner at IPC Industries, manufacturer of the Huskie line of hammers. He attributes simplified hammer designs to advances in manufacturing techniques; more choices and types of steel; improved hydraulic seal technology; and better hydraulic systems on the carriers.
Such changes have contributed to lower acquisition and operating costs, Miner continues. “In 1972, using 1972 dollars, a 1,000-lb.-class hammer listed out for around $12,000 to $13,000 and carried a 90-day to 6-month warranty. For reference, in 1972, that’s what a Case 580 sold for,” he states. “In 2004 dollars, that same class hammer sells for $20,000 or less and offers roughly twice to three times the performance, negligible carrier impact and warranties that can stretch to three years and unlimited hours. In real dollars, today’s hammer is far less costly to buy and use.”
Developing a more “intelligent” hammer
Mike Grabnic, engineering supervisor, Allied Construction Products, LLC, describes newer hammer designs as more “intelligent.” “For example, they are better controlled internally,” he states. “The operating performance of the newer hammer designs provides better matches to the job requirements.”
Today’s hammers operate on a wider “band width” of flow and pressure, says Miner.
“They put less ‘load’ on the carrier hydraulic systems and will run without the addition of auxiliary coolers,” he explains. “They offer higher blow speeds and power at lower flows and pressures while still accepting higher flows for even better performance.
Older designs may require wide-open throttle and load the carrier to its maximum output.”
The ability to run cooler and adjust to a range of flows and pressures is a key selection criteria for Straight Line, Inc., a Las Vegas-based contractor specializing in residential footings and plumbing. Its owner, Randy Pinkston, has operated at least 20 different hammer brands over the past 25 years. Today, he uses primarily 1,000-lb.-class Huskie HH1000s on the company’s 32 Case 580 and 590 backhoe-loaders.
The hammers in the Straight Line fleet break up caliche prior to placing footings and plumbing for as many as 200 homes a day. “You can get into some soft caliche and be making 5 ft. in five or 10 minutes, then get into the next spot and you’ll be there a half hour moving the next 2 ft. It’s just that hard,” says Pinkston.
During the summer months, ambient temperatures in Las Vegas frequently reach above the 100º F mark. According to Pinkston, these hot, dry conditions actually require the carrier to be run at full throttle to ensure sufficient water and air is pumped through the radiator, keeping the machine and hydraulic system as cool as possible.
This has been a problem with older hammer designs. “If you want to slow it down to where it hits harder for really hard stuff, you have to slow the machine’s rpm to do that,” Pinkston explains. “Consequently, you’re gathering heat.”