Ground Engagement

What criteria make stalwarts stick with their preferred OEM?

Earth moving equipment is the very backbone of the construction sector.
Earth moving equipment is the very backbone of the construction sector.

Earth moving equipment is the very backbone of the construction sector, and with the strengthening of the eastern and Asian original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), more ‘traditional’ brands are being given a run for their money as their once assured market is slowly eroded by the more ‘affordable’ product lines.

The premium brands frequently absorb a value line into their ranks in an effort to offer the end-user a more varied product range. For example, Chinese brand SDLG was split between Volvo and Terex, each taking a section of the Chinese product line to complement their ranges.

So too the reverse happens, with German manufacturer Putzmeister was merged with Chinese giant, Sany, in an effort to add Germanic know-how, reputation – and yes a new product – to its basket.

Alliances too, serve to strengthen a manufacturer’s presence in a region while supplementing an offering. Case in point is Liebherr assembling South African OEM Bell’s ADTs in Germany – the one piece of equipment that the German OEM didn’t have in its product basket – while Chinese Shantui’s bulldozers sport natty Volvo manufactured tracks.

While cross-pollination occurs across the OEM market there are, nevertheless, stalwart end-users that will support their preferred brand “regardless”.

One such stalwart is Roadbridge, Qatar. Construction manager, Joe O’Connor: “We are very busy and cannot afford to have any type of downtime, so we use equipment manufacturers that we know and have used for the past 30 years,” he says by way of explanation.

Not long in Qatar, O’Connor explains Roadridge’s choice of machines and his emphatic approach to sticking with what he knows: “We prefer contract work, more to get a feel for the country; what the underfoot conditions are etc, so we are hiring over purchasing at the moment and we use machines we know and trust.”

With projects that include moving more than one million cubic tonnes of earth, O’Connor believes that reliability and access to spares becomes the criteria when selecting earth moving equipment and while reputations are changing, the eastern OEMs are still suffering under the ‘cheap’ stigma.

With Volvo dump trucks and excavators, Roadbridge’s mixed fleet also comprises Komatsu excavators and ’dozers along with other brands.

O’Connor adds: “We use four brands of machinery,” and sure enough, in the stable, sitting cheek-by-jowl are Caterpillar, Volvo, Komastu and JCB. He says that some of the Volvo machines have 13 and 14 thousand hours on the clock. “Volvo is excellent with service and parts and Caterpillar are pretty good with their parts. It’s all about building a relationship with a brand – they have to be reliable,” he says.

Recently, Hitachi has sidled in alongside the more traditional brands in his fleet and he says, almost by way of mitigation for his previous fervour: “We are looking at expanding a bit – and Hitachi is a new brand for us ...”

Ahmed Abo El Ela, group head, marketing and corporate communications, Nehmeh Group adds: “Although rental is increasing, the Middle East is still very much purchase orientated,” but this is dependent on what equipment exactly is being discussed. “The project’s duration influences this decision.

For a lengthy project, purchasing is preferred. For equipment such as generators, rental is preferential as it is for lighter equipment, such as power tools.”

He adds that in a competitive environment having a choice of specifications on a piece of machinery would influence choice against the cost of that machine.

Ton De Kroon, general manager Gulf Earthmoving (GEM) explains his general preference for the more traditional brands: “At Gulf Earth Moving we concentrate on purchasing our own equipment and we are only interested in the premium traditional brands.”

He maintains that renting equipment brings its own set of challenges: “It’s the reliability of equipment and the skills of the operators are unknown and may jeopardise site safety, coupled with slow response times in the event
of breakdowns.

“We feel it is important to have a young, modern fleet of equipment and are prepared to spend the extra to ensure that it is the highest quality equipment. With our focus on efficiency and meeting clients’ tight timelines it is critical for us to have operational kit. This obviously costs more but is money well spent. We are able to maintain our fleet 98% operational by ensuring maintenance is done by our own highly trained and skilled mechanics.”

De Kroon emphasises the importance of after sales service and adds that there have been improvements in Qatar: “Access to spares and accessories, after sales service, maintenance contracts have always been a significant challenge in Qatar, but in the past few years we have seen significant improvements in this area.

By working closely with the dealers they are better able to understand our needs and they are always open to improving the level of service. We always ensure our suppliers hold and maintain recommended spare parts as well as have direct manufacturer support whenever required.”

He adds: “The main challenges are always to keep the whole fleet working. As deadlines get tighter all the time, having a strong supply chain to ensure all our equipment is working is critical. Our suppliers are aware of these challenges and are always working to ensure parts are available at short notice as required.”

Often the outlook around purchasing value brands is that they will happily last the duration of the contract and can then be cannibalised for spares or sold off to start-up operations.

Conversely, it’s the western brands (and a couple of Korean and Japanese ones thrown in for good measure, namely Komatsu, Doosan and others, depending on their product line) that take the lion’s share when it comes to rental fleets. This is mainly because they are known to go the distance with few breakdowns and excellent support networks.

De Kroon emphasises that with downtime project timelines are adversely affected, and with that, comes “increased hazards, shorter equipment lifespan and slower production rates” so he sticks with the premium brands.

Abo El Ela says that there is little difference in demand between premium and value add machines in Qatar:
“Products that do not add value are not successful. Speed and performance are clear client needs.” He adds: “Customers are aware of the market and products, hence they understand what products are premium.”

A consideration in the Middle East is the all-prevailing climatic conditions, necessitating adaptation of machinery to cope with the excessive heat and dust.

European specified air filters need to be swapped out for a hardier brand and hydraulic oil needs to be a more viscous lubricant to cope with the soaring temperatures.

Many OEMs accommodate climatic differences and machines ship with those changes, while some companies choose to make the adaptations themselves. O’Connor's team of mechanics and technicians undertake these modifications themselves, as the equipment lands configured to European specs.

De Kroon adds: “Our equipment is already built to high enough standards for this harsh climate. As long as maintenance is carried out on time using original parts there should be no issues. One thing we do specify here in Qatar is that all our equipment must have air conditioned cabins for the comfort and welfare of the operators.”

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