Back to British: JCB compact backhoe and the JS205

PMV pays a trip to Staffordshire for the launch of the latest machines from the quintessential British machinery brand

ANALYSIS, PMV, JCB

Both JCB and its long-time chairman, Lord Anthony Bamford, are celebrating their 70th birthday this year — so it with apt timing that the British machinery brand recently decided to launch its latest model of the backhoe loader, the machine that originally set JCB on its path to becoming a globally recognised producer of construction and agricultural equipment.

The 3CX Compact, as its name suggests, is a versatile trade-off between the strengths of the JCB’s now 35-year-old 3CX range — that includes the ‘Sitemaster’ variant with a six-function loader — and a needed adjustment towards the confined and challenging environments of many modern work sites.

Overall, the machine is 35% smaller than its older sibling, the 3CX, measuring just 1.9m in width and 2.74m in height. It can also execute a tight turning circle of just 5.8m — owing to its size and it four-wheel (4x4x4) steering.

Dramatically, the 3CX also achieves much of this by ditching the enlarged rear tractor wheels that have defined the backhoe loader since its inception — derived as it is from paired loader and backhoe tractor attachments.

Given the classic nature of the tractor and the size of its wide-tread off-road wheels, this might seem like a dramatic step, but it is hard to argue with change in the name of progress.

The 3CX Compact simultaneously breaks the compact mould with its road worthiness — accommodating trailer-less movement between work sites through the deployment of a hydrostatic transmission and top speed of 40kmph — 17% faster than the trailer-bound 2CX backhoe loader.

The front–end loader in turn provides a load over height of 2.98m and max forward reach at full height of 1.11m — suitable for the loading both on- and off-highway trucks.

“It outperforms a mini excavator at digging and it outperforms a compact wheeled loader at loading,” notes Tim Burnhope, JCB chief innovation and growth officer.

He continues: “With the 3CX Compact, JCB has condensed over 60 years of backhoe loader expertise and market leadership into a machine that delivers all of the versatility, productivity and ease of use of the market-leading 3CX, with even more manoeuvrable dimensions.

“With the 3CX Compact we are delivering a real master-of-all-trades — a machine that is suitable for operation in road maintenance, urban construction, or any task that requires maximum performance in a compact package.”

In a powerful live demonstration of the 3CX Compact, three of the machines drove under another three in the arched up on their loader tips and extended backhoe arms.

Powered by a 55kW ‘JCB Diesel by Kohler’ engine, the 3CX Compact complies with Euro Stage IIIB emissions law, but ducks under Tier 4 Final regulations (as the requirements do not apply for engines below 56kW), avoiding the need for purchasing customers to buy costly Tier 4 Final fuel additives.

The 3CX also achieves Stage IIIB without the use of a diesel particulate filter (DPF) or selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, further cutting down on day-to-day running costs and servicing requirements.

The absence of a DPF means there is no need to periodically clean or replace this unit, and there is no need to use high-grade low-ash oils, while the absence of an SCR system means there is no need to periodically fill up with diesel exhaust fluid or ‘AdBlue’ in many countries.

Alongside the 3CX Compact, JCB also launched two twin modifications of its 4CX machines: the Pilmaster, with a compact piling rig in place of a dipper, and the Polemaster, with a high-powered auger and a ‘Rotaclaw’ bucket for lifting, rotating and planting poles.

Speaking at the launch event, Lord Bamford states: “The backhoe loader was the building block for the success of JCB, and while we now produce many different machines for construction, agricultural and industrial machines the backhoe loader remains one of our most important products.

“It has not only helped put JCB on the map but Britain too. Today’s JCB backhoe is easy to drive and one of the most useful tools around — because it can do so many jobs.

“The team should be proud of what it has achieved, but business is about looking forward and we will always have an eye on developing this machine still further for our customers.”

DIGGING FOR VICTORY

Following a tour of the JCB’s heavy equipment plant, James Richardson, MD for JCB’s excavator global business unit, took a moment to discuss the excavator market in the Middle East.

“For us, it’s been a growth market for a number of years, particularly for excavators. We look to the key markets of Qatar, Saudi and United Arab Emirates — particularly in the 20t sector, where the JCB excavator come into its own — and much of that has been based on significant infrastructure spending,” he says.

“The other part of it is working with our dealers to know our customers better.

“At the end of the day, this industry is a people business: it is people that make the decisions about which machines they will buy and therefore the relationship is very important ... but it’s one thing having a relationship, and it’s another thing being able to really offer them something — some tangible benefit.”

JCB has made particular efforts to invest in its part supply, both through its World Parts Centre in Uttoxeter, and subsequently through a further 16 regional distribution hubs globally.

Richardson notes: “We have invested significantly in parts and aftermarket support — and the world parts centre is a good example of where we have $50m of inventory sitting in preparation for our customer needs.”

Recently, JCB has also moved to improve its parts centre further by replacing its manual sorting of small parts and components with an automated system from SSI Schäfer, increasing the speed and efficiency of picking.

“We’re replicating the success of that operation with the Middle East parts centre in Dubai, while also providing dedicated parts and service support to the dealer network,” continues Richardson.

“The Dubai facility has predominantly been put in place to support the Middle East, but also covers the emerging market of Africa.

“But the pillar is the product, and JCB has launched a product really specifically targeting the harsh, hard environments in the Middle East where customers really need a work tool.”

BUILT FOR PURPOSE

Richardson is referring to the JS205, a product that he helped incubate following a two-year stint with JCB in India from 2012 to 2014.

He explains: “Other markets around the world are led by the engine legislation, and you end up a very complicated product — you need people with computer skills and software to deal with the machines, and that’s not always appropriate when you’re out in the desert putting a pipeline into the ground.”

In India, JCB looked at its product and the competitor’s, but the realisation came when Richardson’s team went directly to their customers, and their competitors’ customers, and asked them for their honest opinions.

They explained: “Your machines are good, but there’s a lot more electrical circuitry.”

Richardson would chime in: “That’s because we’ve got a more sophisticated engine.”

And they would reply: “Yes, but we can’t fix it, and we’ve got to wait for somebody else to.”

Richardson comments: “We then thought: Well actually, why not just simplify it?

“Let’s put a mechanical engine and eliminate some of the features. What are the basics? He needs a throttle, he needs fuel, he needs a certain engine rpm — stripping everything else to make the operator as comfortable as possible.

The undercarriage of the JS205 is taken from the JS200HG, but reinforced with the marble and granite mines of India in mind.

Richardson says: “In Rajasthan, where they are block lifting, they quite often roll the block back onto the X-frame — putting an inordinate amount of stress on the undercarriage. To combat this we’ve reinforced it so that it’s totally set for the hardest of applications.”

There is also strengthening around the slew plates and other critical areas of the machine, and the effort has been rewarded with sales around the globe, and frequently to Africa.

“We sell a great deal of machines into Africa: South Africa is a more developed market, but we have dealers in Botswana,” Richardson says. “I was speaking with a guy in Tanzania this morning, and we have a presence in Angola, and all of the way through the western part of Africa, represented by the CFAO Group, and then on into North Africa with Algier Engines — so we’re well represented and we see Africa as a future market for us: both for agriculture, construction — there’s a lot going on there.”

AN UNEXPECTED HIT

The robust, no-nonsense design of the JS205 has also turned out to be unexpectedly popular with JCB’s core customers in the Gulf region.

Richardson notes: “A lot of the machines in the Middle East work use hydraulic hammers, and are out all day in the blazing sun. The JS205 is simple by design, with a mechanical engine, in-line fuel injection systems to deal with poor fuel quality and no computer — which means the fixability of the machine is so much better.”

Comparable to a Tier III product in its fuel consumption, the JS205 “has been a significant part of the growth in the region — together with the fact that the dealers have recognised it as a significant opportunity,” he adds.

“We have Tier IV final product parked outside, ready to be shipped, but the demand from our customers is for a simple work tool — one that is productive, simple to operate, easy to fix, and at an effective cost: both in terms of fuel efficiency and being relatively maintenance free.

THE GAME AHEAD

The JCB product going into the Middle East at the moment consists primarily of its backhoe loaders — including the 3CX Sitemaster — its telehandlers, generators and now the JS205.

Discussing the business, Richardson notes: “Year-to-date we are certainly experiencing growth, and a lot of that is Qatar, but it’s also in the UAE and Saudi Arabia as well. In terms of the 20t class, it’s down to the simple design – and that’s been done intentionally.

“The growth is probably not what it was last year, but it’s still strong, and a lot of that is due to customer satisfaction — customers with the product who are happy with the relationship, and the service, and who keep coming back.

“As I said, we’re a family business, and I’d like to think that it’s our human touch that gives us something that our competition don’t have. Our customers write directly to our chairman, and their views are taken very seriously. Our dealers are also quite often family businesses, and so the whole relationship is quite strong.”

MEET THE CUSTOMER

This year’s launch event was attended by both the Saudi and Kuwaiti distributors of JCB, as well as a number of their existing customers.

Valdas Senkus, assistant manager for procurement at Integral Services Company (ISCO) in Kuwait, commented on the visit, saying: “In Kuwait, JCB’s people are really helpful. The GM comes and sells the product to you personally, and we appreciate that support.

“It is also good to see that every piece of JCB equipment is properly tested, rather than just one in 10 pieces. The next five to 10 years will be a good market for heavy equipment in Kuwait, as all the projects are continuing as planned — as they were on the high oil prices.”

Sarkis Labaki, head of the construction equipment unit at Nesma & Partners Contracting Company in Saudi Arabia, commented: “It is a nice strategy from JCB to have their people from Dubai and even the UK constantly visiting the end users and their companies in order to make sure their machines are being marketed and maintained properly.”

Richardson interjects: “The parts logistics is also very good. I have always thought that if diggers don’t work, we should go into logistics.

“And we we do get tested. We won a contract with the British army, saying that we could do 365-day parts supply, and they rang up to order an O-ring for a routine service on Christmas Day — which can only be someone testing whether we’re compliant or not.”

Senkus also discussed ISCO’s interest in ordering a set of generators with additional fuel tanks — to lower the costs of the fuel logistics for ISCO’s oil and gas work out in the desert.

Richardson comments: “We have customers around the world working in remote locations. The fuel management of the contract is huge. Say a lorry takes 13,000 litres of diesel — to get that 200km into the desert is going to cost you, and when you factor that in, fuel is a cost.”

Richardson reiterates that the strength JCB’s versatility as an operation lies in its people: “You cannot overestimate the power of people in industry. We are a big company, but one where you can access anyone.”

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