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GENAVCO demonstrates Liebherr fuel efficiency to the UAE’s AIMS Group

How GENAVCO’s bold claims about the fuel efficiency of Liebherr‘s L566 wheel loader led Ajman’s AIMS Group to first request a demonstration, and subsequently place an order

GENAVCO was confident that it could prove Liebherrs strong fuel efficiency claims in practice.
GENAVCO was confident that it could prove Liebherrs strong fuel efficiency claims in practice.

How GENAVCO’s bold claims about the fuel efficiency of Liebherr‘s L566 wheel loader led Ajman’s AIMS Group to first request a demonstration, and subsequently place an order...

One year ago, a product test was conducted on behalf of Ajman’s quasi-governmental AIMS Group between wheel loaders from four rival equipment manufacturers to determine which of their machines would consume the least fuel in a standardised application.

The challenge was instigated by GENAVCO, the Dubai-based distributor of Liebherr earth-moving equipment, which had pitched the manufacturer’s L566 wheel loaders to AIMS based on the claim that the machine could specifically deliver a 40% fuel saving over the competition for a given production.

On the day, the L566 went head-to-head with three rival wheel loaders, provided by Komatsu, Volvo CE and Case CE, operated by drivers of each of the manufacturers’ own choosing.

In the event, the Liebherr machines lived up to the bold fuel efficiency claims made by GENAVCO, and as a result of the trial led AIMS to purchase its first Liebherr L566 wheel loader unit early this year. For the last six months, that unit has now been working away at the same AIMS asphalt plant where it was tested.

Explaining how the product test came about, Asif Khan, general manager for plant and equipment at GENAVCO, says: “AIMS has a multi-brand fleet, but their past experience has been primarily with Komatsu and Volvo CE products. We had been trying to get them to try our Liebherr product for a long time, but their response has always been: ‘We are a happy customer of Komatsu and Caterpillar, and they are providing us with a good service, so why should we place an order with you?’

“With all respect to the fact they were satisfied with their existing product and level of service, I replied: ‘Our product will bring you further cost savings: the cost of operation will be lower than any other brands.’ That was a very strong statement, but we were confident in it.”

Even then, it was only after a prolonged period during which Khan’s team returned again and again to assert that only by trying the product themselves would AIMS understand the benefits of the L566, and the prospective client agreed to allow GENACO to prove it.

GENAVCO then set about arranging for a demonstration of its Liebherr machine at the asphalt plant of the AIMS Group. It then sent out invitations to its rival wheel loader manufacturers, which resulted in Komatsu, Volvo CE and Case CE taking up the challenge.

In line with the requirement of the AIMS Group for material handling machines for its asphalt and waste management operations, a trial was set up to simulate an intense duty-cycle application, requiring the wheel loaders to pick up material at one location, before reversing in a ‘V’-shaped manoeuvre and heading in the opposite direction to deposit the material around 15m away in a waiting tipper truck, and repeating that cycle for 30 minutes — in other words, a classic duty-cycle setup.

Overseen by the watchful eye of AIMS, each machine was then put through its paces on the close to identical duty cycle to assess their productivity, both in terms of net fuel use and productivity per litre. The whole test was also videoed to catalogue the actions of the operators and prove the test’s fairness.

“We proved that in this exercise, the L566 came out on top in terms of fuel efficiency. In fact, the amount of fuel it consumed was 40% lower than the competition. We then used this information to make a projection of the savings that AIMS would achieve if they continued to achieve the same kind of performance over a period of one or two years. Value wise, it was huge,” explains Khan.

“We submitted the report to AIMS, and that finally convinced the whole management to believe what we were saying — because the machine had proved itself, and it did so in front of them, at their own facility. And since they couldn’t go back on their promise, they said: ‘Fine, we will give you the order.’”

Even so, AIMS was determined to scrutinise GENAVCO as a supplier — not least because of its long standing ties with the distributors of other brands — so over the next couple of months proceeded to thoroughly evaluate the capabilities of the both the Liebherr machines and GENAVCO’s service capabilities.

When they came back to GENAVCO, Khan notes: “They said: ‘We accept that your machine is better in terms of the fuel efficiency, but we want to choose a partner that can back it up properly. Our team needs to evaluate your aftersales support and parts availability.’

“So they sat down with our teams to determine if we were properly geared up and ready — because the population of Liebherr earthmoving equipment here in the UAE is more than 150 units, but that figure is not as large as other brands. I would still call us a new entrant, yet to be established in the region.”

Khan notes that while the brand itself is well known and respected in the Gulf, primarily in connection with its cranes, customers in the earthmoving have proven harder to win over with total cost of ownership arguments.

“Price-wise, the Liebherr L566 is an expensive proposition for AIMS, but when we approached them we explained that we could justify the price. We said that while they may end up paying a little bit more up front, they would save a lot over five or seven years of operation of this machine,” says Khan.

Indeed, based on the edge that the Liebherr machine has over its peers in the trialled duty-cycle operations, GENAVCO asserted that AIMS would make up the 15% to 20% premium in the L566’s up-front cost — compared to similarly weighted competitor machines — within the first six months to a year of operations.

Fuel costs, specifically, are a watershed factor in the UAE, as Khan explains: “Ever since the diesel price became higher than the petrol price, people have become cautious about their fuel costs. Now they are ready to hear about fuel efficiency, especially for off-highway products.”

The key to the efficient performance of the Liebherr machine lies in the brand’s deployment of a hydrostatic powertrain, quite unlike any of its competitors, delivering it a powerful advantage in the setting.

As Rizwan Ali Hussain, assistant manager for the equipment business at GENAVCO, explains: “Liebherr’s machine was hydrostatic, while the other machines were using conventional transmissions.”

A technology routinely deployed on forklifts in the material handling industry, hydrostatic drivelines increase the efficiency of duty-cycle lifting operations by having the associated engine run at a fixed, even pace, while storing up potential energy in the hydraulic system to be released as and when required — in the case of a wheel loader, whenever the machine lifts a bucket full of material.

As Saif Khan, senior manager for the equipment business at GENAVCO, explains: “The engine is running at a constant rpm, but you can still draw the maximum power at all times — without a torque converter. With a conventional torque converter you need to run the engine at 2,300rpm 2,400rpm, whereas a hydrostatic drive can run at a lower base rpm, or a maximum of around 1,800rpm. So the engine ultimately performs fewer revolutions, the life is greater, and under conditions such as this test, the fuel consumption is also lower.”

The lower speed of a hydrostatic machine allows it to operate with greater fuel efficiency, while causing less wear and tear to its parts. With a hydrostatic system, the engine speed can be precisely clocked to provide just the output necessary for the machine to ride the peaks and troughs of load demanded of it within a given application.

Hussain continues: “With Liebherr’s hydrostatic drive, a major proportion of the work is done by the electronically controlled hydraulics, which also allow the machine to be programmed to tailor the engine speed to be fuel efficient and electrically efficient in a given loading application. When it came to the test we were able to programme the cycle so precisely that the loader knew what needed to be done.”

A secondary advantage of the hydrostatic drive is that it has a reduced operational weight compared to a conventional driveline, thanks to the absence of a torque convertor.

As the engine in a hydrostatic driveline is also not connected to a torque convertor, the manufacturer is able to position it as it likes. In the case of Liebherr, the engine it is placed towards the rear, to act as a counterweight; and set low in the chassis, to lower the centre of gravity and make for a more stable machine.

As Saif Khan explains: “Liebherr has been using this technology for the last 40 years. More recently, Caterpillar and Volvo have also started using it, but only on their lower capacity machines, while the next generation coming up will use a hybrid powertrain — combining a hydrostatic driveline with a torque converter.”

While hydrostatic drivelines are no rarity in earthmoving (especially since all excavators use hydrostatic drives), they are nonetheless used on very few heavy-duty wheel loaders, and this state of affairs appear to be based on a combination of operational trade-offs by major manufacturers and one specific business motive.

Hydrostatic drivelines additionally allow for regenerative braking, which in the case of a wheel loader, allows the machine to recover kinetic energy whenever it comes to a halt, or as it slows on the approach a given loading and unloading location — eliminating the problem of operational wear on the brakes.

As Saif Khan claims: “One reason why other suppliers are not pressing ahead with hydrostatic drivelines is that the number of machines that they have in the market is enormous, and it creates a significant parts business for them.

“With a hydrostatic drive, you never need to change the brakes; the machines just stops. As a result, very few manufacturers are keen to drive the adoption of this technology, but it is coming, and sooner or later they will have to follow.”

He continues: “The disadvantage of a hydrostatic drive is that is inefficient on long drives, so if you are carrying material a long way then it is not that efficient. But for short cycles — where the wheel loader is picking material up, travelling a short distance, dropping off and coming back — a hydrostatic driveline is the best. In future, with a hybrid machine, it will use the torque converter for long drives, while for duty-cycle operations it will be hydrostatic.”

But for now, and as evinced by the trial held by GENAVCO on behalf of AIMS, it is clear from the subsequent order that the advantage lies with the Liebherr machine — thanks to both its lower fuel and spare parts consumption.

In the end, Saif Khan explains: “We gave the fuel and the maintenance — what the consumption of parts would be over the next four, five years — so they would have a holistic perspective on the cost of operation. They then made a like-for like comparison of all the equipment models, and once we proved that, they immediately placed the order with us.”

And while the stark figures from the test itself have not been released, it is worth noting that the40% fuel saving by the L566 was in comparison to its closest competitor.

Thoroughly convinced six months on, AIMS is now in discussions with GENAVCO for the purchase of a further three L566 units.

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