What will the world of construction look like in 20 years? Looking at the existing trends, it is my opinion that battery power will one day reign supreme. Emission regulations in Europe and other developed countries are forcing construction suppliers to innovate at an increased rate. While zero emissions are a noble goal in themselves, the new battery power sources are becoming so advanced that they are overtaking combustion and corded machines in practical terms as well. Today we had a look at what the construction site of the future may look like. Our friends from Wacker Neuson brought round and demonstrated a world first, a battery powered tamping rammer.
This seems like science fiction, but here it is, available to purchase at your local dealer. The high level stats from Wacker claim that the unit has the same compacting performance as an equivalent sized petrol rammer, savings on fuel will be in the order of 55% (taking electricity use into account) and compacting time will be around 30 minutes on a full charge. The machine also has a spring loaded anti vibration system, greatly reducing worker fatigue. The run time does seem a bit low in my opinion, but it was pointed out that there is no idle time that would otherwise be using up fuel, so this 30 minute in actual compacting run time, does start to look a bit better. I’m sure we will see this run time improve in time. Charging time will be 80 minutes with the more expensive quick charger, or 4 hours with the standard charger. As with the cordless power tools, I can envision users purchasing 2 or 3 batteries per machine to use on rotation to keep operating time up. This would probably necessitate access to a local power source onsite for charging to make it viable. In the short term, I still see this as a more specialised machine, on the fringes of the market, mainly due to the run time limitation. In time, if it is proven in real world conditions and accepted by the market, I can see this gradually replacing petrol machines, certainly in Europe in the next 5 to 10 years. In our African market, add another 10 years for complete market uptake.
Let’s talk about the advantages of a zero emissions battery powered tamping rammer. Firstly, the maintenance on a brushless electric motor is practically zero. This is a major advantage, petrol driven rammers are notoriously unreliable and troublesome on site, and it makes sense when you think of the environment that the machines work in, it is an engineer’s worst nightmare. Huge vibrations and impact on the engine, fine dust clouds caused by the compaction process clogging up filters , exposure to the elements. So to have a motor with one moving part, seems like a huge advantage over petrol in terms of reliability and maintenance. Now I would make one caveat that the technology still needs to be proven in real world conditions. How the battery terminals and fittings will stand up to ongoing vibration and exposure over time remains to be seen. The machine will also have advantages in poorly ventilated trenching applications and sensitive areas. A municipality in our province is looking at piloting 10 units with their pot hole repair crews, and I feel this will be a good fit because the tamping requirements are shorter in duration, and the reliability will be an advantage in remote locations. Off course there are the savings on fuel costs, and then there are the fantastic emissions savings as well.
Seeing this battery powered tamping rammer operating, gave me a back to the future moment, and I do see this as the future. Battery technology and costs are getting to the point where they can practically compete with their combustion and corded opposition. Wacker say there will be a battery plate compactor available soon, which uses the same motor and battery pack. JCB have recently launched a lithium powered electric mini excavator. So it is starting to look like the battery powered machines are poised to take over the world.