...Las Vegas. Judging by the high turnout–well over 70,000–at the World of Concrete event last month, the triennial, March mega-show is likely to see attendance numbers that rival its 1999 peak of 124,264.

New research and development is a big part of the attraction. "There is a mandatory requirement for manufacturers to continue developing new products or innovations on existing products," says Randy Henderson, chief financial officer for Aluma Systems Inc., a scaffolding and formwork rental company in Toronto. Manufacturers that don’t continue to come up with new ideas "probably won’t be around in 10 years," he says.

(Photo courtesy of Manitowoc Crane Group)

At the last Conexpo in 2002, new U.S. and Europe-compliant "Tier 2" diesel engines and emissions systems were a big draw. The industry will continue to see more upgrades in that area, with "Tier 3" engines rated between 300 to 750 hp on some 2005 model-year machinery.

Nip, Tuck. User-friendly saws come with less cost, while cranes squeeze into a smaller footprint. (Photo courtesy of Stihl Inc.)

Features that cut down on operating costs also are the latest buzz. "In the last two years, our focus has been low operating cost, machine uptime and machine productivity," says Randy Jaminet, manager of worldwide customer support for Deere & Co., Moline, Ill.

Compact machines and their mushrooming family of work-tool attachments are a third area of interest. Most producers are expanding into tinier equipment and attachments, giving construction fleet owners new ideas for light-duty work. "We are all looking to diversify and get closer to our customers," says Terry Dolan, a vice president at Bermuda-based Ingersoll-Rand Co.

Miniature machines have come full circle. Ingersoll-Rand, which owns the popular Bobcat empire, helped to inspire the marketing strategies of Cat, Deere, Komatsu, Terex, Volvo and others in their light-duty diversification. But late last year, the IR brand announced that it will expand into smaller, mobile equipment as well, such as backhoe loaders, wheel loaders, excavators, and concrete finishing tools, with more items to come out this year. "We saw the mid-size contractor as being left behind by the industry," says Dolan. Now, equipment owners can buy a broad line of IR and Bobcat machines at the same dealer.

Similarly, Komatsu America Corp., Vernon Hills, Ill., which used to be associated with big dozers, excavators and trucks, plans to showcase a new, 4-ton skid-steer loader, its largest. Volvo, JCB and others also plan to unveil new skid-steers. "If you want a skid loader, there must be close to two-dozen brands right now," Manfredi says. Suppliers will sell about 63,000 in the U.S. this year, more than any other category of construction equipment.

Chill Out. Petroleum suppliers are planning to introduce more options for extended-life coolants. (Bottom right courtesy of Chevrontexaco Corp.)

Chasing Cool

From little self-erecting tower cranes to new types of extended life engine coolants, the year in equipment is sure to turn out several exciting surprises. One power-tool maker likes to make the claim that steel, concrete and asphalt "don’t stand a chance" under its newest line of gasoline-powered cut-off saws. Adding a complex air-filtration system that lasts twice as long and squeezing it into a package that retails at the same $1,169 price of previous models is the latest trick from Stihl Inc., Virginia Beach, Va.

A Casselton, N.D.-based producer of rubber tracks also has an idea that goes into the way-cool category. Loegering Manufacturing Inc. quietly introduced its "Versatile Track System" last summer. The device allows skid-steer owners to swap out their standard wheels with rubber tracks, with minimal wrench-turning in about an hour. The $15,000 package weighs 1.5 tons and bolts to the hubs of 60 to 100 hp machines with 43 to 51-in. wheelbases.

The versatility of using one machine to do the work of two, for a much lower price, defines what’s hot and what’s not. Loegering says it is barely keeping up with orders for VTS and has several hundred kits already out in the field. At Conexpo, it plans to show off two more versions for smaller and larger skid-steers. "When it comes time to trade your machine in, you can take this off, buy a new machine and put this system back on," says Del Carver, director of sales and marketing.

Small, rubber-tracked machines are the darlings of the equipment business and will continue to infiltrate jobsites around the world this year. ASV Inc., Grand Rapids, Minn., is Loegering’s parent company and a supplier of rubber tracks to Caterpillar, which also owns a stake in the firm. ASV expects to post a 38 to 45% increase in sales this year. By 2008, rubber-tracked loaders will be a $1.5-billion-a-year market, company officials say. Total volume is expected to shoot to 40,000 to 50,000 units a year, compared with today’s 16,000. But making these smaller machines cheaper to maintain should be the next priority of manufacturers, contractors complain.
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