Photo courtesy of Link-Belt
Link-Belt is switching to Cummins engines to meet federal Tier 4 diesel emissions regulations.

A federal rule that requires off-road suppliers to curb diesel emissions through 2015 is suffocating innovation by diverting valuable research and development dollars, experts say.

"It has been a drain on resources," admitted Chuck Martz, chairman and president of Link-Belt Construction Equipment Co. Martz spoke with ENR last month at the firm's global headquarters and factory in Lexington, Ky. "A lot of energy and effort has gone into that, and it hasn't gone into new development."

So far this year, Link-Belt has retooled 13 crane models with the so-called Tier 4 diesel engines, which will increase prices by $18,000 to $25,000, Martz noted.

Current Tier 4 Interim engines require 20% to 30% more cooling than prior models, and many Tier-4 Final engines, to be introduced in 2014 and 2015, will require extra space to handle diesel particulate filters, urea injectors and "enough electronic controls to make a ham-radio operator envious," said Machinery Outlook, an newsletter published by Manfredi & Associates, this summer.

Frank Manfredi, who runs the Mundelein, Ill.-based research firm, said during a telephone interview that the Tier 4 changeover is also forcing manufacturers to perform "a lot of alignments" to restructure their supply chains.

For example, Terex plans to source most new engines from Scania, while Volvo this year increased its stake in Deutz to 25% from 6.7%. Link-Belt is switching over to Cummins engines across most of its product lines because "they got to the market first and perfected the Tier 4 concept," Martz said. Link-Belt previously used Caterpillar engines.

Meanwhile, experts speculate that equipment users will see few benefits from Tier 4. "Environmentally, it is the right thing, but from the customer standpoint, it added no value," said Martz. ENR will be moderating a Tier 4 panel that will explore these and other issues at Ritchie Bros.' Orlando auction site on Oct. 24. Details are at