Electric Heavy-duty Equipment Creating a New Experience on the Jobsite

As more manufacturers market battery-powered off-road equipment, here’s what construction contractors can expect in coming years.
Electric-powered systems in heavy-duty equipment have been on the radar for many years. Recently, this trend has accelerated, thanks to driving factors such as a desire for greener energy sources, advancing technology in battery capacity and data to back up projected cost savings. This steady path toward reliable electric off-road equipment gives operators, contractors and OEMs alike a glimpse into a future in which electric equipment works alongside diesel-powered machines.
While the reality of this new working environment is a long way away (think 10 to 30 years), the time to start research and preparation is now. To get a clear idea of electrification’s potential, we need to start by understanding its current position in heavy-duty and off-highway equipment.
Survey Results on the Trend of Electrification
Waytek, a national distributor of electric components, conducted a survey in partnership with OEM Off-Highway to gauge what the future holds for electrification and put tangible metrics behind industry sentiment. The survey compiled responses from 315 people who fill a variety of roles in common industries that use heavy-duty equipment, such as construction, agriculture and manufacturing.
After analyzing results, it’s safe to say the electrification trend is at an all time high. The majority of survey respondents (86%) indicated electric systems are more popular this year than last year. In addition, 75% of respondents said their company either will or might take steps to pursue electrification within the next year.
Caterpillar Details Its Electrification Strategy at bauma 2019
Based on this data - and hundreds of news stories around electrification, as well as the highlights from bauma, the world's largest construction trade show - it’s clear that electric equipment is no longer a future state. It’s quickly becoming a reality in applications where it makes sense. In fact, 74% of respondents said they are confident or somewhat confident in the potential for electric-powered equipment to supplement fuel-powered equipment in the future.
The survey goes on to show electrification is predicted to grow in small and mid-size equipment within metropolitan areas because of the feasibility of battery power and ease of accessing a reliable electrical grid. In addition, construction/industrial/utility ranked third as the industry predicted for the most growth in electric equipment capabilities. It was preceded by truck, bus or municipal transportation and lawn and garden.
Volvo to Launch Range of Electric Compact Loaders and Excavators in 2020
Differences between Electric vs. Diesel
While the majority of information available focuses on challenges around battery technology and engineering designs, contractors who are operating equipment can expect a few distinct changes from what they’re used to in operating electric equipment:
Quieter Operation: One of the most obvious differences is that electric equipment is much quieter than diesel equipment. This means less wear and tear on hearing, as well as more flexibility with operating equipment in areas that follow strict decibel ordinances within city limits.
Fewer Breakdowns: The design of electric equipment is much simpler than diesel-powered equipment. While diesel equipment has hundreds of moving parts, electric equipment only has around 25 moving parts. Fewer parts means fewer things to go wrong. Operators can expect more reliable equipment that stays on the jobsite longer because of fewer breakdowns and repairs.
Advanced Technology: While advanced technology features can be incorporated into diesel equipment today, these kinds of features will become standard on electric equipment. Think of 360° camera vision and remote control of machinery. To see this in action, check out this video of Volvo’s EX2 excavator. Along with this advanced functionality comes a redesigned user interface complete with digital displays and touchscreens.
As manufacturers develop electric equipment, they provide training specific to their machinery to get operators up to speed. For example, Volvo created a virtual operator simulation to prepare contractors for the new user interface and operation of their equipment.
Longer Refueling Time: One of the few downsides to electric equipment is the time it takes to recharge batteries. Recharging time depends on battery size and capacity, taking anywhere from a few hours to overnight. Compare this to the nearly instant refueling of diesel-powered equipment and it’s apparent that longer refueling time can be a downside to electric equipment.
All in all, the skillset contractors who operate heavy-duty equipment possess is easily transferable to electric equipment. Any nuances specific to operating electric equipment will be quickly resolved by manufacturers as they design new machines.
On the Edge of Electric
Many industrial companies are on the cusp of exploration in battery-powered off-road equipment. Forty-two percent of survey respondents say their company will take steps to pursue electrification within the next year.
Electromobility Gaining Ground in Heavy Equipment
As the industry looks to the future of electrification, leadership teams are taking incremental steps to explore whether or not electric equipment has potential in their specific business. These steps include hiring new talent, purchasing equipment, attending industry conferences and setting aside budget for research and prototyping.
Electric equipment has made strides in the last five years. If Moore's law holds true that technology doubles its advancements every two years, then chances are strong that contractors could see more electric equipment every day.