Hull-based Ashcourt Group has taken delivery of the first two Volvo EC550E crawler excavators to land in the UK.
“We were instantly impressed by the specification and the development of the machine with the new hydraulic system, the new electronics, and the new engine technology, so it was prime that we got the orders in,” says Ashcourt plant director Paul Martin (pictured above with one of the machines).
The family-owned construction company will use one of the new excavators for civil engineering projects and the other, primarily, at its Partridge Hall Quarry, helping on earthworks jobs.
Ashcourt Group typically runs the chalk quarry near Burnby, which it has operated since 2014, with one excavator to rip out material from the face and one loading shovel to fill the mobile crusher and screeners, sort the piles, and load trucks to transport aggregate and lime away from the site.
“Because chalk has a low profit percentage, it is better to have fewer machines and staff but with greater productivity,” says quarry manager Damian Towse (pictured below).
For the last few years, the company has paired a Volvo EC480E crawler excavator with a Volvo L260H wheeled loader. The new EC550E excavator, however, promises 20% greater production than the EC480E in typical dig and dump applications thanks to its larger bucket and faster cycle times.
The larger bucket is enabled through the increased undercarriage dimensions (for stability), as well as the upgraded structural component dimensions on the frames, boom, and arm. The faster cycle times result from the engine’s high torque at a relatively low rpm combined with large displacement pumps. The 2200Nm (340kW) engine is in line with larger machines.
While the EC480E is aimed at customers looking for a 50-tonne excavator, the EC550E challenges the 60- or 65-tonne class, breaking the norm of production having a direct link to operating weight, Volvo says. It offers performance closer to the EC750E, but in a smaller, more easily transportable format – it has the same transport dimensions as the EC480E.
When Damian Towse tested the EC550E for the first time, the difference was immediately clear, he says.
“It’s a really good machine and really fast,” he says. “It’s got good breakout force and good productivity because the slew speed is so much faster than the EC480E. Plus you can alter your settings to give you more swing to less boom up and down. Normally, we’ll have half a morning ripping the face out, but in just half an hour up there with the EC550E I ripped out enough for five hours’ crushing.”
As well as offering 20% more productivity than the EC480E, the EC550E is also designed to drink 25% less fuel.
“Fuel efficiency is key for us with red diesel no longer being available and the price of fuel going up,” Paul Martin says. “It's important for our cost per tonne in the quarry but also when we are pricing up external projects. We are now looking at fuel month-on-month across the whole fleet and are trying to drive down the cost of fuel as far as we can. We hope that buying these two EC550E excavators will help us keep on top of that.”
The improved fuel efficiency on the EC550E comes from a new electro-hydraulic system that uses independent metering valve technology (IMVT) instead of a conventional spool-type main control valve (MCV) – an industry first in this excavator size class, Volvo says. Oil is pumped exactly according to demand to eliminate hydraulic losses, reduce fuel consumption, and give excellent controllability.
After half an hour of testing in the quarry, Damian Towse says: “It’s hard to get your head around the lightness of the controls for the size of the machine. It’s bizarre in a good way. You’re used to pulling the levers and having that resistance on the hydraulics. On this, you still have the feel but it’s so much lighter on the levers and more controllable, like driving a 14 tonner, which is good for avoiding fatigue. The bounce reduction technology also gives you more control as it stops the machine moving around as much.”
He is also a fan of Volvo Smart View, a 360° camera function that Ashcourt opted for. “You’ve got your split screen for the side and rear view like you normally have but then a third camera up above, so you can clearly see the full working area of the machine. This is perfect when working on the face, especially given the size of the unit, as you can see the position of the machine, the face, and your swing radius, so you aren’t going to knock the back end,” he explains.
Ashcourt Group has been buying Volvo construction machinery, initially from Volvo Construction Equipment Great Britain when the factory controlled distribution directly, and more recently from SMT, which took over the dealership in 2017. Almost all of Ashcourt’s fleet of 120 machines are now Volvo brand.
“Besides the two EC550E excavators, we are purchasing 45 other new Volvos this year. It’s a massive investment for the business, totalling over £5m, and we’re looking forward to seeing all the new equipment come through,” Paul Martin says.