Excavator Tragedy Shouldn't Halt Progress

Excavator Tragedy Shouldn't Halt Progress

January 21, 2011

Any demolition-related death is tragic. But – regardless of the findings of the investigation currently taking place in the Netherlands – the accident that killed STC BV’s Ad Swanink has cast a shadow over the high-reach demolition excavator business. And it may be some time before the industry regains its balance having been so seriously rocked by this incident.

The cause of the accident remains shrouded in mystery. Initial reports suggested that the rear counterweight of the Rusch TUHD90 machine, the world’s largest high reach demolition excavator, became detached, crushing Swanink. Later reports have suggested that the machine’s massive undercarriage collapsed, dislodging the counterweight. The investigation may take weeks; the impact upon the high-reach demolition sector may last considerably longer.

The passing of Swanink is a blow to the industry in itself. Although his company did not seek the limelight to quite the same degree as fellow Dutchmen Rusch, STC was regarded as one of the sector’s true pioneers; and Swanink – like Ruud Schreijer, his opposite number at Rusch – was the driving force behind the company’s innovation.

Swanink’s untimely and tragic death is a loss, and our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this time.

But our fear is that something else may have died along with Swanink; a gung-ho, pioneering spirit that has taken high-reach excavators from 25 metre reach novelty to 50 metre mainstay machine in a decade.

Every industry, indeed every aspect of human endeavour, needs its innovators; individuals that see an envelope as something to push. And the team at Rusch were this industry’s self-appointed envelope pushers in chief.

While UK-based Kocurek has achieved global acclaim and market leadership with incremental size increases taking a crescent at a time, Rusch shot for the whole of the moon.

In the two years since it rolled out of Rusch’s workshops, the TUHD90 machine has earned plaudits, collected awards and attracted media coverage like no machine before it. Freakishly large, the Frankenstein’s monster born of a Caterpillar mining excavator became a demolition icon. And although it scarcely turned a track in anger, it represented the very pinnacle of high reach evolution; the cutting edge of engineering exploration.

Was it an evolution too far? Possibly; certainly there have been question marks over the machine’s potential utilisation levels virtually since it emerged blinking into the Dutch sunlight. And the fact that Rusch’s rivals have apparently set an unwritten 65 metre upper development limit is, perhaps, telling in itself.

But the thought that this accident might jeopardise or even halt progress in the high reach sector – one of the construction industry’s last true bastions of innovation – is almost as tragic as Swanink’s passing.

And as a noted innovator himself, it is not what Ad Swanink would have wanted.