Where Are the Demolition Equipment Innovators?

Where Are the Demolition Equipment Innovators?

February 3, 2011

At the end of March, like many other industry journalists, I will be heading for Las Vegas and the ConExpo/Con-Agg exhibition.  But while I welcome any excuse to visit the US, I do so with a heavy heart; and not least because as a happily-married, largely teetotal vegetarian, many of Vegas' myriad questionable charms are wasted on me.

My greatest concern is that I am expecting the show to bring us mere variations on long-established themes: excavators that dig a little deeper or harder; engines that run a little cleaner; dump trucks that can haul just a bit more material.

But where is the innovation?  Where is the construction and demolition equipment industry's iPad?  Where is the game-changing product that redefines our industry now and for years to come?

Now it is very easy to dismiss such a question as the idle ramblings of a jaded man who has probably seen too many equipment exhibitions and product launches in the past 25 years.  And there is unquestionably some truth in that.

However, in the demolition sector at least, we need equipment manufacturers to provide us with the means to tackle new applications, materials and challenges.

Of course, high reach excavators have allowed us to dismantle larger buildings more safely than ever before.  The attachments they wield have all but overcome issues of noise and vibration.  But those machines were designed to deal with a specific type of structure and materials; bricks, blocks, concrete and steel.

But as the world's demolition contractors begin to demolish and dismantle structures erected in the last 20 years, they will increasingly encounter composite materials that don't behave like concrete; design and construction methods that don't behave like steel-framed buildings.  And yet, unless a manufacturer has something spectacular up its sleeve, there seems to be nothing on the horizon that has been developed to meet this challenge.  There are no autonomous robots that can scale and dismantle super-high tower blocks; there are no dust suppression systems man enough to contain the emissions from an implosion; there are no laser beams or microwave transmitters to fragment material with no dust, vibration or noise.

My fear is that the development of construction and demolition equipment today is driven more by a need to meet legislative demands than it is to match the needs of customers.   So while a Californian legislator might pat himself on the back for having shaved particulate emissions by a further three percent, demolition contractors of the future may face the very real prospect of demolishing buildings designed and built utilising materials and technologies developed in this century using equipment effectively designed in the middle of the last century.