Wacker — a German company that has spent 50 years building a U.S. reputation supplying tampers, light towers and other light equipment — merged with Neuson in 2007, and the company renamed Wacker Neuson (pronounced like “noise-on”) now also offers compact equipment that has been marketed in Europe under the Neuson Kramer brand. The new offering includes a unique line of all-wheel-steer wheel loaders and site dumpers, as well as a line of mini excavators. Construction Equipment gave the professional operators at the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 150 a chance to tell us what they think about the machines.
A pair of other equipment brands has private-labeled the Neuson Kramer excavators and wheel loaders for market here in North America for some time, but the site dumper —a staple on many European projects — is a relatively new entry to North America.
“In the U.K. and Spain, they're used on every jobsite,” says Jay Baudhuin, Wacker Neuson's product manager for compact equipment. “Sites are small and crowded.”
European contractors stack materials (crushed stone, fill, topsoil) in a remote location and shuttle it to the work face with site dumpers. Our friends from Local 150 were most impressed with what they tended to call a “little truck.”
“I've been on jobs where this would have come in handy,” says Jeff Cromer, an instructor with the IUOE Local 150 Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program. He described the example of setting in-floor ventilation for a big tilt-up building that would become an auto auction facility. Spoil from the trenching had to be moved outside, and after the duct work was in place, the excavations had to be back filled — one backhoe-loader bucket at a time — with stone from stockpiles in the parking lot.
“Usually when you're working inside like that you're digging with a backhoe and just laying the dirt right on the stone that's already been spread for the pours,” says Chris Tomblin, another of the Local 150 instructors helping evaluate the Wacker Neuson machines. “You have to come back and scoop up the spoil without wasting stone. Why do that when you could dig right into this (the dumper) and haul it right out?”
The 84-horsepower 6001 site dumper that Wacker Neuson brought to Wilmington, Ill. (home of Local 150's, operator-training facility), is 7 feet 3 inches wide, so it will carry 6 metric tons (13,200 pounds) through loading-dock doors (height is just over 10 feet with the folding ROPS erected — 7 feet 7 inches to the top of the seat when the roll bar is folded).
“It surprised me how well it got around,” says Cromer. “Power was great, even in the high range. At the low end it was really strong. Running in the mud, I was in the high side and it didn't bog down.”
“I thought you could get anywhere with it that you would want to go,” says Tomblin. “You can drive up over the pile and dump, and not have to worry about being stable enough.”
“You've got the dump box right in front of you so you can see if it's level or not before you dump it,” says Cromer, “which is an advantage in terms of stability.”
The 6001 is hydrostatic, with two-speed drive motors and a top speed of 15.5 miles per hour. Power comes from a four-cylinder, water-cooled Duetz TD2011 diesel. The dumper is built in Austria, in the same plant as the Wacker Neuson excavators. The company also builds 1- and 3-metric-ton models that are marketed here in North America. The 6001 site dumper has few direct competitors here except the Terex PS6-AWS and Coyote D70.
Not just any small articulated dump truck can compete with these site dumpers. A key feature allows the dump bed to swivel 180 degrees, 90 degrees left and right of center, so it can dump to either side of the machine. The dump-body lip is 3 feet 6 inches high when the body is raised to full tip.
“You can just turn that bed to the side and drive to spread stone,” says Dominic Ventura, the third of Local 150's instructors to lend a hand in our evaluation. “It's not like a skid steer where you dump a bucket and you have to go get more material — through the door and out to the parking lot. Instead of one skid steer bucket you've got, what, 10 on that truck? The plumbers will love it.”
“With the bed swiveling the way it does, you could just load your stone, drive right up next to a trench, turn the bed toward the trench and dump the stone right in,” says Tomblin.
The 6001 is the largest of the Wacker Neuson site dumpers marketed in North America. There's a 9-metric-ton site dumper model with a cab in Europe.
“I can't think of a negative other than I would put a cab on it, not only for weather conditions but for safety reasons also,” says Tomblin of the 6001. “You're kind of close to the hopper. For safety reasons, a cab would work out better, so the operator doesn't have to get off the machine when it's being loaded.”
At press time, pricing was still being worked out amidst the roiling economy and the shifting value of the dollar relative to the Euro, but the 6001 is expected to list for about $50,000.
We asked Wacker Neuson to bring its 850 all-wheel-steer wheel loader for local 150 to evaluate because the 9,900-pound machine with a 1.1-cubic-yard, general purpose bucket, is a good match for loading the 6001 site dumper's 4.2-cubic-yard box. All-wheel steer gives the loader an edge that rivals the dumper's uniqueness. There are many compact wheel loaders on the market, but only the Kramer-designed Wacker Neuson 280 and 850 — offer coordinated all-wheel steer.
The crucial difference between an all-wheel steer loader and a conventional articulating wheel loader is stability. When a machine articulates, its center of gravity moves left or right of its centerline. That's why articulated wheel loaders are rated with two tipping loads — one with the frame straight and another, lower rating with the frame articulated.
“The nice thing about this (the 850 loader) is that you can fill up your bucket and go make a turn on that slope,” Baudhuin said, pointing to a berm in the Local 150 arena at one point during our conversations with the instructors.
Before we knew it, Ventura was behind the wheel of the loader, filling the bucket and heading for the berm. With some trepidation, and Baudhuin's assurance that he would assume responsibility for anything that might happen to the loader, Ventura drove straight up the berm, turned as tight as the stereo steering would allow, and came straight back down.
Later, again at Baudhuin's urging, Ventura raised a full bucket to the top of the loader's reach and spun the machine quickly in tight circles. He locked the brakes to finish the final turn with a flourish.
“I can't believe the stability of that loader,” says Ventura, noting that even in these tip-defying maneuvers, “it doesn't even get wobbly. Landscapers who are bringing trees up berms or carrying sod pallets — they could really use it.”
“With an articulated loader, when you turn and raise the bucket, it wants to tip over one tire or the other,” says Tomblin. “You don't get that with this little machine. It's stable in any direction you turn. And you can turn on a dime.
“It digs really well, too,” says Tomblin. “I thought it had very good power. To be operator friendly, though, it needs to have some kind of a gauge on it to tell you if that bucket's level or not.”
“Because if you tilt that bucket down she's gonna dig,” Ventura adds. “I dropped the teeth in the ground and blew right across the arena in the high range — no sweat.”
Only Bobcat's A300 all-wheel steer loader offers the same kind of all-wheel steering, which mimics all-wheel steer that has become common on telehandlers and other specialty machines. But the A300 is a skid steer with a static tipping load about 1,000 pounds less than that of the Wacker Neuson 850.
“Our original concept with the loaders was to go after skid steers — not to replace all skid steers, but 10 to 15 percent of applications are better served by wheel loaders,” Baudhuin claims. “One of our key selling features is that, with skid steers, you're always spinning on the tires, so you're going to have tire wear. Tires are expensive. Trying to outfit a skid steer with new tires, you're talking $3,000 or $4,000. We have users of our all-wheel steer loaders in Europe who have gone as long as 3,000 hours on a set of tires.”
Baudhuin points out that steering around corners, rather than skidding, not only saves tire rubber but also does less damage to the surface and uses less fuel. Added ground clearance and tire size also makes the wheel loader more maneuverable in extreme underfoot conditions.
Baudhuin also suggests that the wheel loader is inherently safer than a skid steer, not requiring operators to climb over the attachment to reach the seat, and offering clearer sight lines to the ground all around the machine. The steering wheel and foot throttle also make the loader easier for novices — such as renters — to operate.
In a market replete with able competitors, Wacker Neuson turns to capability, durability, and operator comfort to distinguish its excavators. The 8003 brought to Wilmington — an 8-metric-ton-class excavator (actually 16,810 pounds) in its third generation — exceeds the Association of Equipment Manufacturers' 6-metric-ton cutoff for mini excavators, but is nevertheless considered a mini excavator by the Local 150 instructors and most industry observers.
Baudhuin points to durability features including an X-shaped carbody, like full-sized excavator frames; steel pins and bushings in the boom, stick and bucket joints; hydraulic lines routed out on top of the boom and protected all the way down to the bucket.
“We call our blade a dozer blade, not just a cut-down blade,” says Baudhuin of the excavator's 9-foot-7-inch blade. “And if you look at the welding of it, you can tell the quality.”
Our evaluators had little to say about weld quality, but after backfilling a stretch of trench with the excavator, Cromer said, “it's got a pretty good track base under it — it doesn't rock around much, which is good.”
Wacker Neuson markets another series of excavators with the letter Z in the model designations representing zero-turn-radius machines. But the house on even the non-Z models like the 8003 overhangs the track width only minimally.
“Most of that is because of how we've placed the engine transversely beside the cab,” says Baudhuin. “By doing that we've also maintained a larger operating station.”
“A lot of times you get so cramped in your mini excavators, but this one was actually pretty comfortable,” says Cromer, who values some of the large-excavator comfort features in the 8003. “It surprised me a little that you could adjust the armrests and adjust the seat. A lot of them don't come with those options, or maybe don't have armrests at all.”
“I could see working in there eight hours,” Tomblin adds. “The cab was plenty big.”
The 69.5-horsepower 8003 digs just over 14 feet deep with a 6-foot-1-inch stick. A swing boom allows it to trench parallel to the tracks offset from the machine's centerline, alongside foundations, fences or other barriers.
The Wacker Neuson compact line represented by the 6001 site dumper, 850 loader, and 8003 excavator impressed our panel of operating instructors at Local 150. The site dumper and all-wheel-steer loader stole the show because of their unique capabilities.
Although the Wacker Neuson line of compact earthmovers is new to North America, the machines come with a great deal of field experience. Wacker celebrated its 50th anniversary in the United States in September, but the company was founded 150 years ago in Germany. Neuson is new to North America, but has been making equipment on the other side of the Atlantic for more than 40 years.
“None of these are new,” says Baudhuin of the compact earthmovers. “They're all proven designs that have been running in Europe for years.”