The drive towards Tier 4 compliance has, in recent years, impeded innovation in plant and equipment circles; research and development budgets redirected to satisfy the legislators rather than the customers. But with Tier 4 largely in the can and Tier 5 far enough away to be a problem for tomorrow, manufacturers are – at long last – getting back to what they do best.
Regardless, I approached the launch of JCB’s much-lauded Hydradig concept with a degree of trepidation. The company is no slouch in the marketing department; and its slow-burn lead up to the launch of what it has described as a revolutionary machine had hogged social media headlines for more than a month. But that was always going to be a bold claim in a mature industry in which variations on a proven theme is the usual order of the day.
Sadly, for a cynic like me, when the screen rose in the JCB theatre to reveal the machine in all its glory, my trepidation was replaced by admiration.
Unlike the automotive industry in which aesthetic appeal is a key ingredient, construction equipment is very much a function over form sector where some of the best and most productive machines look like the back-end of a bus. That is not the case with the Hydradig. In fact, from the roof down through the cab and counterweight to the low-slung engine, the 11 tonne Hydradig has a stylish, almost automotive curve to it. In fact, the first thing that came to my mind when I saw it was the original Audi TT which, in an age of wedge-shaped and cloned cars, burst onto the scene with the confident swagger of a well-dressed man.
Of course, some super-curvy lines does not a revolution make. But those curvy lines are merely the wrapper within which a revolution resides.
It all begins with the engine; a JCB Ecomax power pack delivering 81 kW, impressive levels of low rpm torque and which has no truck with diesel particulate filters (DPF). Nothing out of the ordinary there; the same engine powers a number of other JCB products. But part of the trick of the Hydradig is the location of the engine – Not packed behind the operator, obscuring his rearward vision but low-slung and side-mounted. This radical repositioning not only aids visibility – a great boost for site safety – it also lowers the Hydradig’s centre of gravity by 1.5 metres to aid stability. Indeed, JCB claim that the machine can lift 1,000 kg and slew through 360 degrees without the need for stabilisers or the need to drop the dozer blade.
And the benefits of the engine relocation do not end there. By dropping the power pack, all key service points can be accessed from ground level. No more need for operators to climb onto the rear of the machine; no more need for “boxing ring” enclosures to stop them falling off either.
As if that were not enough, the engine drives through a hydrostatic powertrain that affords a step-less 0-40 km/hour speed range. It is unlikely that this will trouble the record-breaking JCB Dieselmax “streamliner” car but 40 km/hour makes the Hydradig supremely roadable whilst helping flatten out the inclines that have traditionally plagued wheeled excavators of a more traditional form factor.
Near 50-50 weight distribution between the axles and a longer wheelbase than competitive 10-tonne machines delivers improved stability, increasing confidence for the operator. A 2,650 mm wheelbase provides a superior ride with secure handling. The lack of forward and back ‘nodding’ when driving means that Hydradig operators can maintain higher travel speeds between job sites, improving productivity, with JCB’s SRS boom suspension system available as an option to further improve ride comfort.
The machine is equipped with three steering modes as standard. Two-wheel steering for security at road speeds, four-wheel and crab steering, providing maximum manoeuvrability on site. A front axle with +/- 8° of oscillation delivers excellent rough terrain traction and stability. An optional reverse steering button on the main console allows the operator to use all three steering modes while the cab is facing in either direction. Hydradig offers an incredibly tight turning circle of just 3,946 mm on single tyres, rising to 4,511 mm when equipped with a front-mounted dozer blade.
Customers can choose between a monoboom or a triple-articulating TAB boom, with three dipper lengths of 1,650, 2,000 and 2,250mm to suit a range of applications. Over the side stability, when running tyres alone, is 3% better than any competitive machine. All dig-end pins are equipped with impregnated bushes, allowing 500-hour greasing intervals. The dipper nose geometry matches that of JCB’s 3CX backhoe loaders and the firm’s larger midi excavator models, permitting the use of a host of buckets and powered attachments.
Hydradig can be used with a variety of tilt-rotator models and can be equipped with mechanical and hydraulic quick hitches from the factory. A high flow auxiliary circuit is standard and the machine can be equipped with two low flow circuits, plus dedicated hydraulic circuits for quickhitch operation. Fully guarded hose burst check valves are available on the boom, dipper and bucket rams, for optimum lifting safety.
A hand-held tool circuit is available as an option, allowing operatives to work with a wide range of powered hand tools, including breakers, road saws and pumps, utilising the hydraulic power from the Hydradig.
Hydradig can also be ordered with single tyres, extra-wide flotation tyres or twin tyres on each axle. Customers can also choose between any combination of dozer blades and stabiliser legs at either end of the machine, providing a modular design that can be tailored to an individual operation. Both parallel lift and radial lift dozers are available. Hydradig can also be supplied with a choice of towing hitches, connected to the chassis or through the dozer blade. Capable of pulling up to 3.5 tonnes, the hitch comes complete with 12V electrics.
JCB will offer a dedicated Hydradig trailer as an option, allowing a single machine to travel to site with a range of attachments. The machine’s reduced tailswing allows it to rotate and change attachments within a single road carriageway.
So does all of this constitute a revolution; after all, the Hydradig retains the boom, dipper and bucket combination and still has a wheel at each corner. The ultimate proof might well be JCB’s domestic market which has traditionally eschewed the wheeled excavator concept in favour of another JCB mainstay; the backhoe loader. So if you start seeing owner operators switching allegiance to the unquestionably versatile and stylish Hydradig, remember the revolution started here…and it’s been televised. See the exclusive video above.