We expect the demand to grow for hydraulic excavators
Arvind K Garg, Executive Vice-President and Head-Construction & Mining Machinery Business, Larsen & Toubro

What is the present size and growth rate of the hydraulic excavators market in India? How has the market evolved in the last couple of years?
The HEX market has had a stable growth over the past 10 years. The government’s impetus on Infra sector specially Roads & Highways has been the main driver for the growth. The excavator demand peaked in FY2018-19 and was above 25,000 units and was expected it to grow further. However, FY2019-20 general elections and then the pandemic hit the demand severely, shrinking it to about 18,000 units. Q1FY21 was a complete washout, but the demand rebounded well from September 2020 onwards, ending the year with almost similar volumes as FY20. As the situation was getting normal in Q4, we expected the demand to grow by 15 to 20 per cent in FY22, but the second wave of pandemic and consequent lockdown have again impacted the demand severely. We hope that as the pandemic subsides and vaccination drive gains pace across the nation , the demand will quickly revive. The GOI focus and investment on infra development will remain the strongest demand driver for HEX in the country.

What are the various product offerings from your company in the HEX segment?
L&T offers a wide range of Komatsu hydraulic excavators for both the construction and mining sectors. For the construction and infrastructure sector, we offer high-performance Komatsu PC71/PC130/PC200-10M0/PC300-8/PC350-8/PC450 machines. These are proven models with strengthened structures, toughened undercarriage and well-engineered bucket and used for varied applications. Komatsu PC210-10M0 has become the fastest growing model in 22-ton class in India and has crossed 1000 numbers in eight months’ time. This machine is truly efficient and comes with enormous benefits to the users in terms of unmatched productivity and fuel efficiency. It is ideal for blue metal, minor irrigation, deep excavation, stone quarry and urban development. PC71 is ‘the little master’ and is a runaway success in small excavator category with extended applications like brick kiln industry, landscape development, agriculture ponds etc. PC300 and PC350 models are most sought after models for stone and marble applications and is economical in operation. PC450 model is increasingly becoming popular in the mid-mining segment.

For the mining sector, L&T offers the robust and successful PC850/PC1250/PC2000/PC3000 machines. These have proven as reliable workhorses for the mining sector. Even in the tough conditions of Indian mining industry, these equipment have proved their mettle vide excellent productivity and high reliability, over a long period of time. For example, our PC2000 (with 12 cum backhoe bucket) is nearing 60,000 hours at a coal mine in Odisha. Similarly, PC1250 (with 7.2 cum loading shovel bucket) is nearing 45,000 hours at a cement plant in Central India. Looking into the good health and high equipment availability, even after such long working hours, many such customers are in discussion with us to explore and further increase the working life of Komatsu mining excavators, thereby saving vital capital expenditure.

We are pleased to inform you that we have recently commissioned the largest Komatsu Electric hydraulic shovel in India, namely PC3000 (15 cum bucket capacity) at coal mines in Central India. Our principals, Komatsu, have hydraulic excavators up to 42 cum capacity in their portfolio and as the Indian mining sector gathers scale and size, we are confident of introducing even larger sizes of hydraulic excavators in the country.

In light of the plans of infrastructure creation and reforms in mining, what opportunities do you foresee for hydraulic excavators?
The recent mining reforms has brought in a great degree of transparency in allocation of mineral resources, to be mined and used. The coal mines auctions have progressed successfully and many of the new allottees have already started taking progressive steps. Similarly, the iron ore block auction in Odisha went through in a successful manner, with most of the new allottees already starting/continuing the production. Commercial coal mining auction also received very good response. More and more large coal mining sub-contracts are going through MDO (Mine developer and operator) route, whereby, increased private sector participation is clearly visible.

The mining reforms have brought the confidence back in the industry. With better clarity on policy continuation, customers are more confident to invest in good quality mining equipment. We are already witnessing a strong demand for Komatsu dump trucks, hydraulic excavators, dozers, wheel loaders from various sectors like coal, cement, and iron ore.

What are the major changes taking place in terms of technology? What are the key market opportunities?
The most important technological advancement which has taken place over past few years, is the use of telematics and IoT for remote management of construction and mining machinery.

All Komatsu excavators have inbuilt remote monitoring system called “KOMTRAX”, which connects and enable tracking of performance. The user can see the machine location, operating hours, fuel consumption, mode selection. It alerts the users if any fault occurs through error codes and provides inputs when maintenance is due. The analytics reports become the basis of site optimisation and operator training, thereby making operations efficient and saving cost.

Komatsu also has proven technology for autonomous or driverless machines. These are in use at large mines in Australia and Chile. Going forward, there is a lot of work happening on new technologies with alternative fuels – hybrid, battery-operated full electric, hydrogen cells, etc., to reduce the carbon footprint.

Excavators are highly versatile machines. With increasing mechanisation in India, more special attachments and coupling technologies are now being offered to make Excavators more useful and suitable to undertake a variety of jobs. L&T offers a range of Komatsu rock breakers and quick couplers, rammer range of rock breakers, boom breakers and cutting solutions and Movax Pile drivers. We have also developed attachments such as slope compactors, crusher buckets, clamshell buckets, rock splitters indigenously using in-house design and manufacturing capabilities.

On the customer service side, L&T has launched a digitally-enabled after sales support program named “EQUIP-CARE” which seamlessly integrates machine-initiated service requirements such as scheduled services based on SMR, caution/error code-based service requests and service requests from customers. The EQUIP-CARE programme can be accessed by customers through dedicated app/toll free number (1800 833 9990). Unlike many other customer support systems, EQUIP-CARE is designed to leverage digitalisation with a strong human interface -starting with understanding the service requirement, deputing the engineer, addressing the issues on the machine, and capturing customer experience. With a well-trained team of service engineers, the nationwide network of dealers supported by L&T’s workshops as well as EQUIP-CARE, we have served over 90 per cent customers, meeting/exceeding their expectations.

For mining equipment, we are deploying digitalisation initiatives to enhance CBM (condition based monitoring) of various equipment under maintenance contracts with us. This has resulted in extended machine life, without compromising on equipment safety and productive operations.

Similarly, we have also initiated a wide range of Application Engineering and Continuous Improvement activities at major sites, using digitalization tools and Komatsu software. We work with the respective site teams to jointly identify the areas of improvement and then, work in a calibrated manner, to reduce the cost per tonne of material moved.

What are the major challenges faced in this segment? How do you plan to overcome those?
Hydraulic excavators are the backbone of any construction site. Hence, the demand for excavators grows in direct proportion to the Infra contracts awarded by the government. There has been a strong impetus on infra development during the past few years, specially roads and highways, which gave a significant boost to excavator demand. Even last year, the demand rebounded steeply after the lockdowns were lifted.

However, the second wave of pandemic has once again impacted the demand. While we are confident of the recovery once pandemic subsides and lockdowns are lifted, we expect adverse cascading impact on supply chain. Most vendors have currently shut operations due to oxygen shortage, which is needed for fabrication work. Many workers have returned to their hometowns and may take some time to come back. Hence, it will take some time for the normal operations to start at factories. Raw material supplies like steel etc may also be affected.

Increasing commodity prices is another serious challenge the industry faces now. Steel is the primary material for manufacturing of excavators. Steel prices have increased by as much as 80 per cent over the past eight months. This has significantly increased input costs which have to be necessarily recovered from the customers. Under the current situation, it will be extremely challenging to do the same.

Financing of the machines is another challenge which the industry will have to prepare for. Just like last year, the financers may take a wait and watch approach and tighten credit norms making it difficult for smaller buyers to arrange finance to but new machines.

How do you look at the future market for hydraulic excavators in India?
India is a rapidly developing economy with infrastructure development being the key. Excavators are one of the most versatile construction equipment, and we expect the demand for this equipment to continue to grow. However, demand for improved efficiencies and the continuing need to make them versatile are the key challenges that the industry is currently working on. With the world moving towards electrical vehicles, developments on excavators in this direction will be the next technology frontier.