Yorkshire-based Ashcourt Group was the first customer to place an order with equipment dealer SMT GB following the launch of the new EC550E crawler excavator and has now received the first two units in the country.
The EC550E features a larger bucket and upgraded structural components to enable operators to achieve productivity comparable with a much larger machine, while the new electro-hydraulic technology is said to deliver significantly greater fuel efficiency.
“We were instantly impressed by the specification and the development of the machine with the new hydraulic system, the new electronics, and the new engine technology, so it was prime that we got the orders in,” said Paul Martin, plant director at Ashcourt Group.
The family-owned construction company will use one of the new Volvo EC550E excavators for civil engineering projects, where its strong lifting capacity will come into play. In mass excavation configuration, the second machine will work primarily at Ashcourt Group’s Partridge Hall Quarry, helping on earthworks jobs as needed.
Ashcourt Group typically runs the chalk quarry near Burnby, which it has operated since 2014, with one excavator to rip out material from the face and one loading shovel to fill the mobile crusher and screeners, sort the piles, and load the Volvo FH trucks to transport the aggregates and lime away from the site.
“Because chalk has a low profit percentage, it is better to have fewer machines and staff but with greater productivity,” said Ashcourt Group’s quarry manager Damian Towse.
For the last few years, the company has paired a Volvo EC480E crawler excavator with a Volvo L260H wheeled loader. The new EC550E excavator, however, promises 20% greater production than the EC480E in typical dig and dump applications thanks to its larger bucket and faster cycle times.
The larger bucket is enabled through the increased undercarriage dimensions (for stability), as well as the upgraded structural component dimensions on the frames, boom, and arm. The faster cycle times result from the engine’s high torque at a relatively low rpm combined with large displacement pumps. The 2200Nm (340kW) engine is well in line with much larger competitor machines.
When Towse tested the EC550E for the first time, he found the difference was immediately clear. “It’s a really good machine and really fast,” he said. “It’s got good breakout force and good productivity because the slew speed is so much faster than the EC480E. Plus you can alter your settings to give you more swing to less boom up and down.
“Normally, we’ll have half a morning ripping the face out, but in just half an hour up there with the EC550E, I ripped out enough for five hours’ crushing.”
While the EC480E is aimed at customers looking for an efficient and reliable 50-tonne class excavator, Volvo CE says the EC550E challenges the 60-65-tonne class, breaking the norm of production having a direct link to operating weight. It offers performance closer to the EC750E, but in a smaller, more easily transportable format with the same transport dimensions as the EC480E.
“We had the EC750E here at Partridge Hall Quarry in 2019, when we hosted the Live it. Dig it. event together with SMT GB and, because of the width of it, it needed two police escort vehicles," said Towse. "Moving machines around in East Yorkshire can be problematic with some of the roads and access into sites, so the EC550E suits where we need to be size wise with that productivity boost."
As well as offering 20% greater production than the EC480E, the EC550E is also designed to deliver a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency.
Martin commented: “Fuel efficiency is key for us with red diesel no longer being available and the price of fuel going up. It's important for our cost per tonne in the quarry but also when we are pricing up external projects. We are now looking at fuel month on month across the whole fleet and are trying to drive down the cost of fuel as far as we can. We hope that buying these two EC550E excavators will help us keep on top of that."
The improved fuel efficiency on the EC550E comes from the new electro-hydraulic system, which uses independent metering valve technology (IMVT) instead of a conventional spool-type main control valve (MCV) – an industry first in this excavator size class. Oil is pumped exactly according to demand to eliminate hydraulic losses, reduce fuel consumption, and give excellent controllability.
“It’s hard to get your head around the lightness of the controls for the size of the machine. It’s bizarre in a good way,” Damian said after half an hour of testing in the quarry. “You’re used to pulling the levers and having that resistance on the hydraulics. On this, you still have the feel but it’s so much lighter on the levers and more controllable, like driving a 14-tonner, which is good for avoiding fatigue. The bounce reduction technology also gives you more control as it stops the machine moving around as much.”
Towse was immediately impressed by the performance and visibility of the new Volvo EC550E excavator from SMT GB.
Overall, he found the new EC550E to offer a comfortable and user-friendly operating environment. “For a tall person, it’s got plenty of room in the cab, the general position of the levers is spot on, and everything is accessible with finger touch. And it’s great that you can alter the settings to the way you like to drive and save different operator profiles, so you don’t have to go through them each time. Compared to the EC250E we have, there’s also a button on the side of the screen you can press, and it saves you having to scroll through, which is ideal.”
He was also a fan of Volvo Smart View, a 360° camera function that Ashcourt Group is now including on all its new Volvo machine purchases from SMT GB. “You’ve got your split screen for the side and rear view like you normally have but then a third camera up above, so you can clearly see the full working area of the machine. This is perfect when working on the face, especially given the size of the unit, as you can see the position of the machine, the face, and your swing radius, so you aren’t going to knock the back end,” he explained.
Ashcourt Group has been an SMT GB customer for around a decade. Currently, with 120 pieces of plant equipment, around 98% of which are Volvo brand, Ashcourt Group is incrementally increasing its fleet to meet market demand for both internal and external projects.
“Besides the two EC550E excavators, we are purchasing 45 other new Volvos this year. It’s a massive investment for the business, totalling over £5m, and we’re looking forward to seeing all the new equipment come through,” Martin said.
“The relationship we have with the manufacturer and the distributor is the biggest priority for us as a business and we have a brilliant partnership with SMT GB and Volvo, which everyone is proud to work together on,” he added.