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Used Equipment Prices Are Strong Right Now. Here’s Why.



Supply chain constrictions, industry demand for certain types of equipment and a construction market that’s proven resilient are all leading to a current strong demand for used equipment, according to an industry panel.

Sponsored by Ritchie Bros, the panel included three Ritchie used equipment experts and a dealer, Michael Vazquez, vice president of Miami, Florida-based MECO Miami.

Supply side issues are contributing to the picture, Vazquez said, with customers waiting three to four months for both large and compact excavators from certain brands. “We’re seeing an enormous problem when it comes to the new side, and I think it’s only going to get worse,” he continued.

And on the used side, “everyone’s looking for late model equipment, but it’s difficult to source right now,” Vazquez said.

“I think we’ll continue to see healthy increases in pricing until the supply chain issues even out,” added Doug Olive, Ritchie senior vice president, pricing.

Still, Vazquez said 2020 turned out to be a “very good year. Our business, for example, was up 20% in 2020 from 2019,” he said, crediting the booming Florida market.

And overall, said Vazquez, “Associated Equipment Distributor members are seeing a tremendous amount of growth on the smaller side of equipment.” (Vazquez was also speaking as an AED board member.)

In 2020, telehandlers were strong in terms of number of units sold on both the auction side (Ritchie Bros.) and retail side (Rouse). Not so strong: wheel loaders and dozers.In 2020, telehandlers were strong in terms of number of units sold on both the auction side (Ritchie Bros.) and retail side (Rouse). Not so strong: wheel loaders and dozers.Ritchie Bros.

Overall, “there was an uptick in some of the assets we sold, especially with telescopic forklifts, compact track loaders and scissors,” Olive said. “There was solid demand throughout the year for all of those assets.”


“Aerial lifts and telehandlers are rental-first equipment and a lot of rental companies have been cycling over their fleet after those fleets grew substantially” in the past few years, said Doug Rusch, managing director, Rouse Services, a Ritchie division.

Retail pricing has followed suit, Rusch said. (In addition to auction prices, Rouse tracks private retail transactional sales for more than 200 large North American fleet owners.)

“Demand is matching up nicely with sell off, and when you have that dynamic you have a lot of stability in retail values,” Rusch said. Retail prices in 2020 were just 3 percent lower than in 2019, according to Rouse’s retail value index, which tracks fair market value prices.

“We really did not see a Covid-19 trough in the retail marketplace,” Rusch said. “This is quite a remarkable statement given all the headwinds.”

The retail value index is important to dealers, said Vazquez, because it’s something banks closely watch. If prices plummet, banks are less likely to lend. “About 70% of our deals are still retail deals,” he said, “and the residual value of our products is essential to maintain a strong number at the end.”

According to Rouse figures through January of this year, the average age of retail equipment sold was 64.4 months. This number has been trending upwards since January 2019, when the average age was 50.1 months.

Auction pricing

On the auction side, the Rouse Forced Liquidation Value index is showing that pricing “is seeing a remarkable recovery, with 5% higher auction prices than last January,” Rusch said, and 11% higher than in spring Covid trough. “The pricing is quite strong.”

Ritchie said U.S. heavy equipment auction prices have strengthened compared with the same time frame a year ago. The company’s Mix Adjusted Use Price Index shows that prices have gone from a year-over-year 3% decrease at the end of March 2020 to a 5% increase at the end of February this year.

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The shifts were more dramatic on the lift and material equipment side. Prices for these machines in the company’s Mix Adjusted Use Price Index went from minus 7% in March 2020 compared with the same time period in 2019 to an increase of 9% in February, when comparing it to February 2020. 

There has also been a depth of market along with the strong demand, according to Olive.

“If we can find the assets, there’s depth to the asset sectors,” he said. “Where we didn’t see depth year ago, there certainly is now.”

“There is so much strong demand in the marketplace.” Olive added. “All you have to do is look at indicators such as our watch lists, PriorityBidding and site visits.”

Ritchie, which has been running online-only auctions since the pandemic broke, has seen its PrioirtyBid option open up in the virtual environment, said Kevin Kobus, Ritchie’s vice president, U.S. live auctions and operations.

With PriorityBid, bidders can set a maximum proxy bid on a piece of equipment, one that will increase incrementally up to the maximum account.

“They don’t have to worry about overpaying for it or losing it if they weren’t able to be in front of their computers when it was sold,” Kobus said.

Virtual vs. live

Videos have become more important in the machine inspection process, and Ritchie is exploring a “concierge-type” service where prospective buyers will ask questions virtually while an inspection is occurring.

Another option, one the company is looking to expand, is what Ritchie terms a “virtual sale,” where an inspected machine is sold where its located instead of being transported to a Ritchie sales facility. One of the top sellers in the company’s recent Orlando event — a $460,000 2015 Cat 374F L excavator with 2,698 hours — was a virtual sale.

Which raises the question, are live auctions a thing of the past?

Kobus left the answer open. “That’s under evaluation,” he said. “Certainly, there’s a social aspect to a sale, but it’s all about choice. As we collect this data, we’re going to evaluate what the auctions of the future look like.”


Compact Excavators: Buy Now or Hang On?




Is now the right time to buy a new compact excavator?

While our OEM experts were naturally enthusiastic about buying new, they did offer these pointers on when and how to take the plunge.

Running longer

Dan Collins of Kobelco says 10,000 hours is about the point when repair costs dictate replacement, but given the typical annual hours on a compact excavator, it can take a long time to accrue that many hours.

“The broken booms and sticks and cracked frames that we saw 20 years ago are long gone,” he says. “Newer machines are more robust, and most of them probably have hours remaining. But they lack the features and technology of the latest machines, and that’s a serious shortcoming.”

He says that in this extremely competitive market, manufacturers race to add features to stand out, and the customer benefits.

Kobelco SK75R-7 compact excavator with bucketThe SK75R-7 (shown) and SK85CS-7 are the next generation of mid-size compact excavators from Kobelco. Digging speeds have increased 37% over previous models, resulting in cycle time reductions of 15%. Engine power output is increased 28%. Both have 70 horsepower. Operating weights are 18,700 pounds for the SK75R-7 and 20,100 pounds for the SK85CS-7.KobelcoJay Quatro, commercial product manager with Wacker Neuson, cites the three-point bucket linkage on the its new ET42. “It’s the same linkage as is found on our larger models. The unique kinematic linkage system offers a 200-degree angle of rotation that combines excellent breakout force with a greater range of motion.”

The result is greater vertical digging depth, especially next to walls, and more rotation to keep the load secure before dumping, he says.

Wacker Neuson ET42 compact excavator diggingOperating weight of the 43.5-horsepower Wacker Neuson ET42 is up to 10,635 pounds. A key feature is the three-point kinematic bucket linkage system that enables a 200-degree bucket rotation for excellent breakout force, greater digging depth (11 feet 7 inches) and dump height (11 feet 8 inches, with short dipper stick). Flow is 23.78 gpm at 3,553 psi; there are four auxiliary circuits.Wacker Neuson“In times of uncertainty or in recessions, the strong, diverse and well-balanced companies thrive,” adds Greg Worley, market professional with Cat. “You need to make sure you have the equipment and other resources to meet the challenges.”

He says new machines are always going to be more efficient and versatile than preceding models. These advances bring benefits to all customers but especially those in production applications.

“At this time the only reason to hold onto a piece of equipment,” he says, “is if you have difficulty in obtaining a replacement, especially given the global manufacturing and logistics challenges.”

Cat 306CR compact excavator laying pipeCompared to previous models, Cat’s 306 CR offers up to 10% lower ownership costs due to improved fuel efficiency and longer service intervals, as well as up to 20% more performance with customizable operator settings and improvements in lift, swing, travel and multifunction. The 55.9-horsepower machine has a 15,766 pound operating weight. Maximum vertical wall depth is 8 feet 11 inches with the standard stick and 10 feet 5 inches with the long stick.CatManufacturing processes have advanced. Metallurgy is refined. Bearing design and placement are improved. And, says Jonathan Tolomeo, product manager, Komatsu, clearances are tighter. “Those tighter manufacturing tolerances and the new oils designed to work with them have resulted in machines that should have much longer service life, which reduces total owning and operating costs.”

More versatile than ever

Compact excavators have grown to be among the most versatile machines on the market. There are two sides to this versatility – the attachments and the excavators themselves – and they need to be properly paired to achieve maximum benefit.

“Compact is all about tools,” says Mike Watt, excavator product manager, LiuGong North America. “Nobody wants just a bucket.”

He says no dealer has every available attachment, and finding the right tool may require shopping around. One key to compatibility is pin diameter. “Make sure your coupler or pin grabber is compatible with the pin diameter of the tool you’re considering.” Other key considerations include hydraulic specifications, center of gravity, balance and counterweight, with the latter three all interrelated.

LiuGong 9035EZTS compact excavator trenchingThe 9035EZTS is LiuGong’s first zero tailswing model in the 3.5-metric-ton class. Operating weight is 8,510 pounds. Maximum dig depth is 11 feet 3 inches, and maximum reach at ground level is 18 feet 9 inches. The machine’s footprint is 6 feet 11 inches by 5 feet 7 inches. A 24.4-horsepower Yanmar engine provides ample power with low fuel consumption.LiuGong“Takeuchi’s compact excavators come standard with three sets of auxiliary circuits,” says Keith Kramlich, national product and training manager, Takeuchi. “This makes application possibilities nearly endless.”

For clearing and forestry, for example, the excavator can have a hydraulic coupler, hydraulic thumb and high-flow mulcher attached at the same time, Kramlich says. Changing attachments can be done from the safety and convenience of the cab.

Takeuchi TB210R compact excavator diggingThe smallest of Takeuchi’s excavators, the TB210R, has an operating weight of 2,535 pounds, bucket breakout force of 2,518 pounds and arm digging force of 1,439 pounds. Auxiliary flow is 5.9 gpm at 2,680 psi. The Kubota D722-E4B engine is rated at 11.7 horsepower and 26.4 foot-pounds of torque. Maximum dig depth is 5 feet 9.1 inches, and maximum reach at ground level is 10 feet 6.8 inches.TakeuchiKurt Moncini, senior product manager with Komatsu, says the PC88 has a thumb bracket and two-way hydraulics. It also has a swing boom and is a minimum-radius machine where the counterweight stays within the tracks. Its improved blade design makes it more efficient for backfilling.

Compact equipment is often seen as a replacement for hand labor, and “any time I can take a tool out of the hands of a worker and replace it with an attachment on a compact excavator, I win,” says Moncini.

Komatsu PC88MR-11 compact excavator diggingThe 68-horsepower PC88MR-11 from Komatsu has an operating weight up to 19,224 pounds and will accommodate buckets up to 0.26 cubic yards. Two-way auxiliary hydraulics provide up to 36.5 gallons per minute at 2,490 psi; proportional joysticks offer versatility and precision attachment control. The swing-boom design and short tail swing allow use in confined spaces and digging parallel to buildings and barriers.KomatsuVersatility has expanded in digging applications, says Kevin Roberts, general manager North America, Link-Belt. “When considering attachments, don’t overlook the wide assortment of buckets.”

At the same time, he says, recognize that the “versatility of the compact excavator is a path out of being pigeonholed as a contractor.”

Sho Aoe, portfolio manager, Link-Belt, notes that versatility applies not only to what compact excavators can do but also to where they can do it. “The ability to work in a confined area is a huge advantage.”

People have been staying home; many will likely continue to work from home and are eager to make improvements to their property. “There’s a lot of work in people’s back yards,” says Aoe.

Link-Belt 80 X3 Spin Ace compact excavatorThe 80 X3 Spin Ace from Link-Belt has a 54-horsepower Isuzu engine and an 18,900-pound operating weight. Maximum dig depth is 13 feet 9 inches, and maximum reach at ground level is 22 feet 9 inches. Arm force is 8,880 pounds, and bucket digging force is 12,800 pounds.Link-BeltErik Coyle, product specialist, Yanmar, says attachments are in high-demand for Yanmar. Its models from the SV40 to the SV100 have second auxiliary circuits available; they are standard on the ViO80-1A and SV100-2A.

“Mini excavators aren’t just hydraulic shovels anymore,” he says. “Be versatile in your offerings by having the right attachments for any job that comes along.”

Justin Steger, solutions marketing manger, site development and underground, Hitachi – Americas, offers advice for those considering a new machine.

“A good rule of thumb is to consider the work you’re doing now with regards to lift, reach, dig depth and operating weight and try to spec a machine with approximately 25% more dig depth,” he says. “This will increase the other key specs to provide enough machine to allow room for growth in your business.”

Yanmar ViO35-6A compact excavator in trenchThe zero tailswing ViO35-6A from Yanmar has an 8,214-pound operating weight with cab. Powered by a 24.4-horsepower Yanmar engine, the ViO35-6A has a maximum dig depth of 10 feet 8 inches. Bucket force is 7,216 pounds, and arm force is 4,588 pounds. Standard equipment includes hydraulic quick coupler, two-way control pattern, joystick pilot controls, eco mode and proportional auxiliary hydraulics control.YanmarAaron Kleingartner, product and dealer marketing manager, Doosan Infracore North America, offers further insights:

“Today’s machines are more capable than the previous models in the same size class. Today’s 6- and 8-ton models can do work that would have required 12- or even 14-ton machines not long ago.”

In the end, it all comes down to specs, but don’t assume the specs you need will require the size class of machine you’ve used in the past.

Expanding the boundaries

Some OEMs are redefining the compact excavator.

Mecalac offers two models of wheeled compact excavators below 10 metric tons, the 7MWR and 9MWR. “Among the appeals of wheeled models are roadability and increased stability, especially when lifting over the side,” says Peter Bigwood, general manager, Mecalac North America.

The company also offers three crawler skid-excavators with travel speeds up to 6.2 mph and the ability to mount traditional excavator buckets as well as loader buckets and forks. All models feature Mecalac’s three-piece arm (two-piece boom plus stick). The company partnered with Rototilt to provide an integrated tiltrotator from the factory that retains the advantages of the Mecalac quick-connect.

“We know that Mecalac is a premium-priced machine,” says Bigwood, “but our one machine can do the work of several due to our three-piece arm and, with our crawler skid-excavators, the ability to use both excavator and loader attachments.”

Volvo EW60E compact excavator with breakerThe 63-horsepower EW60E is the newest and smallest model in Volvo’s wheeled excavator lineup. Operating weight is up to 12,900 pounds. Bucket capacity is up to 0.35 cubic yards, and maximum lift capacity is 6,170 pounds. Maximum dig depth is 10 feet 9.6 inches. Travel speed is up to 12.4 mph, making the EW60E well suited for ditch work, working in subdivisions and other applications involving frequent roading of the machine.Volvo CEVolvo also offers wheeled models. “Four-wheel drive on compact excavators allows operators to go on- and off-road with greater mobility,” says Darren Ashton, product manager for compact excavators, Volvo CE North America. “They can access hard-to-reach areas but also easily drive these machines between jobsite locations.”

And Volvo’s electric model, the ECR25, uses lithium-ion batteries and a single electric motor to run the hydraulic system. Fully charged, the batteries provide enough power for 8 hours of use in typical applications.

“These quiet, emissions-free machines open opportunities where noise and emissions are important considerations,” says Ashton. Examples include busy urban areas, indoor demolition and tightly regulated food production.

“Early adopters of electric equipment will establish themselves as leaders in this rapidly growing market space,” Ashton says.

Core competency

Versatility is good, but today’s compact excavators are also better at what they were originally designed to do: dig.

“Owners who are not planning on purchasing new attachments can expand into other markets using standard-configuration machines,” says Patrick Baker, product manager, Kubota Construction Equipment. Those markets can include residential and commercial construction, municipal jobs, hardscaping and landscaping, road and highway work.

“Build a good reputation and solid working relationships in one area and be willing to take chances on new opportunities,” Baker says.

He points out that with the introduction of the U48-5 reduced tailswing model, Kubota now has conventional and reduced tailswing models in every size category from 2 to 6 tons.

Kubota KX0575 Compact-Excavator with bucketThe Kubota KX057-5 is available with cab or canopy. The 47.6-horsepower machine has a dig depth of 12 feet 9 inches and bucket breakout force of 10,172 pounds. A full-color 7-inch LCD screen is standard. Options include keyless ignition allowing four-digit codes for up to 10 user passwords.KubotaRyan Anderson, product marketing manager, New Holland, says that compared to other compact equipment, compact excavators are especially well suited to use precision tools such as lasers and depth checkers. “These will make you better and faster at the work you already do and will open up new jobs for you where you can use your existing equipment.”

He says that demolition is a growing market and not just large demo projects, such as commercial buildings and malls, but also smaller buildings such as barns and homes. The extent of investment may be a specialty bucket or thumb if the excavator is not already so equipped.

Ways to get into a new machine

While traditional methods remain popular, the market is finding creative ways to help customers acquire new machines.

Hitachi introduced its ZX-tra monthly payment offer on ZX26U-5, ZX75US-5 and ZX85USB-5 models. The ZX26U-5 is available with cab or canopy, while the other two are cab-only. The three models cover a range of machine specs and meet the needs of a variety of customers.

“The ZX-tra Offer features low monthly payments…to provide customers with extra savings,” Hitachi says. ZX-tra is scheduled to run through October 31.

Hitachi ZX26U-5 compact excavator with bucketThe second-smallest model in the Hitachi lineup of compact excavators, the ZX26U-5, has 20 horsepower and operating weights of 5,780 to 6,110 pounds. Dig depth is 8 feet 6 inches, and dump height is 10 feet 6 inches. Tailswing radius is 2 feet 7 inches. The two-speed drive provides a maximum travel speed of 2.8 mph. Boom swing is 70 degrees left and 60 degrees right with canopy or cab.HitachiBuying machines coming off lease or rental is a way to reduce front-end costs while still getting new technology and features and a factory warranty. But the availability of these machines relies on turnover.

“We saw some interesting trends with rental shops last year,” says Jason Boerger, marketing manager, Bobcat. “Most significant was a reluctance of rental businesses to purchase new equipment. That makes perfect sense in view of the volatility on a global scale caused by the pandemic.”

The market is recovering. He says the key to a successful rental business is to control operating expenses, and compact excavators, with their low initial and ongoing costs and ease of transport, support this practice.

bobcat e60 compact excavator demolitionThe Bobcat E60 R2-Series comes in long-arm and extendable-arm configurations. Operating weights are 12,3015 and 12,646 pounds, respectively. The 55-horsepower machines’ boom swing is 75 degrees left and 50 degrees right. Maximum dig depths are 13.1 feet long arm and 14.8 feet extendable arm, while maximum dump heights are 14.3 feet long arm and 15.2 feet extendable arm.BobcatWatt says only 10% of LiuGong compact excavator sales go to end users; the rest go to rental. The company says that rental constitutes nearly 50% of the U.S. construction equipment market and that more than 75% of products priced at greater than $100,000 are rented before they are sold.

LiuGong North America is working with Hitachi Capital to operate the LiuGong North America Dealer Owned Rental Fleet. The program has multiple goals, including the creation of a nationwide inventory of low-hour, high-value machines. The largest compact excavator in the LiuGong line, the 909ECR, is also the smallest model eligible for the program.

Doosan DX42-5K compact-excavator diggingThe Doosan DX42-5K (shown) and DX50-5K compact excavators feature a new dual-track roller system and enhanced counterweight for improved performance in over-the-side digging and lifting. Tie-downs have been increased from two to six for more secure transport. A long-arm option is available for both models. The DX42-5K has 42.6 horsepower and a 10,114-pound operating weight. The DX50-5K has 49.7 horsepower and an 11,486-pound operating weight.Doosan InfracoreKleingartner says rental took a hit in the early months of Covid. The rental market is rebounding, but because rentals were down for part of last year, replacement rates have slowed and OEM sales into rental have slackened temporarily.

Despite fluctuations in the market, the contractor’s rental strategy is unchanged, he says. It includes renting niche machines and using long-term rentals for specific jobs.

Contractors can also consider a rental purchase option. Most rental houses will let the customer move to an RPO at any point in the rental term; it doesn’t have to be a stipulated agreement up front.

“Managing the role of rental to the business is the same as always,” says Kleingartner. “It comes down to profit and efficiency.”

Case CX37C Compact-Excavator diggingThe Case CX37C falls in the middle of the six models in the C Series. The 24.4-horsepower machine has an operating weight of 7,990 pounds. Dig depth is 10 feet 3 inches. A ROPS/FOPS four-post canopy is standard, while an enclosed cab is an available option. A backfill blade is standard and an angled blade is optional. All fill ports, filters, gauges, grease points and main service items are grouped together and have easy access from the ground.Case CE

JCB 19C-1E electric compact excavatorJCB offers cab and canopy options on its 19C-1E electric compact excavator. The cab’s 70/30 split front glass with clear jointing provides an unobstructed view of the digging area. The 19C-1E has the same wipers and LED work lights as the diesel models. Maximum dump height and maximum dig depth are both 9 feet 3 inches. The three-battery power pack provides 15 kilowatt hours, enough for a typical day’s work on a single charge.JCB

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Unique Cab, Greater Lift Capacity Mark Manitou’s New Rotating Telehandlers (Video)




Manitou‘s new lineups of Vision and Vision+ rotating telehandlers deliver greater lifting capacity and a host of features designed to make life easier for operators.

The new telehandlers with 360-degree rotation are designed for such construction tasks as installing structural steel, building renovations and demolition.

The first thing you’ll notice about the new MRT models is the unique cab shape surrounded by glass and with a reinforced, gridless roof. The improved in-cab visibility is how the telehandlers got the Vision name.

The cab is pressurized and insulated to reduce noise. An ROPS/FOPS Level 2 option is available.

The telehandlers can also be operated by remote control from the platform or from outside the cab.

Manitou MRT1845 Vision rotating telehandlerManitou MRT1845 VisionManitouA new hydraulic pump delivers 31 gallons per minute for the Vision machines and 49 gallons per minute in the Vision+ models. That leads to boom movement that is 50% faster in the Vision machines and more than 30% faster for Vision+, the company says.

Manitou says it doubled the telehandlers’ capacity at max height and boosted capacity at max reach by 25%. Overall load capacity was raised 15%, while overall weight of the machine was reduced 5%.

The Vision models range in lift heights of 52 feet 5 inches to 82 feet for a load up to 9,900 pounds. Depending on the model, engines range from 75 to 116 horsepower.

The Vision+ lineup ranges from 156 to 211 horsepower. Lift heights are between 72 feet 9 inches and 114 feet 8 inches. That upper height is delivered by the MRT 3570, which has a new electric seat that tilts up to 18 degrees for better views of the boom when working at heights.

Manitou MRT2260 Vision+ rotating telehandlerManitou MRT2260 Vision+ rotating telehandlerManitouManitou added a hydrostatic transmission, which delivers max speed of 25 mph.

Another feature to help operators is five LED headlamps for full lighting around the telehandler and two work lights on the boom head for better visibility when loading at height. The MRTs are equipped with a rearview camera and have a new touchscreen that is 8 inches tall in the Vision cabs and 12 inches tall in the Vision+ models.

The company also made it easier to access the cab, placing entry steps on the sides, front and back, so an operator can get in and out no matter what position the rotating cab is in.

Several new attachments are available for the MRTs, including floating fork carriages, a winch with hydraulic motor and an all-aluminum platform with a load capacity of 805 pounds.

Both Vision and Vision+ models are scheduled to be available to dealers and rental shops by September, Manitou says.

Here’s a breakdown of the Vision and Vision+ lineups’ specs for Manitou’s newest MRT models:

Manitou Vision Telehandler spec chartA spec breakdown of Manitou’s Vision MRT modelsManitou

Manitou Vision+ Telehandler Spec ChartA spec breakdown of Manitou’s Vision+ MRT modelsManitou

Manitou also made this video of a walk-around of a Vision+ model:

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Send In The Rebar Tying Drones: SkyTy Concept Will Have Initial Flight Next Year




The backbreaking work of rebar tying is attracting a variety of technology solutions, including the SkyTy P3 rebar-tying drone robot.

As with Tybot, which we covered a few weeks ago, the SkyTy concept (then known by its parent company’s name SkyMul) first gained U.S. contractor notice at the 2020 World of Concrete.

The SkyTy – which is still in prototype stage – uses drones to both map and then tie rebar intersections. It employs a ground station, a nimble SkyTy mapper drone and several “worker” tying drones – how many depends on the size of the project and desired production rates.

The mapper drone is designed to be agile while the beefier tying drone carries the payload of the tying tool and wire spool.

“They are really two platforms that are optimized for two different things.” says Eohan George, SkyMul CEO. “The mapper drone has a lot of optics that are not needed on the tying drone, which is optimized for hopping from between positions. The mapper drone can also fly for a lot longer.”

SkyTy gains cost and productivity scale on larger concrete projects, George says. “It would make sense to bring in our system on a 20,000-square-foot bridge deck job,” he says. For a slab-on-grade projects, which require fewer ties, SkyTy could be used on 30,000-square-foot-and-above projects. “We can probably reduce costs by almost half in many cases and in some instances, a lot more than that,” he says.

Compared with manual tying, SkyMul says using the SkyTy system can lead to an 84% reduction in labor, 2.4-times faster production rates and cost 32% less.

In talking with contractors, George says his team has discovered that not all contractors have analyzed their work procedures enough to understand how much time is spent on a specific process such as tying. “In this early stage, we really like to work with contractors who understand that in depth so they know exactly how to bring in our system into their workflow.”

George emphasizes that SkyTy is not designed to take away jobs. In fact, he says the ironworkers union recognizes it could help maintain production schedules, deal with worker shortages and reduce worker exposure to hazardous situations.

SkyTy in actionSky Ty Infographic Nsf Wide 768x535

Here’s how the concept works: A crew member – or ironworker rodbuster on union jobs – first marks the parameter of the rebar area that needs to be tied. This process takes about an hour, George says. The mapper drone automatically flies over the area, building a map of the rebar, identifying grid spacing and blank intersections.

The crew member then uses a semi-automated interface to verify grid spacing and placement accuracy of the placed rebar, SkyMul says, allowing verification of “hundreds of square feet of rebar in a matter of a few minutes.”

Using the coordinates provided by the mapping drone, multiple tying drones can be deployed to do the actual tying, working in coordination and keeping out of each other’s way.

The SkyTy tying drone uses a gantry system to position the tying end directly over rebar intersections. Using the gantry system, the hopping time between positions is significantly reduced, which in turn reduces the overall time the drones are tying. “You can tie close to four intersections before the drone has to reposition itself,” George says.

Since the tying drones are controlled by what the mapping drone has mapped out, the crew member doesn’t actually fly the drone but rather handles logistics, such as swapping out batteries or changing the wire.

George says neither the mapping nor the tying drones are off-the-shelf. Both the physical drone and the software driving them are proprietary to SkyMul.

Although they are capable of working in sync, the number of tying drones required on even a large job is fairly small, George says.

These multiple drones will not be working side by side, but rather working around each other to accomplish the defined ties. “Even if they are working the same area, they are doing it at two opposite sides to reduce the chances that they’re close to each other,” George says. The drones typically stay 2 to 3 feet from each other.

Right now, each tying drone needs to have its battery swapped out every 25 minutes, tying about 70 to 80 ties on each charge and tying one rebar intersection about every 20 seconds. SkyMul is also working on a more robust battery solution for the drones.

What’s next

SkyTy will come out in phases as SkyMul works on demonstration projects with contractors.

“Our focus is to operate up to five teams for up to two years to really hone the system,” George says. “We want to be really conservative in the time it takes to get to market and we want to spend as much time working as a service to contractors.”

SkyMul has participated in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation-Corps program, which is designed to help researchers “reduce the time to translate an idea to the marketplace,” according NSI, which has also given the company a $200,000 grant.

Because of this, George says he sees the company taking on pilot services in the third quarter of 2022. “In Q4 of this year we hope to be able to do a pilot release in an actual construction environment,” he says.

SkyMul is now working with a large West Coast-based contractor that has a crew of around 150 rodbusters to explore a demonstration project. George says he’s also gotten interest from contractors building bridge decks and large slab-on-grade projects.

SkyMul has produced this video to explain the SkyTy process:

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