Tipping the bucket

Like others in Australian manufacturing, attachment makers have been affected by rising steel prices and shortages of skilled labour. Some suppliers have chosen offshore manufacturing as a means of addressing this.Digga operates a large, modern manufacturing facility and has used technology as a means of offsetting increases in raw material, overhead and labour costs over the past 12 months. This year it has commissioned two new twin robot MX100 Motorman RM2 Trunnion Cells for steel fabrication and invested in Fronius high-speed welders for its 25 weld bays. A 600t brake press is currently being sourced for commissioning in early 2009. It has also invested in staff training in new and improved manufacturing methods to gain greater efficiencies. Digga managing director Suzie Wight says steel prices are stabilising, but labour costs are continuing to rise and there is still a shortage of good skilled staff.Digga has recently updated a number of its attachment designs. The Ramdrill PHD auger now has a new heavy-duty A-frame, a hydraulic extendable boom and retractable legs to simplify fitting and storage.The slide cradle on an auger drive no longer has to be changed before fitting the Cement Mixa bowl. Conversion now involves removing the auger, connecting the new Mixa frame to the existing frame and then connecting the Mixa bowl. The result is a simple and cost-effective extension of applications for an auger drive.New high-flow auger drives have been developed to take advantage of the higher flows of the latest generations of equipment.The Mini Skid Hoe has been upgraded with a tapered folding boom for added strength and a new bucket design with Digga chisel teeth for greater breakout on mini loaders. The hoe attachment now covers widths of 200-300mm. The Skid Hoe fixed backhoe arm can now be fitted with buckets from 200mm to 450mm wide.Digga has also developed a new Digga Tilt Bucket, with a slimline tilt frame integrated into a four-in-one bucket. Weight and attachment centre changes are minimised, hardened wear plate is used for longevity and a locking valve is built in. The hydraulic ram geometry is claimed to maximise tilt forces.Other projects include gearbox developments in the large planetary drives, and three new skid steer products scheduled for release in January.THE Norm four-in-one bucket has become an icon of the skid steer attachment market. The Norm name has been around for 34 years and is still the benchmark for four-in-one buckets, although the bucket has evolved considerably. As Norm Engineering director Norm Pesch says, “The original bucket was developed when skid steers were around 30 to 40 horsepower; now they go up to 110 horsepower and the original bucket wouldn’t survive on today’s machines.”Although a four-in-one bucket can be regarded as a universal attachment, Norm says its buckets are tailored to each model of skid steer, and each new model of skid steer is brought in to the workshop to be measured up. The main areas of variation are in the bucket geometry, which is optimised for each machine, and the length of the hoses. Designs have evolved over the years, with perhaps the most significant change to date being to adopt the loader-style operation of having the front section close inside the rear, so that it closes regardless of wear. Bolt-on cutting edges are another development.A new design is currently being tested which, when released, is expected to save 60kg in weight while maintaining strength and durability – primarily by using new materials. This is particularly important in a skid steer, where stability can be an issue and the extra weight of a four-in-one bucket can significantly reduce the operating capacity.Norm has had a tilt bucket available for some time, which makes it easier for a skid steer to commence a level pad on a side slope. A tilting hitch is now available to provide tilting for other types of attachments. The design maintains the original geometry and minimises the weight penalty.While Norm continues to target the compact end of the market, its range has expanded to include buckets and quick hitches for excavators up to 12t and wheel loader buckets. The company moved into larger premises at the start of 2008, allowing it the space to reduce lead times, but the factory is deliberately laid out to allow each attachment and hitch to be tailored for the application rather than mass produced. Modern design software ensures that this does not impose time or cost penalties.

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