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Big hopes for micro's future

SMALL PLANT & TOOLS

JCB has taken its compact equipment drive a step further with the launch of its first micro. Andrew Gaved reports

JCB has unveiled its first range of 'micro' excavators, becoming the first non-Japanese manufacturer to enter the territory.

The manufacturer believes the UK is a prime market for the size range and is specifically targeting the tool hire industry for the sale of its own 'Micro'. But, rather than going for below-1 tonne miniaturisation, JCB has instead produced a 1-tonne machine.

'Traditionally, micro offerings have been very small and underpowered, ' says Françoise Rausch, managing director of JCB Sales. 'They must fit through a 762 mm doorway but that does not mean that they have to be small.'

Having installed the same size of engine as the bigger 8015 mini, a 12.7 kW block, JCB is tagging the Micro 'the most powerful micro excavator in the world'.

JCB's faith in the concept is buoyed by the frequent appearance of compact machines on DIY programmes on television and the public's continued enthusiasm for home improvements.

'The general public has not been too quick to accept the micro concept. Many people believe they could do just as much work with a shovel. In reality, any operator who has driven the JCB Micro will admit the machine can do the work of 10 men, ' says Ms Rausch, proudly.

To make things easier for the unskilled public, JCB has done away with complex joysticks in favour of separate levers for dozer, slew and boom offset.

Although it has been seen historically as a niche machine, Ms Rausch is confident the increased power available in the micro excavator will attract more sales.

'In 2002, the UK market size for micro excavators was 500 units. It has been growing consistently for the past few years and with the position JCB has here, we hope to grow this market considerably, ' she says.

The company is confident it will be able to sell the Micro beyond the confines of the DIY market.

'It is aimed at any difficult-to-access areas. Applications such as landscape gardening, golf course maintenance and house building and extending would all benefit from the introduction of a micro excavator. Demolition, both internal and external, will also be important areas, ' Ms Rausch adds.

But JCB is also hoping to break new ground by promoting the machines for larger projects, particularly in house building.

'Often drainage holes need locating or a back garden needs levelling for turf laying. If dividing fences have been put up before the gardens have been landscaped, a micro excavator is the only machine that could be used, ' claims Ms Rausch.

JCB says the machine has the largest dig end in its class; digging to depths of 1.88 m. It has also set out to exploit the benefit of increased power, while keeping the machine as narrow as possible for ease of access. This has been achieved by increasing the amount of extension in the undercarriage - it now expands from a narrow 700 mm to a more standard 1 m width. This has obvious knock-on benefits for stability and increased lift capacity.

Among the other firsts claimed for the Micro are that it is the only machine of its size specifically powered up for a breaker, and its 14.6 litre-capacity fuel tank makes it the only micro capable of running uninterrupted for a full day.

'The Micro has a very bright future because of its size and performance, ' says Ms Rausch. 'More and more local and national tool hire shops are adopting the concept of micros and making them available to the general public. As people become used to the concept and aware of the machine's capabilities, then we will start to see the micro market dramatically increase in size.'