What may a Volvo excavator of the 2020s look like? This challenge was put to a team of industrial designers, and the end-result – the SfinX excavator – is already influencing today's Volvo design. The reduced weight of the machine's components makes the SfinX more efficient, saves on steel and reduces the amount of fuel consumed during operation.
The central concept was to make a light boom – because with all weight on the boom is lost in capacity for lifting or digging. The see-through lattice allows visibility through the boom, aiding safety by reducing the operator’s blind spot caused by solid metal booms. While current steels would struggle to cope with the large forces imposed on the boom, the designers are expecting a new generation of high strength steels to be available that could make this a possibility.
The machine has been designed with hydrogen fuel cells that convert a fuel’s energy into usable electricity and heat – without combustion. The introduction of electricity could also do away with hydraulics. All systems that are currently hydraulic could be converted to electric motors. Hydraulic cylinders have been removed as much as possible and hydraulic piping abandoned, this removes the need to circulate oil all over the machine.
The cab on the SfinX excavator is cantilevered to improve all-round visibility. But it can also tilt the cab, move it away from the machine to improve visibility – or be left on the ground entirely. This latter attribute is for the remote control of the machine, such as where the operator cannot safely work on the machine. Having a detachable cab necessitates having cameras on the excavator to be able to monitor progress from the remote cab. Screens inside the cab will have a good view of the work area.
The juncture between the undercarriage and superstructure would avoid the current arrangement of a large roller bearing. Instead, the SfinX excavator hovers on an electro-magnetic field. The advantages of this include zero friction and better control of the speed and torque turning of the superstructure.
The adoption of four tracks aims to make them more wheel-like. When driving on rough ground, traditional tracks ‘tiptoe’ and the contact area is quite small. Four tracks have a much higher contact area with the ground, aided by independent suspension to each track, suspended via a swing arm from a central pivot.
Each track has a separate wheel motor, which can brake, accelerate and allow the track to steer the excavator. The four tracks can be moved to form a traditional two track appearance to distribute the weight better when on soft ground. This system can be used to extend the tracks outwards for increased stability while working – or inwards under the superstructure for transportation.