Making the connection

Features - Equipment Attachments

Construction and demolition contractors can achieve cost, labor and time savings when applying quick-coupler systems.

September 1, 2022

Photos courtesy of OilQuick Americas

North American demolition companies have been slower to adopt automatic quick-coupling systems than their European peers, but that appears to be changing, says Jason Johnson, director of sales for Superior, Wisconsin-based OilQuick Americas, the distributor and soon-to-be manufacturer of OilQuick quick-coupling systems in North and South America.

“The U.S. is about 10 years behind Europe because of a lot of different factors,” Johnson says. “In Europe, you don’t have as much space, your transportation costs are astronomical, your labor costs are very expensive and the amount of time employees are able to work in a day is a lot less than in the U.S.”

To varying degrees, those factors are becoming more prevalent in the United States and have been fueling demand for quick-coupling solutions over the past 10 years, he says.

Fewer, safer workers

Workforce challenges have been one of the main drivers toward applying automatic quick couplers in the United States, Johnson says.

“High school curriculum and mainstream media push kids toward the four-year college degrees and the idea that blue-collar jobs are for the simple-minded, which is so far from the truth,” Johnson says. “This equates to a younger generation that doesn’t want to do physical labor anymore. They don’t want to run heavy equipment or even consider the construction field, so finding skilled labor has gotten very hard to come by and very expensive.”

When companies face labor shortages, among the factors they must consider is whether to offer workers higher pay to lure them into the field or upgrade their equipment to reduce the number of workers needed.

Johnson says automatic quick-coupling systems meet a company’s need for upgraded equipment because they enable operators to swap attachments from within the cab without the assistance of a second employee on the ground to connect hydraulics or pound in connector pins.

In addition to reducing the number of workers needed, automatic quick-coupling systems create a safer work environment.

“You don’t want anybody by the end of the stick of that excavator if you can avoid it,” Johnson says. “The most skilled workers can still make [hazardous] mistakes.”

Quick-coupling system manufacturers have used a variety of solutions to eliminate the need for someone to check whether an attachment was properly locked into the quick coupler. One solution was mechanical locks, which Johnson says are under scrutiny by safety officials in some areas.

“There’s no way to tell you that that mechanical lock has failed when it’s on,” he says. “Even if you do a bucket test and you hit it into the ground, that doesn’t mean the secondary lock that keeps that pin in place hasn’t failed.”

It’s not unheard of for such a safety check to be overlooked because operators develop a sense of complacency in the face of time pressures, he says.

“No matter what, it’s still mechanical,” Johnson says of these locks. “It still wears; it will still fail over time.”

To address this, OilQuick has created an in-cab system that informs the operator when the coupling system is properly locked.

“OilQuick has its own dedicated safeties that have audible and visual alarms that allow the customer to physically see that they’re in each pin,” Johnson says. “During the whole process, it’s beeping at you as it’s locking and unlocking, ensuring that the operator always knows exactly what position the coupler is in.”

Time on our side

Operators benefit from time savings when using automatic quick-coupling systems. Johnson says they can switch between attachments in a matter of 20 seconds.

“If you have a customer that has no quick-coupling system at all, and it’s direct pinned to the attachment, that means you have to pull the pins out every time you need to change any attachment,” he says. “Your time to pound pins out if everything is absolutely perfect ... is 20 minutes to change an attachment.”

A pin grabber solution, an older form of quick-coupling, saves some time because operators don’t have to pound the pins to disconnect an attachment and connect another one.

“You have to remove the hydraulic lines, electrical lines … and then go back and switch it to the next attachment,” Johnson says. “The best-case scenario there is probably 10 minutes [to swap attachments].”

Reducing logistics concerns

For years, transportation has been expensive in Europe. Even now, with gas prices relatively high in the U.S., prices in Europe were as high as $7 to $8 per gallon in some countries as of Aug. 15, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com.

Quick coupling systems can help lower transportation costs by reducing the number of large pieces of equipment that need to be moved to different job sites, he says.

Another difference between Europe and the Americas is the space allotted on different job sites.

While European cities tend to be densely populated, space varies regionally in the U.S., with more populous cities typically having tighter job sites and busier roads.

“Logistically, you don’t have the footprint to bring all the equipment,” Johnson says.

Reducing the number of large machines needed for a given job has a multiplying effect, he adds.

“A lot of big companies will have 10, 15, 20 pieces of equipment that are going to a job site,” he says. “If they can [reduce] that by one-third with an OilQuick system equipped on multiple attachments … that saves a ton of cost. The other aspect is that they can take those machines they didn’t bring to another job, creating more revenue for the company. So, the payback is extremely fast.”

The author is the managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be reached at bgaetjens@gie.net.