Leading excavator attachments manufacturer Hill Engineering has taken thousands of semi and single-locking automatic couplers out of commission and replaced them with one of the safest and most technologically advanced couplers on the market after its ‘new-for-old’ exchange program proved to be an unprecedented success.
The Northern Ireland-based company has increased production of its ultra-safe Auto-Loc 3 coupler, with its fully automatic dual pin capture system, to satisfy an increasing demand from UK contractors and plant hire companies wanting to upgrade now out-dated couplers on their excavator fleets.
Their decision comes in the wake of continuing safety concerns over the use of semi-automatic and single-locking automatic models and a move by a number of leading contractors to ban all but dual pin capture couplers from their sites.
This has, at a stroke, made thousands of excavators up and down the country ineligible for use on some of the major UK construction projects.
Hill claims that its Auto-Loc 3 model is the safest and most technically advanced quick coupler of its type on the market and says it has helped the company to establish itself as one the UK’s leading specialists in the field of coupler design and production.
Not only does the ‘new-for-old’ program see Hill remove a customer’s existing coupler and replace it with an Auto-Loc 3 model, but it also provides comprehensive on-site training, full installation assistance and guidance, after-sales support and advice, as well as any necessary customisation to suit individual customers’ specific coupler requirements.
Ian Hill, Managing Director of Hill Engineering, said the success of the ‘new-for-old’ program and the significant customer acclaim already received for the user-friendly Auto-Loc 3 coupler is both good news for Hill and for the construction industry.
"The widespread adoption of the dual pin capture technology will increase on-site safety and help prevent accidents and avoid fatalities for years to come."
He also revealed that Hill has met with London-based Quattro Plant, the second largest UK railway orientated plant hire company, to discuss how the couplers can be adapted for use in the rail industry.
The rail industry has its own specific coupler requirements, due to the widespread use of specialised high value attachments. Many of these attachments cannot be disengaged in the normal crowded position without introducing further risks into the changeover.
Following several on-site visits to fully assess the risks involved, Hill demonstrated a solution at a meeting involving Quattro Plant and one of its major customers. The outcome of this was an agreement by all parties, and Quattro Plant is now fitting the Auto-Loc coupler to its machines.
Ian Hill said: "The response to our ‘new-for-old’ program has been overwhelming. However, having previously identified the safety concerns surrounding the use of semi-automatic couplers and single-locking automatic couplers, we anticipated the requirements of the industry and were already well prepared. We are therefore extremely well positioned to meet the increasing market demand.
"The adoption of the Auto-Loc 3 coupler by companies has been helped by the discounts available through the ‘new-for-old’ program, which reduces the cost of upgrading their couplers.
"Our Auto-Loc 3 success has many other benefits. By combining the exchange program with our safety message and thorough training, we are making a significant and positive impact on the safety of personnel on construction sites all over the UK."
Safety is at the very heart of the Auto-Loc range. Hill has specialised in the design and manufacture of couplers for more than 15 years, and in 2005 set up an in-house R&D department specifically to find a solution that would eliminate the risk while using couplers.
The result, the original Auto-Loc, went on sale in August 2006 and further refinement, made by working with key customers, has resulted in the very latest Auto-Loc version.
Dual pin capture fully automatic couplers are a significant step forward within the coupler market, because not only do operators no longer need to leave the cab and insert a locking pin by hand, the coupler also locks onto each attachment pin independently.
This means that if the operator fails to connect the attachment properly with the back pin, the front pin will remain securely locked in place, ensuring that the attachment does not separate from the coupler.
The Auto-Loc coupler allows operators to visually confirm from within the cab that the bucket or other attachment is securely locked in position and only allows attachments to be released in a safe working position.
Although new semi-automatic couplers are no longer being supplied to the UK market as a result of a joint HSE and manufacturers’ agreement, the use of existing models is still allowed.
However, more and more sites are imposing bans on semi-automatic and single-locking automatic couplers, while a number of major contractors, including Bovis, Skanska and Balfour Beatty, say that they will only now permit excavators with dual pin capture couplers on their construction projects.
Tudor Thomas, chairman of Kaill Plant Hire, based in Stockport, Manchester, believes more contractors are likely to follow suit, which made upgrading his fleet a priority.
Kaill operates over 100 excavators including JCB, Terex, Takeuchi and Volvo machines, ranging from 1 tonne to 33 tonnes, which were fitted with a mix of semi-automatic and single-locking automatic couplers. The company is now investing in Auto-Loc 3 models after signing up to Hill’s ‘new-for-old’ program.
Mr Thomas said: "The Auto-Loc 3 ‘new-for-old’ programme is the best on the market and the implementation process has been very straightforward. Hill gave us the required training and provided us with on-site guidance.
"Subsequently the changeover of the couplers took just an hour, meaning less downtime for our machines. They couldn’t have done more for us.
"An increasing number of contractors are insisting on dual pin capture couplers and this will continue to cascade down the industry. Such is the speed of the change that if we did nothing, 75 per cent of our machines would be obsolete in 12 months time.
"Any company that has yet to look at replacing its couplers will miss out on the major UK construction projects."
Another company which signed up to Hill’s ‘new-for-old’ program is One Call Hire, based in Enfield, North London, with a current fleet comprising in excess of 500 machines.
Every machine over 13 tonnes that it has bought over the last three years has been fitted with Auto-Loc couplers and it has now bought 200 Auto-Loc 3 couplers for all of its smaller machines.
Anthony Fitzpatrick, One Call Hire’s joint Managing Director, said: "We are very proactive when it comes to health and safety matters and prefer to stay ahead of legislation.
"We realise that semi-automatic couplers will probably be made illegal in a few years and we don’t want customers turning our machines down or having them barred from sites because they don’t have a fully automatic quick coupler.
"The Auto-Loc 3’s advanced safety features were the main reason we switched, but there is another benefit. We replace our excavators after 14 months and having a safety feature like the Auto-Loc fitted means that when we sell them on, we are assured of a good price."
The Auto-Loc 3 is compatible with a mixed range of attachments such as hammers and rippers and its success has provided Hill with valuable additional business despite the current downturn in the construction industry.
Mr Hill added: "There is no doubt that the Auto-Loc range has come of age and taken its place at the forefront of an industry in which safety is of paramount importance."
"Manufacturing products that help to improve on-site safety has always been part of Hill Engineering’s philosophy and the Auto-Loc range of couplers is the epitome of everything we stand for.
"It is technologically advanced, expertly engineered, and, thanks to the success of our ‘new-for-old’ program, it will play a major role in ensuring that the kind of coupler-related accidents within the construction industry has now become a thing of the past."
Other companies to have upgraded their couplers through Hill’s ‘new-for-old’ exchange program include: Lynch Plant Hire, Stanmore, Middlesex; Keyway Nationwide Plant Rental, Gloucester; MJ Hickey Plant Hire, Buckinghamshire; M O’Brien Plant Hire, St Albans; Rose Plant Hire, Peterborough; Apex Plant Hire, Leicester; Gradewell Plant & Haulage, Wembley; PJ Carey Plant Hire,Wembley; TM Plant Hire, Stockport; S Murphy Plant, Cambridge; Oakwood Plant, London; W Long (Haulage), London, Able Plant Services, Harrow; Langley Civil Engineering, Fordingbridge, Hampshire, P Hickey Plant Hire, Mitcham, Surrrey, Heyrod Construction, Oldham and Armac Demolition, Solihull.