Review: Volvo ECR35D Close Radius mini excavator

By: Ron Horner

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  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

Although not being the roomiest of machines, the Volvo ECR35D Close Radius mini excavator is very handy for a tight spot, says Ron Horner

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Volvo ECR35D Mini Excavator

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In our industry we have machines suited to the multitude of applications involved and over the last 40 years we have seen unprecedented expansion in the variety, quality and technological advancement in all brands of excavators, but none more significant than the increase in popularity of mini excavators.

From Australia’s first attempts at importing the mini excavator in the late 1970s to the newest models flooding our shores today, we are definitely spoiled for choice.

Banbury Engineering, in my opinion, was the first heavy machinery importer to introduce the mini excavator range into the Australian market, being the Nissan N3 mini digger.

These particular machines were not taken seriously enough to make much of a dent in the market but, despite having some serious design issues, they had potential.

Banbury at that time was by far the most successful importer of excavators into Australia with the Kato range of diggers and held an unprecedented 80 per cent share of the market. The successful range of diggers ranging from the 10t 350G to the 45t 1800 covered all the bases for the Aussie market with the 14t 550G and 20t 750G the pick of the bunch but closely followed by the 28t 1200 range.

Always looking outside the box, in an era of strong competition, Banbury took a punt on the Kato factory-built 4t 180G and commenced importing them into Australia in late ‘79/80.

It is my opinion that this move by Banbury was the most significant advancement in excavators in Australia’s short history and changed the excavator market forever.

Good fortune, good luck or good management doesn’t really matter to me … the point is they were the first and the mini excavator market in Australia was born and boomed.

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Dusty engine bay

DEMONSTRATION TIME

I was fortunate to be Banbury’s demonstrator operator and owned a fleet of Kato excavators at that time. I was called upon to complete a demonstration of the newly -imported Kato 180G fitted with a blade by all things.

I questioned the sales rep at the time on why would they place a blade on a digger and, not having seen it prior to the demonstration day, asked for an hour or so to get used to the little machine.

One hour later and before anyone had turned up to see the demonstration I had bought the first suitable mini digger in the country. So impressed was I with the blade and the potential of the machine I ordered the first articulated swing boom mini excavator and promptly added that to my fleet as well.

Those were heady years the ‘80s and one could not help but make money if you were prepared to take a punt and I certainly did that.

I advertised for operators and good ones were as scarce as a one ended stick at that time, when a young bloke popped into my yard.

Percy Howarth, a young aspiring operator from Orange who held a passion for diggers and fast cars, got a crank up from me and it is here where we pick up the story of the Volvo ECR35D mini excavator.

Percy worked for me for many years and became a very competent excavator operator. Fast forward 40 years and I caught up with Percy, who now runs his own business in his home town of Orange NSW and specialises in mini excavating equipment.

His company, Little Diggers, has a firm foothold in the Orange region and is in high demand for his expertise and services with his fleet of small equipment specifically purchased to cover the market suited to the extra small machines for those tight to get to places.

In that fleet he has a brand new S450 Bobcat skid steer, a couple of small tippers and couple of diggers, namely an E10SR New Holland mini digger and the near new Volvo ECR35D mini excavator.

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Well balanced little digger

WALKAROUND

I found Percy, working tirelessly, in a very dusty paddock installing a couple of kilometres of poly line to assist the drought stricken farmers to transfer water, just outside of Orange.

He had the little Volvo humming when I pulled up and it was an effort to convince him to stop whilst I took the compulsory photos for my shoot.

Nice and straight panels with maybe the best positioned blade I have seen on a little digger for a while, the machine appeared slightly too compact for me personally but Little Percy has grown into Big Percy now and he says he has  no problem in accessing the cab on this very popular machine.

ON THE JOB

Once in the cabin you realise just how much one has grown in such a short 40 year period. My days of running mini diggers are well and truly behind me, especially with the push towards zero or close radius rear swing machines.

This style ensures everything has to be engineered into a smaller, tighter compartment somewhere on the digger and that means lateral, rear vision and height are compromised. That noted and accepted this machine is exactly what Percy specialises in – accessing those tight areas with the very small machines and you can’t have a small machine in design then a huge cabin restricting your access points.

There was plenty of dirt to push around as we backfilled the trenches, more to dig and plenty of room to do it all as we were about as far removed from a tight area as one could imagine.

Powerful in the dig mode, with an interesting slew arrangement that enables the operator to choose a separate speed for slew left over slew right and vice-versa and the machine has a very handy lift, remove and placement of the bottom window which, to improve operator vision, can be taken out and placed in a purpose built latch above the operator’s head. Very handy for those deep trenches and holes perfectly suited to a machine of this size.

Push power is up there with the best and the blade is perfectly positioned and out front to enable extra stability and operator vision when digging or pushing. I was impressed.

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Well designed and positioned blade

IN THE CAB

Forward vision is good but the rear takes a bit of getting used to. Purely in the design of compactness but somethings have to suffer. Blade control is easy and the laid out dashboard and monitor covers all the bases for a really pleasant day at the office.

The air conditioner (a must for me) worked a treat and the local radio station 2GZ blasted away with John Laws preaching to me about something or other.

The cabin has a certified rollover protection system and is very quiet and is claimed to be noise and vibration resistant.

The little Volvo runs the Volvo ECO Mode, reducing fuel consumption by 10 per cent, has a very soft riding air suspension multi-adjustable seat, auto two-speed travel with auto reduction when traction is needed and an inbuilt anti-theft system, which can be self-monitored via the machine management system.

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Full engine and hydraulic cowl one piece

UNDER THE HOOD

The Volvo ECR35D mini digger runs a three-cylinder, 31hp (22.8kW) Volvo D1.8A diesel engine that is accessed from the rear lift up engine cover, which enables servicing to be completed with ease, somewhat.

Running in at just over 3t in weight and with a dig depth of over 3 metres, this machine meets the needs of the small machine operator with ease.  The undercarriage runs 300mm-wide tracks in steel or rubber, one top and four bottom rollers and a good blade (which can be floated) also add to the value of this little fella.

The hydraulics and radiator are all accessed from the side/front lift up cover and ensure access to those difficult areas, however the fan sucks the air from the front of the machine, through this radiator and cover and deposits dust over the engine bay.

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Engine bay easy on ground access

THE BOTTOM LINE

I was pretty pleased to catch up with one of my old operators from 40 years ago who cut his teeth on the first of the mini excavators to come into the country.

All these years later, Percy Howarth has kept true to his passion and belief that there is definitely a niche market for everyone out there, one just has to know what it is.

From the humble Kato 180G of the 70s to the technological master Volvo ECR35D mini excavator of today it’s great to see there are some blokes whom hold the passion and love of excavators as much as do.

Percy certainly has found it in his "Little Digger" ECR35D Volvo.

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