Nearly 60,000 attendees came through the World of Concrete show in Las Vegas, seeking out new equipment and looking for the latest innovations.
Photo by Jeff Rubenstone
Nervous chatter about supply chain constraints and uncertainty about the post-COVID era was hard to find among the contractors, manufacturers and assorted masonry experts at the World of Concrete trade show held Jan. 23 to 25 in Las Vegas. Equipment makers were filling order books, and firms were looking to refresh and expand their fleets as the big spending from recent federal infrastructure initiatives begins to translate into real projects, even as private construction faces some economic headwinds.
“With a stronger economy than expected, inflation doesn’t come down as fast, and neither do interest rates and those sectors—residential and non-residential [sectors] get hurt,” said Ed Sullivan, chief economist for the Portland Cement Association. “But other sectors not sensitive to interest rates, like infrastructure spending, is expected to show up in a more meaningful way this year and next,” he said, adding that a revitalized U.S. manufacturing sector—buoyed by the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act—is another bright spot for construction.
Caterpillar’s new CTL 265 features a redesigned cab intended to make long shifts a bit more comfortable. It is able to handle high-demand hydraulic attachments, such as the PC306 mulcher seen here.
Photo by Jeff Rubenstone
While PCA found a decline in cement consumption of 2.9% in 2023, things are looking up slightly for 2024, with a forecasted rise of 1.4% in consumption. “In our mind, the additional adverse impact coming from high interest rates is partially offset by the stronger economic conditions,” explained Sullivan in a briefing to press at the trade show.
More Comfortable Cabs to Retain Operators
On the show floor, there was a renewed sense among attendees that with supply chain issues mostly sorted and manufacturing up and running, new machines could be delivered promptly for the 2024 construction season. For Caterpillar, there was a lot of attention and buzz around its new compact track loaders, the medium chassis 255 and the larger 265. The new models feature automatic tool attachment recognition and an operator’s cab with more amenities and features than found in earlier models.
“[The new cab design] is also driven by the shortage of workers—if you can attract good talent and you want to retain them, one of the ways to do that is to provide them with good equipment that performs but is also comfortable to be in,” explains Kevin Coleman, product manager at Caterpillar.
With redesigned hydraulics allowing the loaders to run larger tool attachments and power through more difficult tasks, their role on the site has been slowly shifting from a hop-in, hop-out piece of equipment to a place where operators may spend their entire shift. Caterpillar also is bringing features previously seen on larger machine cabs, such as optional ventilated seats with heating and air suspension, as well as rearview and sideview cameras, to its smaller equipment.
The 255 and 265 models feature 64-hp engines—to stay below threshold for emissions after-treatment—but their modern hydraulic systems allow them to run some of the most demanding attachments, including mulchers and other power-hungry forestry equipment. Both boast lift heights of 11 ft, allowing for loading into higher trucks.
A New Era of the Battery Wars
Recent innovations in pushing the limits of lithium-ion power has seen battery-powered tools tackling many applications that used to call for corded power or gas.
New battery lines from Milwaukee Tool and DeWalt were on display and available for demonstrations on the show floor, with concrete rammers, concrete vibrators and concrete cut-off saws running off of new battery platforms. These tasks, which usually call for gas-powered tools, are now doable with batteries that can last the whole shift.
Milwaukee’s new MX FUEL REDLITHIUM FORGE batteries bring longer runtime and extra power for more demanding applications. “What’s really unique about these is they’re really pushing the limits of capacity,” explains Kelli Semon, product manager for Milwaukee Tool.
Also new at the show was Milwaukee’s new Supercharger for the FORGE batteries, allowing two batteries to be charged at the same time off of a standard 15-Amp circuit. Using Milwaukee’s OneKey Bluetooth access, the battery charger’s behavior can be adjusted by a smartphone, allowing even more battery chargers to charge, albeit more slowly, off a single 15-Amp circuit without tripping a breaker. Semon says this flexibility allows for quicker charging of a battery or two during a single shift, while more batteries can be charged overnight in a tool crib.
Milwaukee’s new 70kg Rammer was available for demo at the show. Powered by the new FORGE battery platform, it is designed to replace traditional gas-powered rammers for site preparation.
Photo by Jeff Rubenstone
One of the most demanding applications is the new MX FUEL 70kg Rammer, which runs on the new FORGE HD12.0 battery, delivering up to 25 minutes of continuous runtime. A tool that usually requires gas power, the 70kg Rammer also features a gyroscopic automatic shutoff, instantly turning off the machine if tips beyond a certain angle.
Meanwhile, DeWalt debuted its rechargeable Powershift line of 554 Wh batteries and accompanying cordless concrete tools at World of Concrete. Each battery weighs 11.5 lbs so while it’s heavier than a battery for hand tools, it’s sized to fit nicely in concrete tools such as its screeds and concrete vibrators. DeWalt also had a new high-rate charger that can recharge the 554 Wh battery in less than one hour. Its product team said two batteries could effectively replace one tank of gasoline for powering such tools.
DeWalt had its new vibrating screed available for demo at the show, running off its new Powershift battery platform.
Photo by Jeff Rubenstone
Richard Cacchiotti, director of product management for the DeWalt line at Stanley Black & Decker, said 15,000 to 18,000 sq ft can be smoothed on one screed with one battery and the backpack vibrator in the line can consolidate concrete for four to five hours on one battery. DeWalt also showed attendees an adapter that allows the 20-60-V DeWalt Flexvolt batteries to be used in the 60V.
DeWalt is not focusing on the 60V capacity of the batteries and 554 Wh makes for a 9.2 Ah pack. The most powerful Flexvolt battery pack available now is 300 Wh/5Ah (15Ah at 20V Max), which makes the PowerShift pack an 85% increase in capacity. DeWalt expects the new batteries and tools to be available this fall.
By Jeff Rubenstone in Las Vegas, with Jeff Yoders
Jeff Rubenstone is Deputy Editor for News and Technology at the Engineering News-Record. As news director of ENR he oversees the publication’s news coverage, and also covers emerging technologies and innovations in the construction space. With well over a decade of experience reporting on the industry, Jeff has a broad background in engineering and construction journalism. He is based in New York City.
ENR Midwest Editor and Associate Technology Editor Jeff Yoders has been writing about design and construction innovations for 16 years. He is a two-time Jesse H. Neal award winner and multiple ASBPE winner for his tech coverage. Jeff previously launched Building Design + Construction’s building information modeling blog and wrote a geographic information systems column at CE News. He also wrote about materials prices, construction procurement and estimation for MetalMiner.com. He lives in Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper, where the pace of innovation never leaves him without a story to chase.