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The EC15C and EC18C should prove popular with hirers.

Track width extension and retraction on the EC18C and EC20C is conveniently carried out by activating a switch and using the dozer control lever. The dozer blade side extensions neatly swing around for storage when tracks are retracted. In the narrow width configuration, these side extensions are each simply secured by two pins.

New-design booms

The quartet of Volvo minis all gain new-design booms and dipper arms with a cast steel boom end and a cast iron arm end. Key hydraulic hoses are routed through the lower portion boom for optimum protection. As the hoses now appear out of the sides of the top of the boom, the Volvo name has to be placed lower down than has been corporate convention in the past!

With the EC15C, EC17C and EC18C, Volvo has positioned their boom cylinders on top rather than underneath their booms. This feature, together with the use of a durable steel counterweight with high corners, should considerably minimise the risk of site damage. Both the cabs and canopies fitted to these new minis are built to exceed the TOPS, ROPS and OPG1 standards of protection. Usefully, these structures can be replaced or interchanged within 30 minutes by undoing eight bolts and one plug connector.

Hire companies operating in areas where their machines can be prone to vandal attacks will appreciate that the latest Volvo Care Cab used on these new minis makes use of flat, easily replaced glass. I found that the combination of extensive glazing and narrow pillars results in good all-round visibility from the comfortable Grammer MSG suspension seat.

A test drive of an EC15C fitted with a Volvo badged HB100LN low-noise hydraulic breaker revealed that it was very easy to position the breaker point prior to quickly splitting chunks of concrete. Despite this mini having the less sophisticated hydraulic

system, it was still very controllable. This was very apparent when later using the machine with a landscape rake.

I also took the opportunity to try out the more upmarket EC18C with a digging bucket and found that it had plenty of power to excavate into hard compacted ground. With its variable width undercarriage fully extended, this is a very stable machine even when its long dipper arm (standard spec in the UK) is fully extended with a full bucket.

Whilst trenching alongside a high bank, I was able to appreciate the ability to both slew and use the boom offset at the same time. This faster dual-function operation is achieved through the use of an electro-proportional roller for boom offset on the right joystick. By re-locating the attachment circuit and offset function controls to a button on the right joystick (rather than being on a foot pedal), the operator gets more leg and foot room. Another good feature is that travel speed automatically shifts from high to low according to load. This retains traction when travelling over steep terrain and it enhances productivity when carrying out levelling work or backfilling.

Good service access

Despite the compact dimensions of these minis, service access is good. There is a single-piece engine canopy that hinges upwards and the cab floor panel lifts for access to the hydraulics and main control valve. The alternator and starter motor are now more accessible than before and the hydraulic oil cooler can be angled out a couple of inches away from the adjacent radiator to facilitate cleaning.

I was impressed by the updates made to these mini excavators at the bottom end of the Volvo compact excavator range. Now the manufacturer needs to consider adding a micro to its line-up, so that it can satisfy all the compact excavator requirements of discerning UK hire companies.

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