Product feature: Steelwrist tiltrotators

A versatile tool in any operator's kit, a Steelwrist tiltrotator can dig, backfill, and level contour with the machine in one spot

With a tiltrotator, operators can dig, backfill, and level contour with the machine in one spot

An attachment that’s considered a machine standard in northern Europe is now making headway in New Zealand. Generically known as a tiltrotator, the attachment originated in Sweden in the mid-1980s and gained steam during the ensuing years.

It’s now so well established in Scandinavia that operators there regularly express amazement on social media that it still gets a ‘wow’ reaction from operators here.

"We sold our first unit in the US after a guy saw it on YouTube," says Stefan Stockhaus, co-founder of tiltrotator manufacturer Steelwrist.

Steelwrist established its presence in NZ in 2017

"We’ve had tremendous interest from the New Zealand market. We’ve been growing as fast as you can grow."

Steelwrist established its New Zealand presence in 2017.

"We feel that our competitors are actually helping us, even though we were here first," says Jason Stamp, Steelwrist business development manager.

"All of us have increased the awareness of the product. The base is here now and it’s growing fast.

"Most of the contractors we speak to in New Zealand are quite open-minded about it. There’s a huge interest on social media. I think this country is about to see a wave of these things come through," he says.

Why all the excitement?

A tiltrotator allows users to not only tilt an attachment left and right plus-minus 45 degrees but also rotate it 360 degrees

A tiltrotator allows users to not only tilt an attachment left and right plus-minus 45 degrees but also rotate it 360 degrees. Operators can manipulate the bucket 90 degrees from the ground because of the tilt and rotation. 

Advocates say this gives excavator operators the ability to perform a variety of tasks without repositioning the excavator. That, in turn, leads to reduced labour and material costs and lower machine hours, they say.

"You’re totally transforming how you use an excavator," says Jason.

"With a tiltrotator, you can dig, backfill, and level contour with your machine in one spot. You can work around and under pipes and other obstacles."

Nick Murdoch owner of APS Civil & Construction adds, "We’re seeing a 25% increase in production on our grading and backfilling jobs, and we’re using 25% less material.

"We’re interested in any tool, attachment, or machine technology that will save us time allowing us to complete more jobs. With a tiltrotator, I can be in the machine and on jobs where somebody would have to shovel stone after it’s dumped. We can operate another machine and be twice as productive."

One of the areas where the tiltrotator shines for APS is in backfilling a perimeter drain,
"We usually put in six inches of stone and then a filter fabric followed by dirt. With a regular excavator, you can’t get the stone exactly where you want it."

A tiltrotator, he says, allows him to turn the bucket and angle it to any position.
"There’s no shovelling or wasted material." Dan Pulman, owner-operator of Pulman Earthmoving, is the definition of an early adopter.

He bought his first Steelwrist Tiltrotator in 2017 and has not looked back since. Since then, Dan estimates he’s put 20,000 hours plus on five tiltrotators. "If you compare me with anyone else out there with machines between 13 and 20 tonnes, I’m easily 35 to 40% more efficient," he says.

Grading is also "unbelievably faster," says Dan. The tiltrotator eliminates how many times he has to reposition the machine. "You can pretty much travel in a straight line and grade around any bump-outs or anything else that’s around a house."

Let’s talk about price

Perhaps the biggest barrier to tiltrotator acceptance is sticker shock. Depending on the specific configuration, a Steelwrist that can fit 15- to 24-tonne class excavators will cost around $50,000 plus installation and any additional attachments, Jason says.

For installation costs, figure two to three days of labour at your local dealer rate.
Stefan estimates a Steelwrist tiltrotator will run 6.6 to seven percent of the cost of a 20-tonne excavator.

"If you just look at the cost, you’re looking at it the wrong way," Nick says. "It’s how much it saves you and how much more efficient you become. Buying this means we didn’t have to hire a labourer. We paid for it in a little over a year."

Learning curve

"The best way to learn is to just operate it," Jason says. Getting used to the tiltrotator joystick controls can appear daunting. For example, there can be up to three rollers and seven buttons on each joystick.

The right joystick controls tilt, and the left joystick controls rotation. Integrated grabber controls are on the back of the right joystick. "The first day or two I would do the odd thing that made me look stupid," Jason says, "but it was a really quick, natural pick-up."

Although Nick was used to operating tilt buckets, the rotation added an entirely new element. "I’ve had it for over 18 months and I’m still finding uses for the tiltrotator that I would never have thought of," he says.


Steelwrist grappler

A tiltrotator can be applied directly on the excavator dipper stick or underneath a hydraulic quick coupler. After the tiltrotator is attached, contractors can either use attachments designed by the tiltrotator manufacturer or purchase adaptors that allow them to use their existing attachments.

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