Reaching next-level dexterity with Engcon and Liebherr

A customized Liebherr 920 Compact, paired with Engcon work tools, is adding new levels of control for Shamrock Earthworks

By Bill Tremblay

The combination of a customized Liebherr excavator with Engcon work tools is providing new levels of agility for Shamrock Earthworks.

Sean Coghlan, owner of Shamrock Earthworks based in Calgary, Alberta, made the deal for a Liebherr 920 Compact excavator at ConExpo 2020. He also opted to have the machine fit with a blade and special-order two-piece boom, which meant waiting a little longer for delivery. The 920 Compact arrived in Calgary in November. 

“If you want personalized and customized equipment, it’s going to take a little longer before it’s ready to go,” Coghlan said, noting that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also delayed his machine’s arrival.  

Although the 920 Compact had arrived with its blade and two-piece boom, the excavator wasn’t ready to head to a job site just yet. Coghlan also added Trimble 2D Earthworks, as well as an Engcon automatic quick hitch, EC219 tiltrotator and a detachable grab cassette. 

“There’s no one guy you can call that knows all the systems,” Coghlan said. 

Once the Trimble and Engcon systems were installed, and custom Shamrock Earthworks decals were placed on the machine, the excavator was ready for its first job in February. 

60 hours in

The customized 920 Compact’s first job was replacing and repairing shoreline walls on Chestermere Lake, just east of Calgary. With about 60 hours on the excavator, Coghlan is impressed. 

“You feel like you could put your phone on the ground and pick it up with the grapple and not crush it. You feel like you have so much control. It’s so smooth,” Coghlan said. “The hydraulics are amazing.”

Coghlan started Shamrock Earthworks in 2007. The company’s fleet of equipment began to grow after Coghlan started building retaining walls for a custom homebuilder.

While rock walls are Shamrock Earthworks’ niche market, Coghlan’s scope has since grown to include grading, septic system installation, basement excavation and trenching as well as building skate parks in Calgary. 

Perfecting a niche

Coghlan began using Engcon products about 4 years ago, and the combination of a tiltrotator and quick hitch have proven to be a game changer, particularly when building rock and retaining walls. 

“When we’re doing rock walls or retaining walls, there’s so many attachment changes that have to happen,” Coghlan said. “Throughout the day you probably switch attachments 30 to 100 times or more.”

The lack of a quick hitch means the operator must leave the cab to manually change attachments, which costs time. Coghlan explained the time it takes to manually swap out tools can lead to using the wrong attachment for the job.  

“You might have your bucket on and figure ‘I’ll just pack this dirt with the bucket,’ instead of doing it properly,” he said. “When you can change attachments so easily, you’re always using the right tool for the job you’re doing.

“An attachment change used to take 5 or 10 minutes, now it takes 5 or 10 seconds.” 

The addition of a tiltrotator also helps to save time when building rock walls. 

“If you are building a curve, you’re always trying to reposition your machine to square up to the section of the wall. But with the tiltrotator, you can sit in one spot in the middle,” Coghlan said. “You don’t have to be constantly tracking around.” 

The dexterity of a tiltrotator also improves upon the level of finish achievable with an excavator. 

“With the Engcon, you can get it to a way higher finish. The guys just landscape rake at the end. You can get the grade so much closer,” he said. 

The two-piece boom is also improving agility, as well as how quickly Coghlan is able to swap attachments. If the attachment is close to the machine, he’s able to fold the boom and hook onto the tool, rather than repositioning the machine. 

“The two-piece boom gives you a lot more angle of attack,” Coghlan said. “You can run a shorter stick on your machine, then if you need the reach back, you just straighten the boom out.” 

Family business

Alongside the quick hitch, tiltrotator and grab cassette, the vast majority of Coghlan’s other attachments are made by Engcon, including a grade beam, ripper, hydraulic forks, compactor, grapple, trench bucket and clean up bucket. The exception is his packing wheel which is being built by JT Equipment. 

Alongside performance, Coghlan decided to pair his Engcon tools with a Liebherr machine as both manufacturers have a similar history. 

“I like the family-owned aspect of both Liebherr and Engcon. I think it’s pretty cool they are both still privately held,” Coghlan said. 

Coghlan also expects the 920 Compact will open new doors for his business. Weighing nearly 21 tonnes with the blade and two-piece boom, the excavator is 5 tonnes bigger than his previous machine, but has the same footprint. 

“It was the perfect size machine for all the work we’re doing,” he said. “It’s big enough that it doesn’t look out of place on a big acreage.”

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While the excavator has so far only been tasked with retaining wall work, Coghlan added when it comes time to dig, he will be moving a lot more dirt. 

“We haven’t done much digging with it, but the buckets are about 30 per cent bigger on this one,” he said.   

The blade has also come in handy, as Coghlan used it as a snow plow to clear a path for trucks to reach the retaining wall job site. 

“I don’t know why more guys don’t like using the blade,” he said. “I’m looking forward to using it in the dirt.”