Choosing the right machinery is imperative for today’s demolition contractors.

While many manufacturers of heavy equipment and related attachments exist, the differences in performance, capacity and ease of use can be stark. Until recently, there hadn’t been a simple solution that allowed professionals to test equipment from different manufacturers all in one place.

Although the traditional convention model allows attendees to talk to vendors—and even see and touch pieces of equipment—it seldom presents an opportunity to actually operate these machines in a real-world setting. With this in mind, the National Demolition Association (NDA) launched its first Live Demolition event in 2018 to give decisionmakers and operators the chance to test and compare equipment from various manufacturers all at one location.

At this year’s second annual Live Demolition event, which took place at Adams County Fairground in Brighton, Colorado, March 23 as part of the association’s Demolition Rockies convention, nearly 700 attendees got a chance to try out the industry’s most advanced equipment from 23 participating vendors.

On-site event

Having more than 30 pieces of heavy equipment running simultaneously requires a lot of coordination. It also requires strict safety protocols. Before attendees were able to enter the site, NDA required everyone to watch a brief safety video, sign a waiver and don the appropriate personal protective equipment. In order to verify those coming in had the proper attire, the NDA set up a perimeter with a single entry point, which helped the association vet who was entering and exiting the site.

Inside the site, the association worked this year to cordon off the various equipment sections with better barricades to give personnel a clearer view throughout the Live Demolition event. According to Scott Laird, business development and project manager for Independence, Ohio-based Independence Demolition and member of the NDA’s Convention Committee, the new barriers were part of the association’s goal to make it easier for site volunteers to watch over the fairgrounds.

“We went from using K-rail, or Jersey, barriers last year to bike-rack-style barricades this year, which allowed us to block off areas but also gave everyone clearer vision of what was going on,” he says. “We also increased the space between the equipment to mitigate risk. We had a lot of volunteers working as marshals on every entry point into the demolition areas. Every marshal had radio communication at all times. That was a big deal because the park was large, and we were able to maintain people safely.”

Rocky Mountain Recycling Vice President of Demolition and Scrap Management Greg Menen, who also helped coordinate the event as part of the NDA’s Convention Committee, says that in addition to making it easier for volunteers to oversee the event, the association made improvements on how it communicated with those operating equipment to eliminate confusion. This year, the NDA introduced a new traffic light-style signal system that told equipment operators when it was clear to operate equipment, when to use caution and when to stop all activity. This helped cut down on potential confusion of using air horns, which was how the site volunteers communicated with operators last year.

Beyond its safety oversight, Menen said that the association wanted to do things bigger and better this year after the success of last year’s event, which is why it designed the Live Demolition to be more interactive and inclusive.

“We increased the event time from four hours to six hours, and we increased the operating time that people could use the equipment from eight minutes to 15 minutes with a five-minute reprieve in between to make sure we got people in and out of the equipment safely,” he says. “We also added a few things. We went with a food truck setup to provide people the ability to have meals throughout the time there rather than just when they arrived; we added a competition section with four different competition operations where people could go in and try out equipment to see how their times compared to everybody else in the industry; we had about 10 more large pieces of equipment on-site this year; and we also introduced small remote-controlled demolition toys in our tent to make it more of a family-friendly event.”

For those looking to operate equipment, an array of balers, crushers, remote-controlled demolition equipment, skid steers and excavators outfitted with various attachments were spread throughout the site. Menen says NDA brought 1,110 yards of concrete and roughly 300 tons of ferrous materials to the site so participants could test the equipment by handling, crushing and shearing it.

Takeaways

If year one of the Live Demolition event was an experiment to see if it could be done, year two was a proof of concept for the NDA.

Menen says that this year’s show had roughly a 40 percent spike in attendance, as more contractors brought staff to see what was new on the market.

“The biggest thing with this event is that there is a big difference between seeing the proverbial vehicle in the lot and being able to take it for a test drive before you decide to purchase it,” he says. “And in this particular case, it was interesting. You had a lot of the owners who don’t necessarily operate the equipment but are in charge of purchasing it. And what this event offers is superintendents, operators or whomever else can come sit in the equipment to try it and actually compare it with what else is out there—and there’s virtually nowhere else you can go to do that.”

To make the event more inclusive this year, operating hours were expanded, a section for kids was introduced and food trucks were brought on-site.

Laird echoes Menen’s sentiments, saying that the success of the event could be measured by the number of decisionmakers who came to the show with the intent to try out new equipment— even if some walked away surprised by what they found.

“I talked with a gentleman who came to the show who ran a piece of equipment. While he had seen it before, he didn’t think much of it until he actually put his hands on it and ran it at the job site,” Laird says. “Once he had a chance to do that, he said, ‘This is definitely interesting. This is something we need to think about buying after all.’ The event allows the people who are buying this stuff to put their hands on the equipment, to get it dirty, feel how it handles and truly understand all the specs. You know, you don’t go and buy a Ferrari if you don’t sit in it first. But we as an industry tend to say, ‘I have this piece of equipment that I already run, so I’ll just buy from the same manufacturer because we’ve used that before.’ But once you actually sit and try something different, you might find something that works better for your needs.”

Menen says the event was a success from the vendors’ perspectives as well. He notes a continuous loop of interested parties wanted to test out the equipment, and almost all the time slots were filled.

Looking forward to next year’s Live Demolition, Menen and Laird say the event’s growth shows no limits. Beyond increasing attendance and continuing to make the event inclusive for all parties, both said they expect the number of manufacturers to grow as the show expands to include a wider variety of vendors.

“I think the live event can be expanded to bring in more vendors, even those outside heavy equipment,” Menen says. “I think it’s time for more manufacturers to get involved to show their wares in a live demo, hands-on setting rather than simply relying on showcasing what they can offer at a convention hall.”

The author is the editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be contacted at aredling@gie.net.