Volvo L120H adapted to allow disabled operator to drive again

A customized L120H wheel loader from Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) is allowing disabled operator, Stefan Müller to return to a job he loves – and is proving a hit with other employees too.

After a fall from a ladder in 2010, wheel loader operator Stefan Müller was left with a seriously damaged ankle. Unexpected complications resulted in 17 surgical procedures and an almost four-year enforced break from work, culminating in a lower leg amputation. But just three months later, Stefan was ready to begin the return to work.

Luckily, waste management company, D+H Baustoff Verwertungs GmbH in the German town of Kamp-Lintfort was keen to help him and in 2021, Stefan joined the team. The firm specializes in the recycling of construction and commercial waste. Stefan had previous experience operating a wheel loader at a gravel works and was keen to return to the profession.

D+H was committed to helping him return to work and put his considerable skills and experience back to good use. Operating the pedals on the company’s Volvo 120H wheel loader was clearly going to be a challenge though and a solution needed to be found.

The successful team, from left to right): Waldemar Donner, Elektro-Konstruktion Götting KG, Stefan Müller, Kai-Uwe Specht, Swecon Product Specialist and Mathias Bank, Head of Automation Construction and Special Vehicles, Götting KG.    

The firm turned to Volvo CE dealer, Mario Janßen, to devise a hand – rather than foot – throttle. After some research it became apparent that finding a solution to switch from a foot to hand throttle was not going to be straightforward and would be beyond the capabilities of a normal workshop. The team was eager to help though and so they reached out to Swecon’s product specialist for wheel loaders, dumpers and graders, Kai-Uwe Specht, for assistance. He embraced the challenge and set to work finding a suitable company in his substantial network that could help. Automation specialist, Götting, was selected for the job, having both the necessary expertise for such a tricky customised task and being familiar with Volvo CE machines.

The project to convert the L120H for Stefan Müller to use was a joint endeavour between Swecon, Götting and D+H, with the support of Thomas Verhuven, foreman at D+H, along with Stefan himself. Together the team developed a first prototype which was then tested extensively at a gravel plant near Hanover. The final optimised product was presented for the first time at Steinexpo in 2023.

The monitor shows if the L120H is in hand or foot throttle.

The accelerator pedal is still present, meaning the machine can be used by other operators, but they can easily and seamlessly switch between  hand and foot throttle. The monitor clearly displays which mode they are in.

An impressive solution with hidden benefits

Stefan Weber, Managing Director at D+H, said: “I was genuinely surprised by the scope of the project and the number of parties involved. I didn’t initially imagine it would be so complex. But I’m really impressed with the results achieved within just eight months. And we’re very happy that we have been able to help Stefan get back behind the wheel of a wheel loader.”

75 percent of the customization costs were covered by the employers’ liability insurance association. By providing 25 percent of the funding, D+H ensured the wheel loader could be used by other employees.

The machine has now been in daily use for several months, and it’s not just Stefan Müller who is benefiting from this new customised L120H. His colleagues too appreciate the new control system. As Thomas Verhuven, foreman at D+H said: “Once you get used to it, you almost don’t want to operate your wheel loader any other way!”

Stefan Müller can also control the throttle very sensitively using the usual joystick.  
The three-stage hand throttle solution has also delivered a surprising benefit: a reduction in diesel consumption. In fact, D+H is so impressed, they are considering installing the system on their larger wheel loaders in the future.

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