Over the past decade, there’s been a surge in the popularity of compact excavators. These small, but mighty machines deliver strong performance in a compact package, which has made them a favorite among utility contractors.
Based on their size and weight, compact excavators are easy to transport with a truck and trailer and they maximize a crew’s accessibility on the jobsite — making sure work gets done in tight areas. Features such as 360-degree upper structure rotation, boom swing, a backfill blade, attachment flexibility and excellent power-to-weight ratios enable compact excavators to be versatile and improve productivity.
Compact excavators are a good way to “right-size” a machine for utility applications. Prior to compact excavators becoming popular, it was very common to dig an 8-ft deep hole with a 20,000-lb, 100-hp machine. These days, it is more common to see an 8,000-lb, 30-hp machine completing that same application. Using a properly sized machine has numerous benefits, including lower acquisition costs, lower operating costs and lower engine emissions. All of these factors equate to a better return on investment and a smaller environmental footprint.
Many manufacturers even offer a 1-ton compact excavator to work in very confined spaces. These minis feature the same type of benefits as larger compact excavators, including the ability to utilize hydraulic attachments. The 1-ton size excavators are a good way to increase productivity and utilize machine power for applications that have historically been limited to difficult manual labor.
Packed with Productivity
One of the key features to the compact excavator is the ability to rotate its upper structure 360 degrees. This function gives the operator the ability to dig and load material in the most convenient orientation, which varies greatly by jobsite. For instance, if the operator needs to dig while keeping the machine in the street, the dump truck can park directly behind the compact excavator so only one lane of traffic has to be shut down. In that same application, the zero tail swing feature is very beneficial. The zero tail swing ensures the back of the excavator will not project over the tracks while rotating the upper structure. While working in a street application, this feature ensures the excavator does not enter a second lane of traffic. With some alternative digging machines, a second or even third lane of traffic would need to be shut down because the machine does not feature upper structure rotation. That shortcoming really limits machine placement while trying to get the job completed with the least amount of disruption to the surrounding area.
Once a compact excavator digs a hole, the backfill blade is a convenient way to refill the hole or grade the residual material. The popularity in the backfill blade has led manufacturers to develop even more options beyond the vertically adjustable two-way blade. The next step up is the four-way blade which adds the capability to turn the blade left and right. Some manufacturers even offer a six-way blade for specialty applications which allows the operator to tilt the blade. All angle blades assist in making the operator’s job easier, but using an angle blade requires less repositioning and allows the operator to use the blade in smaller areas. The angle blade feature is easy to operate and can really improve productivity during backfilling or leveling applications.
Attachments allow compact excavators to increase their productivity by completing many different types of applications for the utility contractor. The basic design of an excavator gives it a long reach, which has many advantages for accessing hard-to-reach spots with the required attachment. Investing in and using attachments improves equipment utilization and reduces the likelihood of needing to rent another machine to complete the job. Beyond standard buckets, common hydraulic attachments are thumbs, breakers, swivel buckets, augers and vibratory plates. Changing between these attachments is easy using a quick coupler. All of these attachments have their own capabilities and benefits, but they collectively take the excavator’s overall utility past just digging holes.
Despite their small size, many compact excavators feature large and comfortable operating environments in all configurations: ROPS-only, canopy and cab options. Manufacturers are constantly researching ways to improve the operator’s comfort level while working. A comfortable operator is a more productive operator, and many of the cabs in the industry feature very functional working environments. Some of the key features include a large entrance, adjustable seat, heat and air conditioning, adjustable windows, pilot controls, a radio and large displays.
Wheeled compact excavators have recently been introduced to North America and are available in the 6- to 9-ton range. These innovative excavators provide serious mobility benefits to the contractor. With no need for a truck, trailer or driver, wheeled excavators provide notable transportation time and cost savings. Wheeled excavators can also deliver improved productivity over a traditional backhoe with a smaller machine footprint, 360-degree upper structure rotation and faster repositioning. The ability to quickly roll up and dig on a jobsite is the key differentiator in making the wheeled excavator an operator favorite.
When looking to purchase a compact excavator, it’s important to determine if the machine’s specifications match up accordingly with the majority of the work being done on the job. Making sure the crew is equipped with the properly sized machine is essential to a successful purchase. When purchasing a compact excavator, evaluate these key specifications:
- maximum dig depth requirements;
- lifting capacities and heights;
- accessibility constraints;
- attachment capacities;
- hydraulic attachment compatibility;
- and transportation capabilities.
Once the typical jobsite requirements are understood, it is easy to match them with the machine specifications. It is critical to purchase the right-sized machine for the job in order to maximize return on investment. Purchasing an oversized compact excavator comes with a higher acquisition price and leads to higher operating expenses. Purchasing an undersized machine can result in poor cycle times and insufficient performance. Also, if the compact excavator is underpowered, the contractor is forced to rent supplemental machines more frequently. The right machine will complete the job most efficiently and offer your crew the biggest bang for its buck.
Adam Purcell is the Product Manager of Excavators and Dumpers for Wacker Neuson.