The Perfect Pairing

Underground utility installations and repairs call for a lot of muscle, so it’s no wonder why an excavator fits the bill. These machines are large and in charge when the time comes to dig deep and pick and place materials around the jobsite. However, they can’t do it alone, so that’s where attachments come into play.

Underground utility installations and repairs call for a lot of muscle, so it’s no wonder why an excavator fits the bill. These machines are large and in charge when the time comes to dig deep and pick and place materials around the jobsite. However, they can’t do it alone, so that’s where attachments come into play. From buckets and hammers to thumbs and augers, operators rely on pairing their excavators with a variety of tools to get the job done. Here’s a look at the Top 3 attachments designed to aid in utility applications:

Buckets. Perhaps the obvious choice for an excavator, but the bucket reigns supreme as the top attachment for this machine. A bucket is essential in underground utility installation and repair, so there’s no surprise that this attachment is standard on most equipment fleets. However, a bucket isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The widths of buckets range from 8 to 60 in., depending upon what’s needed for the task at hand.

While the typical bucket attachment will fit the bill for a variety of digging projects, specialized buckets come equipped with unique features ready to tackle specific tasks. Alterations to the standard bucket body pave the way for the creation of a bucket designed to fulfill the operator’s needs and unique jobsite requirements.

Aside from traditional trenching and digging buckets, there are a variety of bucket attachments, including heavy-duty, ditch cleaning, coral rock, cemetery and slab removal buckets, to name a few, for an operator to consider for his excavator and specific projects.

“Bucket attachments increase an excavator’s productivity on utility projects,” says Lance Schjenken, Terex Attachment Marketing Specialist. “Applications for an excavator equipped with a bucket attachment include digging footers, foundation excavation, underground utility installation and repair, drainage and water control, grave digging, trenching and material loading. The type of bucket an operator chooses for installing or repairing an underground utility will depend on the type of digging conditions, as well as the utility being installed or repaired.”

The standard trenching bucket is typically one of the least expensive bucket designs and offers assistance in basic trenching applications. Its light-weight design is best suited for trenching in loose dirt. Heavy-duty trenching buckets are a popular choice among contractors. Thanks to a robust design of strong steel and durable teeth, these buckets are able to work in numerous jobsites with different soil types such as rocky or hard soil.

Moving on, ditch cleaning buckets are shallower and have less capacity than a standard trenching bucket. Coral rock buckets are designed to peel away at coral rock during digging applications. Utilizing a strong shell design and heavy-duty teeth, this bucket is a necessity for work areas in coastal locales like Florida and Hawaii. Cemetery buckets, or bell-hole buckets, are also available and are designed to produce nearly straight-sided and flat-bottomed holes. Slab removal buckets are used for hooking and loading cut slabs of pavement. The open sides allow the operator to slide the front of the bucket under a slab of pavement, pry the slab free and lift and load it.

The price of a bucket attachment can range from $300 to $4,000, depending on manufacturer, size and options. For example, a coral rock bucket can cost anywhere from $400 to $2,000, while a slab removal bucket will run between $1,000 to $2,000.

Thumbs. When it’s time for a bucket to take a break from excavating, a thumb attachment is brought on board to be a faithful sidekick in moving duties. Thumbs are used to complement a bucket, turning it from a dig-only attachment to a piece of equipment capable of lifting and shifting materials around the work area. Similar to the thumb on a human’s hand, the attachment is able to snatch items up and hold them firmly in the bucket.

Thumb attachments are great for picking and placing brush and trees, clearing land and aiding in demolition. They work well with moving concrete during road building and repair, logs in land-clearing applications and debris from demo work.

“Excavators are designed to handle all types of jobsite materials and construction site debris, such as steel, brick, wood, concrete, glass and drywall during site preparation and cleanup,” says Schjenken. “With a hydraulic thumb attachment, excavators can easily lift, move and place materials when working around existing infrastructure.”

There are two main types of thumb attachments — mechanical and hydraulic. Hydraulic thumbs can open and close with the help of a hydraulic cylinder. Operators are able to reposition the thumb from inside the machine using controls. A mechanical thumb stays rigid or fixed. Rigid thumbs must be adjusted manually and locked into place. Rigid thumbs use the bucket to pinch materials in order to move them from spot to spot.

Thumbs are usually categorized by the weight class of the excavator. Bucket size is also considered. Most thumb attachment manufacturers and installers help to design around different makes and models of excavators. Pricing ranges from $2,000 to $5,000, with rigid thumbs being less expensive.

Pipe lifts and hooks. OK, so technically these are two separate attachments, but we’re calling it a tie because they both deserve recognition. Since utility work often requires excavators to handle and lift a variety of pipe — such as PVC, steel, concrete and so on — a pipe lift is a popular and useful attachment to have. According to Schjenken, a pipe lift is a jaw that clamps around the outside of the pipe which can be either fully automatic or semi-automatic, making the job a lot easier for the handler on the ground. It speeds up lifting tasks by not requiring slings or other devices that require manipulation by the ground handler.

Another device that is available is the “pipe hook,” which grabs the pipe through the end of the cylinder. Schjenken points out that pipe lifts can be matched to pipes having diameters of 4 to 54 in., while the pipe hooks normally handle pipes with diameters of 8 to 36 in.

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