Compact excavators have really come of age. They have found a niche in the construction market for smaller trenching and digging applications, as well as jobs that require maneuvering in tight and confined spaces.
"A compact excavator is now one of the first machine purchases a contractor will make," indicates David Caldwell, Komatsu America. "Many contractors find that, despite their compact design, they are able to perform a variety of tasks. Compact excavators are now replacing the tractor-loader-backhoe on many jobsites, because they are able to get in and out of confined areas and are easier to transport."
Depending on who you ask, compact excavators typically weigh up to about 6 metric tons, although some manufacturers include any model under 18,000 lbs. Regardless, the compact's lighter weight is an advantage when it comes to both transportation and maneuverability.
"Compact excavators are an efficient tool on a construction site," says Brian Rabe, Mustang Mfg. "With their ability to swing the boom, these machines excel at digging along foundations, fence lines or around obstacles, or digging a square hole without repositioning the machine. The standard dozer blade for stability and backfilling can help clean up a jobsite without the assistance of another piece of equipment. Also, their compact size means they can gain access to smaller jobsites than larger units. Additionally, transport costs are reduced."
With their growing popularity come a number of machine choices. So how do you determine which is the right fit?
"Refer to your business plan and understand what applications you will be performing in the future," says Dave Wolf, Case Construction. "This may require sizing a machine today to meet future tasks [in order to] take full advantage of the capital investment. Always size a machine to fit the application."
To do this properly, ask yourself the following questions.
How much does it weigh?
Weight is important when it comes to transporting the equipment. Many compact excavators can be hauled with a 1-ton or lighter pickup truck. That means you won't need a more costly CDL license and specially trained driver.
"Once you get beyond a certain weight, you will need to meet DOT regulations, have stickers on the truck, keep a log book, etc.," says Kendall Aldridge, IHI. "So if you don't need a large excavator, don't get one."
The compact's lighter weight can also be an advantage when working on existing landscape. "Contractors should look for a unit that will cause the least impact," says Rabe. "Keys are low ground pressure, zero tailswing and overall dimensions."
Low operating weight can also be an advantage in muddy soils, adds Aldridge. "If you're running in wet conditions all the time, you will want the lightest machine with the lowest ground pressure so you don't tear up the yard," he says.
Compacts in the 3- to 4-metric-ton class comprise about 40% of the compact market, notes Caldwell. "This class of machine is well suited for a variety of jobs, including utilities, building and landscape to name a few," he says. "However, a larger machine, like the PC45MR-3 (4 to 5 tons) or the PC55MR-3 (5 to 6 tons), will allow the operator more lift capacity, as well as additional dig depth and reach. This is important if the customer plans to lift heavy objects such as junction boxes, pipe and manhole covers."
For more extensive lifting, you may need to include additional counterweights for increased lift capacities, adds Wolf.
Of course, if you're doing mass excavation or large-scale demolition, you will need to move out of the compact class. "When you need to move vast amounts of material and load trucks, a mass production excavator is critical," Caldwell states. "Large scale demolition jobs often require the use of large hydraulic hammers, shears and grapples."