Zero tailswing (ZTS) is not new in compact excavators. In fact, the first ZTS models were introduced in the mid '90s. Yet it seems this configuration may be coming into its own as a viable option to conventional tailswing designs.
"We're seeing a swing from traditional to ZTS configurations in the last five years," says Chaney. "There are both benefits and compromises to ZTS."
With ZTS machines, the rear of the machine stays within the machine's track width. One benefit of this design is that it prevents accidentally damaging trees, buildings and the machine itself. ZTS also permits easier spoil placement in tight quarters.
Compromises of the design include a heavier weight of the machine as well as harder-to-reach maintenance points. Many manufacturers are trying to minimize these compromises. For example, JCB offers gull wing doors for easier access to service points.
"Most manufacturers are expanding their product offerings by offering several ZTS models now," says Chaney.
The size of things
According to sources, the most popular size class over the last five years has been the 2- to 4-metric-ton machine. "This size class satisfies the largest variety of customers who use compact excavators," says Chaney.
This size machine offers many of the productivity-enhancing features mentioned earlier in this article as well as enclosed cabs or open canopies and various types of control systems. This size can fit through gates and doorways and can feature an expandable undercarriage to increase lift capacity.
For example, Deere's 17D hydraulically adjustable undercarriage retracts to a width of less than 40 inches. It extends to 50 inches for operating stability. "We understand that compact dimensions can only provide the operator with greater productivity if their equipment is maneuverable and versatile," says Wall.
Suppliers say contractors seem to be looking toward the larger models to get their jobs done these days. "We're seeing a trend of customers stepping into larger machines, especially in the construction market," says Rostberg with Bobcat.
The next step
Now that compact excavators have proven that they're a contender on the jobsite, what's the next step for these machines?
Operator comfort will continue to be a focus for manufacturers as they try to differentiate their offerings. "Competition is fierce amongst suppliers," says Chaney with JCB. "We each want to offer a difference to set us apart, and that's what is going to drive change. The main thing is offering productivity, but we need to offer productivity with comfort."
Manufacturers see the popularity of ZTS continuing to grow. They also see more machine controls, such as GPS and lasers, for compact excavators because those systems are becoming more common on jobsites.
Fuel costs will also drive change, says Chaney. He speculates that you might see electric or hybrid systems, perhaps even hydrogen systems, on compact machines.
"Compact excavators have advanced quite a bit in the last 10 years," says Chaney. "Manufacturing efficiencies and volume have driven costs down, but customers will continue to give us challenges to meet. Compact excavator technology will be driven by trying to meet those challenges, so who knows what the future might bring?"