Dan Rafferty, compact product manager, JCB, recalls a saying his grandfather impressed upon him: "Use the right tool for the job." While it was made in reference to hand tools, Rafferty believes the same philosophy applies to selecting construction equipment. "It seems simplistic," he admits. "And it is cliché. But it's also the right advice."
Case in point: If you have to dig a 5-ft.-deep hole, you don't need an 18,000-lb. excavator to do it. "If what you're trying to do can be done with a smaller machine, then use it," he says.
With this concept in mind, mid-size (midi) compact excavators, weighing roughly 10,000 to 17,000 lbs., are making sense in a growing number of applications. These small, yet powerful machines are especially suited for contractors who may be growing their business and are seeking an excavator that can handle heavier tasks than the smaller models they currently own.
"Productivity is higher with these machines when compared to smaller models," says Keith Rohrbacker, product manager, Kubota Tractor Corp. "They offer more power through tough soil, and need to be repositioned less often. Plus, compared to larger models, they have a lower initial investment with lower operating costs. And they require smaller tow vehicles, so they are easier to transport between jobsites."
Mid-size models also tend to tread more lightly on finished surfaces. "The bigger and heavier the machine, the more it will disturb any existing turf and soil," notes Bill Gearhart, product manager, Yanmar America.
A balancing act
Mid-size compact excavators find frequent use in plumbing, electrical and sewage installations and maintenance, as well as site development/improvements and landscaping.
"Contractors use them for trenching smaller pipeline for residential water and electric lines," says Paul Golevicz, marketing brand manager, New Holland Construction. "They also use them near roads for culverts and embankments when doing drainage areas for developments. Underground work is really a great application for these machines."
In some areas of the country, they are popular with pool installers. "This size machine is a great choice for excavating pools when you need a machine to dig a little deeper with a little longer reach," says Rafferty. "You can't bring a 20-ton excavator into a backyard, and a small compact excavator doesn't have the reach you need. It's a balance."
This balance makes them well suited for tight sites requiring more power than a smaller compact can supply. "These mid-size models have plenty of power for tough soils and applications," says Rohrbacker. "They are stable enough to handle larger, more powerful and productive attachments when compared to smaller models. And larger machines are usually mono-boom, which makes them difficult to use along a wall or fence."
Several manufacturers also offer mid-size models in minimum and zero tailswing configurations, where the counterweight extends either minimally beyond the tracks or not at all. As a result, a 10,000-lb. unit with zero tailswing is able to get into the same areas as a 6,000-lb. machine, says Brian Rabe, product specialist, compact excavators and all-wheel-steer loaders, Gehl Co.
"You have so much more capacity and digging forces to go with that larger machine," he adds. "From that standpoint, depending on the machine's configuration, you can have a positive impact with a physically bigger machine."
The greater heft of mid-size machines also supplies added lifting power. "Flatwork contractors are able to lift up rocks," says Rafferty. "And landscapers doing specialty pools can bring in 500- or 600-lb. rocks and place them. On demolition projects, you can come in with a thumb, grab debris and load it into dump trucks. It gives you some dexterity, so you can be very productive."