And while smaller models likely have a dozer blade, its role on a mid-size machine becomes increasingly important. "We've found this is one of the major reasons why contractors buy this machine," says Golevicz. "If they're doing a small to moderate-size excavation around homes or for commercial construction, they can level off the ground with the dozer blade on the excavator, rather than bring in a separate dozer.
"It really comes down to sizing up the application and matching the machine to the job and the application," he continues. "Define your business practices and take the future into consideration."
Step up in features
As you step up in size, you typically step up in available features.
Many mid-size models offer more standard features than their smaller counterparts, especially when it comes to operator comfort. Roomier operator stations may be home to added creature comforts, such as adjustable suspension seats and armrests, as well as climate control options, hydraulic joysticks and operating pattern selectors.
A laundry list of production features can also be found in many models. Auto idle is one example.
"If the engine sits idle for more than four seconds, it will idle down to the designated rpm range to save fuel," explains Golevicz. "As soon as you move the joystick, the power that you receive is in direct proportion to the movement of the joystick. The operator is in full control of the hydraulic power of the machine."
Auto idle reduces noise levels and fuel costs. "With an excavator, you're moving all the time," Rabe comments. "If you're not, you're likely talking on the phone or to someone outside the cab. The engine will auto idle, so it is a little quieter; you can carry on a conversation. It also saves fuel. You don't want to be running full bore if you're not producing."
The availability of working modes also enhances performance. New Holland and Kobelco offer three working modes on their mid-size machines. The Heavy mode delivers full engine and hydraulic power for hogging out dirt, digging trench and lifting heavy rock. Standard mode runs at about 90% power for general digging and fuel savings. Fine control mode is suited for finish work.
The machines also have boom and arm anti-drift valves. "When you're swinging a load, this feature will help you stop quicker to prevent overswing," says Golevicz. "Also, when you're standing static with a load, it prevents the boom and arm from drifting for improved accuracy and increased cycle speed."
Proportional auxiliary hydraulics on JCB's mid-size models offer greater controllability. "Typically, with auxiliary hydraulics, it's push button on and off with full flow," says Rafferty. "If you're trying to control a thumb, you need more finesse to pick up a rock or a tree. You don't want it springing open, then slamming shut with the full flow of the auxiliary hydraulics. You want to feather it in and control it. That's what proportional auxiliary hydraulics can offer."
The higher auxiliary hydraulic flows found on mid-size models enable use of more powerful and productive attachments compared to smaller compacts. Mechanical or hydraulic quick-attach options make them even more versatile.
"There are a lot of attachments that can be shared between these machines and skid-steer loaders," says Rabe. "We have an auger that can be mounted on a skid-steer loader or excavator with just a different pin kit. Another relatively common attachment is a hydraulic hammer that a contractor may also use for a wheel loader or skid-steer loader."
Rabe is also starting to see more requests for a standardized attachment system. This provides the ability to mount a breaker on a skid-steer loader or an excavator, eliminating the need for multiple attachments. "You may need to make some modifications," he states, "but at least you don't have to buy another $30,000 breaker."
Better Than a Backhoe-loader?
"This is a growing weight class," he continues. "In general, the compact excavator group has been showing steady growth for the last five to six years, and this particular weight class has moved into the second largest growth class in compacts. That growth is coming from contractors who have bought into the compact excavator. It's a machine that is capable of doing tasks similar to a backhoe- or tractor-loader, but you can use it in conjunction with other equipment and be more productive."
Actually, the mid-size compact excavator is often compared to a backhoe-loader, since a 10,000-lb. compact can do many of the same jobs, notes Rabe. "But you gain productivity and versatility in this size of machine," he says. "In many cases, you can dig faster because the machine is more mobile. The backhoe-loader needs to be planted. When you set it for digging, that's where it's positioned. You can't just swing the machine around to dump on the back side of you, or quickly move that machine forward."
A compact excavator, on the other hand, has a 360° rotating house. "The machine can turn in its own circle and dig a square trench," notes Dan Rafferty, JCB. "If you're doing straight trenching with a backhoe-loader, you have a longer machine that you have to maneuver around.
Flexibility of boom placement is another advantage. "With a kingpost-mounted backhoe, you can't get next to a house and dig straight down the side," Rafferty points out. "With our mid-size excavators, you can offset the boom and dig over the track. That feature has helped boost its popularity."
On the other hand, the backhoe-loader is more practical when travel is required. "From a production standpoint, a mini-excavator will out-dig and out-trench a backhoe," Rafferty states. "But the backhoe becomes productive when you have one jobsite here and another one at the other end of a three-mile subdivision. A backhoe's travel speed is 18 to 20 mph. The travel speed for a compact excavator is about 3 mph."
This is clearly an advantage when you need to move equipment longer distances. "The backhoe is self-sufficient. A contractor can drive it anywhere he needs it," says Rafferty. "With a compact excavator, you would have to trailer it to get to the other jobsite. Another advantage for the backhoe is that it has a front loader."