Looking to increase your company's efficiency and profits? A compact excavator could help. These useful machines, weighing up to about 15,000 lbs., can replace several workers and help complete many jobs faster.
What a compact excavator can do
The compact excavator, or mini hydraulic excavator (MHE), is a versatile machine that can handle many tasks. "The compact excavator is what I call a Swiss Army knife," says Matthew Hendry, product consultant for hydraulic excavators and ADT at John Deere. "With the addition of a manual or hydraulic coupler, it can change work tools very easily. This lets it do nearly any task you can put before it. You're limited by imagination rather than by what the machine will do."
The compact excavator is a good machine for jobs requiring travel across different surfaces and jobs where work must be done close to obstacles or where access is tightly restricted, says Darren Wilson, mini hydraulic excavator industry marketing manager at Caterpillar Inc. Typical tasks include excavation, grading, truck loading, compaction, and both breaking and loading for concrete removal.
"Compact excavators are well suited to a variety of job requirements, like site prep, foundation and footers, utility work (electrical and plumbing), craning (septic tanks or junction boxes), demolition, and landscaping, and especially for working where space is limited," notes David Caldwell, product marketing manager at Komatsu.
"Flatwork contractors doing residential work can save on labor by using it to pick up broken concrete instead of having workers do it," Hendry says. This will prevent workers from developing back problems and could reduce health insurance costs. "Most laborers on a concrete crew are the same ones who will do the finish work," he adds. "Why risk them to injury when you can do it much more efficiently with a hydraulic compact excavator? The compact excavator is just plain faster than humans can move and it doesn't need a break."
What makes compact excavators particularly useful for concrete contractors is their independent boom swing and 360-degree house slew. "Combined, these features allow the operator to excavate parallel to existing structures and afford the operator the utmost flexibility for spoil placement," says Tom Connor, excavator product specialist at Bobcat Company. "The operator can excavate in front of the machine, then slew and place the spoil behind or on either side of the excavator."
Most companies offer models with zero house swing and/or zero or reduced tail swing, enabling operators to work near buildings and other objects with less risk of hitting anything when the house turns.
These small machines do well in space-restricted jobsites. For example, Komatsu's smallest compact excavator weighs only 1,985 lbs. and has a retractable undercarriage so it can pass through gates and doorways. It is light enough to ride on freight elevators for inside demolition jobs. When working in confined areas, the maneuverability and agility of a compact excavator enhances the operator's ability to get in, do the job, and get out much more quickly than larger equipment.
"The machine's smooth hydraulics give it the ability to cut precise holes and shapes," says Wilson. "MHEs can load trucks more easily than most machines, so load and carry can be eliminated by bringing the truck closer to the machine. MHEs can dig and spin 180 degrees to load a truck on the other side, so even tight spaces cannot hamper productivity."
Attachments get work done
An array of attachments are available for compact excavators. The most popular are trenching and grading buckets and hydraulic clamps or thumbs used to grasp, pick up, sort and place material. Also available are augers, hydraulic breakers, vibratory plate and roller compactors, ripper teeth, shears, rotating clam-shells, hammers, grapples and rakes.