An alternative to bigger diggers
One of the reasons for the compact excavator's rise in popularity has been its ability to fit into small places, and to dig and dump without having to move.
"Property lines are getting so close," says Rohrbacker. A recent trip to Oregon illustrates that fact. "For new home construction, they only need 5 ft. between the fence and the side of the house... A compact excavator can work in tight spaces where a backhoe-loader can't. While each still has its place in the construction industry, the compact excavator is very often replacing larger, conventional machines."
John Walker, vice president of CEDS Construction Co. Inc., a licensed utility contractor in Cumming, GA, prefers to use compact excavators even though he maintains about eight backhoe-loaders for larger projects, such as gas main installations in residential subdivisions and business parks.
"The compact excavator has helped us improve productivity and reduce costs," he says. "In the past, when we installed gas services to single-family residences, a typical crew consisted of a line truck, a trencher and a backhoe-loader. Now a lot of our work has shifted to multi-family projects. In these cases, we just use a line truck and a compact excavator."
Walker uses the compact excavator in place of the backhoe-loader because it has a smaller footprint for getting in and out of tight places. Plus, since the small excavator runs on tracks, it can move in more difficult terrain without getting bogged down.
"These machines have really gained tremendous popularity in our region," he adds. "Where we used to see everyone with backhoes, now we see them with compact excavators."
Eddie Flack, president of Kilowatt Electric Co. in Pompano Beach, FL, also appreciates the easy transport of a compact excavator. He moves his six Komatsu compact excavators with a flatbed truck and 12,000-lb. trailer.
"We needed a smaller, more compact machine to move around residential neighborhoods," he says. "With today's housing, lots are getting smaller and homes are getting larger so we just didn't have the room to maneuver a large backhoe-loader.
"These machines are just so versatile," he continues. "We use them on small and large jobs, trenching anywhere from 20 to 300 ft."
Flack uses an 18-in.-wide bucket, and occasionally attaches a breaker when he encounters hard rock areas. His machines are also zero tailswing models that further enhance his ability to work in tight spaces.
"Zero tailswing models are handy in heavily populated areas because [the operator] can dig and work without worrying about hitting a tree or someone's house," says Aldridge. "But we choose to offer both zero tailswing and conventional machines because a conventional-style machine is a bit less costly and still works great in more open areas. It's really about application."
Replacing dedicated machines
Some operators are also using compact excavators in place of dedicated trenching equipment.
"If soil is clean and soft, a trencher works well, and time and expense for chain maintenance is quite low," Rohrbacker points out. "But not too many guys are blessed with those conditions. They have rocks, tree roots and old debris to cut through. With a narrow bucket, they can just dig through it all."
Jeff Morgan at Snapping Shoals Electric Utility in Covington, GA, appreciates the trenching capabilities of Kubota's new line of compact excavators equipped with optional hydraulic angle blades. He relates that they have been able to reduce downtime with fewer breakdowns and increase productivity by getting jobs done faster.
"With as many jobs as we do, if we had stayed with trenchers, we would have had to sub the work out," he says.
Snapping Shoals digs and backfills 40,000 ft. of trench each month. Before purchasing the new compact excavators, it relied on trenching machines. Due to the rocky soil conditions, the trenchers routinely broke down and cost the company in repairs and downtime. "All total, the lost time averages seven-plus hours per breakdown," says Morgan. If teeth need replacing, that takes another six.