Compact excavators are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on any jobsite, and they continue to evolve to serve the changing needs of equipment owners. While innovations of the past included such revolutionary advancements as zero tailswing, today's improvements center more on incremental changes that help make operators more comfortable and service techs more effective.
Comfort at any price
Equipment features that increase the comfort level of operators might seem like luxuries in the face of a struggling economy. Yet, many compact excavator manufacturers believe features that improve the operator's experience are more important than ever.
"Sure there are some buyers who are still looking for the most basic, lowest-cost machine available in order to accomplish their immediate task," says David Steger, product manager, Takeuchi. "But many are opting to rent, lease or purchase a machine with a higher level of features to allow more productive operation and greater versatility when operating attachments. They also have their eye on maintaining value over the long haul with a full-featured machine."
Mike Boyle, product sales consultant at Hitachi, agrees, noting that as more contractors discover the benefits of compacts, they are expecting them to have the same features and benefits they're used to having on large machines. "They're looking for things like smooth hydraulics, enclosed cab with heat and A/C, comfortable seat, auto idle, durable construction and shifting from high to low speed," he says.
According to Steger, some rental companies have also begun putting these full-featured machines into their fleets. "Everyone has felt the credit pinch in one way or another - and credit is certainly harder to come by for people in the construction trades. But what happens when a contractor can justify the machine, has the means to make the payments, but just can't qualify for prime rate financing?" he asks. "Renting certainly becomes a viable option and, in this case, the customer may choose a long-term rental of a fully optioned machine with the intent of purchasing the machine at a later time when their cash flow or credit situation allows."
Lower cost, higher value
Because equipment uptime is tantamount to success, equipment that is simple to service is top on the list of considerations.
That's why the engines on Wacker Neuson's compact excavators are mounted on the side of the machine. "The large engine cover opens to expose three sides of the engine and is high enough to be out of the way even for the tallest mechanic," says Marcus Auerbach, director of compact equipment. "This makes it very easy to check on filters and fluid levels on the job on a regular basis.
"We knew when designing our equipment that if these access points were hard to get to they would not be checked by the operator," he continues. "Service mechanics like the easy access of our machines because it allows them to work comfortably."
Serviceability is important to keep things moving efficiently in the shop, as well. "It's more than comparing if one machine takes 20 minutes to change the oil vs. another that may take 30 minutes," Steger says. "Serviceability is the relationship between the overall machine design and construction and how easily it can be maintained over the entire life of the machine - from routine service and hose replacements, to servicing coolers and repairing components."
Durability also comes into play. According to Auerbach, added strength is built into all Wacker Neuson excavators, as evidenced by the box-framed dozer blade, torsion-resistant X-frame undercarriage and boom. "The pivot points are very important," he adds. "They feature heavy steel pins and bushings, which are precisely machined and hardened.
"While it is hard to physically see on a new machine, the difference in the quality is noticeable when a machine with 500 or more hours still works with a breaker attachment tightly and precisely," he explains. "Also, we have designed the bushings to be easily replaceable without the need for cutting or welding should they ever wear out."