Hybrid rubber tracks, six-way blades, swing booms, proportional auxiliary hydraulics with increased flow, climate-controlled cabs and touch-screen monitors are just a few features expanding the role of the compact excavator.
Tom Connor, product specialist for the excavator line at Bobcat Company, confirms that many advanced features now come standard on 10,000- to 20,000-lb. excavators. Bobcat offers password protection, auto idle, fingertip proportional control of auxiliaries, fingertip control of boom swing, selectable flow rate, blade float and auto shift travel on all machines from 2 to 8 tons.
Cabs have also been growing, with better access. “Generally, when you get to 6 tons... the cab size jumps up slightly in width and depth,” notes Connor.
Kaiser Skid Steer Service, Rigby, ID, is an excavation and hardscape company with vast compact excavator experience. The company currently runs a Case CX160 and a Takeuchi TB153, but has rented machines for special tasks, including a Wacker Neuson compact excavator with the Vertical Digging System.
Shane Kaiser says cab ingress/egress is critical. “A compact is much different than a big machine. With a big machine, you get in and you get comfortable. You may be there all day. With a compact, you are always in and out,” he points out.
Big Features for Small Machines
Features continue to migrate down from full-size excavators. “Many features on our compact excavator that weighs 5 metric tons come from the engineering group that worked on machines that weigh 800 metric tons. We leverage engineering across a very wide excavator range,” says Mark Wall, product marketing manager for John Deere and Hitachi excavators.
Actual features available depend on the model and size class. For instance, the John Deere 35G (8,135 lbs. with standard arm, counterweight and cab) shifts automatically from high to low speed just like a bigger excavator, and is available with automatic climate control and auto idle. “As you get smaller, some of these features tend to disappear,” Wall notes.
Auto two speed is available on many makes and models, including those from Wacker Neuson. “If you have it in second speed and you push with the blade into heavy material, it will automatically shift to first gear and give you all of the available pushing power,” says Adam Purcell, Wacker Neuson.
Advanced instrumentation is also trickling down from larger machines. This includes color and multi-layer screens and diagnostic capability. For example, Bobcat offers selectable flow rates that can be adjusted through its monitor. But again, options depend on machine size. Elaborate full-color, multi-language, full-diagnostic displays are available on the Bobcat E63 and E85, for example, while the 5 1/2-ton E55 has a slightly scaled back version.
Kubota compact excavators feature a digital control panel with attachment presets that compliment the proportional controls. “Even if the battery is disconnected, the system remembers flow settings for easy selection the next time the attachment is used,” says Keith Rohrbacker, Kubota product manager.
John Deere is also expanding its use of digital monitors. “With our monitor, you can actually set how much time you want the machine to idle before it shuts down,” says Wall. “It saves a lot of fuel.” The monitor also allows operators to disable regen cycles on Tier 4 equipment when needed, and provides diagnostic codes for troubleshooting.
Smaller excavators historically offered features not available on larger compact machines. “Once you tipped 12,000-lb. operating weight, two features were a rarity,” recalls Connor. These were the swing boom and a blade. “In the last two to three years, those are becoming the norm.”
The swing boom allows you to dig parallel to a building or concrete barriers. “I see almost no value in a conventional boom compact excavator. The whole advantage to that compact is so you can work in tight areas where that conventional boom really doesn’t shine,” says Kaiser.