Traditionally, blades have been standard on 5-ton and smaller excavators. They help level the machine, support or stabilize it for digging or lifting over the blade and push material. “As you get into bigger machines, there is less emphasis on leveling and dozing,” says Connor. “It gets to the point where you can’t afford to be running an undercarriage of this magnitude in a grading and dozing application.”
Wacker Neuson equips its entire line of excavators — which extends up to 8 tons — with dozer blades. “We do offer an angle blade on our 3 1/2-ton excavator,” says Purcell.
Every John Deere compact excavator under 6 metric tons is also equipped with a blade. “Three of our compacts have an angle blade, which benefits customers who trench and want to backfill in a hurry,” says Wall.
“The angle blade improves productivity, saving perhaps 60% of your backfilling time,” says Rohrbacker. Kubota offers an angle dozer blade option on all excavators greater than 10,000 lbs. It also offers a six-way dozer blade on the 9,815-lb. KX121-3.
Rubber displaces steel
Rubber tracks have also migrated up the compact excavator range. They allow you to unload the machine on the street and move it without any ramifications.
“Ten years ago, it was almost the norm that 12,000- to 14,000-lb. excavators were on steel track,” says Connor. “But we have seen a transition where it is predominantly rubber track.”
Steel tracks continue to be available, but the vast majority of compact excavators go out on rubber. “When we first got into a 6-ton machine 10 years ago, 80% of the customers were using steel track. Five years ago, I bet we were selling 90% of them with rubber track,” says Connor.
Kubota offers rubber tracks as standard, with steel tracks available as an option from the 2- to 3-ton class and up. “Our customers in demolition and landscaping applications need the increased durability of steel tracks, and some customers operating on native rock that easily cuts rubber tracks,” says Rohrbacker. “Ultimately, the selection seems to be centered more on application than machine size.”
John Deere uses rubber tracks as the primary undercarriage on machines less than 6 tons. But the larger 75G (18,221 lbs.) and 85G (18,821 lbs.) tend to work in more diverse conditions. “Customers want the ability to put steel pads on them and go out in rougher environments,” says Wall.
To address this diversity, John Deere offers hybrid tracks on its 75G and 85G. “It is a steel chain with a vulcanized rubber pad mounted to the chain,” Wall explains. “The rubber pad is a great option if you are in an environment detrimental to the rubber belt. Demolition is a great example, because you don’t lose the ability to operate on pavement. If you are working in broken concrete and you damage a rubber pad, you remove four bolts, throw the pad away and put the new pad in without having to replace the whole belt.”
Wacker Neuson also offers hybrid tracks. “The hybrid tracks are becoming a trend in the industry,” says Purcell. “They give you the best of both worlds. There is a premium price, but it saves on the replacement costs. Instead of replacing an entire set of tracks, you replace one pad at a time. You basically have the same driveability advantages of the standard track, but in terms of serviceability, it is a much better solution.”
There is even an option to eliminate tracks completely. Wacker Neuson now offers 6- and 9 1/2-ton wheeled excavators. They are not very common here, notes Purcell, but they are well-proven in Europe. “You get all of the advantages of a compact excavator on wheels that travel up to 25 mph,” he states. Both units offer blades, and the 9 1/2-ton model includes rear stabilizers.
These machines promise the same performance as their tracked counterparts. “We see major opportunities with the municipalities and in the urban excavating environment where it is very difficult to deal with a truck and trailer,” says Purcell. “There is also significant time savings by not having to constantly load and unload a compact excavator from a trailer.”
Selectable power modes
Several manufacturers now offer power modes on their compacts. “We have both an Economy Mode and a Power Mode, which is really going to provide quite a bit of fuel savings,” says Greg Bauer, product marketing analyst for John Deere and Hitachi. “We have also integrated an auto idle and an auto shutdown function that has really taken off in the marketplace.”