Looking for Long Life

When resources are scarce, it's wise to compact excavators machines with durability in mind

When purchasing a compact excavator, consider the supplier as well as the model. Parts availability and dealer support are key.
When purchasing a compact excavator, consider the supplier as well as the model. Parts availability and dealer support are key.

In this current economic climate, it's important to make wise decisions about equipment acquisition. One of the keys to profitability is getting the most usable life out of your existing equipment fleet.

To get maximum longevity from compact excavators, rental businesses should look for machines with features that promise to reduce maintenance.

"On the new E80 from Bobcat, daily greasing of the bushings at the boom, arm and bucket pivot is a thing of the past," says Greg Rostberg, marketing manager at Bobcat. "Normally, this process takes up to 30 minutes each day. Now, that time can be spent with the machine working because the E80 has increased the service interval of greasing the bushings to 250 hours."

Brian Rabe, product manager - excavators at Gehl Co., says features that contribute to durability do not usually reduce the cost of the machine at the time of purchase, but over the long haul, they save money and downtime, especially in rental applications. "The use of replaceable bushings with a spiral-cut grease groove in all pivot points on the bucket, dipper arm, boom and boom swing pivot ensure that grease is evenly distributed around all pivot points, extending the life of the unit," he says. "The pilot hydraulic control of almost all functions reduces the amount of cable and maintenance lubrication/replacement over our competitors, as well as preserving the precision control our customers have come to expect."

IHI Compact Excavator Sales LLC, for its part, features a hydraulic system equipped with variable displacement piston pumps which allow more flow and a much more sensitive lever control that lessens the jerkiness of operation, therefore adding life to all bushings and O-rings, explains Kendall Aldridge, national sales manager. "Equipped with the bucket cylinder hoses inside the arm, rugged side protector and engine covers made of pressed steel, the inner workings, hoses and engine are protected," he says.

Features and benefits

On compact excavators, zero tail swing can have an effect on durability and longevity. "With this feature, a machine can work closer to objects such as buildings without worry of the rear of the machine striking anything," says Rostberg. "This means less chance for a rental customer to damage a machine and temporarily take it out of the rental business' active fleet. The feature is also good for customers, as it means they can access areas a conventional tail swing machine can not."

He adds, "Steel tracks are another option available for compact excavators that add to its durability. Steel tracks are suitable for applications in which rubber tracks may wear faster, such as demolition."

Rostberg also notes that rental businesses should look for compact excavators that offer machine shutdown protection. Standard on Bobcat excavators, the machine shutdown protection feature monitors the machine's engine parameters and hydraulic functions. It will alert the operator and actually shut the machine down if necessary. "This helps protect the rental business' investment, by lessening the chance the machine comes back with a damaged engine."

It's in the details

Rabe at Gehl notes that rental businesses should look at the details when spec'ing a machine for durability. "It's important for anyone investing in an excavator to look at the design and construction details, not just the price," he says. "Details to look for are weld quality, replaceable pivot bushings, straight hose routings, easy maintenance and service access. These can save significant money and downtime over the life of the unit. Some designs cut corners to increase output at the factory which could impact reliability."

He adds, "I always advise our customers to look for spacers or hubs that aren't welded all the way around on the working group, which can be signs that corners were cut. This practice likely carries throughout the entire machine which can affect durability. Quality is in the details."

According to Bill Gearhart, marketing and product manager with Yanmar Construction, single-boom mount pins contribute to increased durability. "It is well known that single-pin boom mounts resist wear and the resulting slop or play in the boom mount area much better than split pin designs," he says. "Of course, it is more expensive on the manufacturing side, but it is well worth the cost to us for the resulting increased durability. If you think about it, this is one of the most important areas of excavator design because all the stress and load of any work the machine does is transferred through that mount."

Looking long term

For a compact excavator to go the distance, rental businesses should look at their supplier as much as the individual machine they're buying.

"Rental houses should consider parts availability when purchasing an excavator," says Aldridge at IHI. "Ninety nine percent of parts are shipped same day from IHI, allowing rental houses to have less than 24 hours of downtime which is critical when a customer is relying on their excavator for their livelihood."

Dealer support is also key. "A rental business wants a local dealer that offers exceptional service and parts support, as well as a manufacturer with a proven track record," says Rostberg. "Ease of serviceability and dealer support will help turn machines around when returning from one customer and going back out to a new customer. This helps a rental business realize the maximum potential from their investment."

Bill Gearhart, marketing and product manager at Yanmar Construction, notes that rental businesses - and anyone considering the purchase of a compact excavator - should look at value over purchase price as their key consideration. "Be careful about buying for the longest usable life without considering the maintenance costs of keeping that usable life," he says. "The downtime endured during the life of any equipment is a major factor in calculating the return on investment a business receives from any purchase. In any business, it is total return on investment that makes a purchase a good or bad value."

Some of the most important options are not features you find on the machine, however. "Education is the best option to increase machine durability," says Rabe. "For the most part, compact excavators are very reliable machines when the recommended maintenance is followed. Educating the [equipment owner] to understand the importance of following the maintenance schedule is the best way to improve the longevity of a unit."