Today, thanks to small-but-powerful diesel engines, hydraulic system refinements and the advent of on-board microprocessors, manufacturers around the world have perfected compact excavators and in the process created machines that are tailor-made for landscapers.
Dave Wolf, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment, says compact excavators can do pretty much anything large excavators do – just on a smaller scale. “We engineer these machines for robust service,” he notes. “Their coolers are engineered to efficiently shed excess heat, they can stand up to dirt and debris, and their frames, booms and arms are reinforced to combat any twisting forces or stress placed on them. The hydraulic components are the same as on large machines – again, they’re just on a smaller scale – but they’re engineered and manufactured to the same tolerances as those larger systems and they produce enough hydraulic power to run any kind of attachment you want to put on them.”
“Compact excavators work well in a variety of different jobsite applications,” adds Bill Parker, product manager, Terex Construction Equipment. With the addition of a hydraulic thumbs attachment, the performance and versatility of compact excavators vastly increase as they’ll be able to lift and place landscape rock and stone along almost any type of rough terrain.”
Work hard now, expand your business later
Wolf says Case defines compact excavators by metric tons, with machines ranging in size from zero to 6 metric tons as compact models and anything over as a full-size machine. For many landscapers, the bewildering array of excavator models and sizes available can be intimidating when trying to select a properly sized machine for a business. Wolf says it needn’t be. “Make sure you size the machine to do the work you need or project doing,” he explains. “And the math is pretty simple: A 1-ton machine isn’t going to be able to handle 10 tons in a single pass. And always remember that the jobs you’re doing today may not be the jobs you’re doing tomorrow. And if you think you’re going to need a larger machine, you’re better off making that investment up front as opposed to buying a second one later on.”
“You’ve got to know a lot more than just the dig depth a machine has to offer,” stresses Darren Wilson, North American Mini Hydraulic Excavator Industry manager, Caterpillar. “You need to evaluate your business and ask yourself what kind of work tools will be used and determine if you need steel or rubber tracks. Consider if there are any width or weight restrictions for the machine? You’ll also need to look at your current equipment – trailers in particular – to make sure they’ll be able to transport the new machine safely. What kind of trailer is already owned? Will the machine be in an application that may require steel tracks?”
“Hydraulic performance is also critically important if you intend to run attachments,” Parker adds. “Compact excavators will handle a wide number of attachments that provide solutions to specific jobsite challenges and ultimately, increase productivity. Some of the attachments are hydraulic thumbs, hydraulic augers, hammers and small plate compactors. A variety of buckets, along with a quick coupler, will also enhance the performance and utilization of the machine.”
Many compact excavators can be spec’d with a wide array of options to further enhance their jobsite capabilities. One such system is a floating dozer blade, which Wilson says can greatly enhance machine efficiency by performing backfilling and grading operations. “In many cases, simply fitting a compact excavator with a dozer blade can eliminate the need for another piece of equipment on a jobsite altogether,” he says.
Another useful option is an expandable undercarriage, which Wilson says is highly productive in landscaping applications. “Cat’s 301.8C has an expandable undercarriage, which allows the overall width of the machine to be reduced to 39 inches for traveling through doorways and gates and working in backyards,” he explains. “The undercarriage expands to 53 inches for greater stability while digging. The gauge adjustment is performed by raising the machine off the ground using the dozer blade and bucket, diverting the hydraulic flow to the expansion/contraction cylinder, and using the dozer blade second function to control the movement.”
Wolf also suggests investigating zero-tailswing excavator models. As their name implies, zero-tailswing models don’t have an engine compartment protruding from the rear of the machine. “Thanks to a completely different design, zero-tailswing models can rotate virtually within the diameter of their undercarriages,” Wolf explains. “This means you can position the machine and work right alongside buildings, roadways or other obstacles without having to work about the rear of the machine hitting anything when you swing the machine back and forth.”