Five Tips for Selecting the Right Compact Excavators

By Debbie McClung

The increasing popularity of compact excavators in recent years has spearheaded a vast selection of models ideally suited to landscaping and hardscaping projects. With all of the choices, how do you find the machine that’s right for you? Tom Connor, excavator product specialist for Bobcat Company, provides five easy tips to help you evaluate your options:

1. Ask the right questions

Start with the basics. Do you need a compact excavator? If you frequently rent a compact excavator or subcontract work performed by compact excavators, then you likely can justify adding one to your equipment fleet.

“Generally, landscape contractors will find more uses than anticipated for the machine once it’s in their possession,” said Connor.

Contractors should also ask whether the desired unit will meet their needs. “A landscaping contractor should evaluate the anticipated tasks, and select a machine that has the capabilities to perform those tasks with room for growth,” Connor added. “It’s also important to assess maximum utilization of the machine. Does the manufacturer offer attachments and does the dealer stock them? Does the machine have an easy-to-use attachment mounting system?”

2. Size up power and performance

For most landscaping contractors, machine size is critically important, since you install irrigation and move materials to create outdoor environments in residential and commercial spaces. “A contractor needs to evaluate the anticipated worksite limitations — often width,” Connor said. “In general, midsize to full-size compact excavator models appeal to the landscaping industry when larger machines are too bulky.”

Should contractors encounter confined areas, some manufacturers offer compact excavator models with retractable undercarriages. Connor says this feature is especially popular among landscaping contractors with limited access. It allows the operator to retract the undercarriage, pass through a gate or fence, and then expand the undercarriage when actually working.

Knowing contractors don’t want to sacrifice performance for size, equipment manufacturers are packing their smaller excavator models with more power. Some of the smaller compact excavator models feature bucket breakout forces of more than 3,500 lbf. And, for added digging reach or depth in confined areas, contractors can choose compact excavators with long-arm or extendable-arm options. The extendable arm option is a telescoping arm that provides the best of both worlds in power and reach, with some providing an additional 30 inches of reach when fully extended.

“For example, if lifting large boulders will be a frequent, recurring task for the excavator, then one needs to select a machine that will comfortably accomplish this,” he said. “If minimum cover is 8 feet, for instance, then, at an absolute minimum, you should be looking at a machine capable of digging 10 to 12 feet to achieve decent production.”

There are excavators with zero tail swing and minimal tail swing, which give operators more unrestricted rotation and provide flexibility when working close to objects or against a wall. A typical zero-tail-swing feature virtually eliminates the chance of the excavator’s tail inadvertently contacting surrounding objects. Depending on the manufacturer, the entire frame may be engineered to stay within the width of the tracks to further avoid damage, Connor said.

If you anticipate routine work where you must pass narrow property lines, gates or fences, a conventional-tail-swing excavator may be a better fit for your equipment fleet. For example, the typical width of a conventional-tail-swing, 3- to 4-metric-ton compact excavator will be about 60 inches, whereas zero- and minimal-tail-swing excavators with similar performance will have a width of about 70 inches.

3. Demand versatility and comfort

A very popular, practical and necessary compact excavator feature is easy-to-use attachment mounting systems. Connor said many manufacturers offer their own type of attachment mounting system for common connections, such as trenchers, augers, tilt accessories, grading buckets and rotating grapples.

Many compact excavators come standard with an attachment mounting system, which enables operators to quickly and easily switch between attachments. Optional hydraulic quick-tach systems typically provide even faster attachment changes.

“Compact excavator comfort is important to more and more buyers,” he said. “This trend is driving manufacturers to increase operator space, enhance entering and exiting of the machine and provide features such as an enclosed cab with heat and air conditioning.” Some compact excavators also feature auto-shift travel systems and auto-idle throttles to improve the operator experience.

4. Compare safety and maintenance

Manufacturers have incorporated several safety and maintenance features in their compact excavators to protect operators. For example, compact excavators may incorporate a control console lock system that helps avoid unintentional activation of the machine’s boom, arm, bucket, slew and travel systems. Landscapers should also check if the manufacturer offers Tip Over Protective Structure/Roll Over Protective Structure (TOPS/ROPS)-rated cabs and/or canopies and retractable seat belts.

When comparing compact excavator models, Connor suggests investigating whether routine maintenance items can be easily accessed to inspect all of the daily checkpoints, such as vital machine fluids and other important maintenance items. Centralized grease points for the slew bearing, pinion gear and swing boom are also important.

5. Demo in real-life situations

Above all, the best way for you to compare compact excavator models is to operate them under load, because not all compact excavators are created equal, said Connor. You should target demonstration in real-life situations, such as trenching or lifting decorative rocks, because some machines’ production and speed increase by as much as 30 percent over others — simply due to the balance between the hydraulic system and engine horsepower.

Debbie McClung is a technical writer with Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.

Article provided by Bobcat Company, West Fargo, N.D.

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