Compact Excavators Noted For Practicality, Flexibility

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

It’s hard to believe that a little more than a decade ago, compact excavators were basically unknown in the United States. Long popular in Europe and Asia because their compact size allowed them to work in small areas of large, congested cities, the first Japanese compact excavators that began appearing on American job sites brought curiosity, even amusement, and their potential was not at first recognized.

However, these versatile machines had a feature that sets them apart from other excavation equipment: a pivot point where the boom connects to the vehicle allowing the boom to be positioned for offset trenching. In addition, interchangeable attachments equip a compact loader to do many different jobs.

Rental stores began to carry the machines, providing an opportunity for equipment owners to try them without investing in ownership. The size and versatility of compact excavators soon developed a growing demand and American manufacturers entered the market to compete with imported models.

Excavator “size” typically is defined by operating weight in metric tons (a metric ton is 1,000 kg or 2,205 pounds) with models of one to ten metric tons considered “compact.”

Today, compact excavators routinely are found on many types of construction sites and are widely owned by municipalities and utility companies as well as contractors, including utility contractors.

Bobcat Company, Tom Connor, excavator product specialist: The primary advantages compact excavators provide compared to other types of excavation equipment are boom swing with the capability to do offset trenching and the capability of quickly attaching and removing a broad selection of attachments.

Two sizes of compact excavators are favored by utilities and utility contractors.

Three- and four-ton models are very popular. Weighing 7,000 to 8,000 pounds, they are easy to transport. Their maximum digging depth of 10 feet is sufficient for most utility work, and their reach allows dirt to be positioned away from the hole.

One- and two-ton models are very compact and ideal for refurbishing utilities and replacing aerial cable underground. They can go through 30-inch fence and yard gates, and they can work in small spaces. Boom swing allows working around obstacles and it is possible to dig on both sides of a pedestal without moving the machine. Different bucket sizes can be interchanged so it isn’t necessary to dig more trench than is needed.