30- to 40-Ton Excavators Carry Jobsite Burden

By Mike Anderson, Senior Editor | September 28, 2010

A 75,000-pound excavator would not best be described as a sleeping giant.

But, considering their clear significance to the industry, 30- to 40-metric-ton excavators collectively may just fly under the radar screen more than any other machine size class. This is big iron, well represented in the field, but without the hoopla of smaller machines and the sheer dominating presence of the largest machines.

Make no bones about it, says John Deere's Mark Wall, excavators in the 30- to 40-ton class are staples of earthmoving.

"Outside of the 200-size market, which is the largest market," says Wall, "the 350 is a great, popular tractor in North America."

Since 2002, Hitachi Construction and Mining Products has operated under an integrated excavator marketing, sales and distribution agreement with John Deere Construction and Forestry Equipment. As a product marketing manager for excavators, Wall speaks of both the John Deere 350D LC and Hitachi ZX350LC-3 models when he describes "the maximum performance you can get out of a machine that's still easily maneuverable."

From Wall's perspective, it's the ability to offer the best of both worlds that is making this excavator size increasingly popular.

"Contractors realize it's a pretty versatile machine," he says. "They don't have to break it down to haul it, and they can haul it in one load with the right permits, so it's a lot more maneuverable than the next size up. And, yet, it gives them a lot more depth, reach and lift capacity than the next size down would."

If customers are interested, then manufacturers generally are, too.

Of 14 full-size excavator brands serving North America that were surveyed by Construction Equipment, 12 responded with current product information specifically for the 30- to 40-metric-ton class (see Buying File Gallery on Page 56). Another respondent, Volvo, will "imminently" roll out to North America a new C-Series model in this size class.

As a product marketing manager with Komatsu America, Doug Morris represents excavators from the standard 75,000-pound PC300 size right up to the PC1250 mass excavator. He, too, credits the demand for the 30- to 40-metric-ton machines on their versatility.

"You can see them anywhere from a quarry-type application, all the way to a sewer-pipe application, to a development application. With this size class, you really get into a wide variety of applications," says Morris.

"Whereas you look at a lot of larger-size machines you'll generally see in a quarry, or smaller-size machines you'll see more in an urban setting," he says, "these machines are virtually everywhere."

For standard use, Komatsu offers the Tier 3 PC300LC-7 ¡ª a 246-horsepower, 75,376-pound excavator rolled out in 2006. For customers wanting to "stretch out" the excavating capabilities offered, there is the PC300HD-7.

"It's basically a 300 upperstructure that uses a 400 undercarriage," says Morris. "What you basically get is excellent stability and lift capacity, improved basically for those customers who are in long-arm applications and require the additional over-the-side stability. That market's really taken off, as well."

If not the most glamorous or the largest class, the 30- to 40-metric-ton group is the "core" of the excavator range, says Morris.

If the PC300HD-7 stretches that core, then the Komatsu PC308USLC-3 condenses it, welcoming to this size class the reduced tail swing benefits now firmly established in compact and utility classes.

Product marketing manager Trenton Gore recalls the reaction he heard at recent Komatsu field days upon the appearance of a tight-tail-swing machine at 70,000-plus pounds: "You're telling me that machine weighs that much?"

Indeed, the PC308USLC-3 does.

If the market for the 30- to 40-metric-ton excavator size class is wishing to pull up from below while at the same time reaching up above, more model variations may just be the future path for more manufacturers. The standard models offered may become, it seems, "the core of the core."

With Deere and Hitachi, the 350D LC and ZX350LC-3 models offer 26 feet 10 inches of dig depth and 38 feet 5 inches of reach at ground level.

"It's a big machine," says Wall, "but yet it can get into places where you need to dig water and sewer trenches. It just seems to fit a lot of niches for a lot of contractors."

Much like with other excavator size classes, many of the technological advances in the 30- to 40-metric-ton class are aimed at operator comfort and productivity.

At Komatsu, Gore's area of marketing covers the PC308USLC-3 and down, which includes the new PC270LC-8, a machine that creeps up into the 30-ton-and-up class.

"What's key about it is that we have the attachment flow control. I'm excited that everybody I talk to has been finding that useful," he says. "You get a total of four flow settings, two for breaker and two for attachment."

The "wow factor" for the operator is the 7-inch color monitor, which supports five different application modes or operations and displays data in 10 different languages, says Gore. Views from an optional counterweight-mounted camera also display on the monitor.

Standard on Komatsu models is the Komtrax equipment monitoring system.

"It's a web-based application that provides critical machine information virtually anytime, anywhere," says Morris. "To put it simply, Komtrax will tell you where your machine is, what it's doing, how it's doing it, and the condition that it's in. That's really what it's designed for, and it's all wireless."

Upon further review, perhaps it is unfair to suggest these machines are flying under any radar screen.