Mid-Range Crawler Excavators Set Standards for Versatility

Jan. 19, 2015

“There’s a great range of buyers for machines in this size class [18,000 to 40,000 pounds],” says Philippe Bisson, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment. “You’re seeing specialty contractors—from those who install sewers to those who build swimming pools—embrace smaller machines, and those doing roadside work are looking at minimum-swing-radius machines. Utility work and basement digging remain popular applications, and smaller contractors see machines in this size class as a way to move into heavier equipment without requiring larger trucks, trailers, or added permitting.”

The number of crawler hydraulic excavator models with operating weights between 18,000 and 40,000 pounds provides buyers a range of choices to suit both applications and budgets. The overall market for this range of machines seems encouragingly healthy today, “especially in the 27,000-to-35,000-pound range (12 to 16 metric tons),” says Steve DePriest, product sales trainer, Hyundai Construction Equipment. “Within these weight sizes, we’re seeing a tremendous demand for reduced-tail-swing models.”

Cost of Ownership

Size Class (metric tons)Avg. PriceHourly Rate*
*Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Unit prices used in this calculation: diesel fuel, $3.73 per gallon; mechanic’s wage at $52.33 per hour; and money costs at 2 percent.
Source: EquipmentWatch.com

George Lumpkins, national service manager, Kobelco Construction Machinery, agrees:

“The 12-to-14-metric ton [26,400-30,800-pound] market is overwhelmingly now dominated by short- to zero-tail-swing machines. In some instances, these machines have optional counterweight for additional stability—particularly useful for thumb-equipped machines—and that slightly increases tail swing to perhaps 6 to 9 inches.”

Doosan’s Shane Reardon, excavator product specialist, agrees that the market for this size category is “doing especially well” and notes that the rental market is particularly strong and has a liking for machines around the 31,700-pound (14-metric-ton) range. Doosan offers two models in that size class, the conventional-tail-swing DX140LC-3 at 31,000 pounds and its compact-radius counterpart, the 33,500-pound DX140LCR-3.

“The compact-radius version is not as popular as the conventional,” says Reardon, “but it’s gaining momentum—which seems to be true for all compact-radius models. It’s a growing segment, simply because we have more and more infrastructure that needs repair, and there’s limited room to do it.”

Says Caterpillar’s Brian Stellbrink, excavator product specialist: “Both compact-radius and reduced-radius models are very popular in this size class, in particular, the 30,000-to-35,000-pound range. We have seen strong growth in this size—especially for the Cat 314E LCR [32,600 pounds] and 311F LCR [30,600 pounds].”

Taking a wider market perspective, Stellbrink sees positive growth: “Industry demand for machines in this class has been on the rise for the past couple years,” he says. “There are continued signs of solid economic recovery, leading to more work for contractors. Just one example is the residential housing market, where these machines often are used for initial land clearing, site development, underground utilities, basement excavation, back-filling, finish grading—all the way to larger-scale landscaping at the end phases.”

John Deere’s Michael Boyle, product consultant manager, Construction & Forestry Division, echoes that view and observes that the hydraulic excavator’s utility and versatility frequently make it the first machine to arrive on many of today’s job sites and the last to leave—a distinction once solidly held by the crawler dozer.

“Excavators of this size are sources of hydraulic energy,” says Boyle, “and contractors are finding more uses for that energy by using more attachments. Ten years ago, the industry probably had only half the attachments available today.”

Added versatility

Striving for ever-increasing utility and versatility from their products, hydraulic-excavator manufacturers continue to refine the designs of their machines.

For example, according to David Caldwell, product manager, Takeuchi-U.S., machine utility was among the company’s chief design goals for its new TB1140 Series 2:

“Although the machine weighs slightly more than 34,000 pounds,” says Caldwell, “it has a pivot-boom similar to that typically found on smaller compact excavators, allowing operators to position the machine and the work tool for optimum performance and viability. It also has three independently operated auxiliary circuits—a high-flow primary circuit, secondary auxiliary, and a dedicated attachment-coupler circuit. A standard dozer blade and a number of track options complete the package.”

Komatsu’s PC170LC-10 further illustrates the versatility that runs throughout this range of excavator sizes. “With a standard counterweight, the PC170LC-10 can be transported easily on a tag trailer, but still out lifts its predecessor model, the PC160LC-8, by up to 5 percent,” says Rob Orlowski, Komatsu’s product manager for excavators PC290 and smaller. “With its heavier, optional counterweight, lift capacity is up to 15 percent greater; it remains a relatively small machine and yet has excellent lift—but does require a larger trailer. Some customers have commented that the heavy counterweight gives the PC170LC-10 the feel of an excavator in a larger size class.”

The ED160 Blade Runner, among Kobelco’s newest models, sees frequent use with small contractors doing site-preparation work that normally requires two machines—an excavator and crawler dozer, says the company’s Lumpkins. With a tail swing of just 8 inches, the machine uses a special undercarriage to handle a large, 2.5-cubic yard, six-way, power angle/tilt (PAT) dozer blade. With a width over tracks of only 8.5 feet, the 37,600-pound model, says Lumpkins, is relatively easy to transport without special permitting.

Attachments, of course, expand the versatility of already-versatile machines. As John Deere’s Boyle noted, the number of attachments available for these machines keeps growing, and the result are machines with an ability to take on a wider scope of work.

“Thumbs and quick couplers are by far the most popular [attachments],” says Kobelco’s Lumpkins. “Factors that must be considered about couplers, however, are added weight and increased tooth-tip radius that reduce bucket capacity and digging forces.”

Couplers are more often than not hydraulically actuated, allowing attachment changes from the comfort and safety of the cab. Attachments that seem most popular include hydraulic breakers, compactors, shears for demolition, shears and magnets for recycling, augers, brush cutters and grapples for vegetation management, blades, barrier clamps, and a range of buckets. Tom Connor, excavator product specialist for Bobcat, also advises users not to overlook the importance of having the correct bucket for the job.

“A number of machines go out with a pinned bucket, and that bucket is used for all digging chores, because the user considers it too much work to change to an appropriate-width bucket,” says Connor. “But digging with a bucket that’s wider than required is extremely unproductive and adds to the amount of material to backfill.”

Further simplifying the efficient use of attachments on today’s excavators are auxiliary hydraulic systems that can be programmed to quickly call up pressure and flow settings for a number of attachments. These systems, says Caterpillar’s Stellbrink, optimize both machine uptime and attachment performance. Stellbrink also notes that grade-control systems are yet another means for increasing overall machine efficiency, providing real-time bucket-tip-position information that allows operators to work more independently and more productively.

John Deere’s Boyle sums up the machine characteristics that buyers consider most important in today’s environment: “Contractors are looking for machines that are more versatile, faster, more productive, and more controllable than their predecessors, while also being stingy with fuel.”

Small package, big performance

Within the 18,000-to-40,000-pound category, a market segment that sells particularly well is populated by a number of machines on the cusp of 19,000 pounds. These models, in many manufacturers’ product ranges, are the largest machines before jumping to units weighing close to 30,000 pounds. Examples include the Hitachi ZX85USB-5, Takeuchi TB280FR, Bobcat E85, Mustang 800Z, Komatsu PC88MR-10, Hyundai R80CR-9, Doosan DX85R-3, Case CX80C, Cat 308E2 CR, Gehl Z80, and Kobelco SK85CS. 

These machines typically are short-radius models, some with zero tail swing, and have a swing boom that allows the digging linkage to swing through a fairly wide arc and work in conjunction with upper-structure swing to bring the bucket adjacent to walls or obstructions for close-quarter digging. Horsepower typically ranges between 55 and 65, and average maximum digging depths are around 14 feet, although a few models might exceed 15 feet. Rubber tracks are usually standard, but many models have a steel-track option, and a blade is typically available.

“Machines in this size category are popular for general excavation, because they’re easy to transport,” says Bobcat’s Connor, “and also for sewer and water work, because they can typically handle the weight of items involved and can dig comfortably at 8 or 10 feet. They also have the capacity to handle reasonably large breakers—and with a large bucket and clamp can handle demolition and sorting.”

John Deere’s Boyle adds that these models, such as the company’s 18,800-pound 85G, with a reduced tail swing of 11 inches, are popular for utility work—placing small-diameter pipe, fiber-optic cable, and conduit. Also, he says, the size is right for pot-holing applications.

According to Connor, these units typically also have auxiliary hydraulics as standard, and secondary auxiliary-hydraulic circuits, usually running at 50 percent of the primary system’s flow, are becoming more prevalent to power such items as clamps. Using a secondary system, he says, allows the clamp to remain activated and ready when needed, while freeing the primary circuit for attachments such as plate compactors, augers, and breakers that require full flow.

“A feature that drives interest in this class of machine,” says Connor, “is the size of the cab. It’s not the cabin on a full-size machine, but it’s very close—at least fore and aft, and even though width remains somewhat of a challenge, cabs are getting wider. These smaller machines have the feel of a large-machine cab with upgraded seats and sliding controls.”

Appealing, too, in these smaller machines, says Connor, is the swing boom, at least when the concept is understood: “People who have been around smaller excavators appreciate the swing-boom feature, but those moving down from larger machines might not understand it; once they recognize the advantage of having the ability to dig parallel to one track or the other against the side of a building, though, they’re converts.”