Breaking Down The Selection

Sept. 28, 2010

Hydraulic breakers are powerful, productive machines used to break a variety of materials. But choosing the correct breaker for a job involves a lot more than swinging by a dealership and grabbing the biggest, cheapest or most colorful breaker available. With a wide assortment of breaker sizes and features offered, several key factors need to be considered when selecting a breaker to ensure that it can be used to its full potential.

Hydraulic breakers are powerful, productive machines used to break a variety of materials. But choosing the correct breaker for a job involves a lot more than swinging by a dealership and grabbing the biggest, cheapest or most colorful breaker available. With a wide assortment of breaker sizes and features offered, several key factors need to be considered when selecting a breaker to ensure that it can be used to its full potential.

Finding the Right Fit

Even the best breaker won't operate independently. It has to be attached to a carrier that can supply the necessary hydraulic power. A breaker won't function or perform properly on just any carrier. Several factors contribute to the compatibility of a breaker and a carrier, all of which should receive thoughtful consideration.

The first factor is the power rating of a breaker and what that means when matching it to a carrier. Several machines can be used as carriers. These include excavators, skid steers, loaders, and backhoes. A common mistake for someone who already owns a specific size carrier is to rely on hearsay or arbitrary equipment power ratings when choosing a breaker. This is problematic because of the varying methods used to rate the output power of a breaker.

At one time, most manufacturers rated their breakers in foot pound classes based loosely on the service weight of the breaker. While this method was largely accepted, it did not always paint an accurate depiction of true breaker output.

In an effort to reduce confusion and introduce a legitimate rating system, several leading manufacturers developed and subscribed to a method that determined output power through a repeatable, documented CIMA/AEM test, which recorded a measurement of the power going through the working steel of a breaker. Although the test could provide an apples-to-apples comparison of two different products, some began to discount the numbers by saying that the test did not show how much material could be broken in a day. While it is true that other factors such as operator ability, tool steel selection and carrier settings play a role in overall production figures, a foot pound class number is purely an estimate and not a product of any test, and is now sometimes the only information a customer receives about a breaker's output power.

Since different manufacturers may publish varying power ratings for essentially the same product, it is important to avoid relying on a single manufacturer's class ratings when shopping around for a breaker. Always consult the manufacturer for a recommendation on a breaker that will best fit a specific carrier and ask to see their CIMA/AEM rating results.

To go along with power, the physical size of the breaker must match the carrier as well. If the carrier is not heavy enough to hold the breaker down solidly against the material being broken, the machine could be lifted slightly with every blow from the breaker. In effect, the breaker will transmit energy in two directions — down to the work surface and also back into the machine. The extra energy that the larger breaker can create becomes wasted in this case. At the other end of the spectrum, if a breaker is too small, the excessive amount of force generated by a larger machine pushing down on it can be damaging to the mounting components and working steel of the breaker.

Manufacturers generally publish specifications that give the actual weight of a breaker, along with a weight range for carriers that can hold that breaker. Size, however, is only one part of the equation. Flow and pressure are also important factors in the compatibility of a carrier and a breaker. Flow is the volume of oil that the carrier can supply and is representative of the size of the carrier's pumps and the overall system capability. If a carrier is not capable of producing the recommended flow or pressure specifications going into the breaker, then the breaker will not reach maximum performance.

The hydraulic circuit selected to install a breaker on a carrier will have an impact on flow. Two separate devices are involved in mounting a breaker. The first is a hydraulic installation kit, which gets oil flow to the breaker and then brings it back to the machine. If a carrier doesn't have a kit, one can be purchased from a hydraulic kit manufacturer.

Keep in mind that although breakers need unidirectional flow to move oil in a simple loop from carrier to breaker and back again, it is possible that other attachments will be purchased for the carrier down the road. Attachments such as silent demolition tools and shears require bidirectional oil flow because of a cylinder that requires the ability to move in two directions. The two lines that feed the attachment will vary their output based on input from the operator. Depending on long-term goals, it may be wise to purchase a hydraulic kit with the extra capability to provide bidirectional flow, rather than limiting the machine's functions down the road by buying too limiting a kit.

The second aspect to consider within a mounting package is the physical mounting components that attach the breaker to a carrier. Typically a bracket is bolted on to the top of a breaker. The bracket is then configured so it will match the carrier. Some manufacturers make a universal-type mounting bracket, which accommodates two or three different size classes of bracket. Pins, bushings or other components inside the bracket are used to make the breaker fit a wide range of different carriers.

Universal, however, is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to mounting brackets. In today's construction industry, a lot of pin-grabbing quick coupler attachments are used on carriers. Quick couplers are clamping devices that will grab the pins on the top of any attachment as long as the ear groups resemble the top of the bucket that originally came with the machine. This means that if a breaker uses the same size pins at the same distance apart as the pins on the original bucket, a quick coupler should be able to pick up that breaker.

Maximizing Performance

Having a good match between a breaker and a carrier is essential, but it is also vital that the breaker be used appropriately in order for it to perform as intended. The type of application and material to be worked on must be taken into account when choosing a breaker.

Selecting the wrong equipment for a given application can be costly. A mismatch of application or a mismatch of breaker and carrier could both lead to broken or damaged equipment or components. But even if no damage occurs, the wrong combination could result in a lack of productivity and performance from the equipment. In either case, the end result is extra expense.

Be Selective About Support

Performing proper maintenance will also play a key role in the long-term performance of any breaker. Selecting a breaker that will minimize maintenance concerns can save time, money and headaches down the road.

Some manufacturers take a sophisticated approach to routine maintenance by offering breakers that come standard with automatic lubrication systems. This eliminates the need for a breaker to be manually lubricated between every two or three hours of operation, as is generally recommended. As long as the operator makes sure the lubrication reservoir stays full of grease, the breaker lubricates itself, reducing the amount of downtime and ensuring proper lubrication throughout the whole application.

Tool Choice

Depending on the application, there are dozens of steel tools to choose for a variety of different breakers. Each tool is designed to have a focused usage. One example would be a concrete slab that needed to be broken into small enough pieces to be hauled away. A blunt tool would be a good choice in this case. A blunt tool doesn't focus energy in any one direction, and it would give a shattering effect to the concrete.

In addition to tools having designs for specific uses, the physical quality of a tool can vary depending on the material used to manufacture it. Be sure to select a tool that has been optimized for breaking applications.

Finalizing the Decision

Selecting the proper breaker can be complicated. But knowing which factors are relevant to the selection can simplify the process. Avoid getting wrapped up in the bells and whistles that do not add value or durability and stick to considering the important details. Weighing options such as carrier match and intended application is the best way to figure out which breaker is the most efficient fit for the job.