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How to choose the right excavator

Buying tips to help contractors pick the machine that fits their needs

Yellow Kobelco excavator lifts concrete pipe
Kobelco SK350-LC10 hydraulic excavator

Heavy equipment contractors need to know how to choose the right excavator for their jobsite needs. Heavy Equipment Guide has collected buying tips from top hydraulic excavator experts to help answer this question for machines in the popular 20- to 50-ton range. Read on for their great ideas on how to match the best machine to the job at hand.

Andrew Dargatz, product marketing manager, CASE Construction Equipment

In this broad range of machine sizes, transportation of the machine from site-to-site needs to be a consideration – it's necessary to understand the weight limits and regulations in the areas where you do the bulk of your work, as well as how large of a truck and trailer can fit in those areas. Do you already own trucks and trailers that can haul the machine you want to add to your fleet, or will it require you to upgrade there as well? Each of these have effects on the downstream costs and management of the machine, as well as the very practical challenges of simply getting it from site to site.

Dig depth is obviously important, but excavators are used increasingly more for lifting, craning and placing of materials. Keep an eye on lifting capacity and reach, and the correlation of how that lifting capacity changes the further you get away from the machine. Excavators today are constantly being applied to more and more applications. Be aware of the capabilities of the machine you are considering. These should include the adaptability to handle different attachments, attachment weight handling capability, and providing required hydraulic flow to those attachments.

Understand fully the operating controls and options available to you from different manufacturers; while there are many similarities in today's excavator product offerings, the right machine can empower your operators to work more effectively and more efficiently – getting more work done and doing so at a lower total cost of ownership.

Jonny Spendlove, product marketing manager, excavators, John Deere and Hitachi

First, managers should consider productivity. The labour market is tight, as operators are in short supply and wages are going up. So, it's important to get the most productivity possible out of each hour of labour. Deere excavators are excellent in this regard, due to their smooth hydraulics, stability, and distinctive quality and reliability.

Additionally, consider the size of a jobsite. For example, reduced-tail-swing excavators can be exceptional options for tight jobsites, such as roadside work, where a standard tail swing excavator might require closure of an extra lane of traffic.

Finally, consider the support you will get from your local dealer. Keeping a machine up and running is critical. While all John Deere excavators are widely regarded for their reliability, they are also supported by an exceptional network of local John Deere dealers.

Efficiency, reliability and durability. These attributes are fundamental, and they're more than just sales jargon. Selecting an excavator that performs the best in all three categories will help you narrow your choices.

With efficiency, you want to look at your engine and hydraulics. Hitachi's 20- to-50-ton excavators feature a fuel-efficient EPA Tier 4 Final/EU Stage IV Isuzu engine that doesn't require a diesel particulate filter. These excavators also feature auto-idle, which reduces engine speed when hydraulics aren't in use, and auto-shutdown, both of which contribute to fuel efficiency. Consider how your engine and hydraulics impact fuel efficiency and cycle times.

You also need a reliable machine. You want to minimize maintenance and downtime as much as possible. Hitachi's 20- to 50-ton range excavators include features like a standard battery disconnect switch and ground-level access to filters to help maximize uptime. Plus, maintenance is easy to track using Hitachi's ZXLink system, which comes standard equipped on these excavators. Features like this can help lower your total cost of ownership.

Lastly, consider the machine's durability. You need a machine that can get through tough jobs and last a long time. On Hitachi machines, we provide heavy-duty undercarriages that offer a lower centre of gravity, great stability and increased lift capacity. On all of our 20- to 50-ton excavators, the boom, arm and mainframe are so tough, we've warranted them for three years or 10,000 hours, whichever comes first.

The Doosan DX170-5 hydraulic excavator

Aaron Kleingartner, marketing manager, Doosan Infracore North America, LLC

Does the excavator need a quick coupler? For excavators closer to the 50-ton range, the owner may pair the excavator with a bucket, and it may only use that attachment for the life of the machine. On the other hand, for smaller and mid-size excavators, changing attachments may be more common and a quick coupler would be beneficial. Also, if the operator wants to easily remove a bucket for lifting applications, a quick coupler makes it easier.

Another consideration is whether or not to install a thumb, sometimes referred to as a clamp, on the excavator arm. Some customers don't need the attachment. But for those customers in site preparation, for example, it is an extremely valuable attachment for grabbing debris and loading it into a truck. It can also be used to secure objects, such as pipes, between a bucket for lifting. With larger excavators, customers should keep in mind that they may need to acquire permits to transport the machines. Customers should consider how often the excavator will need to be moved from jobsite to jobsite.

George Lumpkins, product development and GM of Marketing, KOBELCO USA

The most important factor to consider is lifting power - for buckets it is defined by stability over the front and side at radius, but for handling trench boxes, it is up close to the excavator. Trench boxes have saved countless lives, but they are heavy and hard to move into position in the ground. Many competitive machines offer heavy lift systems, wider undercarriages, a heavier standard counterweight, and even extra-large boom cylinders for this market. North America is somewhat unique in that we can use excavators as lifting tools, basically unrestricted. Operators frequently use couplers and big buckets, often with thumbs for certain types of projects. Many excavators in this class are offering auxiliary hydraulic systems for optional attachments, not only now, but for future use.

Hybrid technology in excavators is more readily available now and becoming more popular. The demand for a balance of ecology, productivity and economy is continuing to grow. While early Hybrid excavators were slower than conventional machines, the latest Hybrid models are now faster than the original Hybrids, with the same power output and the added bonus of saving over 20 percent in fuel during heavy lifting.

Some manufacturers do offer larger undercarriages for standard machines, such as the KOBELCO High & Wide excavators. These models provide more stability during lifting and accommodate larger buckets for a lower total cost than if you were to purchase a machine that is the next size up in weight class.

Volvo EC300E hybrid excavator

Rob Dulaney, product specialist, LBX Company

When deciding on what excavator makes the most sense, customers should first consider the support they can expect from the manufacturer; the right OEM will always go the extra mile to be transparent and accessible to customers.

But choosing the right equipment dealer is even more crucial; customers should look for an equipment dealer that understands their business and is willing to take on a partnership role with its customers. That combination of the right Link-Belt excavator teamed with a dedicated dealer support team makes a big difference over the long run.

Finally, purchasers should consider how long they plan on keeping their machine. Hydraulic excavators need to be maintained and serviced on a regular basis to keep them working up to their expected performance level. Link-Belt Excavators are well-known for their ease of service, with ground-level access to routine service points, including batteries, fuel filters, engine oil filter, dual-element air filter and cab fresh air filter. This lets you cut daily maintenance down to just minutes.

Sejong Ko, excavators product manager, Volvo Construction Equipment

One of the biggest factors to help excavator customers feel more confident in their purchase is comparing the initial purchase price versus total cost of ownership (TCO), or the costs over the life of the machine. Focusing solely on a low initial purchase price may cost a lot more in the long run because it doesn't account for things like residual value, fuel costs, warranty, durability, maintenance and many other items that factor into TCO. At Volvo we offer cost-saving programs like a lifetime frame and structure warranty that helps protect customer investments, plus a fuel efficiency guaranty that ensures lower operating costs.

New technologies continue to help keep excavators up and running, which is critical to improve profits. Telematics, for example, monitors machine status so that preventive maintenance can be planned in advance before a critical issue occurs. Volvo offers ActiveCare Direct which is a revolutionary new telematics monitoring and fleet utilization reporting service. With 24/7/365 active machine monitoring and monthly fleet reports, the program allows customers to spend more time making informed fleet management decisions and less time sorting through data and excessive alarm codes.

The cab of the excavator is essentially the operator's "home," which is why comfort is so important to help them maintain a high level of performance each day: their performance impacts overall fleet performance. Volvo cabs feature an industry-leading design for comfort and utilize an interface that's easy to reach and set up. The high capacity air conditioner and heater also work great in cold or hot weather conditions. Orange-coloured handrails and large anti-slip plates are great examples of Volvo's continued emphasis on safety.

Company info

2905 Shawnee Industrial Way
Suwanee, GA
US, 30024


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One John Deere Place
Moline, IL
US, 61265


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PO BOX 1187
1000 Deere Hitachi Road
Kernersville, NC
US, 27285


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2004 Buck Lane
Lexington, KY
US, 40511


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304 Volvo Way
Shippensburg, PA
US, 17257


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