The type of work and volume of earth to be moved will determine the most appropriate size of machine and the attachments most likely to be of use. But the site — in terms of access, size, terrain and ground conditions — is also a major consideration when looking for the right excavator for the job.
Small machines have the advantage of being agile and have the upper hand when it comes to working in confined spaces. However, their size also needs to be matched to the size of the job. Too small a machine will result in its capacity being over-reached and, at the very least, the operation will take much longer, with the penalty of increased costs per hour.
The type of sites and their ground conditions should also be considered when deciding whether to opt for tracked or wheeled equipment. Tracks will have lower ground pressure but wheels provide mobility and speed. Tracks also give greater traction but wheels are likely to do less damage to pavements and driveways. Tracked machines are highly manoeuvrable and are faster to reposition.
Machine width is the crucial factor when it comes to accessing an area. The good news for landscapers is that many small, tracked models have expandable undercarriages. These “breathe in” to get through gateways and “breathe out” again to provide the stability needed while working on site.
Small machines also have lower ground pressure and less weight so are suitable for landscaping work where there are slopes or where the soil is liable to damage. But the biggest advantage of small excavators is their cycle time. They are quick with the scoop-raise-swing-dump movement that is characteristic of digging equipment. Zero tail-swing machines need the smallest space when it comes to swinging and come into their own when work has to be tackled close to barriers, existing landscape features, buildings or trees. Transport speed only becomes an important consideration when the excavator is needed to work on several plots within the same site or when it will be unloaded far from the work site.
You won’t want operators to spend hours trying to change a bucket, so make sure that all the attachments are quick to put on and take off. Excavators normally come with a digging bucket, but check out other attachments to see if the machine can work in other ways. Grabs can be handy for loading the waste from tree clearance jobs. You may also find uses for breakers and tampers. Some excavator manufacturers even offer stump-grinding attachments.
Operator comfort should never be underestimated. Where long hours of work are anticipated, plant operators will expect a warm cab in winter but the ability to ventilate the workstation in summer. Seating should be fully adjustable and pedals, levers and joysticks within easy reach. Radio communication may be a consideration where the operator is likely to be working some distance from colleagues.
The brand of machine you opt for may be influenced by the manufacturer’s reputation, availability of equipment and spare parts, dealer back-up and service. Finance packages and the experience of your plant operator and mechanic will also be a consideration. It is always worthwhile shopping around and enquiring about schemes such as lease hire.
If outright purchase is deemed important, consideration should be given as to whether it is best to buy new equipment or second hand. Look at the likely frequency of use and the immediacy of the jobs to be done. However, remember that in the first year or two of operation a new machine will generally be relatively free from expensive repairs. Instead, inspections and regular servicing will be the prime consideration.
Although costing less to purchase, a used machine is more likely to need the expertise of a mechanic to diagnose problems and make repairs. Down time and loss of income through breakdowns must be added into your calculations.
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