Master of All Trades

Innovative Equipment Solutions Streamline Urban Jobsites with Single Machine

By Peter Bigwood, General Manager, Mecalac North America

Construction, utility, landscape – regardless of the industry, contractors can agree on one thing; doing more with less is important for maximizing efficiency and profits. This is especially true for larger expenditures like equipment and labor. For example, what would happen to an operation’s bottom line if they could replace a mini excavator, compact track loader (CTL) and telehandler with a single machine? Aside from initial investment costs, they would see significant savings across the board – fuel, parts, maintenance, even transportation to and from the jobsite since only one trailer would be necessary. And what about labor savings? They would be able to reallocate workers from operating multiple machines to other tasks, optimizing productivity and streamlining the jobsite. 

Crawler skid excavators excel in a broad range of applications, providing the mobility, versatility and speed to get the job done with limited equipment and crew requirements.

But as everyone who has had to rely on a multi-tool knows, although a good idea in theory, these devices rarely deliver high-quality results across functions. They usually end up being decent at many things, but spectacular at none. Every once in a while, though, a truly game-changing solution comes along. With the introduction of crawler skid excavators to the market, contractors can harness the speed and agility of a CTL, the maneuverability and digging capabilities of a mini excavator and the reach of a telehandler all in a single machine.

There are several key features that allow crawler skid excavators to excel in a broad range of applications, providing the mobility, versatility, and speed to get the job done with limited equipment and crew requirements. Here’s what to look for:

It’s All About the Boom

Like mini excavators, crawler skid excavators offer 360-degree cab rotation. In this sense, both the mini excavator and crawler skid excavator provide excellent space management and productivity, letting contractors dig, break or perform a number of other functions in any direction without constantly repositioning the machine. However, one significant factor limits the traditional mini excavator’s overall maneuverability – its boom.

A side-mounted, two-piece boom offers greater compactness and range of motion compared to traditional mono boom designs.

The majority of excavators on the market today use a mono boom design. While this configuration provides ample power for digging and other applications, its rigid nature limits overall range of motion. The main arm of a mono boom is only able to move up and down, and the design relies on the dipper stick portion of the boom to reach, pull and dig. This limited range of motion does not prevent mono boom excavators from doing what they are made to do, but it does restrict the ability to work close to the machine and requires more room to operate. 

On today’s crowded jobsites, where space is at a premium, contractors would be better served with a side-mounted, two-piece boom that offers greater compactness and range of motion. This design features an articulated arm, similar to a finger, with a total of five joints, including one between the second and third sections that allows for limited side to side motion. Bending or straightening each joint in sequence results in a boom that can extend almost straight in any direction or fold back in on itself for maximum compactness.

What does this look like on the jobsite, though? In terms of productivity, the side-mounted, two-piece boom offers increased working envelope over mono boom excavators, while also limiting the need to reposition the machine. For example, a mono boom excavator and a similar-sized crawler skid excavator with a side-mounted, two-piece boom are both tasked with digging a trench. Both machines start their trench at a similar distance. However, as the bucket works back toward the machine, the mono boom excavator must stop and reposition while the crawler skid excavator is able to continue digging – until the bucket is under the machine if necessary. By working more from a single position, save time and effort while also reducing their carbon footprint. 

The crawler skid excavator’s two-piece boom needs less space to operate, opening up the use of powerful machines even in tight spaces.

The crawler skid excavator’s two-piece boom also needs less space to operate, opening up the use of powerful machines even in tight spaces and limiting the need for large work crews with handheld equipment or fleets of small equipment. Working against the blade with a mono boom excavator, for example, requires laying the main part of the boom almost straight out with the dipper stick and bucket folded under. This position nearly doubles the overall length of the machine and requires a lot of clearance around the excavator for working or swinging. 

In a  situation where work is being conducted in close proximity to an existing structure or roadway, the excavator’s required footprint is too large. Examples include laying pipe, putting in sidewalks, mowing along the road or other utility and maintenance applications. With a side-mounted, two-part boom, on the other hand, the bucket can be positioned directly in front of the blade or along the tracks for a compact 360-degree footprint that is only slightly wider than the body of the machine. This overall compactness is also ideal for roadwork since it allows operators to dig and load trucks from a single position within a single lane, saving time, fuel and wear and tear on tracks. 

Additionally, a tunnel’s low ceiling or other overhead obstacles can limit the use of mono boom excavators, since repositioning the inflexible boom might require additional height. Using a crawler skid excavator with a side-mounted, two-part boom in the same situations, again, provides a much more compact footprint. When working in tunnels or close to overhead obstacles, the crawler skid excavator boom can open up for above grade work with only slightly more headroom than the top of the cab. 

Tools of the Trade

The crawler skid excavator’s innovative boom design provides increased power and range of motion compared to other excavators, but that’s only the first part of the equation. A variety of tools for applications from material handling to trenching for utility lines, demolition to forestry work allow operators to truly capitalize on the equipment’s versatility. 

By angling the first part of the boom back along the cab, operators create a compact profile that maximizes lifting power and increases overall stability, resulting in a machine that, pound for pound, vastly outperforms similar-sized excavators. This design allows for the use of larger skid steer buckets – up to .98 cubic yards –  and enables the crawler skid excavator to operate as a CTL or skid steer as well as an excavator. The boom design also allows for the loader bucket to be braced against the blade for applications such as grading and ground leveling. This innovative feature stabilizes the bucket, distributing the forces to the frame of the crawler skid excavator and reducing stress on the boom, prolonging component life.

For a hardscaping or utility application, the crawler skid excavator’s ability to place materials above and below grade greatly improves productivity and safety

Switching out the bucket attachment for a set of forks, the crawler skid excavator essentially becomes a highly-maneuverable material handler. Unlike mono boom excavators, the two-part boom provides a greater range of motion while maintaining level forks. With a reach of around 14.5 feet for six-ton class models and up to 18 feet for 10-ton class units, contractors can rely on the crawler skid excavator in a variety of situations, reducing the need for additional equipment, such as a telehandler. Here again, the dexterity of the boom provides a unique advantage since a fork-equipped crawler skid excavator can reposition the pallet left or right without moving the whole machine, unlike a telehandler. 

The true beauty of using the crawler skid excavator as a material handler, though, is its ability to easily place material below grade. For a hardscaping or utility application, this could greatly improve productivity and safety on the jobsite. Using forks or a lifting hook, the crawler skid excavator can retrieve pipe, stone or other materials from the staging area, quickly and safely transport them to the work area and place them exactly where workers need them. There’s no need for wheelbarrow brigades, manually loading or unloading pallets or other time and labor intensive methods. 

However, optimizing efficiency when it comes to attachments relies not only on the boom, but also the quick-coupler. Some advanced systems allow operators to quickly transition between attachments without leaving the cab, decreasing downtime between tasks and increasing overall productivity. Being able to use attachments in reverse is also key to increasing versatility. This feature ensures buckets and other attachments are in the ideal position for the job at hand, taking full advantage of the crawler skid excavators extended range of motion.  

A Need for Speed – or Not

With the right suite of attachments and a cutting-edge quick-coupler, a crawler skid excavator is ready to take on any application – from material handling to mowing. However, these applications come with vastly different speed requirements. To offer a suitable replacement for an excavator, CTL, skid steer or other equipment, a crawler skid excavator must also provide the speed – or lack of – to effectively perform these tasks.

From a single position, a crawler skid excavator can dig then swing up and dump into a truck – all within an incredibly compact 9-foot radius.

For the majority of operations, the crawler skid excavator’s speed can provide a significant boost to productivity and efficiency. Some models are capable of speeds up to 6.2 mph – twice that of a mini excavator and on par with most CTLs on the market. Given that approximately 15 percent of an excavator’s time is spent traveling around the jobsite, being able to get from point A to point B in half the time means work can start sooner and proceed more quickly.

But sometimes slow and steady is what’s required for high-quality results – in ditch clearing, sweeping or snow removal applications, for example. To help operators focus on the job at hand, rather than constantly worry about maintaining the ideal speed, a speed management system is necessary. Here again, innovative manufacturers have provided game-changing technology that allows crawler skid excavators to excel. These units feature an advanced speed control system that acts as a limiter, keeping the machine at the desired speed even with the throttle wide open. Operators simply select a desired top speed to match their specific application. Some systems offer up to 20 speed settings for maximum versatility. In this way, an operator can easily perform a flail-mowing job at minimum speed then switch to a digging bucket or loader bucket and zip around a construction site at top speed.

Whether it’s speeding across the jobsite with a loader bucket full of material or deftly operating around trees, workers can easily maintain ideal speeds for safe operation and high-quality results.

Cross-Function Mastery

So, what’s the bottom line? Simply this, crawler skid excavators not only have the potential to reduce the need for multiple machines on-site – whether that’s excavators, telehandlers, backhoes or CTLs – they also provide an opportunity to revolutionize the jobsite. From a single position, a crawler skid excavator can dig then swing up and dump into a truck – all within an incredibly compact 9-foot radius. As a material handler, it can precisely deliver pallets above or below grade, increasing productivity and reducing the need for more labor-intensive methods in utility, hardscape or other applications. And, whether it’s speeding across the jobsite with a loader bucket full of material or deftly operating around trees, workers can easily maintain ideal speeds for safe operation and high-quality results. 

Products that claim to replace X, Y, and Z rarely live up to expectations. However, those products in the hands of innovative engineers laser-focused on improving the method – not just the machine – can lead to true ingenuity and game-changing productivity. 

This material appears in the March 2022 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & EngineerConstructionConstruction DigestConstruction NewsConstructioneerDixie ContractorMichigan Contractor & BuilderMidwest ContractorNew England ConstructionPacific Builder & EngineerRocky Mountain ConstructionTexas ContractorWestern Builder