How hard can it be to dig a trench? Get the proper utility clearances, map the route, ensure jobsite safety and start digging. But there are other elements to consider. Sure, you’ve got a full-size conventional excavator, but would it make more sense to bring in a rubber-tired backhoe loader versus a steel-tracked excavator? Will a compact track loader help eliminate the cleanup required on a finished yard versus a skid steer or a backhoe? Is the bulk of the trenching work in backyards versus wide-open spaces?
In this article, we’ll take a look at five different equipment options and the advantages of each in trenching applications.
An important preface: safety when trenching is paramount. While not directly related to equipment choice or selection, these factors are critical:
1. Always know the surroundings and the location of people and objects. Do a full site walkaround prior to excavation.
2. Make sure that all underground utilities have been marked and identified.
3. Take advantage of mirrors and cameras (where available) on equipment to improve visibility and site awareness.
4. Always be mindful of tire/track orientation, and avoid rapid movements during operation.
5. Always exercise caution and follow regulations related to trench boxes/retaining systems when digging trenches.
Option 1: Skid steer with trencher attachment
Option 2: Compact track loader with trencher attachment
The main difference between these two options is tracks vs. tires. Both are excellent in providing access to confined areas, residential neighborhoods and locations close to obstacles. Compact track loaders provide the added benefit of lower ground pressure and less impact on finished surfaces such as lawns, as well as a stable platform for smooth travel when pulling a trenching attachment.
The relatively compact design of both machines makes them easy to transport and ideal for handling a trencher attachment. Factors to consider:
Option 3: Compact excavator
A mini/compact excavator allows the operator to get as up close and personal to a trench as any piece of equipment. These also come with either steel or rubber tracks to allow a contractor to pick a machine best suited for their work environment. Rubber tracks will be the most common, as much compact excavator trenching will be done in backyards, finished lawns and confined spaces. Advantages of the compact excavator include:
Option 4: Backhoe loader
With the backhoe loader, we begin to transition from compact equipment to machines with some heavy-duty capabilities. While backhoes are not as compact as some of the previous options, they do provide excellent versatility and maneuverability on jobsites. And, as a rubber-tired machine, backhoes allow contractors to work without creating as much ground disturbance as a conventional excavator with steel tracks. Trenching considerations for backhoes include:
Option 5: Full-sized excavators
This category has two subcategories – conventional tailswing design and zero- or minimum-swing radius designs. Which a contractor chooses will be dictated mostly by access/space, as production capacities are relatively comparable when counterweights are added to minimum-swing radius machines. The minimum-swing radius models are better suited for working along roadsides and near other obstacles, while the conventional tailswing design is best suited for power digging in wide-open spaces. Some things to consider:
The future is now. Many think of machine control as best suited for work in grading applications – but it can easily be outfitted on excavators (compact and conventional) and backhoes to help dial in trench digging applications. This provides benefits in productivity and machine efficiency – helping operators to hit their mark, avoid over-excavating and keep moving down the line knowing that the trench is dug to its proper depth.
Smart equipment buying
We know contractors are good at getting the most out of the equipment they have – but taking the time to really examine digging/trenching needs and environments prior to purchase can provide a company significant efficiencies in terms of owning and operating costs, maintenance, fuel use, transportation, etc. As with most equipment, always choose something that will provide more capacity than needed – but don’t overdo it.
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