Considering Compacts

In today's competitive environment, the need to move equipment quickly and complete multiple tasks in restrictive areas has forced landscape contractors to take a closer look at compact equipment. With manufacturers introducing new compact units every day, the popularity of mini machines — particularly compact excavators — is soaring.

Purchasing “minis” is the perfect solution if you need the versatility of large excavators, yet require the compactness of smaller machines. Yet a compact excavator is still the missing link on complex job sites of many contractors.

Among the benefits a compact excavator brings to a job site is access to tight work areas and the ability for you to transport the machine from site to site quickly and easily. In fact, you can haul a compact excavator behind most full-size pickup trucks. The comfort and quietness of a compact excavator eases strain on the operator and creates greater job site productivity. And you still retain the versatility of larger excavators with the extensive range of attachments available for compact excavators today.

Whether you need to break rock, drill holes, dig trenches or compact surface, the attachment to get the work done exists for compact excavators today. And new attachment innovations are surfacing every day.

When used in conjunction with a skid-steer loader, a compact excavator does a great job of replacing a tractor loader backhoe. With both machines in your fleet, you can perform two job functions at the same time. With the alternative tractor loader backhoe, you can achieve only 50 percent utilization, at best.

The decision to go compact is only your first step in the process of acquiring a compact excavator. Next comes the process of evaluating different manufacturers that offer the units. You should look at five key areas when shopping for a compact excavator: reliability, responsiveness, serviceability, quietness and comfort.


Decreasing costly downtime is a priority for every equipment owner. While a reliable machine with high-quality hydraulic and engine components may cost more up front, the investment will eventually pay off in the money you save from costly repairs and expensive downtime. If you're considering an overseas manufacturer, make sure that the U.S. factory keeps a large stock of replacement parts here. This will significantly cut down on the time you're waiting for new parts.

Another thing to consider regarding the reliability of a machine is the terrain of your typical job site. For instance, if you do a lot of off-road construction on muddy or sandy sites, a tracked compact excavator will be the most reliable machine for your operations. However, if most of your sites require self-transporting mobility and speed on paved surfaces, you should purchase a wheeled machine to ensure that you get the most efficient usage available.


Ideal compact excavator controls perform as an extension of the operator's body. Pilot-operated joysticks and hydraulically dampened drive levers and pedals are a few features that can help decrease your fatigue and increase your confidence in the precision of the machine. When working in tight areas — with no room for error — both skilled and novice operators must be assured that the machine will perform exactly as they anticipate.


Some downtime is inevitable for regular maintenance. Following the owner's manual to the letter is a must for optimizing the performance of any piece of equipment. When evaluating different options for purchase, look for a unit that offers easy access to hydraulic control blocks, engine compartments and all major components. Large doors and tilt-back roll-over protection system (ROPS) are some ways manufacturers have designed compact excavators to make regular maintenance less time-consuming for you.


Not only will the quietness of a machine affect the operator, it will have a positive impact on people who live or work next to the job site. You must be sure to consider those people around your job site when deciding on a machine that will be working under your name. The people living and working around you will be very appreciative of quiet equipment.


Ergonomic designs are very popular in the compact market today. When evaluating a compact excavator, get inside the machine and handle the controls, view the gauges and instrument panels and feel the comfort of the seat. Also check to see that you would have a 360-degree view of the work area. Extras options that are available on the market today include sliding windows, adjustable high-back seats, armrests and heat and air conditioning.

You should put a premium on operator comfort. An uncomfortable operator is an unproductive operator.


Other features to consider include telescoping undercarriages, which allow a machine's track width to compress or widen. This allows you to squeeze through tight entrances to the work area and then expand the tracks for greater stability once in position to perform the job function.

Hydraulic tilt capabilities allow you to operate compact excavators on uneven surfaces (up to 15 degrees) and still dig a vertical trench. For instance, if you need to dig down the side of a house foundation, the tilt capability lets you level the cab, digging a straight trench even if the ground is uneven. This function also helps prevent trench cave-ins because you are not forced to underdig, which could cause collapse.

Purchasing a unit with standard independent right and left boom swing allows you to move the boom without moving the cab. On sites where you must pull up the machine close to a permanent structure, you can scoop and dump dirt without risking the collision of the machine with the structure.

Once you've decided on the brand of machine you want, the next step is to select the appropriate model. First determine your typical digging depth. Next, you should consider lift capacity. Will typical job sites require heavy lifting or large attachments? Along the attachment lines, also consider how much auxiliary flow a machine must offer to power your attachments. Once you determine those requirements, you will be armed to make an educated purchase of a user-friendly, productive compact excavator.

Mark Hennessey is a compact excavators product specialist for Mustang Manufacturing Co., Inc. (Owatonna, Minn.).

Bobcat Co. introduces the D-Series Bobcat 328, a long-armed version of the 325. The unit has a digging depth of 9 feet 5 inches, a dumping height of 9 feet 9 inches and a maximum reach at ground level of 14 feet 10 inches. It is powered by Kubota 27.5-hp liquid-cooled diesel engine. The unit has a track width of 12.6 inches and a ground pressure with canopy of 4.12 psi.
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The CX75, CX135 and CX225 models are three new compact minimum-swing-radius excavators from Case. The models feature engine power from 52- to 141-net hp, bucket digging forces up to 31,698 pounds and tight swing radiuses as little as 4 feet for performance in even the most cramped quarters. The minimum-swing excavators deliver dig depths from 14 feet 11 inches to 22 feet. They also have dig radiuses that range from 22 feet 3 inches to 31 feet 11 inches.
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The 303CR and 305CR mini excavators from Caterpillar feature a swing boom that enables the operator to position the machine to dig and work next to a wall or obstruction. With a cab, the 303CR weighs up to 7,400 pounds and produces 26-net hp, and the 305CR with a cab weighs up to 11,000 pounds and produces 42-net hp. When equipped with long sticks, the 303CR has a digging depth of 10 feet 11 inches, and the 305CR has a digging depth of 12 feet 11 inches.
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Included in the compact line-up by Daewoo are the mini excavator models S010, S015, S030, S035 and S055. All of Daewoo's models are loaded with standard features such as auxiliary hydraulics, work lights, heavy-duty tires and a universal attachment system that allows the operator to quickly hook up and run attachments. A wide variety of options are available to customize a machine to a particular customer's needs.
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Gehl announces the availability of three new compact excavators that range from 3,582 to 4,288 pounds. With digging depths of 7 feet 2 inches to 8 feet 2 inches, the new models, 153, 193 and 223, feature improved hydraulic performance and faster cycle times for enhanced production. All models feature telescoping undercarriages that allow the operator to narrow the machine for better accessibility, and then expand it for improved stability and higher capacity.
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New from IHI is the N Series conventional-style excavators. The N Series excavators, 17NE, 28N, 35N and 55N, feature a 4-post canopy/cabin, dozer blade, expandable undercarriage (17NE), rubber or steel tracks, two-speed travel, auxiliary hydraulic piping, A-F quick-change operator control valve and hydraulic piston pumps. Other features include digging depths from 5 feet 2 inches to 12 feet 8 inches, bucket capacity of 1.89 to 6.40 cubic feet and bucket digging force from 5,258 to 11,070 pounds.
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JCB introduces the new 6-metric-ton 8060 midi excavator as the largest in the JCB 800 series compact excavator line. The new excavator responds to growing market demand for heavier and stronger excavators that fit within the compact size class for rental yards, concrete and utility contractors, plumbers and landscapers. The machine offers a design with proficient visibility and productivity. It weighs 13,210 pounds and has a ground bearing pressure of 5.26 psi.
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The 17ZTS is the newest model in the zero-tail swing compact excavator line by John Deere. Weighing in at 3,800 pounds and 4.5 feet wide, the 17ZTS is the smallest of the line. The machine features 13 feet of reach and a digging depth of 7 1/4 feet, bucket breakout force of 3,042 pounds and a 12.3-hp liquid-cooled diesel engine. The zero-tail-swing design allows the body of the excavator to rotate 360 degrees within the width of its tracks.
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Kobelco introduces the SR-2 Series, a full line of five zero-tail-swing compact excavators. Kobelco's zero-tail-swing feature allows the machine to easily move and work in tight spaces without damaging the machine or the jobsite. Single and bi-directional auxiliary hydraulic valves and piping are standard equipment and allow the use of attachments such as hammers and augers. The center swing feature helps in digging around obstacles and against walls.
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The PC58UU, a compact hydraulic excavator from Komatsu, offers operators many new features to increase jobsite productivity. Features include an offset knuckle-boom that enables operators to dig exactly where the tracks can travel, an adjustable boom height limiter and a proportional pressure control joystick. The 11,540-pound PC58UU has a 4-cycle, water cooled, direct injection Komatsu 4D88E engine that delivers 40-hp at 2400 rpm. It has a digging depth of 13 feet 2 inches and a maximum reach of 18 feet 3 inches.
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For power, Kubota's KX91-3 mini excavator is equipped with Kubota's 3-cylinder, liquid-cooled, overhead valve, 27.9-hp E-TVCS diesel engine. The environmentally friendly, low noise Kubota diesel delivers high torque with an abundance of power. Large capacity variable displacement pumps have been matched to innovative hydraulic systems. The maximum digging depth is 10 feet 6 inches with a maximum vertical depth of 8 feet 1-inch. Maximum dumping height is 11 feet 11 inches.
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Mustang Mfg. introduces three new models to the compact excavator product line. The new models, ME1503, ME1903, ME2203 replace previous models ME1502, ME1902 and ME2202. The new models are equipped with hydraulically dampened drive levers and pedals designed to increase precision. The digging depths of the three models range from 7 feet 2 inches to 8 feet 2 inches. Additional features include dozer blades, 2-speed drive systems, rubber tracks and a full 360-degree superstructure rotation.
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New Holland Construction offers four models of mini excavators, the EC15, EC25, EC35 and EC45 ranging from 1.5 to 4.5 tons, with net hp from 17 to 43. EC excavators are designed for maneuvering in tight jobsites, with small size and compact boom swing allowing for work in confined spaces or digging along foundation walls. The excavators feature top-mounted boom cylinders, complete bi-directional auxiliary hydraulics, pattern selector switch and comfortable operating environments.
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The Power-Trac PT-2425 mini excavator has an 800-pound lift capacity and lift height of 84 inches. The backhoe has a breakout force of 2,500 pounds, an 8-foot 4-inch reach with a digging depth of 6 feet. This machine is designed to run 40 plus attachments such as mowers, buckets, forks, augers, tiller, trencher all using the “Quick Attach Feature.” The PT model has 4-wheel-drive articulated steering. The unit comes with a 25-hp gasoline engine and a trailer package is available.
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Takeuchi offers seven models of compact excavators with operating weights from 1,800 to 17,500 pounds and dig depths to 15 feet. The TB145 features a 10,494 operating weight, a 12-foot 6-inch maximum dig depth, 10,825 pounds of bucket breakout force, and a 37.5-hp EPA emission compliant engine. Electro-hydraulic push buttons located in the left-hand joystick ensure precise control of the auxiliary hydraulic circuit.
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At 7,720 pounds, HR16 mini excavator from Terex is powered by a 36-hp, 4-cylinder Mitsubishi diesel engine, can dig 11 feet 2 inches deep and has a 18-foot 2-inch each with its 16-inch standard bucket. Other standards apply such as its auxiliary hydraulics and hammer circuit, quick attach system and its warranty of 12 months/1,500 hours. The machine has an oversized operator's compartment and dual-side cab access to make it easy to get aboard. Plus, the boom cylinder is mounted on top of the boom for maximum protection and durability.
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The model BO8-3 from Yanmar features a variable undercarriage that measures 27 inches when retracted and 33 inches deployed. Independent track suspension allows the unit to operate level on a slope and has a dig depth of 4 feet 11 inches. Powered by a Yanmar 9.1-hp diesel engine, the mini excavator has an operating weight of 2,337 pounds.
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