The excavator can be a contractor’s most versatile machine—acting as the workhorse of the fleet through every phase of a job, from site preparation to utility installation and construction. As safety and environmental requirements have become more stringent, excavators also have become the preferred machine for demolition; replacing the traditional crane and wrecking ball in order to safely dismantle structures rather than simply toppling them.
As project owners look for turnkey solutions, contractors often see opportunity to bid on not only site preparation or construction, but all phases, including demolition of existing site structures. For those contractors looking to add demolition capabilities to their portfolio of services, they must evaluate how to best equip their excavators for the job.
The first inclination might be to simply research and purchase aftermarket parts and systems designed to transform your standard excavator into a demolition-ready machine. The second option would be to purchase an excavator that is factory-fitted and specially suited to demolition work.
While the former may seem like the more cost-effective option, a contractor must evaluate not just the up front costs, but also the performance, safety and maintenance implications of doing so.
Here, we’ll examine four primary benefits of a factory-fitted machine and discuss the costs—and potential pitfalls—of outfitting a standard excavator with aftermarket solutions for demolition.
1. Enhanced safety
Let’s start with the most obvious and important benefit — safety. If the goal is to outfit the machine with a high-reach boom, there are several nuances between a factory-fitted machine and an aftermarket machine that can greatly impact safety and must be taken into consideration.
Almost every manufacturer that purpose builds its high-reach excavators has a modular joint boom concept, but pins that hold the modular joint to the boom connection are what can differ from one machine to the next. Some manufacturers and aftermarket companies utilize a half hook for the top pin and short pins on the bottom that attach from the inside out, or the outside in.
However, a well-designed, factory-fitted demolition machine uses full-length, hydraulic pins that hold the modular joint to the boom connection. This serves two safety functions: first, because they’re hydraulic, an operator can pull the pins out without ever leaving the cab. Second, full-length, full-diameter pins are more reliable than shorter, lesser diameter pins.
Walt Reeves, national sales director, Volvo Construction Equipment, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and board member at the National Demolition Association (NDA), Washington, sums it up this way.
“When you’re putting a 7,700-pound tool on a mid-size machine up 93 feet over your head, you don’t want to use a half hook and two short pins. You want two massive pins for security,” he says.
Another safety feature to consider is the guarding package. Converting a standard excavator to a demolition-ready machine requires outfitting the cab with a guarding package—a cost that could run upwards of $20,000 in the aftermarket.
The solution requires working with a third party whose package may not be specially designed for that particular machine, and support may be limited for the spare parts.
A factory-fitted demolition machine comes with a guarding package specially designed and factory-installed for that specific machine with full support for the spare parts by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
Some factory-fitted demolition machines also provide a number of sensors that alert operators in demanding situations. For example, Volvo offers a total moment indicator that alerts the operator if the machine is put in an overload situation, potentially leading to a high risk of destabilizing the machine.
The Volvo system includes three different sensors, all working together to the warn the operator: a swing sensor that knows where the cab body is in relation to the undercarriage, a boom-angle sensor that knows the angle of the boom, and a hydraulic load sensor in the base boom cylinder that measures the current load on the boom cylinders.
These three sensors work together and sound a warning if the excavator is put in an unsafe situation. Sensors are available in the aftermarket, but it’s common that only a single sensor may be installed, which could ring an alarm when the machine isn’t actually in an unsafe situation. For example, a sensor may determine a light load on an extended boom has too much boom angle, alerting the operator unnecessarily.
2. Strong, stable platform
A factory-fitted demolition machine has much larger boom cylinders, heavier frames and extra counterweight. They also have hydraulically extendable tracks, which give operators a footprint comparable to a crane square pattern on the ground for a 360-degree working range.
A standard excavator wouldn’t have the counterweights, and although they could be fitted in the aftermarket, at a cost of $14,000, operators wouldn’t get the 360-degree working range because of the narrower stance. A standard machine could also be outfitted with larger boom cylinders, but the cost to upgrade would be around $5,000 per boom cylinder.
“The hardest job a high-reach excavator has is when the boom is folded up near the ground with a 7,700-pound tool on it. Operators have to pick that up off the ground, and when you consider the geometry of the boom cylinders, it’s practically a straight line push to get it going,” Reeves explains. “So it takes bigger boom cylinders to support getting the boom off the ground with the heavy tool on it.”
Hydraulic track extensions available on factory-fitted demolition excavators allow operators to widen the base of the machine to gain more stability. While these are also available as aftermarket options, most manufacturers have tracks that don’t extend hydraulically and aren’t nearly as wide as factory-fitted models.
In this case, operators lose their 360-degree work range, requiring a significant amount of repositioning throughout their job, which decreases productivity and increases operational costs. The cost to outfit a standard excavator with aftermarket hydraulic extensions could be $50,000.
“While the up front investment to purchase a factory-fitted model essentially is higher, you increase the excavator’s class size due to the larger boom cylinders and the bigger, wider base,” says Reeves.
3. Visibility and dust control
Two additional differentiations between factory-fitted demolition excavators and standard excavators include tilting cabs and dust suppression systems.
In a factory-fitted machine, the cab will tilt up to 30 degrees, helping ensure the operators have the best view of the work out in front of them. And while aftermarket tilting cabs are available, the cost to have one installed on a standard excavator is $40,000.
Good dust suppression systems are also important. A well-designed, factory-fitted system should have its own lift pump and make a fine mist versus a spray. This controls the amount of water used, and the mist encapsulates more dust than a spray of water. Some manufacturers even offer two positions in the system to have it on constantly, or a pulse that helps operators see their work better. An aftermarket dust suppression system installed on a standard excavator costs approximately $10,000 and may not include the different options.
4. Reduced Liability
Joint ventures to convert a standard excavator into a demolition-ready machine can come with added stress and risk. If something breaks or an accident occurs, it’s not uncommon for multiple third parties to pass blame to the others.
Furthermore, the more a factory machine is modified in the aftermarket, the more likely its factory warranties will no longer be upheld.
It’s best to avoid these types of scenarios by purchasing a single factory solution covered under one warranty.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Purchasing a factory-fitted demolition excavator is a larger up-front investment when compared with purchasing a standard excavator. But with the opportunity to properly take on demolition projects, you’re able to open the door to new jobs and additional revenue streams.
Buying a factory solution ensures you get all the advantages you need to stay productive and efficient—and more importantly, that you’re taking the safety of your crew seriously.
Purchasing the right equipment up front gives you the best opportunity to make high-reach demolition endeavors successful ones.