Demolition is demanding. The working conditions can be dangerous and trying, not only for operators, but also equipment. Deconstructing buildings, bridges and other structures successfully—and safely—means coming prepared with the best toolkit possible, regardless of machine size.
When it comes to demolition equipment, most people probably think of the big guys — namely high-reach excavators, rugged articulated haulers and fully guarded excavators with demolition attachments. But compact machines also play a vital role on the site. They are the first ones in for interior stripping and the last to leave during final cleanup. Skid steer loaders, mini excavators and compact wheel loaders offer unparalleled agility and the ability to work in confined spaces. However, they must be outfitted properly to meet the tough demands of demolition work; an off-the-shelf machine simply doesn’t cut it.
When configured with demolition-specific attachments, safety features and guarding packages, compact equipment becomes a safe and productive member of your demolition fleet. Here are four essential considerations to ensure your compact equipment survives the rigors of demolition.
1. Look for enhanced safety features. Demolition sites can be unpredictable. Though fully controlling a machine’s surroundings is impossible, taking preventive measures and utilizing equipment with built-in safety precautions can help maintain a safe work environment and ensure uninterrupted work.
Key to safety is ensuring operators have clear visibility, not just in front, but also to the sides and rear. When evaluating a machine, one of the first things to address is visibility within the cab. Features such as a single-loader-arm design offer the operator excellent visibility that improves safety on hazardous sites. It’s also essential to evaluate the cab entry points. Enhanced side-entry doors reduce the dangers that come with climbing over attachments.
Should a hazard arise, it’s crucial that compact equipment have a means to quickly remedy the situation. In the case of fire, an on-machine extinguisher is vital to swiftly squash what could quickly become a dangerous blaze. Some larger loaders even come with full fire suppression systems in situations where risk of fire is heightened—such as conducting work around slag, timber or at paper mills. Similarly, the option for a full battery shutdown with the use of a main battery disconnect switch could be important in these hazardous situations.
Compact equipment often offers this option on the outside of the cab, while larger loaders can be equipped with in-cab disconnect switches. Collectively, these precautions and design features are the best ways to shore up safety hazards.
2. Select a rugged guarding package. While off-highway equipment is built for rugged and trying work, demolition pushes these machines to their limits. As walls fall and concrete cracks, added protection comes in handy to extend the lifespan of a machine and its components. Guarding packages are a collection of nonstandard guards built to equipment specifications. These components protect machines’ vulnerable areas and operators’ environments to ensure maximum uptime.
When selecting a guarding package for demolition, it is important to consider the type of work that will be done by the specific machine. A skid steer loader used for hauling over debris piles might need rear hood protection to prevent engine cover damage while unloading, or a radiator grill guard to protect cooling components during loading. On the flipside, a wheel loader used for teardown could benefit from window, windshield and light guards. However, all machines in demolition could benefit from certain guarding products. Examples include an axle seal guard to prevent material from wrapping around the axle during operation as well as a falling object protective system (FOPS) roof guard (level 2 minimum) that protect the cab from falling objects.
Tires are subject to a lot of abuse in demolition, and it’s essential that compact equipment be outfitted with non-pneumatic tires — either solid or solid flex — to eliminate the risk of punctures and flats caused by running over rebar or other sharp materials.
It also is important to consider the quality of the guarding packages used. Many heavy equipment manufacturers offer these as aftermarket options. If a guarding package is needed, selecting compact equipment that can be factory-equipped with a package engineered by those who designed the machine will ensure the best fit, and thus, the best protection.
3. Choose attachments that pack power. In the Wild West, cowboys knew better than to bring a knife to a gun fight. The same goes for a machine on a demolition site. With a flexible, universal hydraulic attachment bracket, a skid steer loader or compact wheel loader is the Swiss army knife of your demolition toolkit. Using the correct attachment that packs the necessary power is a must.
For teardown and demolition, hammers and shears are key for bringing down walls and removing concrete. These high-powered tools get the job done quickly and safely. Using an inadequate attachment for demo work—such as using a shovel built for working in soft materials to demo concrete—can be unsafe and push the machine beyond its limits. Doing so too often can decrease the lifespan of a machine and increase the chance of an accident. For material handling once the teardown has occurred, scrap handling buckets and grapples are useful for clearing the job site.
4. Conduct regular preventive maintenance. Machinery is put through the ringer on demolition job sites. The rigorous work can take a toll on machinery, thus regular and preventive service is a crucial part of ownership. Selecting a machine with features for simple service access, such as a forward-tilting cab and a large rear compartment door, means carrying out this service will be more efficient and effective. Additionally, with in-cab machine information, operators and fleet managers can closely monitor each machine’s hours and better plan for routine service. Should issues arise, these systems can also help alert operators to the problem before it becomes worse and more costly to fix.
From machine selection and environmental precautions, to service and guarding package, and attachment selection, the toolkit assembled for demolition jobs can mean the difference between a profitable enterprise and a drain to the bottom line.
Kevin Scotese is product manager, skid steer loaders, Volvo Construction Equipment, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.