By Matthew McLean, Product Manager, Excavators, Volvo Construction Equipment
Wheeled excavators have been staples in construction fleets throughout Europe and Asia for decades, but in the United States they’ve been slow to catch on, largely due to lack of available machines in the market. With several manufacturers, including Volvo, introducing a slew of new wheeled size classes into the North American market, there’s an opportunity for contractors to rethink the way they build their fleets. Here’s what you need to know about compact wheeled excavators.
1. You’re not sacrificing performance.
A common misconception about wheeled excavators is that you lose the stability of a crawler. That is simply not the case. With outriggers, a wheeled excavator is every bit as stable as a comparable crawler — and you won’t be sacrificing on power, breakout/tearout forces, reach or digging depth, either. Twin tire or dual tire setups can add stability and grip as well.
2. They’re not just for roadside work.
Wheeled excavators are great for roadside work due to their mobility and versatility. Not only can the short-swing models work in narrow lanes for less traffic disturbance, but they’re able to easily transition from placing concrete barriers to digging after a quick attachment swap. But wheeled excavators can do so much more than just roadside work.
Swap an outrigger for a dozer blade, add a tilt rotator, and you have an incredibly versatile and mobile machine for utility installation. Outfit the machine with a hydraulically elevating cab and a grab arm with a grapple for a mobile material handler. Add a guarding package and ventilation system, and it’s the perfect machine for waste handling. Add solid tires and a rotation grapple, and you can travel around a scrap yard with enough finesse to dismantle a car, component by component. Switch from a one-piece to two-piece boom or offset boom for extra lift capacity in tight quarters. For added benefit, a short-swing wheeled excavator can turn within one lane of traffic. With this level of versatility, replacing a backhoe with a wheeled excavator starts to become a no-brainer for many applications.
3. You’ll save on labor and cleanup.
With the ability to travel on roads at around 20 mph, you can avoid having to use a lowboy and a CDL for around-town work. Outfit the trailer with overrun brakes, and you can haul up a trailer with all of your supporting tools and attachments. That saves time and labor. Wheeled excavators also leave less disturbance on asphalt, which means less time and money spent on cleanup.
4. You’ll spend less time repositioning.
Tilt rotators, such as the Steelwrist available on Volvo wheeled excavators, can drastically improve productivity. Not only do they allow for 360-degree rotation of the attachment, but also 45-degree tilt from the left or right sides. The Steelwrist also has a claw on the back — essentially a two-finger grapple — that makes it great for utility work. Imagine replacing a section of pipe. Simply park your machine in a stationary position and adjust the bucket angle to get the top, sides, and bottom of the pipe, and then rotate it 180 degrees, open the claw, grab the pipe, pull it out of the ground, use that same claw to lower in the replacement pipe, and the bucket can be rotated 180 degrees to start filling in the materials — all without repositioning the machine a single time.
Speaking of attachments, some of the best compact wheeled excavators come with additional attachment management features to store flow and pressure settings for multiple attachments, which speeds up swapping tasks.
5. Features can mean all the difference.
Look for performance-boosting features that make the operator’s life easier. Some manufacturers enhance safety beyond cameras and mirrors with features like 360-degree aerial visibility of the machine’s surroundings from inside the cab. Some offer tech that eliminates blind spots and guides efficiency with in-cab displays. Operators should feel comfortable with controls to maximize fluidity and prevent fatigue, so look for user-friendly dashboards and joysticks. You should also look for OEM support via warranties and telematics options that simplify maintenance and improve total cost of ownership.
If you’re looking for a manufacturer with solid wheeled excavator experience and selection, Volvo’s lineup offers seven models ranging from compact to mid-size models and material handlers. Volvo also has contracts with government cooperative purchasing organizations such as HGACbuy and Sourcewell.