Little Excavators Do Big Work
|By Phillip Meeks|
Really, there?s nothing wrong with shovels and
mattocks. If you have to move earth, then good old-fashioned manual labor is one sure-fire way to get it done. On the other hand, if you move a lot of earth, or if ? like many contractors
? your company already has three workers handling the work of four, perhaps you?ve considered mechanizing your digging.
The mini-excavators on the market today pack a lot of power and versatility into small packages. The contractor may go in one of two directions in terms of the
mini-excavators: 1) dedicated, stand-alone equipment or 2) multi-task compact loaders with 30 or more attachments, including a backhoe. Both schools have merit, and the availability of these tools is
significant to the green industry.
Getting tight with your customers
Associate marketing manager for the Toro Company, Brad Paine says, ?The most important thing that contractors can do today that they couldn?t do five to ten years ago is fit very powerful equipment into confined areas. Previously, contractors had to remove fences and damage turf or dig by hand to get this type of work done. As neighborhoods become tighter, and more and more people want to make improvements to their existing features, the need for compact equipment will continue to grow.?
Focusing on this kind of need, manufacturers? marketing materials often contain illustrations of their machines slipping unscathed through a garden gate ? an allegorical camel through the eye of a needle.
In cities, where folks may garden and landscape on rooftops and other out-of-the-way corners, the benefits of smaller units are obvious. Alan Porter, president of Kanga Loaders, points out that landscape professionals today have the opportunity to design and build in indoor terrariums and atop penthouses. The light weight of this equipment, he says, means it can be lifted in service elevators and can squeeze through the most confined areas.
Another benefit of small excavators and compact loaders with multiple attachments is the way this equipment can stretch your manpower. A three-person crew suddenly becomes a two-person crew with one of these units, enabling the company to redistribute its workforce and thereby accomplish more tasks at once.
Dedicated or versatile?
?We bought our first mini-excavator to do footings for the retaining wall company,? he explains, ?but then we also started using it in the landscaping
company for installing trees. Now we?re doing a lot of creek projects ? creek rehabilitations and that type of thing.?
Having the mini-excavators on hand has contributed significantly to both companies? productivity. On the landscaping side, Johnson reports that he?s now able to install 80-100 trees per day on large commercial sites. With the retaining wall company, crews can go places where they couldn?t go before.
?You can get into wetter areas with the tracks,? he says, ?because you get a lot less ground pressure as opposed to a skid steer. We?ve done irrigation projects where we?ve had to cross lakes, stream beds and creeks ? places where you wouldn?t be able to get a trencher or a skid steer across.?
By contrast, Eric Hart says Sykesville, Maryland-based Hart-scapes Landscaping couldn?t ac-complish as much with a dedicated piece of equipment. The design/ build company, which lists pond-building among its common chores, owns a Power Trac 422 and two Power Trac 1460s.
?You can take one machine to the job,? says Hart. ?You can go there with five attachments and do a day?s work. When we install a pond, we need something to dig the hole with and something else to carry rock and line the pond.?
Furthermore, Hartscapes uses its Power Tracs to push snow and to trench for irrigation systems and for a local electrical contractor. Other attachments the company uses in its operations include the stump grinder and the auger.
Hart points out two other reasons he likes the units with attachments:
Mike Hennessey, president of Hennessey Landscape Services in Plaistow, New Hampshire, alludes to how a compact loader like the Kanga used by his company can make a contractor as full service as possible.
?With a loader like this,? Hennessey explains, ?the contractor can do irrigation by using a trencher or a vibratory plow. Then he can go back, put his bucket on and move material like plants and bark mulch. He can put a set of nursery tongs on and move trees. He can put an auger on to dig holes to plant the trees. He?s gone from being an irrigation guy to being a landscaper to even putting a cement bowl on and being a masonry contractor.?
?Owner-operators may tend to have the machine with more amenities such as an enclosed cab with heat and air conditioning, AM/FM radio or keyless entry,? explains Connor.
Connor adds that another consideration when purchasing a mini-excavator is the dealer?s access to attachable tools: ?A contractor should investigate the availability of rental attachments from his or her dealer. Some attachments may be needed on specific jobs, but contractors won?t be able to justify owning them all due to low utilization.?
Paine seconds the idea that the dealer relationship should factor into the buying decisions. ?Contractors need to look for a dealer that they can work with, somebody that?s going to be there,? he says. ?Regardless of the equipment, at some point they?re going to need service. They?re going to need support from the dealer.?
Technology is one thing that gets smaller as science gets bigger. Landscape contractors who?ve noticed that the yards they work in are getting narrower all the time shouldn?t worry. Somewhere out there is a machine that will fit where you need to go and one that will do exactly what you need it to do. Of course, if there is a place that a mini-excavator or small loader with a backhoe attachment can?t squeeze through, you?ve always got shovels.