Compact Excavators and Their Uses

Compact (Mini) Excavator Buyer’s Guide: Part 1 of 6

Learn the basics about compact excavators, including their advantages and uses across various industries.  

What is a Compact (Mini) Excavator?  

A compact excavator is a small diesel- or battery-powered tracked or wheeled machine that combines the digging ability of an excavator with the mobility and flexibility of a compact piece of equipment.  

Compact excavators are typically equipped with a hydraulic boom and an arm fitted with a bucket, auger, breaker or any one of a variety of attachments, and a cab where the operator sits. Their small size and precise controls make them ideal for countless applications, including construction, landscaping, utility work and demolition projects. 

Main Components of Compact Excavator

1. House  

Attached to the undercarriage with a swing bearing, the house contains your operator’s cab, engine, hydraulic pump and distribution components. The house and the workgroup rotate or “slew” 360 degrees to provide exceptional agility when working in confined areas where larger machines can’t fit.   

2. Undercarriage  

The undercarriage includes standard rubber excavator tracks surrounding drive sprockets, rollers and idlers which propel the machine. The most common type of undercarriage for smaller mini excavators is the retractable undercarriage. This H-shaped undercarriage can be retracted to temporarily reduce overall machine width, which is valuable for traveling through small openings or working in tight areas. It should be expanded before doing any work. A fixed excavator undercarriage is typically a little wider than the house structure.   

3. Workgroup  

The boom, arm and any attachment you add to the machine are all included in the workgroup. Compact excavators are unique in that their workgroup is connected to the front of the house with a “swing frame.” The swing frame can be hydraulically pivoted left or right so you can do offset digging parallel to the excavator tracks.  

4. Backfill Blade  

Hydraulically activated and controlled from inside the excavator cab, the backfill blade is connected to the undercarriage and used for grading, leveling, backfilling and dozing. It can also be used as a stabilizer for the machine depending on its position. An angle blade option is ideal if you need to backfill and grade quickly. This option lets you angle the excavator’s backfill blade 25 degrees left or right to direct soil from one side to the other. 

Boom Configuration Options 

The primary component of the workgroup (#3) that’s attached to the house, the boom supports the arm and attachment. There are three main boom configurations: 

  •  Swing Boom 

    Most mini excavators are equipped with a swing boom, which is connected to a swing frame and then to the machine frame using a horizontal pin. The swing boom can be moved up and down as well as hydraulically pivoted left or right, independent of the house.  

  •  Knuckle Boom (Articulating Boom)  

    Mounted directly to the frame, the knuckle boom is a variation of the fixed boom. It’s a multi-piece boom that only moves up and down. The outer part hydraulically swings left or right, but the arm stays parallel to the machine.  

  •  Fixed Boom 

    Mounted directly to the frame, a fixed boom can’t move left or right, so you can only dig in front of the excavator. This is a common configuration on full-size excavators. 

Compact Excavator Arms  

Bobcat compact excavators are available with various arm configurations to suit specific applications and job-site requirements. For example, an extendable arm option allows you to use the power and lifting performance of a standard-length arm, but it also provides additional reach on demand for specific tasks.  

Choose from three types of compact excavator arms:  

  • Standard arm  
  • Long arm  
  • Extendable arm  

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Advantages of Compact Excavators  

Compact excavators offer several advantages over their full-size counterparts. Advantages of compact excavators include: 

  • High maneuverability and accessibility in tight spaces.  
  • Lower ownership and operating costs with reduced fuel consumption and maintenance expenses.   
  • Low ground disturbance due to their lighter footprint.  
  • Lighter environmental impact with lower noise levels and availability of battery-powered models that produce no emissions.   
  • Easier to transport as compact excavators can usually be towed on a trailer behind a pickup truck or larger vehicle.  
  • Highly versatile with a wide range of attachments for various tasks. 

Factors in Choosing the Right Compact Excavator 

It’s important to select the right compact excavator for your needs. The ideal excavator will meet the specific requirements of the tasks you’ll undertake while providing the best value for your investment.  

Some factors to consider when choosing a compact excavator include:   

  • Machine size: What is the minimum or maximum size of compact excavator required for the type of work you’ll be doing?  

  • Digging depth: Consider the depth you might need to reach when digging ditches, ponds, holes or trenches with a compact excavator.   

  • Lifting capacity: Choose an excavator with the capacity to lift specific materials, like construction debris or heavy soil.  

  • Availability of attachments for specific tasks: Need extra precision for demolition, agricultural or forestry tasks? Consider attachments that could amplify your productivity.  

  • Job-site/Application uses: Consider what your most common job-site uses are for an excavator. 

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Versatile Uses of Compact Excavators Across Various Industries  

Compact excavators have proven to be versatile and valuable tools across a wide range of industries. Their compact size, range of attachments and ability to work in tight spaces make them ideal for various tasks, from construction and landscaping to agriculture and mining. 

Construction  

Versatile and nimble, compact excavators have become an indispensable tool in the construction industry. Their small size and precise digging capabilities make them ideal for tackling a wide range of residential and commercial construction tasks, from excavating foundations to clearing debris.  

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Construction Applications & Uses

Landscaping 

Versatile and powerful, compact excavators are ideal for numerous landscaping tasks, from excavating garden beds to installing hardscape elements. Their low ground pressure makes them suitable for working on delicate surfaces, such as established lawns, without causing extensive damage.  

Explore Landscaping Equipment Lineup 

Landscaping Applications & Uses

Agriculture  

Compact excavators have proven to be invaluable tools for agricultural operations, offering versatility and efficiency in tackling a wide range of tasks. From digging irrigation channels to moving and placing seed and fertilizer containers, compact excavators can help improve productivity and streamline processes on the farm.

Agricultural Applications & Uses

Utilities  

Compact excavators have emerged as a go-to solution for many utility companies thanks to their adaptability to various job-site conditions. Their compact size allows them to work in tight spaces, such as urban environments or near existing structures, without causing disruption.

Utilities Applications & Uses

Demolition 

The use of compact excavators in demolition projects is becoming increasingly common due to their ability to work in confined spaces and easily maneuver around obstacles. They can be equipped with specialized attachments, like hydraulic breakers, grapples and shears, to tear down structures, remove debris and recycle materials.

Demolition Applications & Uses

Other Applications

Compact excavators are versatile machines with virtually countless applications, far too many to include in this guide, but here’s a few more common uses. 

Summary 

Compact excavators bring maneuverability, versatility, low ground disturbance and many other advantages to the job site. As a result, these machines are indispensable tools across many industries and applications. With a variety of machine sizes, dig depths and lift capacities offered in the compact excavator market, along with precise controls and a wide range of attachments, these machines continue to revolutionize the way people work. With new innovations, including excavators powered by lithium-ion batteries, owners and operators will continue finding new ways to get the job done.

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