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Wheeled Excavators: The Secret Weapon for Urban Construction

4 Minute Read
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Tim Forestell
July 30, 2019

Wheeled Excavators: The Secret Weapon for Urban Construction

Regulations restricting urban sprawl, new building codes and increased demand in developing city areas means more city-based construction projects. As the nature of construction jobs changes the kind of equipment we use will have to, too. 

The challenge comes from the ability to construct new buildings and improve existing ones without disrupting surrounding areas or needing a whole lot of space. This is where the wheeled excavator shines. Nicknamed the Rubber Duck for the way they bob while working and driving, the wheeled excavator is anything but a child’s toy.

wheeled excavator
A wheel excavator can easily drive and work on finished roads and pavement. 
Image borrowed from POWER Equipment Company

The Wheeled Excavator for City Projects

The track on a traditional excavator is too hard on city streets and finished foundations. Being careful not to ruin or rip up roads isn’t as efficient for city projects resulting in wasted time, money, and manpower. A powerful yet refined piece of equipment is better suited for urban jobs. Wheeled excavators are being recognized for their efficiency for construction projects within developed areas and city centers; The power of a tracked excavator on rubber wheels. 

Historically seen as more of a “niche” piece of equipment, wheeled excavators provide a road-friendly alternative to the tracked excavator. Wheeled excavators can work on roads without destroying them, meaning no fear of having to repave torn-up asphalt or deal with complicated cleanups thanks to the heavy metal tracks. Being able to use them on parking lots, building slabs, paved roads, and within urban environments make wheeled excavators an incredibly useful tool while working in cities.

Wheeled excavator in urban area
A wheeled Komatsu excavator working on a project on a European City Street.
Image borrowed from Komatsu Europe

The Wheeled Excavator is Transportation Friendly

They don’t require boards, rubber track pads or another piece of equipment to move them from site to site; with driving speeds up to 22 mph (35 kph) wheeled excavators can simply be driven from one site to another. The dual hydraulic boom allows for clear visibility to reduce blind spots during transport. 

Their compact size also eliminates the need to close down roads for transport. These machines have a small maneuverability circle and are great for working next to roads or within a single traffic lane. The ability to keep streets open is especially nice on bridges or in cities that already experience traffic congestion. 

While backhoes are often the go-to tool for urban work, wheeled excavators are starting to grow in recognition for their power and versatility. They have a shorter and wider stability footprint, a longer reaching boom, greater capacity for both digging and lifting, and are more powerful in general than the traditional backhoe. Santa Rosa County in Florida has been using wheeled excavators for their roadside maintenance, and they noticed that using a wheeled excavator resulted in a 50% decrease in downtime due to the diversity and functionality of the equipment.

Although the wheeled excavator can be more expensive up front, it is cheaper to maintain. The wheels and brakes last longer, and replacing parts is easy and can be done quickly. Attachments are universal, meaning the wheeled excavator has the same abilities as the tracked while being more urban-friendly and economical in use.

Wheeled Excavators to Keep up with Infrastructure Investments

Outside of environmental pressures, the basic need to improve US roads, bridges, and public spaces will result in more construction projects on developed and urban landscapes. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 “Infrastructure report card” gave the US a D+, the same grade it received four years earlier. The country's bridges, roads, and public buildings are in dire need of updating and the government agrees. Both parties in the US government have agreed to support a $2 trillion investment towards the improvement of the country’s infrastructure. 

The ability to do construction on existing infrastructure without damaging the surrounding roads and developed areas will make wheeled excavators appealing for infrastructure-specific jobs. When bidding for a piece of this $2 trillion investment these kinds of considerations could help make your bid more appealing than others. 

Since they are more economical in the long run, the wheeled excavator will help maximize profits for the contractors who win these bids by reducing equipment maintenance costs and alleviating the need to fix damaged roads after project completion.

Wheeled Excavators Have Already Stolen the Hearts of Europeans

Wheeled excavators are growing in popularity in North America, following the trend in Europe.  An article from Compact Equipment looked at the popularity of these machines in Europe. According to this article, the popularity of the wheeled excavator is due to their versatility, mobility and speed. As has been explored, these are benefits that are just as valuable for construction in North America.

Our cities are the future both in upcoming construction opportunities and in the sustainability of our planet. The wheeled excavator is a piece of equipment better suited for urban environments and will be a valuable piece of equipment for completing projects within cities. Recognizing the potential in these machines before these projects start being introduced can help contractors prepare. Who would have thought that a Rubber Duck could be the secret weapon for the future of urban construction?

If you want some tips on how to choose between a tracked and wheeled excavator, check out DOZR’s 6 Key Considerations here.

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Tim Forestell
Tim Forestell is one of DOZR’s co-founders and CCO. Tim got started in the industry as VP Operations for Forestell Landscaping before founding DOZR with Kevin and Erin. Aside from the amazing team at DOZR, his favourite thing about DOZR are the customers. Working with DOZR renters every day gives him a peek at the evolution of different projects and hearing stories about projects being developed from start to finish.
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