Compact excavators seeing rapid advancements in technology
The compact excavator has been the leading construction equipment category when it comes to electrification, and the diesel models are also seeing rapid advancements in technology.
Here’s a rundown of major equipment manufacturers’ battery-powered models and approaches to alternative power, as well as the latest diesel compact excavators on the market, new technology and some buying advice for contractors shopping in today’s confusing market conditions.
The electric excavator
Any discussion of compact excavators must start with electrification. Not all OEMs have electric models, but even those who don’t will have an electrification strategy.
New Holland’s new range of 360-degree compact excavators includes the E15X Electric Power, a battery-electric model with a single motor powering the hydraulic pump, which in turn feeds both the drivetrain and the hydraulic function. Key specs include a 21.5 kWh battery and a motor achieving 21 horsepower (16 kW) at peak power. The onboard 220V charging system provides a 10-hour recharge, while an optional 380V separate charger cuts charge time to 1.5 hours. Three work modes adjust engine speed, and selectable hydraulic control modes help provide runtimes of up to an entire working day. (As with all electric models, runtimes are heavily dependent on applications and duty cycles.)
“The E15X is the first electric model to hit the market not just for New Holland Construction, but for the entire New Holland brand,” says Ryan Anderson, product marketing manager, New Holland. “The E25X will arrive later in 2023.”
JCB’s 19C-IE has been on the market for some time and continues to do well. But given the rapid advancement of battery and electric technology, is the 19C-IE at risk of becoming outdated?
In a word, no, says Keith Hoskins, vice president, compact products, JCB. “It was a robust design from the start and continues to provide excellent performance and reliability.”
Hoskins also notes that JCB continues with hydrogen as a fuel source. “We have hydrogen excavators operating in the U.K. now.”
While electric power makes sense for compact excavators, it doesn’t lend itself as readily to large production machines as does hydrogen, Hoskins says. “Hydrogen is scalable and easier to apply to large excavators, but challenges related to hydrogen production, distribution and storage, both bulk and on the machine, remain.”
Doosan revealed a prototype of its first electric compact excavator, the DX17ZE-7, at ConExpo 2020. At this year’s show, along with launching its new brand name Develon, the company will showcase the current iteration of the DX20ZE-7.
Doosan does not currently offer an electric compact excavator but is working toward offering at least one model in the next few years. “Doosan plans to make a shift to battery-operated excavators for 10 metric tons and below,” says Thomas Lee, director of product management.
Kubota has what the company calls an “aggressive electrification strategy” as part of its 2030 sustainability goals, but notes it’s also taking the time to get it right. It will offer a range of electric equipment in a phased approach.
In one to three years the company will bring to market machines that are fundamentally the same as existing models but with the internal combustion engines swapped out for battery electric systems. In two to five years, it will shift to producing electric drives and implements. In three to 10 years, Kubota will be providing machines designed and built from the ground up as electric models.
Case offered a glimpse of its first electric compact excavator, the CX 15 EV, at an event on February 22, 2022. The plans are to bring that machine to the North American market in 2023.
A retractable undercarriage brings overall width to about 31 inches for accessing tight sites while offering excellent stability in its extended position. The 110V/220V onboard charger can charge the lithium-ion battery overnight, and an external fast-charger can cut charge times to about 90 minutes. Output is sufficient for a typical eight-hour shift.
The CX 15 EV is one more part of Case’s goal of “bringing the industry a complementary portfolio of diesel and electric equipment to meet the needs of the broadest range of applications and operations,” says Brad Stemper, head of construction equipment product management, North America, Case.
Jim Joy, excavator and compact equipment product manager, says “LiuGong is a global leader in electric equipment but feels further development of electrical infrastructure and other support features will be needed before bringing LiuGong electric machines to the North America market. Also, the market here is fluent in diesel including operation, fueling, maintenance and repair.”
David Caldwell, national product manager, Takeuchi-US, says, “Takeuchi has been involved in the electrification of excavators for some time. In fact, we showed our first prototype, the TB117e, at ConExpo way back in 2011.”
Takeuchi’s current electric model, the TB20e, is available to its national account customers. The TB20e is the first Takeuchi designed and built battery-powered machine in what will be an expanding lineup of electric products developed to meet customer needs and the manufacturer’s own environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.
Bobcat has the E10e now and will feature the E19e and E32e at ConExpo. Mike Fitzgerald, marketing manager, and Justin Moe, product specialist for electric compact excavators, said Bobcat will have electric models in tonnage classes of 0 to 1, 1 to 2 and 3 to 4.
Moe says the J1772 charging standard that’s found in the automotive market will be used on the E32e. The E10e and E19e use proprietary Bobcat charging systems.
Furthermore, Bobcat uses Green Machine technology on the E32e and Hyperdrive Innovation on the other two. This is partly because these design choices best fit those machines but also because it gives Bobcat an opportunity to gather real-world information on different approaches. Moe points out that some customers are opting for electric machines as part of their ESG strategies and accountability.
Both the E10e and E19e have a fast-charge option that cuts charge time from 10 hours to around two hours. Matching battery power to the demands of the job will require planning.
“It all comes down to having a strategy,” says Fitzgerald. He cites a contractor working on a medical facility who had access to the worksite from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. “By judicious use of the compact excavator and opportunistic charging, such as during lunch and other breaks, the contractor was able to get 12 hours of use from that electric machine.”
Volvo is going all in on electric, says Lars Arnold, electromobility, Volvo Construction Equipment. “We’ve committed to only developing electric compact excavators going forward but will still support the conventional models that have plenty of years left in them.”
Volvo has three electric models now, the EC18, ECR18 and ECR25. All three have onboard J1772 AC chargers that can bring the lithium-ion batteries from zero to full charge in about six hours. The optional off-board fast charger will deliver 80% charge in under an hour.
Brian Riniker, product manager, small excavators, John Deere, said Deere is gaining insights into electrification. “We are working on electric compact excavators, but they will likely not be the first construction electric machines released by John Deere.”
Peter Bigwood, general manager, Mecalac North America, says Mecalac has no electric models under 10 metric tons. “The E12 is selling in Europe, and we have electric wheel loaders and dumpers.”
Kurt Moncini, product specialist, Komatsu, says compact machines are ideal for electrification because their duty cycles and ease of transportation allow for simple overnight charging at the contractor’s shop.
Komatsu has launched the PC30E for the European market. It features an 18.2 kW electric motor and an external noise level as low as 90 db(A). Moncini says, “Komatsu America is working closely with customers to fully understand their business needs and plans to make additional product announcements in 2023.”
New in diesel
Doosan launched its next-generation compact excavators for the North America market in 2022 – all of which will be rebranded to Develon.
The DX27Z-7 is a smaller machine suited for confined jobsites.
In late 2022, Doosan introduced the DX89R-7, an 8-metric-ton model that replaced the DX89R-3.
In the first half of 2023, Doosan will have rolled out three additional new models: the DX62R-7, DX63-7 and DX42-7.
Doosan added the DX27Z-7 to its -7 Series to bring a zero-tailswing model into a smaller size class (the DX27Z-7 is rated at 2.8 metric tons). It has a 61-inch width, further adding to its suitability to working in confined spaces.
All new models come standard with DoosanConnect telematics, enabling customers to monitor these compact excavators with the same telematics they use for their other Doosan machines. The -7 Series machines also come standard with enclosed cabs with heat and air conditioning.
Takeuchi’s new model is the TB335R, a minimum-tailswing machine in the 3- to 4-ton class. Key features include a wrap-around counterweight, and on cab models, a dedicated coupler circuit. A swing-out rear door and a right-side cover that opens high overhead provide easy service access.
Other short-tailswing compact models from Takeuchi are the TB210R, TB257FR and TB280FR, with the latter two both featuring Takeuchi’s side-to-side boom shift.
Justin Steger, solutions marketing manager, joined Riniker in providing insights into John Deere’s lineup. G-Series models of less than 6 metric tons will be coming to market as P-Tier models at ConExpo in keeping with Deere’s new tiering strategy. Among the changes will be inclusion of JDLink telematics.
The Cat 304 (shown above) and 305 have been in production for about a year. Cat’s Next Gen platform has been in place for a few years and includes stick steering, cruise control, sealed and pressurized cabs and other features more often associated with larger machines. The 304 has been redesigned from a reduced tailswing to a zero tailswing.
LiuGong had a gap in its 5- to 6-ton range, which will be filled with two new zero-tailswing models to be introduced at ConExpo in March.
“Like all F Series models, the 9051FZTS and 9057FZTS will have LCD monitors, hydraulic quick coupler circuits stubbed in and two auxiliary circuits with in-display, independent flow adjustments,” says Joy.
Rapidly advancing tech
Worley says Ease of Use technology has been on the Cat 306, 308 and 309 since late 2022 and is coming to the 307.5 and 310 in spring of 2023. Machines are shipped as “Ease of Use ready,” meaning the system can be completed and activated by the dealer if the customer desires.
Going from Ease of Use ready to Ease of Use capable takes about four hours. Available Ease of Use features include Indicate and E-Fence. Indicate makes it easier for the operator to hit and maintain the desired grade. E-Fence allows operators to set limits to machine’s range of motion to enhance safety in tight spaces or areas with obstructions, such as power lines.
Cat Grade with Advanced 2D and Cat Grade with 3D control have been available on 3.5- to 10-ton machines for some time, but the cost was more than many owners could justify. Ease of Use makes available basic features at a much lower price.
“We continue to create feature sets for compact excavators,” says Worley. “The jump from Ease of Use to Grade in either 2D or 3D is large and we’re developing a package that will fit neatly in between the two.”
Bigwood says Mecalac has several features that are gaining in popularity.
While the company has crawler compact excavators, it also has 7- and 9-ton wheeled models. The higher travel speed of wheeled models makes them appealing in many applications, and when paired with a loader bucket, it makes the wheeled models suitable replacements for backhoe loaders.
Mecalac machines are immediately recognizable by their three-part booms. This design enables the bucket to be drawn in close to the body of the machine and makes possible extremely tight turns in tight spaces.
The company is also making all models of its excavators integrate easily with tiltrotators, which, along with the multi-part boom, make Mecalac excavators popular for demolition. Part of that integration will make it fast and simple to connect or disconnect the tiltrotator.
“All these features plus our growing and maturing North America dealer network gave Mecalac a 50% sales gain in 2022 over 2021,” says Bigwood, “and our goal is a 50% gain for 2023 over 2022.”
On 26G to 60G models, Deere offers a standard diverter valve to divert flow to attachments instead of using aux 1 and aux 2 circuit. “It’s more cost-effective than multiple sets of auxiliary lines, especially in view of the fact that not every owner of a compact excavator is using multiple hydraulic attachments,” says Steger.
Tight spaces are still driving design, and the ECR18, Volvo’s smallest model, is just 39 inches wide (extendable to 53 inches) and 11 feet 3 inches long with a half-inch tailswing radius. A factory-fitted quick coupler for Volvo compact excavators includes a positive/negative lock indication system. Green means the bucket is secure and red means the coupler is open.
“The coupler is cast in one piece from high-tensile steel,” says Darren Ashton, product manager, compact equipment, Volvo Construction Equipment. “This provides maximum durability in a lightweight design.”
Anderson says vegetation management has grown faster than expected; rotary cutters and drum-type mulching heads are therefore in high demand.
All New Holland compact excavators have two-way blades, and the E37, E57 and E60 have optional four-way blades.
Rubber tracks are standard and steel ones are optional. A replaceable-pad model is also offered. “That one is quite expensive but can have lower total lifecycle costs in abrasive underfoot conditions resulting in more frequent pad replacement and in instances where specialty pads are required.”
Deere has been working with Engcon to enhance the compatibility of its tiltrotators with Deere compact excavators. Deere dealers will sell and install the Engcon products, and working with Engcon ensures installation is as quick and cost-effective as possible, Deere says.
As of January 2023, the 50G and 60G models offered EC Oil on the top and bottom couplers, allowing operators to change hydraulically powered attachments without having to leave the cab to hook up hydraulic hoses.
Caterpillar is expanding its line of mowers, mulchers and grapples for use with mid-range (4- to 6-ton) compact excavators.
For tiltrotators it offers the TRS4 for 2.7- to 4-ton machines, TRS6 for 5- and 6-ton models and TRS8 for 7- to 10-ton excavators.
The wide range of attachments adds value to compact excavators’ ownership, and the equipment dealer is an excellent source of those attachments, says Hoskins. “Think of your dealer not as a product salesperson but as a trusted adviser. That person is keenly aware of what’s available and what works best in your area.”
Komatsu will have 2D and 3D guidance (not machine control) retrofit kits at ConExpo. It will fit five Komatsu models, “but they’re brand agnostic so they can be retrofitted to many other manufacturers’ machines, as well,” says Moncini. Some of those kits will include a payload management feature.
Moncini points out that compact excavators “live in an attachment-rich environment.” If a high-flow option seems necessary to run the attachments you want, he says, you’re probably better off moving up to at least an 8-ton machine. He says proportional joysticks are also a virtual necessity for many attachments.
LiuGong is working with GRYB to ensure LiuGong excavators and GRYB attachments work seamlessly together. Those GRYB products are offered at LiuGong dealers.
What’s happening in the market?
The market is recovering but not fully recovered from Covid’s effects on the supply chain.
Models are reappearing at dealers, but gaps are still present and demand still exceeds supply. Despite escalating costs and rising interest rates, the housing market remains strong, which typically bodes well for compact equipment. The diversity of applications into which compact excavators are sold also means they’re less buffeted by turmoil in any single market segment.
John Deere and Wacker Neuson have entered into an agreement to collaborate on development of John Deere excavators of less than 5 metric tons. Those models will be designed and manufactured by Wacker Neuson.
Worley offers two insights regarding the acquisition. One relates to ongoing availability issues. “Don’t sell your old machines until the new ones are in your possession.”
The other is to rethink the prime reason for buying. “It used to be you’d buy when repair costs got disproportionally high. Now you should consider buying new to obtain the features and efficiencies provided by new models, regardless of the condition of your existing stock.”
Bigwood says he’s seeing mixed signals in the market.
“One the one hand, dealers are reporting that some customers are returning their machines at the end of a six-month RPO, rather than moving ahead with purchase. Those customers are uncertain about the economy and their prospects. On the other hand, Mecalac will continue to grow strongly as brand awareness and feature appreciation continue to spread.” He says customers who choose to not buy often turn to rental, which is a component of Mecalac’s sales.
Anderson says that because there are uncertainties in the economy, further price increases may occur. And while there are seasonal fluctuations in sales volumes and dealers’ eagerness to close a sale may also fluctuate.
“Don’t try to time the market,” he advises. “Buy what you need when it’s available.”