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A world of change: as demolition and C&D recycling become more sophisticated, excavators become indispensable on job sites.

Demolition and recycling are evolving--and so are the tools used to get the job done. The changing landscape of the demolition industry and the in creased emphasis on recycling has brought more excavators to job sites, making them the one piece of equipment many contractors and recyclers say they can't do without.

"It's one of the most important pieces of machinery you have," says Michael Gross of Zanker Material Processing Facility, a construction and demolition debris recycling facility in San Jose, Calif.

Some call it the "workhorse," and others have nicknamed it the "Swiss Army knife" of equipment. Either way, excavators have become essential to an increasingly sophisticated demolition and C&D recycling industry.


One of the traits that have made excavators so indispensable to demolition contractors and C&D recyclers is the machine's versatility.

"It's a key machine because of the wide variety of attachments that can be used," says Mike Murphy of Komatsu America Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.

With an arsenal of attachments at their disposal, excavators can tackle a number of tasks on the job site, such as sorting, loading, processing and material handling.

"The machine is a workhorse," says Neil LeBlanc, senior marketing consultant for Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill. "It's utilized in take-down, it's a tool carrier. There are a variety of selective demolition tasks it can do."

On demolition sites, excavators are busy machines. William Moore of Brandenburg Industrial Service Co. in Chicago says they are particularly useful for demolition contractors looking to get involved in the scrap metal market.

Moore says Brandenburg uses its Liebherr (Newport News, Va.) excavators to prepare scrap steel harvested from demolition jobs to be sold to mills. Moore says the shears attached to excavators cut scrap steel into 3- and 4-foot lengths required by mills.

Being able to prepare steel properly is a boon in the market, according to Moore. "The better you prepare steel, the better price you get," he says.

By substituting a magnet or a grapple for the shear, Brandenburg uses excavators for more than just cutting material down to size--the company uses them to load scrap as well.

Excavators are found doing a number of jobs for mixed C&D recyclers, as well.

Gross says Zanker uses excavators for many of the loading jobs at the Zanker facility, which handles concrete, asphalt, yard and wood debris and mixed construction and demolition material.

The company has a fleet of eight Caterpillar excavators, which are responsible for loading material into the facility's grinders. The excavators are also used to do preliminary sorting, plucking out big, bulky items like mattresses and couches from the material stream.

As demolition practices change to meet the needs of a changing industry, excavators are finding new roles in the actual takedown process of demolition as well.


Matching a concrete processor or breaker to an excavator gives it the power to perform actual demolition tasks, in addition to material handling, loading and sorting.

In fact, an excavator fitted with a hydraulic breaker is becoming a more common sight at many jobs as the practice of controlled demolition becomes standard operating procedure.

"The use of excavators has exploded the last couple of years," says Dave Wolf, brand marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment, Racine, Wis.

"You see more and more excavators because they're easier to get to a job site and they're quieter," says Moore, whose company often does precision demolition and interior strip outs--both practices that make extensive use of excavators.

In addition, excavators, especially long-reach models, can offer a safer environment than demolition methods like implosion or using a wrecking ball by putting workers farther away from the work itself. "People who have [excavators] feel much safer sitting on ground level and reaching out," says Murphy. "They can still do the work, but they're farther away."

LeBlanc says high-reach models, popular for years in other parts of the world, are starting to catch on in North America for the same reason. "That allows a machine to reach up five or six stories, and using a grapple, take down a building floor by floor," he says. "It's very precision-demo--strict regulations against dust and noise mean dynamite and implosion are not allowed there." Instead, demo contractors use excavators to "surgically demolish [a structure] from the top down," according to Murphy.

High reach models aren't the only trends taking hold in the industry. Wolf says there has also been an increase in shorter radius machines in larger sized excavators, which allows larger machines to work in tighter, confined spaces.

Moore says the excavator's versatility gives it the edge over older methods of demolition. "With a crane, you're limited to a wrecking ball, a clam bucket and a magnet," he says. But excavators can be fitted with many more attachments, making them one of the most resourceful tools a contractor can use.

In fact, in modern demolition and C&D recycling applications, excavators are becoming known more so for their tools than the machine itself, says Caterpillar's LeBlanc. "More and more [excavators] are being utilized as a tool carrier," he says. "It's designed to dig below grade, and in a demolition environment, we take that machine and apply it above ground. It's carrying the tool and letting the tool do the work, so our customers are focusing more on the tools."

Among the most popular tool combinations for C&D recyclers is the pairing of a bucket and thumb, says Mike Conley, product manager for compact excavators at Komatsu. Conley says that in the past, the bucket and thumb combination was typically seen in the Northeast and Northwest, primarily in land clearing operations. "But now we're seeing it go anywhere," he says. "It's really expanded the use of the machine."

The thumb and bucket combo offers more precision lifting, says Conley, an important trait for recyclers trying to sift through debris to pick out large pieces of valuable scrap metal or other recyclables.

Gross says he prefers thumbs to grapples for that very reason--more precision in handling material.

However, before contractors or recyclers choose their favorite attachments, they must consider several factors when choosing an excavator for their operations.


Any equipment purchase is a big investment, so recyclers and demolition contractors should make sure they put some time into thinking ahead about their specific needs before buying.

"You have to think about how you're going to operate the machine," says Conley.

Size is among the first things to consider, says Wolf., who advocates going with a bigger machine in most cases. "Using a machine that is too small will strain performance and extend completion time," he says.

After determining basics, like what size best fits a recycler or contractor's operation, the next consideration should be making sure the machine is outfitted with the appropriate hydraulic controls for the tools the operator wants to use, says LeBlanc. "The machine needs to be versatile, and the ability to use many tools will make it advantageous on a job site," he says.

Typically, demolition attachments take at least one or two additional hydraulic functions than the base machine normally comes with, says Komatsu's Murphy. "You need to have the machine plumbed for at least two additional circuits," he says.

Moore says demolition contractors should opt for the strongest, most sturdy models to stand up to the demanding demolition environment. "They need to be stronger than a regular dirt type excavator because there is a lot of shock [on demolition sites]," he says.

In fact, because of the harsher environment contractors and C&D recyclers subject their equipment to, they should consider additional protective measures for the machine, says Murphy.

"There needs to be some cab protection because the application involves material that's falling or material that's being reduced in size, so there could be material flying all around," he says.

In addition to guarding for the operator on the top or front of the cab, Murphy also recommends guarding on the under carriage. "That's a frequent thing on demo sites," he says. "Material of various sizes and shapes is all around. The track might pick up a piece of reinforcing rod--if it's not protected, it can damage the machine."

For the users themselves, few things are more important to consider when shopping for an excavator than finding a manufacturer with good sparae parts availability.

"Downtime is a killer," says Gross. "You need to know parts are available for quick replacement."

With superior versatility on job sites, excavators can be expected to remain a fixture in the demolition and C&D recycling industry. "As demolition gets more sophisticated, it's more equipment and less labor," says Moore. Excavators fitted with a vast array of attachments offer the kind of precision and refined function to match an increasingly complex industry.

The author is associate editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at


Mini-excavators are having a big impact on the demolition industry as the trend toward controlled demolition makes them a prime asset on job sites.

Mini-excavators boast the same traits that make their full-sized counterparts so useful--versatility via a wide variety of attachments. But because of their compact size, these smaller versions can go places full-sized models can't.

"They're very versatile, and the weight makes them crane-able," says Mike Conley, product manager for compact excavators at Komatsu America Inc., Vernon Hills, III. Mini-excavators can be lifted onto various floors of a structure and help take down one floor at a time, from the inside. "You're looking at a machine that's about a third of the size [of a full-sized excavator]," Conley says. "They can be craned in anywhere."

William Moore of Brandenburg Industrial Service Co., a demolition company based in Chicago, says compact excavators are particularly useful for the interior demolition and renovation jobs his company does. The machines are small enough to fit in through doorways, allowing Brandenburg to work on the structure from the inside out.

However, as popular as mini-excavators may become, Moore says ha doubts they will ever completely control the market. "There will always be applications for both," he says.
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Title Annotation:EQUIPMENT FOCUS
Author:Gubeno, Jackie
Publication:Construction & Demolition Recycling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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