An Assortment Of Heavy Eartmoving Equipment

Earthmoving Equipment 101: Common Types & Their Uses

Here’s an interesting fact – the first bucket wheel excavator appeared in the 1920s as a mining tool. That was a major step in the development of heavy earth-moving equipment.

Today, there is a wide range of earthmoving and excavation equipment used in the construction and mining sectors. With the high rate of infrastructure development across the US, China, and India, the sales volume of construction equipment is rising quickly. In 2022, Caterpillar was the largest construction equipment seller in the world with figures touching 37.5 billion U.S. dollars.

But what does it mean for you?

When it comes to selecting the right equipment for earthwork, your choice depends on the type of work and the volume of material that needs removal. But to start with, you need to know about the main types of earthmoving equipment available so you could know what to expect and what to ask your contractor.

1. Backhoe Loader

Backhoe Loader

The award for the most widely used excavation and earth-moving equipment can go to the backhoe loader as it finds use in numerous activities across the globe.

Basically, it has a tractor body with a front loader and a backhoe for excavation. These machines are super versatile and are used for tasks like excavation works, digging and filling trenches, lifting material, and more.

What makes this jack-of-all-trades so popular in urban areas? 

The prime reason is its small size and great manoeuvrability. It is mostly used for small-scale engineering works like road construction, building a house, landscaping, and driveway construction. Plus, they can be used with various attachments for performing tasks like breaking rocks, battering, demolishing, and more.

2. Excavators

As the name suggests, excavators are specially designed to dig the earth. They come with a front arm and a bucket that can be a backhoe or a bull-clam type.

Think of it as a supercharged human hand scooping out earth.

Excavators can be used for foundation digging, and for creating holes and trenches. Due to their larger size, they come with crawling tracks instead of tyres.

Excavators are among the biggest earth-moving equipment and some versions are truly eye-popping in terms of size. Take the Terex RH400 machine from the video above as an example. This hydraulic excavator weighs around 889 tonnes and can carry 94 tonnes of material in its shovel – a true monster.

3. Wheel Loader

Wheel Loader

The main function of a wheel loader is to move heavy materials from one point to another in a construction site. It is also used for landscaping and agricultural purposes. The wheel loader has a large bucket or scoop that can carry rocks, gravel, soil, logs, waste, or any other material. The bucket can perform some digging action as well. 

Just like the backhoe loader, it runs on wheels that do not damage asphalt or concrete surfaces. That makes them suitable for urban use. The wheel loader comes in various sizes and use attachments like forks, couplers, lifting jibs, rakes, etc.

4. Bulldozer

Cat Bulldozer
MathKnight, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nothing pushes massive volumes of earth, rock, or debris like a dozer. 

The credit for that goes to its heavy-duty pusher blade. The machine also has a ripper at the back for tasks like ripping hard materials or heavily compacted ground.

But it’s not just about brute force. The bulldozer has a story to tell too. Interestingly, it was the key machine for the Allies during World War II!

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Hear it from American Admiral William F. Halsey: “If I had to give credit to the instruments and machines that won us the war in the Pacific, I would rank them in this order: submarines first, radar second, planes third, bulldozers fourth.”

These tough workhorses come in many sizes and are used in a wide range of environments. They can be mounted on tracks or use wheels that make them more manoeuvrable. In addition, bulldozers can use different blade types with different functionalities.

5. Dump Truck

Big Dump Truck

Walk into any large mining or construction site and chances are that you will find dump trucks as the primary haulers. 

They transfer huge quantities of materials like soil, rock, sand, and debris. Since they can work on rough terrain, these trucks can transfer materials in off-road locations. Some buyers convert on-road trucks into dump trucks by installing a dump box which is a tub-shaped metal bed.

Dump trucks use a hydraulic mechanism to lift the front of the dump bed and deposit the material in the desired spot. Their carrying capacity can be up to 25 tons or more. The biggest dump truck in the world, the Belaz 75710, can haul a mind-boggling 496 tonnes of material.

In fact, this mechanical monster is more like a two-storey house on wheels!

Also, the commonly used snow plough truck is a hybrid with snow plough equipment mounted on a dump body. The dump body carries salt and sand to melt snow in cold environments. 

6. Motor Grader

Motor Grader

The fact is, most excavation and earth-moving equipment are not built for precision. When it comes to exact road-building tasks and ensuring a smooth-as-silk grading to the surface, the motor grader is what you need. If you want to know the impact a motor grader can make, compare a road-building project where it was used with another where it wasn’t. You will know how big the difference is.

Being super versatile, this multi-purpose machine is in high demand. The blade is designed for smoothening the road to high tolerances before asphalt laying or for soil preparation on agricultural land. Besides, they are used to create precise inclines, snow removal, and foundation projects.

A grader can have a traditional rigid frame or an articulated frame that allows it to turn in small spaces. You can change the blade position based on the task at hand. Plus, they can use attachments like a ripper, a loader bucket, or a scarifier. 

7. Skid Steer Loader

Skid Steer Loaders With Different Attachments
Wikideas1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The small and agile skid steer loader is not as awe-inspiring as heavy-duty soil excavation equipment. Its strength lies elsewhere: it’s a super versatile machine for handling construction and landscaping jobs. 

Wondering about the name skid steer? Well, it originates from the odd way the machine turns. Actually, the wheels or tracks of the machine are set to move in one direction, so the driver has to “skid” one side independently to turn. Since this manoeuvre to overcome considerable frictional force, the machines come with powerful engines,

The default attachment is the bucket, but the skid steer can be fitted with various other attachments as well. It is highly effective for digging, landscape preparation, and demolition jobs in tight spaces. A big advantage is that you can drive it through narrow paths where larger excavation equipment is unusable.

Earthmoving Equipment: FAQs

What is earthmoving equipment?

Earth-moving equipment is heavy and ruggedly built machinery designed for a special purpose. They can handle a wide variety of labour-intensive activities like material handling, excavation, spreading, and compacting.

Why is earth-moving equipment important?

The use of earth-moving machinery in heavy construction projects improves efficiency and productivity and saves costs as well. Besides, they help to mitigate the safety risks associated with construction and mining activities.

How does an earth mover work?

An earth mover has a robust construction and a powerful engine. Usually, they have special attachments like buckets, blades, rippers, etc. that are hydraulically operated to perform heavy-duty tasks.