Full-sized excavators are among the most powerful types of heavy equipment available. With its massive size, long boom, rugged construction and big attachments, an excavator is the machine to have when you need to demolish a large structure, dig sizeable holes or move considerable amounts of dirt or other materials. However, when a contractor has to perform these types of tasks in a confined space or on a smaller scale, a full-sized excavator simply won’t do. That’s when it’s time to get behind the controls of the excavator’s smaller, nimbler cousin — the mini, or compact, excavator.
Ben Bruckhart, president of Brooklawn Paving in Lititz, Pa., knows what it’s like to work on a wide range of paving projects, many of them under less-than-roomy conditions. In business since 1981, the asphalt paving company can handle just about any type of project.
"While new construction is still slow around here, more people appear to be putting money into their existing homes," Bruckhart said. "We’ve reconstructed a lot of driveways for homes and businesses, parking lots for commercial sites and other similar projects. Basketball courts, tennis courts, walkways, driveway additions — you name it, we can do it."
Bruckhart’s father started Brooklawn Paving with two employees back in 1981. Today, the family-owned company has 11 employees, and the senior Bruckhart still plays an active role.
"I started working with my dad when I was 12 or 13," Bruckhart recalled. "I went off to college, but then I decided to come back and work with him full-time, which made him very happy.
I’d like my kids to work for the business as well — but only if they’re interested. However, since they’re only 7, 5 and 20 months, it’s going to be a while."
With any paving project, it’s necessary to properly prepare the site. New project sites need grading, leveling and foundation prep. At sites with existing pavement, it’s necessary to break up and remove the macadam, black-top and other old material before prepping the sub-base for a new, beautiful layer of smooth asphalt. For years, Bruckhart’s team used skid steers or rented compact excavators or even backhoes whenever this type of situation came up. However, the company decided to invest in its own compact excavator rather than dealing with the hassles that can come with equipment rental.
"We bought a JCB 8045 model compact excavator in December 2012," Bruckhart said. "We use it to tear out existing blacktop and dig out driveways. Just last week, I had to dig out a very long driveway on a really steep hill, and it would have been very difficult to do with a skid steer loader. We’ve also used it to clear out tree stumps to prepare the site for paving. I can honestly say that we’re using the compact excavator a lot more than I initially thought we would."
Bruckhart purchased his JCB 8045 from his nearest JCB dealer, Stephenson JCB in Lancaster, Pa. The Bruckhart family has a long history of working with Stephenson JCB, having purchased paving equipment from the dealership over the years. The JCB 8045 weighs around 10,600 lbs. (4,808 kg), which is big enough to easily load Brooklawn’s biggest dump trucks but small enough to haul using a trailer attached to a full-sized pick-up.
"Stephenson didn’t have any JCB compact excavators in stock, but they brought one in from Maryland for us to try," Bruckhart said. "They let me use it for two weeks to see if it was a good fit. I’ve run six different brands of these compact excavators over the years, but I liked the JCB the best."
Bruckhart said that having a well-balanced machine is imperative, as is the curl of the excavator’s bucket. The larger the curl of the bucket, the tighter its degree of rotation — an important consideration when removing material from a site.
"We remove a lot of old blacktop," Bruckhart said. "The curl of the JCB’s bucket allows the operator to 'pinch' the debris so that it doesn’t fall out of the bucket. I’ve used other excavators where the materials were constantly falling out of the bucket, and it took more time for us to clear the site as a result."
When you do much of your work in confined areas as well as in residential settings, having a machine with excellent visibility is a must — for better safety and productivity. Bruckhart said his 8045 has the best visibility of the machines he’s used over the years.
"The level of visibility from the JCB is outstanding," he said. "With other machines, it can be difficult to see from the front right-hand corner. That’s not a problem with our compact excavator. From a safety perspective, we feel it’s important to have the best possible view of our surroundings, and that also helps us be more productive as well."
Ease of use also plays into productivity, and Bruckhart said operating his compact excavator is fairly intuitive.
"Some say that if you’ve run one, you’ve run them all," he said. "That’s not necessarily true, because they’re all a little different. But basically, the less you have to think when you’re operating the machine, the better. A machine that you can operate almost instinctively leads to a shorter learning curve and less chance for human error."
JCB’s auto-idle feature is one element of the 8045 compact excavator that Bruckhart points out as a positive. This particular feature causes the machine to "idle down" after a period of three to five seconds of inactivity, saving fuel. Once the operator moves the machine again, the throttle goes back up.
"Our JCB also has a convenient switch under the operator’s seat that allows you to change from ISO to SAE control patterns," Bruckhart said. "Other machines require you to make this change at the valve."
When it comes to attachments, Brooklawn uses 1-ft., 2-ft. and 3-ft. (.3, .6 and .9 m) buckets. Bruckhart said that the company does find occasions when it needs to use other attachments like augers and breakers, but not often enough to warrant their purchase.
"Stephenson JCB is going to get a few of those attachments in stock for us to rent," Bruckhart said. "We do end up using an auger to dig holes for tennis court and basketball poles, so those will come in handy when we need them. It’s just another way we can get more use from our machine."
All in all, Ben Bruckhart and the other staff at Brooklawn Paving are enjoying the use of their JCB 8045 compact excavator. And, as a result, they’re saving time and money.
"Now that we have this machine, it’s made our lives easier," Bruckhart said. "We were using other equipment on our jobs that simply wasn’t ideal. Now that we own this compact excavator and don’t have to rent one, we’re definitely using it more than we even anticipated."