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Excavators Have Come a Long Way Since the Late 1800s

Wed February 15, 2017 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

The mid-size Cat 320F hydraulic excavator.
The mid-size Cat 320F hydraulic excavator.
The mid-size Cat 320F hydraulic excavator. The Case CX490D excavator The Volvo EC750E excavator

Hydraulic excavators, first introduced in the 1880s, cut the cord on their cable excavator predecessors. Modern hydraulic excavators were conceptualized by two companies, first in 1882 by Sir W.G. Armstrong & Co. with the hydraulic shovel, and Kilgore Machine Co. of Minneapolis, Minn., who patented the shovel in 1897. Another breakthrough came in 1951 with the TU by Poclain in France, which was one of the first hydraulic excavators. Unlike previous excavators, which used cables and winches, it was powered by a hydraulic pump and cylinders. By 1960, the company's TY45 was able to complete a full 360 degrees of rotation, and by the 1970s these advances shut out cable excavators from the market almost entirely. Since that time, excavators have advanced even further with telematics and GPS technology.


In order to help their customers stay competitive, a number of manufacturers have introduced their own telematics systems over the past several years. These systems use wireless technology to help operators stay informed regarding the condition of their machines, including location, fuel consumption, idle time and diagnostic codes of machines. Several of latest excavator releases and upgrades included this technology.

Caterpillar's mid-size 320F hydraulic excavator includes a telematics system, Product Link and its interface VisionLink, according to the company. The machine boasts fuel efficiency and a maintenance-free diesel particulate filter. These features are enhanced by Product Link, which connects the operator to data regarding key systems. VisionLink allows an operator/manager to monitor data for a whole fleet.

In 2016, Case Construction Equipment announced its two new crawler excavators to its D series lineup, the CX490D and CX500D. The D series is covered by the Case ProCare product assurance, which includes a three-year Advanced Case SiteWatch telematics subscription.

“ProCare is a comprehensive program that addresses maintenance, warranty and telematics. It embodies our commitment to our customers to lower total cost of ownership,” said Andrew Dargatz, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment.

Volvo also had a large debut in 2016, the 75-ton EC750E, its largest excavator to date. With its Tier IV engine, the machine delivers up to 15 percent higher productivity with five percent greater fuel efficiency than its predecessor, the EC700CL, according to the company. Owners can keep an eye on this efficiency with a standard six-year subscription to Volvo's telematics system, CareTrack. The system allows owners and managers to monitor location, service alerts and service intervals remotely.

John Deere updated its 470G LC excavator to meet Final Tier IV standards and incorporate changes to better suit its customers, including simplified maintenance options, a more spacious and comfortable cap and advanced LCD monitor. The upgraded machines also include five years of Ultimate Uptime, which includes JDLink telematics.

Komatsu's new PC650LC-11 hydraulic excavator boasts KOMTRAX technology as one of its key features. According to the company, data such as fuel levels, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) levels, operating hours, location, cautions and maintenance alerts are relayed to the web application for analysis. In addition, the operator identification system provides up to 100 ID codes and the auto idle shutdown function reduces idle time as well as operating costs.


As GPS technology has continued to advance, it has provided innovative solutions for the entire job site. It allows contractors to take exact measurements while excavating on site, preventing them from digging too deep. As Ron “Slim” Lange, project manager of Schneider Excavating put it, “The GPS systems on the excavators saved us at least 25 percent of the production time while allowing us to be in control at all times.” He was referring to the Topcon GPS system in his excavators. Topcon offers a range of products for a variety of equipment. Particularly, for excavators, the company offers a 3D excavation system. According to the company, Topcon 3D excavator systems provide elevation reference, allow the operator to change buckets during operation, offers multiple bucket and site view display and much more.

In addition to Topcon systems, many excavators now come equipped with Trimble systems. Last year, Hyundai announced that customers will be able to order excavators with factory-installed Trimble machine control and positioning systems.

“We were happy to welcome Hyundai as a Gold Sponsor for Trimble Dimensions,” said Jim Green, business area director for Trimble OEM Solutions, Civil Engineering and Construction Division. “The Trimble-ready option, available soon for Hyundai excavators and wheel loaders, will bring Hyundai customers a proven, cutting-edge solution that can be ordered right from the factory.”

According to the company, the Trimble GCS900 2D grade-control system that uses an angle sensor, dual-axis sensor and laser catcher to measure the relationship between the body, boom, stick and bucket. The system guides the operator to the desired depth and slope and determines where the bucket teeth are and should be. The company also offers a dual GNSS GCS900 system — combining 3D machine positioning with bucket positioning — and a Trimble X2350 Loadrite onboard weighing system.


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