6 Tips for selecting the right demolition excavator

Volvo CE's 380EL demolition excavator
Volvo CE's 380EL demolition excavator
By Tony den Hoed, Volvo Construction Equipment’s Director of National Accounts — Demolition

It’s more important than ever to pick the right machines for your demolition fleet, as every dollar counts. 

Total cost of ownership (TCO) has become a wise focal point. This single calculation takes into account so many important factors, including purchase price, interest, insurance, tax, residual value, depreciation, fuel consumption, wear parts, preventive maintenance, machine repairs and of course productivity.

If you’re in the market for a demolition excavator, here are my Top 6 considerations for choosing the best machine and getting the best TCO possible.

1. What you have vs. what you need

This one is pretty simple. Start by asking yourself what gaps you currently have in your fleet or what tasks you are unable to complete efficiently, or at all, on your projects. Whether you need high reach, secondary processing or interior demolition, these may all call for very different products.

2. Which demolition excavator meets the need

If there are multiple gaps in your lineup, you and your dealer rep should look at what product will best address your range of needs. For example, a high-reach excavator provides a lot of versatility thanks to its interchangeable boom.

As an example, a Volvo EC750E HR has two high-reach demolition boom sets and one digging boom set with an extension:

  • High-reach boom with a 36-metre max pin height while carrying a tool of up to 3,628 kg. 
  • High-reach boom with a 26-metre max pin height while carrying a tool of up to 4,989 kg.
  • Digging boom set with a 4.4-metre extension that allows for an 18-metre pin height.

A clean-up excavator is often considered more of a commodity and not given the same consideration as the demo machine itself, but this is a mistake. Clean-up excavators should have durable, factory-fitted features just like the others to protect your team members, operating costs and potential resale value.

3. demolition tool size requirements

Next, think about what type and size of tool you will need and which excavator can handle that tool from a weight and flow perspective. Here are some of the primary attachments and their respective considerations:

Hydraulic hammer: Putting different bits on the hammer provides a lot of flexibility — underwater demolition, breaking concrete and breaking rock all require different bits. On demolition sites, hammers also help speed up processing, so the right one can really impact your productivity.

Concrete processor: It helps you do more of a controlled demolition than with a hammer because you can slowly smash the concrete and whittle it down. A processor cleans a lot of the concrete off the rebar, essentially prepping your scrap and saving steps. Some brands even allow you to put different sets of jaws on them — for example, a shear to cut steel (it’s better to cut steel that has lead paint on it than to torch it).

Hydraulic thumbs: These are incredibly versatile. They can remain on the excavator while you dig, plus you can grab and move material for sorting (concrete from wood, for example). Hydraulic thumbs are also great for demolishing and loading small structures, and even tearing down and loading trees in the site prep stage. Fixed mechanical thumbs are another less expensive alternative and provide similar functions.

Shears: Perfect for taking on bigger projects, they are not only ideal for tearing down a structure but for cutting and processing steel for recycling, too. If you’re serious about maximizing profits, you probably recycle as much of the material as you can, and the right tools can make quick work of that processing.

4. Aftermarket vs. factory-fitted

If you’re using a standard excavator with aftermarket guarding and hydraulics for demolition jobs, I encourage you to look into a purpose-built machine. Factory-fitted machines can save you a lot of time, hassle and money. Consider the guarding and hydraulic options you will need — and if your OEM truly builds a demolition excavator, it should have those from factory.

We all know safety is the highest priority on a demolition job, and factory fitting often means a safer machine. Almost every OEM that purpose-builds their high-reach excavators includes a modular joint boom concept, but the pins that hold the joint to the boom can differ. Some use a half hook for the top pin and short pins on the bottom.

However, a well-designed demolition excavator uses full-length hydraulic pins. Because they’re hydraulic, an operator can pull them out without leaving the cab, which is always preferable.

More news from Volvo CE:

Aftermarket guarding packages can run upwards of $20,000 and involve working with a third party that may provide limited support. A purpose-built machine will come with proper guarding and full support. Factory-fitted also typically means reinforced frames, extra counterweight, a high visibility cab, optional tilting for added visibility and safety, and dust suppression.

And let’s not forget, if there is a problem with a converted machine, it’s common for third parties to point fingers at each other … and your warranties may be voided.

5. Reliability and support

Hero image of the EC380E Straight Boom crawler excavator

Be sure to discuss the long-term reliability of the excavator. Will it stand up to the intense daily demands of demolition? Many of the features I mentioned in the factory-fitted section apply here as well.

Look for a demolition excavator with an undercarriage that provides a large footprint for stability. A retractable undercarriage that expands can provide additional stability when needed. Also, a hydraulic extendable undercarriage allows for a 360-degree working range, decreasing the time spent repositioning the machine. It can also be helpful if the undercarriage features easy-to-remove track frames and the ability to self-disassemble and reassemble for easier transportation.

I also recommend looking for an OEM that offers support like a lifetime frame, boom and arm warranty on top of a high-quality product.

6. What technology to incorporate

There are so many useful technologies these days, so ask your rep what might be best for your specific situation. If you do your own loadout, you will likely want an option for load weighing. If you have a high reach, you will want a good camera for improved visibility. In some cases, you will want telematics to stay informed on machine health. And on especially dangerous sites, you may want to consider remote control.

Bonus tip:

Don’t get hung up on an excavator’s purchase price alone. While it is certainly a significant factor, the right investment using the advice above will get you a solid 10 years of product life or more. Remember that TCO is the number to focus on, talk these points through with your dealer, and you’ll be ready to get to work.