Stretching Your Productivity: Must-Have Compact Equipment Attachments

John Deere AugerMini excavators, skid steer loaders and compact track loaders are the Swiss Army knives of the construction industry, because they can be equipped with many different attachments and work in many different environments, especially tight spaces.

According to research company, Allied Analytics LLP: The global compact construction equipment market size in 2016 was $6,250 million, and is projected to reach $9,438 million in 2023, which translates into a compound average growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2 percent.

The popularity of compact equipment on construction sites continues to grow. Manufacturers of compact equipment are continually making each new generation of compact equipment more powerful with greater breakout forces, higher lift/dump heights and more technology, which means they can now perform work that gets completed by larger equipment.

Also, the introduction of electric power on some of the smallest compact equipment now means they be used inside buildings in applications such as construction, reconstruction and demolition work thereby replacing work that gets completed by hand.

The versatility of compact equipment has led heavy equipment original equipment manufacturers to produce dozens of attachments for each machine—meaning there is a lot of options when it comes to attachment selection. Plus, there are many niche markets that require unique or even custom attachments for their machines—bringing the number of attachments that are available for these machines even higher. 

“Our most popular attachments are the ones that are the most versatile,” says Jessica Hill, program manager, global attachments, John Deere Construction and Forestry. “These types of attachments can typically be used across multiple industries. For that reason, our augers, hydraulic hammers, grapple buckets and pallet forks are in high-demand.”

“Attachments such as hydraulic clamps, trenching buckets, breakers, plate compactors, flail mowers, grading buckets and trenchers help turn traditional digging machines into a versatile piece of equipment,” says Jason Boerger, marketing manager, Bobcat Company.

Must-Have Compact Equipment Attachments

With so many attachments to choose from, which ones are versatile enough for any job and worth the investment? Here are six attachments to consider:

  • General purpose buckets
  • Ditching buckets
  • 4-in-1 buckets
  • Pallet forks
  • Hammers
  • Grapples

(Think safety, first: always read and study the manufacturer’s operating manual for correct use and application of all attachments.)

General Purpose Buckets

General purpose (GP) buckets are so common that they often come standard when a new machine is purchased. GP buckets are primarily used for earthmoving, excavating, trenching, grading, material handling and truck loading, and this diversity in core applications makes them a very popular attachment—if not the most popular attachment—in construction and earthmoving.

Ditching Buckets

One of the most popular mini excavator attachments produced by AMI is the company’s tilt ditching bucket. “Tilt ditching buckets provide the ability to angle 45 degrees both ways, so you have a 90-degree range, and that allows you to properly grade and reach awkward spots with less repositioning of the machine,” says Jeff Brubacher, AMI Marketing Representative, AMI Attachments. “If you’re using a mini excavator, you’re probably working in tight spaces already, and this allows you to get the most out of your machine and be the most efficient with less moving and less ripping up of the soil.”

Craig Attachments President Ben Craig says the company’s hydraulic rotating ditching bucket (HRDB) is very popular because it rotates 180 degrees. This allows the operator to position rocks or other material without having to reposition the machine. The Craig HRDB adds a hydraulic tilt mechanism to an effective ditch cleaning bucket, allowing the operator to change grading angles with ease. The attachment also features a rotary actuator instead of two cylinders, which allows for more bucket width options. 

4-In-1 Buckets

A 4-in-1 bucket is designed to replace several buckets by merging features of several attachments, such as a GP bucket, a bottom-dump bucket, a dozer blade and a grapple.

The 4-in-1 bucket has a clam-style design that gives it the ability to open and close similar to a grapple, which gives end-users the ability to pinch materials between two sides of the bucket. When the bucket is open, the straight edge of the opening can function like a dozer blade. When the bucket is closed, it operates like a GP bucket, but offers a higher dump height than the GP bucket. With a GP bucket, the edge of the bucket needs to roll down below the pin height in order to unload, whereas the 4-in-1 bucket can simply open at maximum pin height to unload.

“When it comes to versatility on a jobsite, it’s hard to beat our 4-in-1 bucket,” says Perry Girard, product marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment. “The attachment’s versatility “allows the operator to perform a wide variety of tasks on any given jobsite without ever having to get out of the machine, and it can significantly cut down on the amount of handwork required, as well as the time spent switching from attachment to attachment.”

Bobcat Pallet Fork Pallet Forks

Pallet forks are common not only in pallet loading and truck loading, but also in material handling applications. The length of the pallet forks combined with a backstop allows for handling materials, such as lumber, tree trunks and branches, long pieces of wood or metal waste.

The long, thin shape of forks give them the ability to go through a hole in an object, and that means greater balance than resting an item on top of the forks. They can also be quite good at piercing materials, which is useful in scrap and demolition. On some forks, the widths can be adjusted to more easily balance longer materials or to carry materials that are shorter than the standard width of non-adjustable forks.

Hammers

Hammers are useful on any jobsite that may require demolition, especially of rock or concrete, but it can also help break up or cut down to size waste materials.

“One of our most popular attachments is our hydraulic hammer,” says Girard. “With just two moving parts, these hydraulic hammers from Case combine innovation, efficiency and “accumulator-free” technology for consistent and reliable performance on the jobsite, at less cost to the customer. In the cushion chamber, every blow is isolated from the carrier and operator, while energy is recycled and used for the next blow. The long-stroke piston is the most efficient design for energy transfer and recoil reduction.”

Grapples

“We’ve introduced updated scrap grapple buckets and rock grapple buckets in August that we designed to be heavier-duty with improved hose routing for increased durability,” says Hill. “Grapple buckets are one of our better attachment sellers because they can hold materials that are oddly shaped or larger than what standard buckets hold. They’re ideal for debris cleanup and are used heavily during disaster cleanup or in recycling centers.”

“On the skid steer side, AMI manufactures an access mat grapple, which is used for building roadways and platforms on jobsites using access mats and reduces the environmental impact that construction equipment can have, especially in low wetland area which is becoming more popular and required by property owners,” says Brubacher.

The company also says the AMI rotating utility grapple is a popular attachment. According to the company, due to the grapple’s three-tine design, it has a stronger hold on any rock than a four-tine grapple. The grapple’s 360-degree rotation gives end-users greater flexibility to perfectly position rocks or other materials.

Other Attachments to Consider

Specialty attachments, such as rotary cutters, brush chippers, flail mowers, forestry cutters, soil conditioners and stump grinders, also have multi-functional capabilities. For winter work, a contractor may seek dedicated snow-removal attachments, such as snow blades, snow pushers or snow blowers.

“Another attachment that can add a lot of versatility to a contractor’s skid steer or compact track loader is a dozer blade,” says Girard. “From both a cost and a transportation standpoint, it is not practical for every contractor to own a dozer. Much of the fine grading work is performed with the skid steers or compact track loaders they already own. This dozer blade is capable of angling 30 degrees to the left or the right, and tilting up to 10 degrees, allowing for more fine grading ability than what is capable with a standard bucket.”

Other attachments that are popular are quick couplers and hydraulic thumbs for buckets. These attachments are a little different than the rest of the attachments on this list since they only get used with another attachment. A quick coupler helps facilitate fast attachment changes while the thumb gets used with a bucket to give that bucket ability to move more types of materials more easily, safely and quickly.

“The use of a thumb has many applications,” says Brubacher. “Thumbs open up the possibility to handle materials in a much easier way. Those come in handy when you are in a digging application and come across rocks. With a thumb, you can easily pick up and handle the rocks and then go back to digging. Also, even just moving debris or material around—wood, branches, trash—is so much easier with a thumb compared to using just a bucket.”

By choosing the right attachment, you can make your equipment more versatile, improve performance and increase production.

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