What is a Track Excavator?

Lori Kilchermann

A track excavator is a piece of earth moving equipment that operates on a set of tracks instead of on wheels and tires. Often referred to as cranes or hoes, a track excavator is a common piece of equipment when digging large holes. There are many uses for a track excavator. Digging ditches and basements, demolition and breaking up structures are just a few.

Excavators are machines that use a long boom and stick, often called an 'arm', to dig out and move earth.
Excavators are machines that use a long boom and stick, often called an 'arm', to dig out and move earth.

The main parts of a track excavator are the undercarriage or tracks, the boom and shovel and the house. The operator sits in a cabin called a house and controls the excavator. The engine, typically diesel, powers three main hydraulic pumps. Two pumps operate the functions of the track excavator such as the booms, the bucket and the tracks.

The third pump operates the operator controls. This pump functions at low pressure to ease the operation of the controls while the other two function at high pressure to provide maximum power to the functions of the excavator.

This piece of equipment is versatile. With the proper attachment, a track excavator can be used to break up concrete or to trim brush. These pieces of equipment are also used to dredge rivers, ponds and lakes. The type and size of bucket can be changed and tailored to a multitude of uses. The stick, or dipper arm, which connects to the boom, can be changed from a long arm for reaching potential or a short arm for powerful digging force.

Many times the track excavator is confused with a crane. While a crane also has a track drive system, it has a tall boom that is often scalloped steel and uses a cable strung up through the boom to raise and lower materials. An excavator uses a solid boom and a dipper arm to move a bucket or attachment up and down with hydraulic cylinders. While the first excavators used cables to move the dipper arm and bucket, a crane is not designed to dig a hole.

The track excavator is able to work on soft and unsteady ground thanks to the wide steel tracks it operates on. The tracks dissipate the weight and spreads it out over a much greater area than a tire ever could. While the tracks are fine for working on, they are not good for transporting the machine long distances. To move an excavator, a truck and trailer are typically used. The track excavator is loaded up and driven to the next job where it will be unloaded and used again.

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