Heavy equipment

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Heavy equipment or heavy machinery refers to heavy-duty vehicles, specially designed for executing construction tasks, most frequently ones involving earthwork operations or other large construction tasks. Heavy equipment usually comprises five equipment systems: implementation, traction, structure, power train, control and information. [1]


Heavy equipment has been used since at least the 1st century BCE when the ancient Roman engineer Vitruvius described a crane in De architectura when it was powered via human or animal labor.

Heavy equipment functions through the mechanical advantage of a simple machine, the ratio between input force applied and force exerted is multiplied, making tasks which could take hundreds of people and weeks of labor without heavy equipment far less intensive in nature. Some equipment uses hydraulic drives as a primary source of motion.

The term "plant" is used to refer to any mobile type of heavy machinery.

Heavy equipment vehicles of various types parking near a highway construction site Tzama02.jpg
Heavy equipment vehicles of various types parking near a highway construction site
Fixed cranes are also a kind of construction machinery or heavy equipment. Dillingen Kran.jpg
Fixed cranes are also a kind of construction machinery or heavy equipment.
Caterpillar D9L bulldozer, excavators and other heavy equipment vehicles parked near a quarry in Israel TZAMA Panorama1m.jpg
Caterpillar D9L bulldozer, excavators and other heavy equipment vehicles parked near a quarry in Israel
Bulldozer, excavators and other heavy equipment vehicles parked near a quarry Bulldozers2012-Shoam 0057a.jpg
Bulldozer, excavators and other heavy equipment vehicles parked near a quarry
Bucket wheel excavators in Garzweiler surface mine, Germany Garzweiler Tagebau-1230.jpg
Bucket wheel excavators in Garzweiler surface mine, Germany


The use of heavy equipment has a long history; the ancient Roman engineer Vitruvius (1st century BCE) gave descriptions of heavy equipment and cranes in ancient Rome in his treatise De architectura . The pile driver was invented around 1500. The first tunnelling shield was patented by Marc Isambard Brunel in 1818.

From horses, through steam and diesel, to electric and robotic

Heavy equipment circa 1922 Bell telephone magazine (1922) (14569641579).jpg
Heavy equipment circa 1922
horse-drawn Fresno scraper digging water-supply ditch Fresno scrapers Miocene ditch.jpg
horse-drawn Fresno scraper digging water-supply ditch

Until the 19th century and into the early 20th century heavy machines were drawn under human or animal power. With the advent of portable steam-powered engines the drawn machine precursors were reconfigured with the new engines, such as the combine harvester. The design of a core tractor evolved around the new steam power source into a new machine core traction engine, that can be configured as the steam tractor and the steamroller. During the 20th century, internal-combustion engines became the major power source of heavy equipment. Kerosene and ethanol engines were used, but today diesel engines are dominant. Mechanical transmission was in many cases replaced by hydraulic machinery. The early 20th century also saw new electric-powered machines such as the forklift. Caterpillar Inc. is a present-day brand from these days, starting out as the Holt Manufacturing Company. The first mass-produced heavy machine was the Fordson tractor in 1917.

The first commercial continuous track vehicle was the 1901 Lombard Steam Log Hauler. The use of tracks became popular for tanks during World War I, and later for civilian machinery like the bulldozer. The largest engineering vehicles and mobile land machines are bucket-wheel excavators, built since the 1920s.

"Until almost the twentieth century, one simple tool constituted the primary earthmoving machine: the hand shovel – moved with animal and human powered, sleds, barges, and wagons. This tool was the principal method by which material was either sidecast or elevated to load a conveyance, usually a wheelbarrow, or a cart or wagon drawn by a draft animal. In antiquity, an equivalent of the hand shovel or hoe and head basket—and masses of men—were used to move earth to build civil works. Builders have long used the inclined plane, levers, and pulleys to place solid building materials, but these labor-saving devices did not lend themselves to earthmoving, which required digging, raising, moving, and placing loose materials. The two elements required for mechanized earthmoving, then as now, were an independent power source and off-road mobility, neither of which could be provided by the technology of that time." [2]

Container cranes were used from the 1950s and onwards, and made containerization possible.

Nowadays such is the importance of this machinery, some transport companies have developed specific equipment to transport heavy construction equipment to and from sites.

Most of the major equipment manufacturers such as Caterpillar, [3] Volvo, [4] Liebherr, [5] and Bobcat have released or have been developing fully or partially electric-powered heavy equipment. Commercially-available models and R&D models were announced in 2019 and 2020. [6]

Robotics and autonomy has been a growing concern for heavy equipment manufacturers with manufacturers beginning research and technology acquisition. [7] A number of companies are currently developing (Caterpillar and Bobcat) or have launched (Built Robotics) commercial solutions to the market.


These subdivisions, in this order, are the standard heavy equipment categorization.













Track loader

Material handler



Hydromatic tool



Implements and hydromechanical work tools

Traction: Off-the-road tires and tracks

Continuous track (circa 1909) Hornsby.jpg
Continuous track (circa 1909)
Caterpillar track (circa 2009) Caterpillar track shingle.JPG
Caterpillar track (circa 2009)

Heavy equipment requires specialized tires for various construction applications. While many types of equipment have continuous tracks applicable to more severe service requirements, tires are used where greater speed or mobility is required. An understanding of what equipment will be used for during the life of the tires is required for proper selection. Tire selection can have a significant impact on production and unit cost. There are three types of off-the-road tires, transport for earthmoving machines, work for slow moving earthmoving machines, and load and carry for transporting as well as digging. Off-highway tires have six categories of service C compactor, E earthmover, G grader, L loader, LS log-skidder and ML mining and logging. Within these service categories are various tread types designed for use on hard-packed surface, soft surface and rock. Tires are a large expense on any construction project, careful consideration should be given to prevent excessive wear or damage.


Control and information

"The control and information systems. These systems enable the operator to direct and control all the other systems and provide information to guide operations or to monitor the performance and health of the equipment." [1]

Heavy equipment operator

A heavy equipment operator drives and operates heavy equipment used in engineering and construction projects. [8] [9] Typically only skilled workers may operate heavy equipment, and there is specialized training for learning to use heavy equipment.

Much publication about heavy equipment operators focuses on improving safety for such workers. The field of occupational medicine researches and makes recommendations about safety for these and other workers in safety-sensitive positions.

Equipment cost

Due to the small profit margins on construction projects it is important to maintain accurate records concerning equipment utilization, repairs and maintenance. The two main categories of equipment costs are ownership cost and operating cost. [10]

Ownership cost

To classify as an ownership cost an expense must have been incurred regardless of if the equipment is used or not. These costs are as follows:

Depreciation can be calculated several ways, the simplest is the straight-line method. The annual depreciation is constant, reducing the equipment value annually. The following are simple equations paraphrased from the Peurifoy & Schexnayder text:

m = some year in the future

N = equipment useful life (years)

and Dn = Annual depreciation amount

Dn = purchase price / N

Book value (BV) in year m

BVm = purchase price – (m x Dn)


N = 5

purchase price = $350,000

m = 3 years from now

BV3 = $350,000 – ( 3 x $350,000/5) = $140,000

Operating cost

For an expense to be classified as an operating cost, it must be incurred through use of the equipment. These costs are as follows: [11]

  • tires
  • 3rd party service contract
  • replacement of high-wear items

The biggest distinction from a cost standpoint is if a repair is classified as a major repair or a minor repair. A major repair can change the depreciable equipment value due to an extension in service life, while a minor repair is normal maintenance. How a firm chooses to cost major and minor repairs vary from firm to firm depending on the costing strategies being used. Some firms will charge only major repairs to the equipment while minor repairs are costed to a project. Another common costing strategy is to cost all repairs to the equipment and only frequently replaced wear items are excluded from the equipment cost. Many firms keep their costing structure closely guarded[ citation needed ] as it can impact the bidding strategies of their competition. In a company with multiple semi-independent divisions, the equipment department often wants to classify all repairs as "minor" and charge the work to a job – therefore improving their 'profit' from the equipment.


Die-cast metal promotional scale models of heavy equipment are often produced for each vehicle to give to prospective customers. These are typically in 1:50 scale. The popular manufacturers of these models are Conrad and NZG in Germany, even for US vehicles.

Notable manufacturers

The largest 10 construction equipment manufacturers in 2015 based on revenue data of top 50 manufacturers published by KHL Group [13]

No.CompanyCountryCE sales (million USD)Share of total
1 Caterpillar Flag of the United States.svg  United States 28,28317.8%
2 Komatsu Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 16,87710.6%
3 Hitachi Construction Machinery Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 7,7904.9%
4 Volvo Construction Equipment Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden 7,7854.9%
5 Terex Flag of the United States.svg  United States 7,3904.6%
6 Liebherr Flag of Switzerland.svg   Switzerland 7,1294.5%
7 John Deere Flag of the United States.svg  United States 6,5814.1%
8 XCMG Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 6,1513.9%
9 Sany Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 5,4243.4%
10 Doosan Infracore Flag of South Korea.svg  South Korea 5,4143.4%

Other manufacturers include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Tractor Engineering vehicle specifically designed to deliver a high tractive effort

A tractor is an engineering vehicle specifically designed to deliver a high tractive effort at slow speeds, for the purposes of hauling a trailer or machinery such as that used in agriculture, mining or construction. Most commonly, the term is used to describe a farm vehicle that provides the power and traction to mechanize agricultural tasks, especially tillage, but nowadays a great variety of tasks. Agricultural implements may be towed behind or mounted on the tractor, and the tractor may also provide a source of power if the implement is mechanised.

Skid-steer loader

A skid loader, skid-steer loader or skidsteer is a small, rigid-frame, engine-powered machine with lift arms that can attach to a wide variety of labor-saving tools or attachments.

Caterpillar D9

The Caterpillar D9 is a large track-type tractor designed and manufactured by Caterpillar Inc. It is usually sold as a bulldozer equipped with a detachable large blade and a rear ripper attachment.

Excavator Type of construction equipment

Excavators are heavy construction equipment consisting of a boom, dipper, bucket and cab on a rotating platform known as the "house". The house sits atop an undercarriage with tracks or wheels. They are a natural progression from the steam shovels and often mistakenly called power shovels. All movement and functions of a hydraulic excavator are accomplished through the use of hydraulic fluid, with hydraulic cylinders and hydraulic motors. Due to the linear actuation of hydraulic cylinders, their mode of operation is fundamentally different from cable-operated excavators which use winches and steel ropes to accomplish the movements.

Bulldozer Mobile machine which uses a frontal blade to push large volumes of material

A bulldozer or dozer is a large, motorized machine that travels on tracks and is equipped with a metal blade to the front for pushing material: soil, sand, snow, rubble, or rock during construction or conversion work. When needed, a hook-like device can be mounted on the rear to loosen dense materials. Bulldozers can be found on a wide range of sites, mines and quarries, military bases, heavy industry factories, engineering projects, and farms. The word "bulldozer" refers to only a tractor fitted with a dozer blade. The word is sometimes used inaccurately for other earth moving equipment such as front loaders.

Loader (equipment) Heavy equipment machine

A loader is a heavy equipment machine used in construction to move or load materials such as soil, rock, sand, demolition debris, etc. into or onto another type of machinery.

Backhoe Type excavating equipment (vehicle)

A backhoe—also called rear actor or back actor—is a type of excavating equipment, or digger, consisting of a digging bucket on the end of a two-part articulated arm. It is typically mounted on the back of a tractor or front loader, the latter forming a "backhoe loader". The section of the arm closest to the vehicle is known as the boom, while the section that carries the bucket is known as the dipper, both terms derived from steam shovels. The boom is generally attached to the vehicle through a pivot known as the king-post, which allows the arm to pivot left and right, usually through a total of 180 to 200 degrees.

A backhoe loader, also called a loader backhoe, digger in layman's terms, or colloquially shortened to backhoe within the industry, is a heavy equipment vehicle that consists of a tractor-like unit fitted with a loader-style shovel/bucket on the front and a backhoe on the back. Due to its (relatively) small size and versatility, backhoe loaders are very common in urban engineering and small construction projects as well as developing countries. This type of machine is similar to and derived from what is now known as a TLB (Tractor-Loader-Backhoe), which is to say, an agricultural tractor fitted with a front loader and rear backhoe attachment.

Grader Construction machine

A grader, also commonly referred to as a road grader, motor grader, or simply a blade, is a form of heavy equipment with a long blade used to create a flat surface during grading. Although the earliest models were towed behind horses, and later tractors, most modern graders are self-propelled and thus technically "motor graders".

Komatsu Limited Japanese industrial machinery company

Komatsu Ltd. or Komatsu (コマツ) is a Japanese multinational corporation that manufactures construction, mining, forestry and military equipment, as well as diesel engines and industrial equipment like press machines, lasers and thermoelectric generators. Its headquarters are in Minato, Tokyo, Japan. The corporation was named after the city of Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, where the company was founded in 1921. Worldwide, the Komatsu Group consists of Komatsu Ltd. and 258 other companies.

JCB (company) British multinational corporation

JCB is a manufacturer of equipment for construction, agriculture, waste handling, and demolition, based in Rocester, England. It produces over 300 types of machines, including diggers (backhoes), excavators, tractors, and diesel engines, across 22 factories spanning Asia, Europe, North America, and South America; its products are sold in over 150 countries.

Wheel tractor-scraper

In civil engineering, a wheel tractor-scraper is a form of heavy equipment used for earthmoving. Its rear bed has a vertically moveable hopper with a sharp horizontal front edge that cuts into the soil like a carpenter's plane and fills the hopper. When full the hopper is raised, closed, and the scraper transports its load to the fill area for dumping.

Case Construction Equipment

Case Construction Equipment is a brand of construction equipment from CNH Industrial. Case produces construction equipment including excavators, motor graders, wheel loaders, vibratory compaction rollers, crawler dozers, skid steers, and compact track loaders.

Compact excavator

A compact or mini excavator is a tracked or wheeled vehicle with an approximate operating weight from 0.7 to 8.5 tonnes. It generally includes a standard backfill blade and features independent boom swing.

Euclid Trucks

The Euclid Company of Ohio was a company specialized in heavy equipment for earthmoving, namely dump trucks and wheel tractor-scrapers, that operated from the United States of America from the 1920s to the 1950s, then it was purchased and converted into a section of General Motors and later on by Hitachi Construction Machinery.

Tracked loader

A tracked loader is an engineering vehicle consisting of a tracked chassis with a loader for digging and loading material. The history of tracked loaders can be defined by three evolutions of their design. Each of these evolutions made the tracked loader a more viable and versatile tool in the excavation industry. These machines are capable in nearly every task, but master of none. A bulldozer, excavator, or wheel loader will out perform a tracked loader under a set of conditions, but the ability of a tracked loader to perform almost every task on a job site is why it remains a part of many companies' fleets.

GPS when applied in the earthmoving industry can be a viable asset to contractors and increase the overall efficiency of the job. Since GPS satellite positioning information is free to the public, it allows for everyone to take advantage of its uses. Heavy equipment manufacturers in conjunction with GPS guidance system manufacturers have been co-developing GPS guidance systems for heavy equipment since the late 1990s. These systems allow the equipment operator to use GPS position data to make decisions based on actual grade and design features. Some heavy equipment guidance systems can even operate the machine's implements automatically from a set design that was created for the particular jobsite. GPS guidance systems can have tolerances as small as two to three centimeters making them extremely accurate compared to relying on the operator's skill level. Since the machine's GPS system has the ability to know when it is off the design grade, this can reduce surveying and material costs required for a specific job.

LiuGong, officially Guangxi LiuGong Machinery Co., Ltd., is a Chinese multinational construction machinery manufacturing company headquartered in Liuzhou, China. It is the world's 10th-largest construction equipment manufacturer by market share and the world's largest manufacturer of wheel loaders.


Fiatallis, was a brand of heavy equipment, such as loaders, bulldozers, backhoes, scrapers, and graders. It began in 1974, when Allis-Chalmers's construction equipment business was reorganized into a joint venture with Fiat SpA, which bought a 65% majority stake at the outset.

CNH Industrial Italian-American multinational corporation

CNH Industrial N.V. is an Italian-American multinational corporation, with global headquarters in Basildon, UK, but controlled and mostly owned by the Italian investment company Exor, which in turn is controlled by the Italian Agnelli family. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and on Borsa Italiana: it is a constituent of the FTSE MIB index. The company is incorporated in the Netherlands. The seat of the company is in Amsterdam, Netherlands with a principal office in London, England.


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