construction site, construction equipment, heavy equipment

10 Types of Heavy Construction Equipment and Their Uses

Read Time: 5 minutes

Construction is rarely simple. Workers need to flatten land, move bulky materials and scale extremely tall structures. For these reasons, heavy equipment is a must on just about every site.

There is a wide variety of construction equipment. Each type has its own uses and different available configurations. With the right equipment, a construction company can make the process as efficient and safe as possible. 

These 10 types of heavy equipment are some of the most commonly used on construction sites. 

1. Excavators

Excavators are widely used heavy construction equipment. As the name suggests, they’re mostly used for the excavation and moving of earth. In some cases, they’re also used to move materials, demolish structures and cut trees.

Every excavator has a cabinet where the operator sits and controls the long arm, which holds a digging bucket. The entire arrangement can be rotated up to 360 degrees around the excavator’s central point.

Construction companies use a few different types of excavators. The most commonly used are wheel and track models. Wheel excavators move with the help of massive, construction-grade equipment tires, while track versions use steel tracks to get around.

2. Bulldozers

Bulldozers, or simply dozers, are heavy equipment with a large metal blade on the front that’s used to push soil and other materials.

As with excavators, there are both track and wheel dozers. Wheel dozers are much faster than their counterparts, but they also concentrate their weight over less area. As a result, they are much more likely to sink into the earth. Because they distribute pressure better than wheels, tracks also tend to disturb less ground when moving and provide better grip.

3. Pavers

These machines lay down asphalt for roads, bridges, parking lots and other surfaces. They work by transferring asphalt from a dump truck to the road, spreading it across the surface that’s being paved.

Typically, these machines will provide a bit of compaction on the asphalt they put down, but not enough to make it flat. Most of the time, they’ll be accompanied by a compactor or other machine that can roll the asphalt flat.

4. Compactors or Rollers

These are large machines with some kind of roller on the front end, like large steel drums or tires. Construction companies use these machines when they need a surface to be as flat as possible. 

Specialized models, called vibratory compactors, are used to flatten materials that have naturally occurring empty spaces. These vacant areas may make the surface unstable, which can damage foundations and other structures over time.

As compactors move, they also vibrate, shaking the paved material and ensuring it’s flat and free of empty pockets. The compacted soil should then provide a stable base for any construction.

5. Telehandlers

Telehandlers, also called telescopic handlers, teleporters and reach forklifts, are construction equipment used to reach high places. 

Telehandlers come in a wide variety of sizes and arm lengths. Knowing how to pick the right size equipment is important for any construction company, but it’s especially important when selecting a telehandler. One that’s too small or too large won’t be able to work effectively.

6. Dump Trucks

Dump trucks are used to move large amounts of material from one place to another, then deposit it where it’s needed.

Rigid dump trucks have an immobile chassis. Articulated dump trucks have a pivot between the cabin and truck bed. As an articulated truck drives over uneven terrain, the pivot will allow it to conform more closely to the ground. 

Articulated dump trucks are typically more expensive than conventional, rigid models. They’re also a lot more maneuverable and fare better than rigid trucks on rough terrain.

7. Pile Drivers

Pile drivers are used to drive pile foundations — long, slender columns made out of concrete, timber or other sturdy materials — into the earth. These machines lift piles, hold them in the correct position and then drive them into the ground to the needed depth.

How the machine gets the pile into the ground will depend on the specific piece of equipment. Some will hammer the pile in or use hydraulic force. Others will simply drop it from a height.

8. Trenchers

Trenchers are large machines used to excavate trenches in soil. Typically, they are used for pipelines, cables or drainage ditches. 

There are two main types of trenchers — wheel and chain. Chain trenchers are outfitted with a long arm around which a toothed chain is attached. Wheel trenchers use a metal wheel with digging teeth. Both create the same kind of trench, but wheel trenchers are better at working in tough soil layers.

While other machines, like excavators, can do the same work as trenchers, they’re not nearly as effective. In some cases, one trencher can be as efficient as four excavators.

9. Backhoe Loaders

The backhoe loader is similar to the excavator. It has a digging bucket attached to an arm that’s controlled by an operator from a central cabin. The bucket may sometimes be replaced with other attachments, like rippers and thumbs. Unlike the excavator, however, this digging assembly is attached to the back of the machine. The backhoe also has a loader on the front.

Backhoes typically can’t lift as much as excavators. Construction companies most often use them for smaller-scale projects.

10. Tower Cranes

Tower cranes are used to hoist materials up during the construction of tall structures. Each one consists of a mast, which is the vertical tower that supports the structure. They also feature a jib, which is the crane’s arm, along with an operator’s cabin and counterweight, called a counter jib.

Whenever a construction company needs to lift heavy materials that can’t otherwise be moved up a structure easily, they usually rely on a tower crane. 

Different Heavy Equipment for Different Jobs

You may see other machines on a construction site, but these are some of the most common. 

The functions of these items overlap somewhat, but each is specially equipped for a specific task. Most construction sites will need a mixture of machines from this list for maximum cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

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Category: Manufacturing & Engineering

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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.