Published on 14th November 2022
Heavy construction equipment is an integral component of any civil, commercial, industrial, or residential construction project.
Depending on job site conditions and construction tasks, construction companies use a variety of construction machinery, including articulated truck, asphalt paver, backhoe loader, boom lift, bulldozer, concrete mixer, dump truck, excavator, motor grader, skid steer loader, telehandler, tower crane, trencher, wheel loader, and wheel tractor scraper.
Construction work uses a fleet of heavy machinery for several tasks—from digging, drilling, and demolishing to grading, heavy lifting, and hauling.
Construction work is made easier, safer, more efficient, and less expensive with equipment available in different specifications for residential, commercial, and industrial construction.
What are the most common types of heavy equipment used in construction? Read on.
Compact track loader
Hydraulic mining shovel
Skid steer loader
Wheel tractor scraper
Here are the most common types of earthmoving and heavy equipment used in construction (listed in alphabetical order):
An articulated truck is an adaptable and versatile heavy-duty dump truck that consists of a cab (tractor unit) and a narrow trailer or dump box, connected via a pivoting hinge. Articulated haulers or articulated trucks are used at many rigorous worksites, with little to no paved roads, low ceiling height, slippery or sandy surfaces, or steep slopes. Such trucks are best suited for diverse job sites, including:
An asphalt paver or paver is a commonly used piece of commercial construction equipment for laying asphalt on a road surface or other such facilities. Prepared asphalt is added to the paver’s hopper. Later, the asphalt is moved by a conveyor from the hopper to the auger that places it in front of the paver screed. Finally, the screed spreads the asphalt evenly on the road surface and runs initial compaction.
Modern pavers can increase screed width to cover larger areas and also monitor fuel consumption. A paver is usually accompanied by a compactor to roll the asphalt flat for a fully flattened and smoothly finished surface. Asphalt pavers are used to lay asphalt on places, such as:
A backhoe or a backhoe loader is earth-moving equipment similar to an excavator but cannot lift as much. Nevertheless, the versatile backhoes are found on construction sites of all sizes and ideal for various light-to-medium duty jobs, such as:
A backhoe loader is a multipurpose piece of heavy equipment that serves as a backhoe, loader, or tractor, with a quick turn rate to use the digging bucket and the loader simultaneously.
While the tractor is the central operating machine, the loader or loading bucket is in the front and the backhoe or hoe (digging bucket or digging assembly) is located on the back side of the machine.
The configuration of a backhoe allows for the front bucket to load, lift, and unload material. Sometimes, the bucket may be replaced with other pieces of equipment like an auger, grappler, or hammer for specific construction operations.
Also known as a “basket crane” and “cherry picker,” a boom lift is an aerial platform that gets workers off the ground, using a bucket large enough to accommodate 1 or 2 workers. This construction lift is suitable for work on an elevated project.
While a hydraulic lift system operates the crane that lifts the bucket, a continuous band of treads or wheels make the machine mobile. “Articulating” and “telescopic” are the two main types of boom lifts used in the construction industry.
A bulldozer is designed to consistently push hard for a long time and maneuver through difficult terrain. So, it is aptly termed the “workhorse of the heavy equipment world.”
Also known as a “crawler,” “dozer,” and “track-type tractor,” a bulldozer is available in a vast range of operating weights and is critical for several projects, including:
A bulldozer has a large, sharp-edged metal blade/plate mounted at the front that can crush/lift/loosen/push/remove building materials, debris, dirt, rocks, sand, soil, snow, or other material. Moreover, a bulldozer can raise or lower the plate using hydraulic pistons to target soil at varying depths.
There are different dozer blades, such as the curved universal blade (“U blade”), flat and edgeless straight blade (“S blade”), and semi-universal combination blade (“S-U blade”).
Bulldozers can be track-mounted or wheel-mounted based on the priorities of a project—tracks provide better grip whereas wheel dozers are much faster than their track counterparts.
A compact track loader is intended for heavy-duty use to transport heavy worksite materials like demolition waste and excavated soil and is designed with large, moving tracks instead of wheels. It is known for stability, traction, and versatility.
The machine can handle mud, rocks, sand and other challenging surfaces, as well as move easily across rugged terrain, including hard-to-reach areas. Apart from pushing debris or materials, the compact track loader is used for excavation and land clearing and achieving faster loading with a vertical-lift loader design for better reach.
Unlike skid steer loaders, compact track loaders have high-flotation rubber tracks that allow for working across sensitive surfaces and in poor underfoot conditions.
Also known as a “roller,” a compactor is used to press and compact the ground or material (gravel, rocks, etc.) and create a level grade. As a compactor moves, it vibrates—shaking the paved material and making sure it is flat and does not contain empty pockets, so it provides a stable base for any construction.
Among compactors, a landfill compactor is ideal for working with waste and a soil compactor is preferred for working with dirt and soil.
Furthermore, specialized compactor models (such as the plate compactor, jumping jack, and road roller) are available when construction companies need surfaces to be as flat as possible.
Also known as a “cement mixer,” a concrete mixer is a special truck used to mix concrete ingredients and ship the mixture to a construction site. Generally, the truck is filled with dry materials and water, with mixing continuing during delivery. In addition, a concrete mixer can maintain the mixture’s liquid state through turning of the mixing container until delivery.
On the contrary, the truck can be loaded with material that has already been mixed at a plant. While large volumes of concrete with required consistency and superior quality can be produced by using a concrete mixer, a portable concrete mixer can also be used to make concrete at a construction site.
A crusher is used to reduce large boulder or rock sizes to smaller and uniform sizes suitable for concrete mix. Hammer mill crusher (hammer crusher) and jaw crusher are two commonly used crushers.
A hammer crusher crushes materials with compressive strength less than 200 MPa (megapascal) like bluestone, coal gangue, and limestone. On the contrary, a jaw crusher crushes all kinds of hard and soft materials with compressive strength between 300-350 MPa.
Also known as a “compact roller” and “road roller,” a drum roller is used at worksites for leveling and smoothening of building terrain or roadways and removing air pockets.
Drum rollers can effectively and quickly flatten surfaces to create flat, stable grounds at construction sites—from road construction to driveways and residential yards.
There are two main types of rolling drums:
Smooth rollers: Smooth rollers are available in single- or double-drum variations and use a combination of pressure and vibrations to create smooth surfaces out of dirt, gravel, or sand. Moreover, single drum rollers have a heavy drum roll (front) and wheels (back) and work well for paving roads and creating site foundations.
On the contrary, double drum rollers (twin drum rollers) do not rely on wheels and are used for flattening asphalt roads.
Padfoot rollers: Similar to smooth rollers, padfoot rollers use the same technology but use a strong manipulative force to make soil more compact and solid.
A dump truck is also known as a “dumper truck,” “rock truck,” or “tipper truck.” A dump truck is available in a variety of sizes and used on a construction site to carry materials (such as construction debris, gravel, sand, and soil) in large quantities from one site to another or to the dump location/dump yard.
A standard dump truck has an open-box bed equipped with hydraulic rams that lift the front of the bed to dump construction waste—the dump bed’s design ensures debris is carried without spilling loose contents on the way to the intended destination.
Usually, off-road dump trucks with large wheels are used on big construction sites to transport heavy material in any type of ground conditions. A rigid dump truck has an immobile chassis and is used on major mining projects with even terrain.
On the contrary, an articulated dump truck is used on medium-sized projects and has a pivot between the cabin and truck bed for maneuverability when driving over a rough or an uneven terrain. In addition, articulated dump trucks are more expensive than rigid models and deliver increased yield at a lower cost per ton.
Also known as a “digger,” an excavator is an extremely adaptable, large equipment (from the smallest weighing a little over 2,000 pounds to the largest weighing over 2 million pounds) used to:
An excavator typically contains a hydraulic crane-like boom, digging bucket, dipper (or stick), and an operator cabin on a 360° rotating platform (useful for working multiple areas from one location) above an undercarriage with tracks or wheels. The heavy machine can handle a variety of works by changing the front attachment to an auger, a grab, ripper, rock breaker, etc.
A tracked/track excavator uses steel tracks to navigate a variety of conditions and terrains. However, a wheeled/wheel excavator’s movement is assisted by massive, construction-grade equipment tires.
Excavators are available in different sizes, including:
Mini excavators: Mini excavators are ideal for residential or small-scale projects and have the same basic capabilities and functions like standard excavators but less power.
However, a mini excavator has impressive maneuverability and can get into tight access jobs or navigate difficult-to-reach areas like narrow entrances on construction sites.
Medium excavators: Medium excavators can handle larger jobs and are suitable for large-scale renovations and medium- to large-scale construction sites.
Large excavators: Large excavators are very powerful and are apt for high-volume, heavy-duty projects.
For example, a dragline excavator that consists of a long-length boom and a suspended (using a cable) digging bucket is used for construction of ports, digging canals, larger depth excavations, sediment removal in water bodies, etc.
A feller buncher is used in the forestry and logging industries to cut, harvest, and carry trees. This piece of tree-cutting heavy equipment is built with a cutting blade, four-wheel base, and multiple metal arms.
A feller buncher uses metal arms to hold trees in place and then cuts them down using an attached chainsaw. Later, the metal arms gather the trees into a pile before the trees are broken down into usable parts.
A forklift is a heavy-duty vehicle with a steering wheel, dashboard controls, and an attached platform that an operator can lower to pick an object on or below the ground and raise to move the object in construction sites, warehouses, etc.
Forklifts are great for loading and unloading heavy packages or materials. For example, the reach forklift can “reach” boxes and other objects at exceedingly high heights in a warehouse.
The weight and volume of the items used with a forklift determine the choice of a forklift used at a construction site or an industrial location.
Forklifts have evolved substantially to increase their uses at a construction site—from unloading pallets of blocks and bricks, steel joists and construction equipment and materials to hauling items from the delivery truck and carrying them to the site.
Different types of forklifts include:
Counterweight: A counterweight forklift uses a built-in counterweight system to remain stable while transporting (without using arms) products directly.
Pallet jack: A pallet jack is designed to move pallets around a warehouse. Furthermore, the small size of a pallet jack aids in easy movement.
Side loaders: Side loaders are perfect for warehouses with bulky materials and limited workspace. The side loader design allows an operator to load materials directly from the storage rack without any hassle.
Warehouse: A warehouse forklift is used to move products, shipments, and supplies quickly around a warehouse.
Hydraulic mining shovels use hydraulic components for material moving and powerful digging at mine sites. Like electric rope shovels, hydraulic mining shovels are easy to use and last long for consistent use even in the most challenging conditions.
Also known as a “grader” or “road grader,” a motor grader has long, narrow blades (moldboards) that are rotatable, with a cutting edge on the bottom. The cutting edge includes a variety of blade profiles, such as corrugated, curved, flat, and serrated to break through the surface material.
Motor graders are self-propulsive and fast-moving machines commonly used for road construction (roadway installation/maintenance) and other projects like:
A grader is designed to level the ground to a set level called a “grade” using a horizontal blade located between the front and rear wheels—lowering the blade to the ground helps create a flat surface that serves as the basis for laying asphalt.
Contrary to a bulldozer that is used for rough grading, a grader is mainly used to finish grade. Essentially, only trained equipment operators can handle heavy equipment. For example, putting more lean on a motor grader’s wheels results in a deeper cut that impacts performance.
Pile drivers are used to lift piles (long, slim columns made of concrete, timber, or other hardy materials), hold them in a proper position, and drive them into the ground to required depth.
Pile driving equipment helps in driving piles into the ground by hammering the pile top—either by dropping from a height or hydraulically.
Also known as a “skid steer,” a skid steer loader is a highly versatile machine capable of:
The machine’s broad range of attachments, sizes, and maneuverability allow it to reach places other heavy machines cannot. Moreover, the highly maneuverable bucket arms can lift well above the machine.
Skid steers work well for small- to medium-sized projects that rely on regular material movement and are ideal for confined spaces or areas of finished construction.
A telehandler is also known as a “telescopic handler,” “teleporter,” and a “reach forklift.” This is a type of hoisting equipment available in a wide variety of arm lengths and sizes with different attachments, including buckets, lifting jibs, and pallet forks available for varied job requirements.
A telehandler moves and lifts heavy materials up to required height with a long telescopic boom (telescopic cylinder), which can be forwarded, lowered, or raised to move material from the ground or a trailer to a location like the top of a roof. In addition, a telehandler provides a construction platform for workers at greater heights.
A telescopic crane is a form of heavy crane equipped with a large boom fitted with several hydraulic cylinders (one inside the other), which allow the boom to increase or reduce its length like a telescope.
Most telescopic cranes are mounted on tracks to aid in movement to and from different sites. Such ease of movement makes telescopic cranes ideal for short-term jobs like installation of signal masts.
These cranes also play an essential role in machine moving and relocation jobs. Telescopic cranes are used by rigging services to not only remove and trailer whatever load they may be transporting, but also unload and install it in the proper position.
A tower crane is a fixed crane, which is a must-have in the construction of tall buildings, skyscrapers, and other tall structures.
Tower cranes can easily and safely lift large tools and heavy construction materials like generators, motors, frames, pre-stressed concrete blocks, and steel trusses to different heights and levels.
A tower crane consists of a vertical supporting tower (mast), a jib or the operating arm of the crane, a counter jib or the other arm that carries a counterweight on the rear side of the crane, and an operator cabin.
A trencher or trenching machine is a large machine widely used for:
Typically, a trencher has an outstretched front arm, which is equipped with a heavy metal chain (digging chain) to cut into a surface and uses a conveyor system to move the loosened material.
Trenchers are far more effective compared to excavators and come in an assortment of types and sizes—from small versions to very large trenching machines suitable for the width and depth required and the nature of the material to be cut.
A chain trencher is outfitted with a long arm around which is attached a toothed (digging) chain and is used when the ground is too hard to cut through by an excavator. On the other hand, a wheeled trencher is ideal for hard soil layer excavation and has a metal wheel with a digging tooth.
A utility vehicle (UTV) is a compact means of transport that looks like a sports vehicle and is highly useful for various purposes, such as hauling materials across construction sites and transporting across narrow work areas.
Furthermore, a UTV is also used for safe, enclosed transportation in hazardous work areas and farming and landscaping projects. Modern UTVs come with features like adjustable steering columns, comfortable seating, and quiet operation.
A durable and comfortable-to-use UTV is an indispensable construction vehicle for many jobs and projects.
Also known as a “bucket loader,” “front-end loader,” or “scoop loader,” a wheel loader has a front-loading bucket to move asphalt, demolition waste, dirt, gravel, raw materials, excavated soil, etc.
Durable wheels make it easy for wheel loaders to easily navigate and drive across the worksite for essential daily tasks. Additionally, the machine can adapt to a construction project’s needs using different wheel loader attachments like:
In addition to a wheel/wheeled loader, a track/tracked loader is used in areas a wheel loader cannot reach.
Although a track loader is similar to a skid steer, it has a larger capacity and footprint and is also ideal for heavy-duty projects. Both track and wheel loaders are suitable for excavating, loading, lifting, moving, pushing and other tasks.
A wheel tractor scraper or scraper is a type of earthmoving equipment designed for open areas and provides a flattened soil surface through scraping. The front part has a wheeled tractor vehicle; on the other hand, the rear part contains a scraping arrangement with a conveyor belt, horizontal front blade, and a soil-collecting hopper.
Commercial models include Cat® wheel tractor scrapers available in single-engine and tandem-engine open bowls, tandem engine push-pulls, and elevator arrangements.
When an operator lowers the front blade onto the ground, the blade starts digging the soil above the blade level and the hopper (bowl or storage space) collects and stores the excavated soil through the conveyor belt. When the hopper is full, the operator raises the rear part from the ground and unloads the hopper at a soil dump yard.
Such scrapers are used at the initial stages of major projects like large infrastructure builds and mines for removing a lot of ground material quickly by cutting into the earth and leveling large areas of land.
Other types of construction equipment include carry deck crane, dredging equipment, forwarder, harvester, knuckleboom loader, pumping equipment, scissor lift, single man lift, and skidder.
Picking the right size equipment makes a difference in getting a construction job (flattening land, moving bulky materials, and so on) done as each piece of equipment is suited for a specific task.
A construction company or contractor can choose durable and reliable heavy equipment from several manufacturers, such as:
The global heavy construction equipment market is expected to grow at a rapid rate in the coming years, with heavy machines often used in a broad range of construction site, road maintenance, and forestry-related operations.
In the construction industry, a combination of machines is often used for maximum cost-effectiveness and efficiency. Heavy equipment operators are also trained to work efficiently and safely while keeping accident risk to a minimum because even a slight mistake may lead to loss of life, as well as money and property.
It goes without saying that various types of heavy equipment make construction work easier, improve operational efficiency, and speed up project completion.