Cover Story/Machine Matters: Multi-tasking trenchers

Contractors are doing more shallow subsurface installations in established areas as service utilities continue to expand cable, power and telecomm services. In residential construction, owners are adding amenities to existing properties. “Contractors are building outdoor kitchens or water features for homeowners and need to pull water and power out to those projects,” says Jon Kuyers, rubber tire and compact segment manager for Vermeer. “Contractors have to offer more services now that require trenching capability.”

New, narrow profiles and articulating center points give compact trenchers in the 18-to 40-horsepower class the maneuverability contractors require to cut in close to buildings and mature vegetation. Compact trenchers fitted with boring equipment can tunnel short distances under sidewalks and driveways, eliminating the need to dig up surface structures. Vibratory plow attachments install cable and wiring without disturbing a wide swath of lawn. In new ‘cornfield’ housing developments with tender sod, smaller ride-on trenchers leave a lighter footprint and less remediation after the job is finished. In this size class, digging depths reach 48 inches and trench widths go up to 16 inches.

Kuyers says in the 18- to 40-horsepower class, trenchers tend to be a rental item for contractors whose business does not require a dedicated machine. Kuyers estimates 60 percent of this class trencher is purchased by rental houses. For contractors who have only part-time use for a trencher and prefer to own, Bob Wren, training manager for Astec, notes, “The small walk-behind and ride-on trenchers are an entry level unit.”

Color-coded controls and operator presence systems increase the operator’s safety while learning how to run these trenchers. Standardized controls and decals run consistently through each manufacturer’s model series, allowing operators to easily switch between machines. Safety systems that require the operator to be in contact with the trencher in order for it to run immediately shut down all moving parts if the operator leaves the machine. Both of these features are especially important to operators who run various rented trenchers only occasionally and don’t have a day-to-day familiarity with the machine.

Kuyers says the surge in popularity of attachments for other compact equipment such as skid steers is leading trenching contractors to ask for the same versatility in their small trenching machines. As construction costs rise, contractors are seeking dedicated machines that prove their versatility by doing more types of jobs, and raises the ROI on their machines. Klane Kirby, executive vice president of Astec, says, “The mini-skid steers have made all of the manufacturers think about how to make every machine we make do more.”

Attachments are changing everything
Attachments for walk-behind and compact ride-on trenchers are changing how contractors bid and work a project. With various add-on systems, contractors can complete several parts of the job using one machine instead of renting several machines for each application. Root cutters, vibratory plows, snowblowers, bores, trenchers, backhoes, stump grinders, dumpers, tillers and tool carriers for 18- to 40-horsepower trenchers give light utility and landscape contractors multi-application versatility in one machine. In the case of the new Ditch Witch Zahn, even the definition of attachments is changing.

Walk-behinds
Vermeer’s RT200 hydrostatic walk-behind trencher weighs 1,300 pounds and is powered by a 23-horsepower Kohler gas engine. The hydrostatic ground drive and twin wheel motors increase maneuverability. The reversible boom extends the life of the cutter edges. The RT200 cuts up to 48 inches deep and 8 inches wide. Options include a root-cutter attachment that will clear the trenching path of buried vegetation, and a 2,500-psi PortaBore attachment installs lines under sidewalks and landscapes without trenching.
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Astec’s RT160 Plus tool carrier, based on Astec’s RT160 walk-behind trencher, features a 24-horsepower twin-cylinder, 4-stroke Honda gas engine. The hydrostatic ground drive eliminates chains, belts and sprockets, decreasing servicing. The RT160 digs trenches up to 48 inches deep and 8 inches wide. Single joystick operation and automatic parking brake operator presence system add to the operator safety. When trenching season is over, the contractor can extend the RT160’s season by replacing the trencher with quick-attach attachments including a snow blower, landscape rake, blade or broom. Optional heavy-duty booms and restraint bars are available.

For installations that need to maneuver in uneven terrain, Vermeer’s rugged LM25 model has a 25-horsepower gasoline fueled Kohler engine and weighs 1,270 pounds more than the RT200. The insulated, forward and reverse controls are color coded and separate from the drive controls to prevent accidental operation. The LM25 comes in a standard width of 42 inches and can be ordered in the narrower 36-inch width. The oscillating center point provides stability in rough areas. With the trencher attachment the LM25 reaches a trench depth of 36 inches and will cut a trench between 4 and 6 inches wide. The plow attachment reaches 18 inches and accommodates 1-inch cable. The LM25 options include tamping feet, two-speed ground drive and Vermeer’s PortaBore attachment.

Ride-ons
Astec’s 18.5-horsepower TF300B trencher is available with steel or rubber tracks, and will trench next to walls or sidewalks. Fitted with the backfill blade attachment, the TF300B’s ground pressure is 3.1 psi, light enough for residential and turf jobs. It has variable speed creep control and optional backfill blade controls. Options for the TF300B include a centerline trencher that cuts from 4 to 12- inches wide, an offset trencher that cuts to 16 inches wide, and a flush digger with an offset of 15 inches of the center line.

Astec’s Maxi-Sneaker Series D has a side-mounted seat that gives the operator a clear view of work being done in front and behind the machine. The trencher attachment installs on the front, and with an optional attachment bracket, the trencher can replace the plow in the rear. The free-swinging vibratory plow frame lets the plow pivot back and forth to maneuver in hard ground conditions. Dual-lever ground drive controls offer precision control.

The four-wheel drive Astec RT460 trencher digs to 60 inches deep and up to 16 inches wide. The direct drive trencher has a single auger that pushes material to the right side of the trench. The P75 vibratory plow’s hydraulic swing-plow frame lets the plow pivot 60 degrees for maneuverability and stability in tight turns and over rugged conditions. The RT460’s rockwheel attachment mounts to the rear of the machine to cut through concrete and asphalt. Cutting widths go up to 6 inches. The quick-mount backhoe attachment has a lift capacity of 770 pounds and an 8-foot flat bottom digging depth. An optional 4- or 6-way backfill blade mounts on the front of the RT460.


But wait – there’s more!
The new Zahn series of multi-function trenching machines debuted at ICUEE 2007 in Louisville, Kentucky, in mid-October.

The Zahn is a wheeled, 36-inch-wide vertical power unit that houses the engine, articulation point and operating console. The operator stands on an elevated riding platform behind the unit and comfortably leans into the ergonomically designed operator’s station to work the top-mounted color coded controls.

To put the Zahn to work, the operator attaches a front-end structure with the InterChange connection, a fifth-wheel style connector with two bolts and color coded hose couplers. When joined, the power unit and front end seamlessly becomes the machine.

Ditch Witch has seven separate Zahn front-ends that connect using the InterChange connection. They include:

  • Trencher with hydraulic drive and hydraulic auger drive with optional or boring attachment
  • Plow with variable pitch blade and optional sod cutter, reel carrier and boring attachment
  • Tool-carrier front end drives 40 quick-change attachments
  • Large and small dumper front-ends move up to 3,000-pounds of material and have optional self-loading capability
  • Backhoe with a flat bottom depth of 5 feet and can work like a compact excavator
  • Stump grinder that chews stumps up to 24 inches tall and 36 inches in diameter
  • Tiller with offset capability works in tight spaces

More front-ends are planned.


Pedestrian and ride-on trenchers 18 to 40 horsepower

Make Model Ride-on or Walk-behind Operating weight Max. cutting depth Cutting width min-max Drive type Attachments Engine Gross engine horsepower Fuel type
Astec TF300B Ride-on 2,315 45″ 4″-16″ Mech bl Brigs & Stratton 18 Gas
Ditch Witch Zahn R230 Ride-on 1,290* 48″ 4″-12″ Hyd see sidebar Kohler 23 Gas
Vermeer RT200 Walk-behind 1,485 48″ 4″-8″ HS b, bl, rt Kohler 23 Gas
Astec RT160 Walk-behind 1,530 48″ 4″-8″ HS hb,sb Honda 24 Gas
Vermeer LM25 Walk-behind 2,570 36″ 4″-6″ HS bl,rc,vp Kohler 25 Gas
Ditch Witch Zahn R300 Ride-on 1,290* 48″ 4″-12″ HS see sidebar Kohler 30 Gas
Astec RT360 Ride-on 3,906 60″ 6″-12″ Mech b,bh,bl,vp Deutz 32 Diesel
Astec Maxi-Sneaker D Ride-on 2,963 48″ 4″-6″ Hyd/Rev b, rc,rs,vp Deutz 37 Diesel
Astec RT460 Ride-on 5,660 60″ 6″-16″ HS/Mech b, bh, bl, rc, rs, vp Kubota 37 Diesel
Vermeer RT350 Ride-on 2,990 48″ 5″-12″ Motor bl Cummins 37 Diesel