Construction vehicles have a long history: different kinds of equipment have been used since at least the first century BCE when Vitruvius, a Roman architect/engineer, described the crane as a machine powered by animal or human labor.
Today, the definition of such machines have completely changed. Heavy vehicles are now powered by an internal combustion engine or electric motor. Some use liquid fluid power to perform work.
These machines utilize ‘the force amplification’ to make tasks far less intense in nature. They work by preserving the input power and simply trading off input forces against movement to achieve a desired amplification in the output force.
Construction vehicles have become a necessity: they are now used in almost all large construction tasks, be it lifting heavy loads, excavation, or processing of parts of the earth’s surface. Below you will find different types of heavy vehicles that are designed to perform specific tasks.
Used for: Earthmoving in construction, mining, and agriculture industries
Examples: Caterpillar 613C, Terex TS-14b scraper
A scraper is a heavy vehicle used to remove or move dirt, gravel, and other unnecessary materials from the surface. Either towed or self-propelled, it contains a wagon with a gate having a bladed bottom.
As the wagon pushes forward, the blade scrapes up the ground and excavated materials are forced into the wagon. When the wagon is filled, the gate is closed, and materials are carried to the place of disposal.
Unlike other earthmoving machines, scrapers can remove wet soil from the surface in a very efficient manner. They also work well on heavier soil and other tough soil conditions. Although this flexible and versatile machine can help in a broad range of tasks, it is mostly used in highway construction.
Used for: Digging, clearing rubble, and loading material into trucks.
Examples: Caterpillar 950H, Kawasaki 95ZV-2
A loader is a heavy vehicle commonly used to move a stockpiled material from the ground and deposit it into an open trench excavation or into an awaiting dump truck.
Its front-mounted wide bucket is connected to the end of two arms (booms) to scoop up loose material from the ground, such as sand, rock, demolition debris, soil, etc., and put it from one area to another without pushing it across the ground.
One of the largest loaders, LeTourneau L-2350, provides an operating payload of 80 tons or 160,000 pounds. Its diesel-electric propulsion system outputs 2,300 horsepower, which is enough to handle an operational weight of 260 tons.
15. Articulated Hauler
Image credit: Volvo
Used for: Transporting loads over rough terrain
Examples: Caterpillar 740 Ejector, Terex Trucks TA400
An articulated hauler is a heavy-duty type of dump truck that excels in hauling materials over rough terrains, such as swamps, bogs, and marshes. They are rugged and designed to operate in incline and slippery conditions efficiently.
The vehicle contains two basic units: the front section (called the tractor) and the rear section (called the hauler). It has excellent off-road capabilities, thanks to the all-wheel-drive, pivoting mechanism, and the way the sections can twist in relation to each other.
The top speed is limited to 35-40 miles per hour (to provide better fuel efficiency and avoid mechanical wear), and the net payload capacity ranges between 24 and 55 tons.
14. Combine Harvester
Case IH axial-flow combine
Used for: Harvesting, threshing, and cleaning grain crops.
Examples: John Deere 9870 STS, IH McCormick 141
Combine Harvester is a versatile machine that combines four different harvesting tasks: reaping, threshing, gathering, and winnowing. The operator simply drives the vehicle through the crop field, and it cuts, threshes, and cleans the grains all by itself using rotating blades, wheels, sieves, and elevators.
The grain gathers in a tank inside the vehicle, which is regularly emptied into the cart pulled by a tractor driving alongside. The chaff and stalks exit from the rear pipe and fall back down onto the field.
The machine is extremely useful for farmers harvesting wide patches for crops such as wheat, rice, corn, pulses, and other produce, and harvest them right in the field. It helps farmers carry out harvesting in a much efficient manner, increasing agricultural output and farming profit.
Used for: Lifting heavy materials and transporting them to other places
Examples: Link-Belt RTC80100, Grove GMK6300
A crane uses one or more simple machines (such as hoist rope, chains, sheaves) to create mechanical advantage and move loads beyond human capability.
Every crane must obey the laws of physics to maintain its vital stability and operate efficiently. It is able to lift heavy things because the load is offset by counterweights, which stabilize the vehicle, allowing it to lift and move the load.
Cranes are commonly used in three major industries:
Transport industry: to load and unload freight
Construction industry: to move materials from one place to another
Manufacturing industry: to assemble heavy equipment
Modern cranes are powered by electric motors or internal combustion engines and hydraulic systems, which provide much greater lifting capability than was possible decades ago. However, manual cranes are still used where were high lifting power isn’t required.
Used for: Creating smooth and flat surfaces
Examples: BEML 605R2, SEC-RJMT mini motor grader
A grader is a heavy engineering vehicle with a long metal blade used to create a flat surface (or a surface with a specified slope) in construction works, such as the base course for a railway or a road, a foundation, or surface drainage.
It can also be used for the removal of debris and snow based on the project’s requirements and location. These vehicles are always found on road construction, building developments, and infrastructure projects to perform the final shaping of surfaces on which pavement will be placed.
Most graders carry a large mechanically- or hydraulically-controlled blade between their front and read wheels. Either end of the blade can be lowered or raised. Some graders have optional attachments, such as a rear ripper and/or front blade for dirt grading and snow-plowing operations.
Krupp coal stacker
Used for: Handing bulk materials that are granular powdery, or lumpy in nature
Example: Krupp coal stacker
Stackers are large machines for piling large quantities of materials such as ores, cereals, and limestone onto a stockpile. They are generally rated in tons per hour (in terms of capacity).
Stackers can move in two directions:
- Vertically by raising and lowering its boom
- Horizontally along the rail
A few stackers can rotate the boom to form two stockpiles, one on either side of the conveyor.
Modern stackers are either semi- or fully-automated. Typically, they use a programmable logic controller equipped with a human-machine interface, which allows the operator to control the machine easily.
Nesher Ramla Stacker Reclaimer
Used for: Handing large quantities of dry material, such as coal, iron ore, petroleum coke, etc.
Example: Krupp twin-boom portal reclaimer
A reclaimer is a volumetric machine used to recover bulk materials such as cereals and ores from a stockpile. It is rated in tons per hour based on the average bulk density of the materials being reclaimed.
A conventional bucket wheel reclaimer moves in three directions:
- Vertically by ‘luffing’ its boom
- horizontally along the rail
- rotationally by slewing its boom
The machine is usually powered by electricity through a series of cables. It can be assembled in various ways as per the requirements (load and flow rate). For example, a combination of boom and bucket wheel is used in the event of very high material flow rates.
Used for: Quickly picking and carrying materials
Examples: JCB 535-95, Manitou telehandler
Telehandler is similar to a forklift but with a boom, which makes it more of a crane with better versatility. The boom can be attached to different components, such as a winch, bucket, muck grab, or pallet forks.
The major advantage of this vehicle is that it is multifunctional: it can be used for many different tasks. With the right attachment, one can turn this machine into a tractor, crane, lift truck, or aerial work platform.
It can be operated on any terrain, thanks to its wide off-road tyres. The vehicle proves its usefulness in the field, in the yard, and in the stables of the farm.
Image credit: Wikimedia
Used for: Laying asphalt on roads, bridges, parking lots, etc.
Examples: Track paver AP555F, ABG Volvo P5320
The first asphalt paver was developed in the 1930s to construct roads efficiently. Since then, the basic concept of the machine has remained relatively unchanged.
- The asphalt is added to the hopper.
- It is then carried from the hopper to the auger through the conveyor.
- The auger puts the material stockpile in front of the screed.
- The screed takes the stockpile and spreads it over the road.
- The screed finally levels the road and provides compaction.
In order to construct roads with smooth surfaces, the vehicle moves at a fixed speed and provides a consistent stockpile of material in the front of the screed.
7. Ballast Tamper
Used for: Making railway tracks more durable
Examples: Jackson 6700, Plasser & Theurer 09-16 CSM
When a train moves over a track, it creates enormous forces. The entire track — comprised of rails, sleepers, and ballast in an elastic system — deforms and returns to its normal position.
However, this high stress deteriorates the track geometry over the long term. In order to maintain the ideal geometry of tracks, it is important to maintain them regularly.
Ballast tamper is used for such maintenance. It packs the track ballast under railway tracks to make the tracks more durable. Modern ballast tampers can also perform leveling and lining to reduce the mechanical strain applied to the rails by passing trains.
Used for: Excavation, landscaping, paving roads, transporting materials
Examples: JCB 3CX, 770EX Magnum
A backhoe is an excavation machine that contains a digging bucket on the end of a two-section articulated arm. It is usually mounted on a loader or tractor.
The part of the arm nearest to the vehicle is called the boom, and the part carrying the bucket is called the dipper. Boom is connected to the vehicle via a pivot, which enables the arm to pivot from 180 to 200 degrees.
Since these vehicles are relatively small in size and versatile, they are mostly used in small construction projects, such as fixing urban roads and building a small house. They are also used to plant trees, clean dirt or snow, and perform small-scale drilling in certain regions.
5. Skid-Steer Loader
Used for: Digging, lifting, and moving heavy materials
Examples: Bobcat S650, Mustang 2054
A skid-steer is a small, versatile construction vehicle used primarily for digging. Its arms can be attached to various labor-saving tools to perform different construction and landscaping jobs.
It contains four wheels that are mechanically locked in synchronization on each side. However, the right-side drive wheels can be driven independently of the left-side drive wheels.
The interesting thing about this vehicle is its wheels have no separate steering mechanism. Then how does it turn?
To turn the vehicle, the operator increases the speed of the wheels on one side. This causes the fast-rotating wheels to skid or drag across the ground as the vehicle turns in the opposite direction. Once the turn is complete, the operator returns both sides to the same speed. This steering mechanism is what gives the vehicle its name.
Modern skid loaders have open or fully enclosed cabs and other features to protect the operator. It can carry material in the bucket, push heavy materials from one area to another, and perform various digging and grading tasks.
4. Feller Buncher
Used for: Cutting and moving trees from one location to another
Examples: LX830D feller buncher, Tigercat 855E
A feller buncher is a self-propelled machine with an attachment (cutting head) that can quickly gather and cut a tree before felling it. It is primarily used for cutting, holding, and putting the stems on the ground.
The vehicle is either wheeled or tracked and has a self-leveling cabin for easy operability. The cutting heads are mounted either to a boom or to the chassis on a base carrier. Different types of cutting heads can be attached based on the type and size of trees to be cut.
There are three different types of cutting heads:
- Bunching heads handle multiple stems.
- Processing heads are capable of felling and processing trees.
- Felling heads are capable of cutting and felling single stems but have no processing abilities.
Feller bunchers are a highly productive machine. They work well in both clear-cuts and thinnings. They are mostly used in regions where biomass removal is required and stems to be removed fall within the acceptable range of bunching head.
3. Agricultural Tractor
A modern four-wheel-drive tractor
Used for: Pushing agricultural machinery or trailers, harrowing, planting, and similar tasks.
Examples: John Deere 8110 Farm Tractor, Case IH STX450
The term ‘tractor’ comes from the Latin word ‘trahere,’ which means ‘to pull.’ The earliest tractors from the late 19th century were designed to replace horses and oxen, which would pull plows and carts.
While tractors were initially built to help with farm work, they are now considered a multi-functional vehicle for the construction industry as well. They are usually classified by the number of wheels or axels. The most popular categories are four-wheel (two-axle) tractors and two-wheel (single-axle) tractors.
Both are designed to deliver a high torque (or tractive effort) at slow speeds. The most powerful tractors, which are powered by a diesel engine, are used to pull heavy loads. They are equipped with a special gearbox that transforms the high-speed revolution into lower speed revolutions for the wheels while increasing the amount of force that the tractor can utilize to pull heavy materials.
Modern tractors come with a hydraulically powered lifting system and power-assisted braking and steering to safely control heavy loads. Some even have heated and air conditioning cabins and GPS navigation.
2. Bucket-Wheel Excavator
A bucket-wheel excavator in Gippsland Victoria
Used for: Surface mining
Examples: Bagger 1473, KWK 1500
Bucket-wheel excavators are used for massive-scale operations that involve the excavation of soft/semi-hard overburden and the transfer of loose materials. These gigantic machines remove thousands of tons of overburden (soil, rock, and other materials that lie above a coal seam or ore body) per day.
Unlike other large vehicles, this machine uses a large wheel consisting of a continuous pattern of buckets. As the wheel turns, the buckets scoop materials from a section of earth.
It is primarily used in lignite (brown coal) mining, bulk materials handling, and other industrial mining processes used to extract copper, uranium, precious metals, and other compounds from ore.
The largest of the bucket-wheel excavators, Bagger 293, holds the Guinness World Record for the heaviest land-based vehicle ever built. It weighs 31.3 million pounds, requires five people to operate, and can move 218,880 tonnes of soil in a day.
Bulldozer containing a multi-shank ripper
Used for: Pushing large quantities of sand, soil, snow, rocks, or similar materials
Examples: Caterpillar D10, Zettelmeyer ZD 3001
Bulldozers are one of the most popular construction vehicles. It is a type of heavy tractor integrated with a large metal blade or plate. It consists of wide tracks that distribute the vehicle’s weight over a broad area and give mobility through very rough terrain.
Its transmission system is designed to take advantage of the track system and provide high tractive force. The blade, which is mounted in front of the tractor, operates hydraulically. Sometimes, a long, claw-like metal (called ripper) is attached at the back of the vehicle.
Due to these features, bulldozers are used in mining, land clearing, forestry, road building, heavy industry factories, infrastructure development, and various other engineering projects that require powerful earth-moving machines.