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Safer and greener demolition sites

May 21, 2024
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The days of the wrecking ball are over! In a world where safety and environmental impact are top priorities, today’s demolition projects are carefully orchestrated operations in which precision and cleanup are central to the day-to-day work.

To meet these challenges, contractors, more than ever, need the right tools for the job. In this edition of Experts Corner, SMS Equipment’s demolition expert Luc Sauvé guides us through some of the most important considerations.

Match the excavator with the attachment

Match the excavator with the attachment

Demolition attachments – shears, breakers, grinders – are powerful machines that handle the toughest chores in the demolition workload. Selecting the right attachment, therefore, is essential for ensuring maximum productivity.

Luc: I’ve worked for excavation and demolition contractors, and they generally have different approaches. In my experience, a contractor who does excavation usually buys an excavator and then selects a bucket to put on it. With demolition, it’s the other way around – a demolition contractor will determine a shear and then find an excavator to operate it.

The most common reason I get called to the table is when somebody is trying to size a breaker or a shear to a particular excavator, which can be challenging. Manufacturers use different Impact Energy numbers, so it’s sometimes difficult to determine the best fit.

When people order attachments for demolition work, I want to make sure that the attachment is suitable for the job, so I ask many questions about the application and usage of the attachment. For example, I talked with a customer recently who wanted to order an attachment designed for use on a 20-tonne excavator. But he intended to use it on a 50-tonne excavator with 100 feet of reach on his boom. The challenge here becomes that the attachment is not sized correctly to maximize impact safely, nor would you want to operate from 100 feet away because you don’t have the support you need with a long boom. Also, this could become a dangerous situation for the operator if debris or large materials were to fall on the boom.

Safety and environmental considerations

Safety and environmental considerations have made job sites safer and cleaner, but they have added a substantial amount of work. Advances in equipment technology are making it easier to handle this additional workload.

Luc: Demolition is regulated now, so there are requirements for safety, and a lot of the material gets recycled. That means concrete, brick, and steel will need to be separated. Sometimes they recycle windows as well. And then, if you find a toxic material like asbestos, there are all kinds of regulations around how you handle that. All this creates a lot of work.

The significant improvement is that people are doing a lot of this work with mini-excavators. You would have had to do all the separating manually in the past. Today, a mini-excavator can do what would have taken four days manually in a day.

Another improvement is remote control. I worked closely with a company whose project was to remove some old tunnels, and they found some old dynamite holes that still had dynamite in them. It might not have been dangerous with live material as it was wet and had been there for a long time, but you can’t go in there and start grinding the walls because any risk, such as dynamite, is too much. So they used a 20-ton excavator with remote control, which allowed the operators to work at a safe distance.

Small but powerful

Small but powerful

As mini-excavators take on a growing share of the demolition workload, a new generation of smaller attachments is helping expand the scope.

Luc: We see a lot of new demolition attachments for mini-excavators. NPK is now manufacturing smaller shears and concrete crusher in the 2.5 to 14 ton range for these excavators.

I see these used a lot in shopping malls, where they might be adapting commercial space for a new store owner. Mini-excavators with a demolition attachment can fit through standard doorways, and instead of taking a week to clear a building, they can do it in one or two days.

Avoid downtime

Even a minor equipment problem can bring a demolition project to a grinding halt. It’s essential, therefore, to avoid the many hazards on demolition sites that can damage equipment.

Luc: Based on what I’m hearing, avoiding downtime is the number one priority for demolition contractors. Even something as small as a leaking hydraulic hose can be a big problem, especially in a building. The halt in production can paralyze a job site until a technician repairs the hose and the area is clean enough to continue.

There are often many pieces of metal hanging around in demolition, so you need to work as cleanly as possible to avoid damaging the equipment while maintaining a safe workspace.

The bottom line

In demolition, attachments are not just additions to excavators but the pieces of machinery that get the bulk of the work done. Optimization for the full performance of the attachment, therefore, is critical - when the attachment is working at the full capacity that it was designed for, the result is maximum productivity.

With a strong dealer network, SMS Equipment provides the support to help customers match the tools to the excavators and the support to keep uptime to the maximum.

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NPK has been designing and manufacturing construction equipment attachments since the late 1950s. All NPK products are designed with high productivity and durability in mind. NPK Construction Equipment is a world-class, customer-centric, service-oriented company that is focused on the future. 

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NPK's ability to provide products, parts, and support to our customers and the business segments of construction, demolition, mining, pipeline, and aggregate industries is available through collaboration with SMS Equipment.

Note: This article was originally published June 15, 2022.