Not All Buckets are Created Equal
"A bucket's a bucket."
Although incorrect, that way of thinking about digging attachments is not uncommon. In reality, choosing precisely the right bucket for the equipment and the job has a sizable impact on both productivity and the bottom line.
So, where does one begin when choosing the ideal bucket attachment?
As with any tool selection, contractors should begin by considering the ins and outs of the application. Selecting a bucket through the lens of the application allows a contractor to make the most appropriate decisions regarding capacity and durability.
Letting the Application Drive
"If you'll be working with light material, a bigger, high-capacity bucket might make the most sense," says Adrian Kelly, Sales Manager for Geith International, a leading attachment manufacturer. "If, however, you're going to be working with something really tough to dig, you may go with a smaller, rugged attachment designed specifically for the material, like a rock bucket."
In addition to selecting the right type of bucket, contractors should also consider the type of teeth they expect to need. There are a wide range of options, including rock, tiger and flared teeth, each specifically designed for a particular type of application or terrain.
Getting a Good Set of Teeth
Inquire about the construction of the bucket's teeth. Here, again, the abrasiveness of the materials a contractor plans on digging in and around will determine the best option. Ask about the materials used to construct the teeth and how the dealer expects them to hold up. Investing in high-quality teeth can save money in the long run compared to frequently replacing poorly constructed teeth that wear prematurely.
An operator digging with worn or misshapen teeth will experience a substantial drop in productivity and greatly increase the potential for significant damage. "When worn teeth aren't replaced, the entire structure of the bucket is compromised," he says. "Equipment owners who try to save money by leaving the teeth on the bucket too long end up having a huge expense to either repair or replace the whole attachment."
Judging a Bucket by Its Weight
"One thing we see often is people judging a bucket's durability by its weight," says Kelly. "A heavy bucket isn't necessarily a durable bucket. The quality, not the weight, of the materials is the key. A heavy bucket can actually reduce efficiency."
Often, the best way to come at discussions of durability is to inquire about the dealer's history with the attachment and warranty options, which are strong indicators of the dealer's confidence in the bucket's resilience.
"There are plenty of cheaper products out there today," Kelly says. "But if that's the way you go, you'll need to be prepared for issues with breakages and premature wear."
Looking Closely at the Construction
Determining how durable a bucket is often comes down to investigating the materials from which it has been built. Kelly advises contractors ask questions about how the attachment was manufactured to have a good understanding of its potential longevity. Pay particular attention to the cutting edge, wear straps and bottom corners of the bucket. These are the areas Kelly says absorb the greatest impact. Geith buckets, for instance, are constructed with abrasion-resistant material and come equipped with a cutting edge and wear straps made from 500 BHN steel.
"The grade of steel used to manufacture your bucket is important," says Kelly. "For one, a durable bucket will last longer, reducing your long-term cost. The other factor is downtime. The higher quality of materials you have at the end of your carrier, the fewer breakages you'll experience."
Kelly also advises equipment buyers to compare the key design components used by different manufacturers. For example, does the bucket include a diamond-folded or a tube-design top section? The former reduces the need for additional plates and provides greater structural strength.
Kelly says certain features on select buckets can boost uptime and efficiency. For example, dual radius buckets are specially designed with a radius on the bottom and then a sharper radius on the back of the bucket. The configuration avoids drag, which keeps the work moving and lowers the overall impact on the carrier.
Another factor equipment buyers should consider is tip radius, the distance from the teeth to the point where the bucket pins onto the carrier. The lower that distance, the greater the breakout force.
Using One Bucket for Multiple Tasks
Because understanding the application is so important to bucket selection, buyers who anticipate working on a variety of jobs may wonder if they need to purchase more than one attachment. Kelly advises contractors categorize their jobs into either digging or grading work.
"Regardless of what you are digging, be it sand, gravel or rock, you can use the same digging bucket. Now, you may lose some efficiency, but it can be done," he says. "For contractors who intend to do grading work as well, they're best off purchasing both a digging bucket and a grading bucket."
Grading buckets rarely offer much capacity and do not come equipped with teeth. Their shallow, wide design is built for leveling surfaces. Therefore, using a grading bucket for a digging job could frustrate an otherwise efficient operator.
Extending the life of the right bucket
Experienced operators will tell you they follow three basic rules to achieve safe, efficient outcomes when working with bucket attachments. The first is working with the right bucket and teeth. The second is the use of hydraulic quick couplers that make swapping out attachments a breeze. Third is regular maintenance, which includes inspecting, cleaning and timely replacement of worn parts.
"I've seen buckets go 20 years," says Kelly. "Then again, I've seen buckets beat up in six months. It really just depends on what's being asked of them and whether or not they've been operated by a well-trained individual." Ultimately, the effectiveness and the life of the bucket depends on the rigors of its daily work life, the materials from which it was built and the quality of its design.