Industrial Construction: A Quick Guide to the Heavy Equipment and Tools of the Trade

Industrial Construction: A Quick Guide to the Heavy Equipment and Tools of the Trade

Understanding What Equipment Is Used in Industrial Construction

The types of construction equipment and their uses often depends on an industrial construction project’s size and purpose. However, industrial construction methods for highway construction, routine road maintenance, forestry, bridge construction and erecting structures employ many of the same tools and pieces of heavy equipment and machinery. Laborers across many different industries use these heavy machines to complete their desired task — to build.

Structural building sites, roadway creation and other civil engineering projects, such as sewer and pipeline projects, utilize earth-moving and excavation equipment. Excavating both earth and rock with heavy equipment and explosive blasting is important for the removal of natural obstacles from building sites.

Explosives and heavy machines overcome the rough terrain of any building site and allow for the creation of our modern highways, rail lines and tunnels. Almost all construction sites employ some excavation tools: backhoes, bulldozers, loaders and graders. Using these tools, construction teams can shape the land in ways that will provide the safest and most structurally sound area possible.

Transportation methods are also a vital part of construction. Building materials, tools and waste need to be transported in and out of most work sites regularly. In many cases, dump trucks haul earth, rock and construction materials to or from building sites — depending on the needs of a project. Machines, like cranes, hoist beams, heavy pieces of equipment, materials and tools to hard-to-reach places where contractors are working.

In this guide, we will break down each type of tool or piece of heavy equipment into categories based on their use and design — and how Quincy compressors can provide power to industrial construction machines on job sites.

Construction equipment encompasses everything from hand tools and pneumatic air compressor systems to other pieces of industrial machinery like loaders and scrapers. Many of the industrial machines used in construction fall into these categories: earth-moving, transportation and hauling, hoisting, material handling, pile-driving, tunneling and drilling.

In addition to looking at larger pieces of heavy equipment, we will look at other common tools used in construction. Other equipment includes general-purpose tools used in most construction projects. These include pneumatic hand tools, hydraulic hammers and compressed air systems used to power a variety of general-purpose tools for nailing, grinding and drilling.

Other systems, such as conveyors, move heavy materials across a job site or help to remove waste efficiently. In other projects, especially those using concrete, pumping systems and hoses supply or remove water and other materials.

The goal of this guide is to provide you with an understanding of what types of heavy equipment are used in industrial construction. Each chapter outlines the types of systems and machines employed, how they are used, and what they offer in terms of performance and versatility during the construction process. Each chapter will outline the different types of industrial construction equipment and their unique uses in the industry.

Chapter 1: Earth-Moving Heavy Equipment — The Importance of Excavation

For the earliest builders of human civilization, attempting to overcome earthen obstacles has been a challenge met with everything from human ingenuity and primitive hand tools to the powerful pieces of industrial machinery we see today.

Earth, rock and clay provide unique problems for construction workers. In some cases, mountains may need to be blasted through for railroad and roadway tunnel development. Extracting precious minerals and other valuables provided by Mother Nature may require mining, drilling and excavating for miles underground.

Almost any building project will need earth-moving equipment. Even architectural or landscape development requires detailed planning regarding topography, grades and slopes.

Gravity acting on the earth and natural elements such as rain can pose risks to not only workers but also to completed structures in the form of landslides and sinkholes. When conducting analysis for earth-moving measures, you should understand the intricate geologic makeup of an area to identify any potential problems for the present and in the future.

Unless rock or large areas are a major obstacle, most projects do not require heavy blasting. For this chapter, we will look at the various types of heavy equipment used in the movement and excavation of earth. These pieces of machinery are used primarily for shifting large areas of soil and landscapes. These projects can take the form of digging foundation areas and general landscaping. Heavy equipment includes excavators, or backhoes, bulldozers, loaders and other machines used for grading and scraping.

Each piece of equipment provides unique advantages to earth-moving, and in some cases may be needed for harder-to-reach places.

1. Excavators: Laying Foundations and Doing Heavy Lifting

The excavator represents one of the most common, and important, pieces of heavy equipment seen in construction. Excavation widely depends on these machines, also referred to as diggers, as they utilize a boom-stick and a bucket with a cab on a rotating platform. These machines provide easier access to harder-to-reach places and a full range of motion, with the ability to rotate the bucket on any side of the machine.

The house sits upon an undercarriage with tracks and wheels that allow for easy transportation as well. Also, diggers are highly effective at removing large amounts of earth and other obstacles quickly and efficiently. Some of their most common uses in the field include:

  • Digging of foundations, trenches and holes
  • Demolition
  • Forestry work
  • Material handling
  • Grading
  • Landscape work
  • Heavy lifting


Backhoes represent a different type of excavator that use a similar set-up, with the bucket and dipper-stick attached to the rear of a front loader, or tractor. The power of the excavating tools comes from hydraulics, the driving force behind the machines.

2. Bulldozers: Moving the Earth at Construction Sites

As with excavators, bulldozers are common at numerous types of job sites. These pieces of heavy equipment utilize tracks and a large metal blade primarily for pushing earth at a construction site. They’re considered crawlers because of their use of tracks, which provides more ground stability through weight displacement across the entire machine.

Typically at the rear, another device called a ripper is attached and used to loosen up soil, dirt and rock. The front blade can then be used to move sand, dirt and rock as well as other materials. Bulldozers are powerful and versatile machines that can navigate over rough terrain and move large amounts of material quickly and efficiently.

The use of wide tracks provides the machine with good traction for rough working environments such as sandy or muddy areas. In addition, they offer incredible power for moving some of the heaviest materials at construction sites.

However, certain areas may not be as accessible for bulldozers as other types of earth-moving machines because of their bulkier size. Different models of bulldozers are available and can offer some flexibility depending on the terrain and working environment.

3. Loaders: Transporting Materials Around the Job Site

Loading heavy materials such as asphalt, rock, debris, snow or construction waste in large quantities will require the use of another type of heavy equipment. You will see many sizes of loaders, but the main goal at any job site is to load material on or into some other piece of equipment to transport it to another location.

Even large amounts of gravel, wood, logs or sand can pose a challenge for construction projects. Large quantities of any heavy material require safe handling. Having a good loader with the right specifications can prove invaluable for any project.

One of the most common types of loaders is the skid-loader, or skid-steer loader. Powered by an engine, its rigid frame sits on durable wheels, or tracks, that operate differently from other vehicles through the use of skid-steering. Skid-steer loaders have lift arms attached that are capable of being fitted with a variety of job-specific tools.

The way it operates makes the loader unique:

  • The wheels on each side of the vehicle are locked and synchronized with one another.
  • This placement makes it possible for an operator to drive one side independently of the other, which offers extra maneuverability.


Crawler loaders, which have tracks, are very maneuverable at job sites, capable of traveling under their own power. However, due to the increased power of hydraulic excavators, crews may not utilize crawler loaders as often, and their use has been in decline for several decades.

4. Trenchers: Digging Ditches at Construction Sites

Trenchers are designed to create ditches, or trenches. Crews also refer to them as ditchers because of this function. These machines look like other excavating equipment but are optimized for the digging of trenches, typically for piping projects.

You may spot two main types of trenchers at a construction site. The ladder trencher and the wheel trencher both offer incredible versatility for digging trenches and operate at much higher rates of speed than any other type of excavating equipment for the task. Depending on the operation, trenchers may be utilized to expedite the installation or maintenance of projects such as wastewater or drainage piping.

5. Graders: Creating Level Surfaces for Construction

As with bulldozers, graders represent another vital piece of engineering equipment used to move large amounts of earth. The overall goal of graders is to finish the grade and ensure properly smoothed and flat surfaces for development. In architectural design, graders may be employed to create wider, flat areas to form the foundation for buildings and structures.

In civil engineering projects such as road work and maintenance, graders help level the surface for asphalt roadways. Graders often employ six wheels and a powerful engine to power the vehicle. Like bulldozers, graders are equipped with blades. These engineering vehicles act similarly to scrapers as well and are all used in unison on projects that require precision when finishing the grade.

6. Scrapers: Scooping and Hauling on the Job Site

As with bulldozers and graders, scrapers offer unique advantages in civil engineering. Scrapers are machines equipped with a hopper that can be raised and lowered, depending on the job, with hydraulics. The hopper, or bowl, cuts into the soil with its sharp edge. Once the hopper gets full from scraping, the vehicle can transport the material to the desired site.

Scrapers can transport large amounts of material easily and dump loads without the use of any additional machinery. Scrapers offer unique advantages and can cut down on the need for a loader. Once the scraper drops the load, it can return to the work site and fill its hopper again.

7. Compactors: Increasing Earth Density for a Firmer Foundation

Loose soil can pose numerous problems for building projects, so often job sites must increase the overall density of the earth through compacting. Compactors are specialized machines that can be used for soil compaction, or in some cases in landfills to save space. You may see different types of compactors at a job site:

  • Vibratory compactor machines use tamping foot roller systems.
  • Other machines may be equipped with a plate system used for ramming.
  • One of the most common types is the roller-based compactor. Smooth roller compactors designed for compaction of gravel and other materials need a smooth surface. Another type of wheel roller is the sheep foot wheel, used for deeper areas of soil compaction.


8. Tractors: Towing Equipment From Place to Place

The tractor is one of the most versatile and common pieces of heavy machinery used in the industry. Tractors move or tow heavy equipment around the job site. With much more horsepower — your average homeowner’s contractor ranges from 20 horsepower to 60 horsepower, while diesel tractors meant for heavy construction are at least in the 200 to 600 horsepower range — industrial tractors can provide the power for nearly any earth moving task.

Whether they have wheels or tracks, tractors provide an important service around the job site. What they lack in tools, they make up for in raw power, providing multiple uses in earth-moving projects. Crawler tractors enjoy advantages on rough terrain with increased stability. However, wheeled tractors are faster and offer a better speed for long-distance hauling of equipment across larger construction sites.