Review: Hitachi Zaxis 330 LC excavator

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  • Earthmovers & Excavators

With a pile of heavy duty jobs needing to be done, Ron Horner got a Hitachi Zaxis 330 LC on the job. He was left impressed with its capabilities (if not the way it burned through fuel)

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What happens when you get to a point in a job when you realise that the equipment you own just won’t cut the next stage of the project and you need to dry hire something that’s more suitable?

Where do you go when you are looking for a good deal on a dry hire machine and you want some of that personal old-style type of service that we all tend to appreciate?

This situation arose on the farm a while back when I realised I was in that exact position.

I was looking for a 30-ton excavator; not a pristine fully compliant mine spec machine, but something way down the pecking order from that. I was looking for a tidy excavator with a few scratches and the odd dent, the bearable oil leak, but with some specific attachments and a weekly rate that I would not have to contemplate selling the kids or my lung to pay for.

Horner's happy with Hitachi

I went down the usual roads: Google, telephone contact list, local listings and then afar, but the prices quoted were looking more likely to cost me both the kids and a lung!

Mates in the game are a big bonus when it comes to BBQ’s, beers, dinners, outings and favours and today was becoming one of the latter. A call to Ken Shaw at "Shaw X" in Brisbane led me to McManaway Earthmoving, one of his neighbouring businesses in Cleveland, where he informed me that young James McManaway had a fleet of really good excavators, but he does have one old girl that he could possibly hire out to me and the rate would be more suited to the "sale of a couple of sheep on a good day at the auctions".

That’s exactly want I wanted to hear, so a quick phone call was made, a deal done with James on a Hitachi Zaxis 330 LC, and I went about shearing a couple of sheep in preparation.

The McManaway quad float and Volvo PM


Delivery day quickly came around as Ricky pulled up the new Volvo and the quad spread float. The 330 was landed down the bottom of the council gravel road (goat track), which is impassable for heavy trucks in the best of weather conditions, let alone after a full year without maintenance.

‘The Nurse’ was engaged as a vehicle escort as we walked the machine and attachments up to the farm gates under flashers and we were ready to cut loose on the bigger jobs that had had me concerned for a couple of years . D-Day had eventually arrived.

A tidy old girl with about 11,000 hours on it (the Hitachi not The Nurse) suited me in size and condition to a T. No dents in this one, so that is always a problem if you are the first and with a heap of vegetation clearing, some major excavation in the steep gullies, ripping of rock and bulk handling on the agenda, one had to make sure that the machine went back in an as received condition (and that meant very tidy).

Digging and a big mud bucket, along with a single tine ripper, was the order and that’s exactly what I got as we headed up to the first of the work areas I had planned – but first a bit of a tester!

Tough going in the steep rocky gullies


The overall plan was to clear vegetation in the gully, strip and separate topsoil, rocks and boulders in preparation for a new dam (with the dam wall doubling as road access to the other side of the block), deeper excavate a dam that leaks and requires clay lining, excavate about 3,000 cubic metres of clay for both dams, create a new haul road between the clay pit and dams, and reinstate once the works are complete.

The first job I had planned was heading over the first of the dams and into a topsoil stockpile of known quantity. I knew how long it took me to place it with a 12t Cat and I needed to measure production rates against the 330 so I could evaluate the works I had in mind over the ensuing weeks.

The 330 blew me away with the speed and bulk handling capabilities whilst running that big mud bucket. I knew we were going to get along fine as the old girl loved the hard work and I loved the production rates (but maybe not the fuel bill). What had taken me a day to place with the little Cat had been swallowed up by the Hitachi 330 in a matter of hours. This machine was a good choice.

I hadn’t operated a 30-ton excavator in anger for some time so this was very refreshing and exciting.  

It is almost impossible to get a review from dealerships of any new machinery, let alone permission to work them in a hard, tough environment. All the previous work on the farm had been done with the Cat 311, so I could easily make an evaluation on the differing qualities and productivity rates on both machines.

The Hitachi 330 loved the tough going in the rock

The landscape in this region is varied to say the least. Heavy and light vegetation, steep gullies, level plateaus, boulder rock just under the surface ranging from 100kg to six tons, topsoil, clay, sand and decomposed basalt shelf rock. It all combines to make the region an absolute postcard event even on the worst of days.

Weight and power is the key to moving dirt and what lies beyond in this area. The 30-ton was perfect in power, size and reach, and never flinched or missed a beat. Clearing and vegetation removal (especially in the steep gullies) worked in our favour. Too difficult terrain to get a dozer involved, the Hitachi could swing high into the tree canopy where the powerful slew motor could just ease its way in until the tree roots gave in, a quick flick and you had the whole tree squared up and stockpiled: beautiful!

I have always believed in the separation of materials and keeping your worksite clean of debris and believe me it pays big dividends at the back end part of your job.

Encountering topsoil, rocks, boulders, vegetation and clay all have a differing end uses and are very valuable in a farming environment. The cost of purchasing materials in remote or on farm areas is prohibitive, so all of the natural resources encountered have another use at some stage down the track.

The stockpiling of the huge rocks for landscaping and retainer wall use was always on the agenda, the two clay pits sources we exposed were used to line the dams and avoid leaking, the valuable topsoil was stripped for rehabilitation use after the works were finished, the selective vegetation clearing was stockpiled or buried and covered, and the decomposed red basalt shelf rock was ripped and used as road base for the internal roads on the farm.

Some 20,000mm of rock were ripped and stockpiled for use ensuring all weather access to all points of the farm when completed. If this product or similar had to be imported it would cost in excess of $80,000.

A lesson learned in stockpiling for reuse.

The Hitachi separating the rocks, topsoil and clay


Hitachi have gone for the Isuzu AA-6HK1X six-cylinder, Intercooled, turbo diesel engine for the Zaxis 330 model, which pushes out a healthy 250hp (186.4kW). Hook this up to the two variable displacement axial piston pumps pushing out 290l/p/min and you have some real power on hand.

The powerful track drive motors were faultless when working those steep rocky gullies and believe me, carrying those massive boulders and the fallen vegetation out of those steep areas and for some distance is no mean feat.

Two upper and nine lower rollers with roller guards kept the tracks in line, but remember to keep your track movement in forward motion and uphill when working this environment as it keeps the tension on the bottom and minimises the chance of dropping a track.

The old girl handled everything we needed to throw at her, but like a ‘cut-out day in the shearing sheds at Bourke’ she loves a drink and the 560-litre fuel tank and I became close associates, if definitely not friends.

Carrying the big rocks over distance with ease


The big boom ensures the operator does not have vision through the right side of the cab, which is common with the design of the larger excavators. This makes the operator more aware of their surroundings (hopefully).

This Hitachi 330 is typical of a 10-year-old machine with some familiar old school cab layout points, while others touched on the modern. There is no reversing or side camera, which we all tend to rely on so much on these days, and manual greasing all points was a chore and a half, but as for the rest I loved it.

The dash monitor, ISO operation, twist throttle and all relevant gauges, A/C, radio all conformed to today’s standard.

A great machine equipped with a Shaw X Ripper


This is the first Hitachi excavator we have had the pleasure of reviewing and I loved it. The opportunity to work in it in a full-on working environment and review it accordingly without being confined to hours or part of a day has been thoroughly enjoyable and the service from James at McManaway Earthmoving has been second to none.

Steve Hammond and Jason Bashforth – you have almost converted me.


1982 Komatsu dozer

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