What Is a Trench Compactor?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2019
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A trench compactor is a piece of heavy machinery used to compact soil in trenches or other narrow spaces. This machine is very often remote controlled to prevent a human worker from having to enter a trench in order to operate it, though some trench compactor models do feature a yoke that allows walk-behind operation. The machine usually features steel wheels that can compress the soil, as well as a heavy body within which the diesel or gas powered engine is mounted. The body is generally fairly narrow to accommodate use in narrow trenches.

Trenches are often dug so pipes and electrical lines can be installed in the earth. This means the trenches will generally be fairly narrow, depending on the size of the piping, thereby necessitating a narrow trench compactor. Once the trench is dug using a trencher, the inside of the trench may need to be compacted to ensure the bottom of the trench does not collapse or lurch under the load of the installed pipe and the soil that will eventually be filled back into the trench to cover the pipe. The trench compactor can be placed within the trench, and a remote control can be used to propel the device forward. Sometimes an umbilical wire is run from the machine to a hand control instead of using a remote control system.


Once the trench is filled in with soil, that soil will also need to be compacted. The trench compactor can be run over the filled-in trench to push soil down for proper compaction; the narrow body of the trench compactor is useful in this application because it will compact the new soil and not be held up by the older soil on either side of the trench that has already been compacted over time.

Another type of trench compactor is the vibrator plate compactor. Instead of using steel wheels to accomplish compaction, this device will feature a smooth plate mounted on the bottom of the machine. When activated, this plate will vibrate at a high rate of speed, thereby propelling the machine forward while it compacts the soil with the vibration. This style of compactor is useful for concrete compaction as well. The type of compactor used will depend on the intended application as well as the preferences of the construction workers performing the compaction process. Vibrator plate compactors usually require an operator to walk behind the machine during use.


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