Case Study, Cat, Caterpillar, Earthmoving Machinery, Excavators, WesTrac

Metropolitan Memorial Parks: Getting down to earth


It’s common knowledge that excavators are a multi-purpose tool in various earthmoving industries. Not so recognised is the role excavators play in cemetery earthworks. memorial

Over time, burial sites can deteriorate due to natural factors like erosion, subsidence, or vandalism. In such cases, excavators may be called upon to restore or repair the sites, including reinforcing burial vaults, repairing headstones, or repositioning markers.

In addition to general maintenance, cities grow and populations increase, so existing cemeteries may need to expand or be integrated into urban development plans. Excavators are involved in preparing the ground for new burials, constructing pathways, drainage systems, and other infrastructure within the cemetery grounds.

Precise excavation is needed to ensure these tasks are carried out in a manner that respects the sanctity of the cemetery and complies with local regulations.

When Metropolitan Memorial Parks (MMP) in NSW needed to carry out excavation jobs on its iconic cemetery parklands, it wanted to use machines that offered high levels of accuracy and precision.

Burial excavations can be very specific with work along narrow pathways surrounded by precious granite monuments.

Metropolitan Memorial Parks provides places of reflection and is committed to meeting the changing needs of diverse communities by supporting people to grieve, celebrate life, and remember their loved ones.

The parks offer sustainable and affordable burial options, crematoria, memorialisation, chapels and functions, through to history and recreational facilities.

MMP oversees more than 400 hectares of cemetery land across Sydney and Newcastle, comprising eight different cemeteries and sites.

Rob Smart (left) and excavator operator Joe Cimino.

MMP Executive Director Operations, Rob Smart, said excavation work at the various sites was done on a daily basis.

“The machinery is generally used for specialised burial excavations, landscaping and planting works and for other earthworks and green waste management,” he said.

For work needed at the Frenchs Forest cemetery, Rob said the Cat® 301.7 CR Mini Excavator was chosen because of its unique features.

“Frenchs Forest covers 22 hectares of land and is surrounded by native bushland. MMP undertakes about 260 burials and 70 ash interments on site each year,” Rob said.

“Burial excavations can be very specific with work along narrow pathways surrounded by precious granite monuments. The machines require a zero overhang off the pathways and yet still be able to excavate down to at least two metres in depth in varied soil conditions. “The machine needs to be powerful yet stable in its operation.
“We use a number of different backhoes, loaders and excavator sizes across our different cemeteries, yet the model that we required at Frenchs Forest was the Cat 301.7 CR, due to its narrow operating width and minimal swing outside the width of the machine.

“This machine is used predominantly for excavating burials in tight locations. We find it has the power required to dig through often virgin ground yet maintains the accuracy for shaping a grave as required.”

Rob said that MMP had been using Cat machines supplied and serviced by WesTrac for many years across the other sites.

This included work at Rookwood General Cemetery with backhoes, a new front end loader for the company’s site soil recycling facility, along with a number of excavators ranging from the 1.7 tonne to the 3.5t machines.

“The Frenchs Forest team first trialled the Cat excavators at the National Diesel, Dirt and Turf Expo last year, and were suitably impressed,” Rob said.

WesTrac BCP New Machine Sales Representative for Sydney Metro and Eastern Sydney, Luke Hession, said cemetery excavation work was “not your everyday job” and required highly skilled operators and compact machines to manoeuvre in between narrow monuments and dig straight vertical walled graves.

Luke said WesTrac supplied two Cat 301.7 excavators as well as one 304 model.

“Cat mini excavators are well-known for their power and performance. They can produce a lot of power, despite their compact size, which enables them to be used in a wide range of applications,” Luke said.

“Their strong lift and dig performance helps get the job done faster, boosted by a compact radius design and retractable undercarriage, that makes tight access work easy. Dig-to- blade and dozer float features also allow for easy clean-up.

“The operators using these machines love the ease and comfort, with adjustable wrist rests and a suspension seat option along with easy-to-use controls and an intuitive Next Generation LCD monitor providing valuable machine information.

Moving around the job site is made easier with the Cat Joystick travel option.

“Moving around the job site is made easier with the Cat Joystick travel option also known as Stick Steer, which lets drivers easily switch from traditional travel controls with levers and pedals, to joystick controls with a push of a button.”

Luke said because the machine was a compact radius excavator with expandable undercarriage tracks, the Cat 301.7 excavator was the perfect machine for Frenchs Forest.

“The 304 excavator is also useful because of the narrow 1700mm tracks on the machine, and having the lift capacity to remove excavation shelves,” he said.

“Each machine was equipped with specially designed cemetery excavation buckets with the rear pins dropped, allowing the operator to dig straight vertical walls and a square cut at the bottom of the hole.”

Cat 301.7 excavators are used for tight access gravesites where the pathways can be as narrow as 1200mm while digging at a 90 degree angle.

The Cat 304 excavator is employed in places where there is more room to not only carry out the digs at a 90 degree angle but to lift out the heavy deep excavation shelves.

WesTrac Sales and Product Specialist Adam Bunning reiterated the usefulness of the machines with their unique features.

“MMP’s machines do a fair bit of tracking around the sites, so the joystick travel option and cruise control come in handy for the long- distance travel between the equipment storage location and the burial sites,” he said.

“The proportional boom swing and auxiliary controls make it really easy for operators to control the input to ensure the machine doesn’t jump and potentially strike another object.

“The machines can work at low engine RPM, making the operating noise quiet for less disturbance and noise for the people around the cemetery.”

Adam said the machines would be used not just to dig burial plots, but also to lift cages in and out of them, as well as load trucks with soil and landscaping materials.

“These Cat excavators are powerful and quite versatile, which makes them perfect for everyday use around the memorial parks,” he said.

Luke said after the initial contact between the two parties at the Diesel, Dirt and Turf Expo, WesTrac followed up with several site visits and provided MMP with a Cat 305 excavator demonstration.

With so much work going on every single day, MMP can’t afford any machine downtime. For this reason, MMP is also signed up to WesTrac’s FitFleet® Customer Value Agreement (CVA).

FitFleet is an ongoing support and preventative maintenance program suitable for an individual machine or entire fleet.

FitFleet encompasses equipment health inspections, servicing, condition monitoring provided by WesTrac’s expert technology team, access to an online portal and more.

The strong lift and dig performance of the excavator helps get the job done faster, boosted by a compact radius design and retractable undercarriage.


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