Big Complicated Machines, Technostalgia

BCMs #2 Schaufelradbagger

Schaufelradbagger at night

Greetings, everyone.

For a little change of pace, I thought that the Big, Complicated Machine that we would look at today is the mighty Schaufelradbagger, or bucket wheel excavator as it is known in English speaking countries. I personally prefer the German word. The Germans come up with such great five-dollar words for technological items, I just wish I could remember them better. Because the name is a tad long to type a lot, I’ll refer to them as BWEs from here on.

Bucket-Wheel Excavators

I’ll quote Wiki here:

Bucket-wheel excavators (BWEs) are heavy equipment used in surface mining and civil engineering. The primary function of BWEs is to act as a continuous digging machine in large-scale open pit mining operations. What sets BWEs apart from other large-scale mining equipment, such as bucket chain excavators, is their use of a large wheel consisting of a continuous pattern of buckets used to scoop material as the wheel turns. They are among the largest vehicles ever constructed, and the biggest bucket-wheel excavator ever built, Bagger 293, is the largest terrestrial (land) vehicle in human history according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

BWEs are mainly used in the coal mining industry to remove soft overburden covering the coal. BWEs don’t work well in hard or very rocky ground, as the boulder screw up the miles-long and sometimes complex system of conveyor belts that are normally used to shift the dug-out overburden to a location away from the mining area.

Here is an example of a surface coal mine, the Garzweiler stripmine in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany. This panorama shot is very big, so when you click on the picture it takes a while to load, then click on the picture again to magnify it fully. There are eight BWEs visible in the picture.


Tagebau Garzweiler Panorama


The BWE picks up material with the rotating bucket wheel  which dumps it onto a conveyor belt that delivers the material to the discharge boom. The overburden is then delivered to the discharge boom, which transfers the cut earth to another machine for transfer to a spreader. This may be a fixed belt conveyor system or a mobile conveyor with crawlers similar to those found on the BWE. Mobile conveyors permanently attached to the excavator takes the burden of directing the material off of the operator.

Here is a decent video of this process:


The next video is rather interesting. Some guy snuck onto the property of a coal mine, crept up to the edge of the pit and filmed a ‘small’ BWE starting up and digging. Take note of the noise this thing makes starting at about the 4:21 mark.


There aren’t a whole lot of good videos of BWEs in operation. I especially wanted to find one that shows how they move these things to a new location – they drive them cross-country, but the ones that I found are about as exciting as paint drying, so I skipped those. These next videos are in German, but they show a lot about how these things work.


This video is kind of a tour of Bagger 288, one of the two largest BWEs on the planet.


Another on Bagger 288, but shows the conveyor system pretty well.


That’s all for this time.


  • highmileage_v1

    Very cool. I lived approximately 15km from that strip mine and overflew it just about every day for 5 years. That excavator is flat out amazing. What really surprises me is the amount of coal that is used in Europe (at least at that time, mid '90's).

  • Groovy. I can dig it.

    • The Professor

      Oh wow, man.

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        <img src="; width="500"> My computer went crazy when I opened this post. You can see some Chinese stuff and part of the editor I was using on linacExcHander.c, strange.

        • The Professor

          How weird. I don't know what to tell you. Maybe something you have running on your machine doesn't like YouTube? I just re-ran them, and they seem to work ok. I see where one has had the embedding disabled by someone, I don't know what's up with that.
          Sorry that you had trouble. If you go to youtube and search for 'bagger 288' you should be able to find them to watch.

          It must be Chinese hackers again…

    • highmileage_v1

      Scooping dirt with a bucket can leave you in a rut.

  • craigsu

    And here I thought we were going to be asked what our favorite German word was. Oh well, mine is Bustenhalter.

  • B72

    My German isn't that good, and my google-fu is weak today. What kind of power source do these things use?

  • FЯeeMan

    For the "sneaking in" video, I kept waiting for the guy to get scooped up by the wheel. I was disappointed.

    I can envision him using this for some anti-mining campaign. He probably doesn't realize that the electricity to charge his video camera, cook his dinner and watch his TV (but not recharge the batteries in his Prius) probably all come from the coal dug up at this mine.

    /political soap box off. Sorry 'bout that.