Front shovels are primarily used in surface mining excavations. Members of the hydraulic excavator family, front shovels are distinguished from their cousins by a couple of key features: relatively short booms and sticks, and front-facing buckets—hence the alternative name "face shovel."1
Front shovels are also some of the biggest and most powerful pieces of equipment in the world, capable of excavating massive amounts of earth. Common manufacturers include Caterpillar, Hitachi, Komatsu, Liebherr and Terex.
Introduced in 1997, the O&K RH400 is the world's largest front shovel—weighing 1,078 tons, standing 33.4 ft (10.2 m) with a bucket capacity of 58.9 yd3 (45 m3).2 The O&K RH400 was built by the German engineering company Orenstein & Koppel (O&K). The O&K mining assets passed to Terex, then to Bucyrus, which is now part of Caterpillar.3
The RH400 was featured in an episode of the History Channel's Modern Marvels, where it filled a 240-ton truck in less than half a minute.4
The shovel also inspired the Decepticon "Demolisher" featured in the 2009 movie Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. In real life, the RH400 set a production record in the Canadian oil sands, excavating 9000 tons of earth in one hour.5
On December 12, 2012, Ritchie Bros. will sell the 2004 O&K RH200 front shovel pictured above at an auction in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Although smaller than the RH400, the RH200 is no less impressive—standing 28.7 ft from ground to the top of the cab.6
The Raleigh-Durham auction also features two late model Hitachi EX2500-6 front shovels (2009 and 2010), pictured at the top of this article. The EX2500-6 has a maximum bucket capacity of 21.6 yd3 (16.5 m3).7
These front shovels are part of a large consignment of mining and earthmoving equipment from Southern Coal Corp., being sold on December 12 in Raleigh-Durham. Equipment is available for inspection and pickup after purchase at various mine sites in the region. Bids can be placed in person, online or by proxy.