The term long reach excavator was probably first coined by Richard Melhuish the Chairman of Land & Water. During the 1970s Land & Water operated the UK’s first hire fleet of these new and innovative long reach hydraulic excavators. In fact they still operate the largest fleet of long-reaches in the UK. Land & Water's first long reach excavator was the Hymac 580 BT All Hydraulic 360 “Waterway” machine, designed with a long arm to allow it to work on Waterways.
Thes early machines from Hymac changed attitudes towards hydraulic excavators. They became a serious alternative to the more traditional drag lines designs.
Around the same time Priestman (and later Ruston Bucyrus) VC (Variable Counterweight) excavators started to become more popular. However, the work VC machines could achieve was slightly constrained by design limitations and so the popularity of fully hydraulic "long reach" machines steadily increased, especially with the arrival of more reliable machines from Japan built by manufacturers such as Hitachi and Komatsu. These Japanese designed machines used higher quality hydraulic fittings and connectors and hardly ever leaked hydraulic fluid. This was especially important when working on and around water due to the environmental impact.
Long reach excavators are often confused with high reach demolition machines – but the two products are very different. Long reach machines are not suitable for the high side twisting forces that can be exerted by demolition attachments and many demolition machines are unstable at large radius – so they are often assisted with electronic cut off devices that restrict the operating radius of the machine. Long reach machines excel at dredging operations where large quantities of material needs to be removed from underwater while the physical plant stays above water.
The high reach excavator is a development of the excavator with an especially long boom arm, that is primarily used for demolition. Instead of excavating ditches, the high reach excavator is designed to reach the upper stories of buildings that are being demolished and pull down the structure in a controlled fashion. It has largely replaced the wrecking ball as the primary tool for demolition.
Ultra high reach demolition excavators (UHD) refers to demolition excavators with several tens of meters of reach. Reaches of up to 48 metres (157 ft) are in operation as of 2016.