A hydraulic shovel is a piece of heavy equipment that can be either tire- or track-driven. The typical hydraulic shovel is a track-driven machine that is used to dig coal and other minerals from the ground and load it into huge trucks to be driven to a mill. Unlike its cousin the track hoe, the hydraulic shovel's bucket or shovel is pointed forward in on the boom and does its digging on the up-sweep of the boom. The track hoe has a bucket facing rearward and does its digging as the bucket is drawn to the rear and down.
Typically powered by one or more diesel engines, the hydraulic shovel uses hydraulic power for every movement it makes. The diesel engines are used to drive large hydraulic pumps that push the hydraulic fluid towards the intended hydraulic cylinders. The hydraulic shovel is manned by a single operator, usually one who has gone through intensive schooling and training in the operation of the machine. The tracks on the machine are intended only as a means to move the machine on the job site, and any transportation to and from the site must be accomplished by loading the large machine onto a flatbed trailer and pulling it with a semi tractor.
While track hoes are used to dig holes, a hydraulic shovel is best used to dig minerals and rocks out of a hill side. By approaching the side of a hill and forcing the shovel up and into the hill, the shovel or bucket is filled with material. The operator is able to swing the shovel over a waiting dump truck and empty the contents of the shovel into the truck by opening the shovel in the middle. This allows the minerals to fall into the dump truck as the shovel operator closes the shovel and prepares to take another scoop out of the wall. Once the operator has removed enough material from the wall that the shovel cannot reach it anymore, he simply drives the shovel forward on the tracks and begins digging again.
The hydraulic shovel is used almost exclusively in the coal mining industry. Strip mining is particularly suited to the operational methods of the hydraulic shovel. By digging the coal from the top down, many of the equipment sizing restrictions are removed. By allowing larger equipment to be used, greater work capacities can be realized in the same work hours.