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What Is a Vibratory Compactor?

By Amy Rodriguez
Updated May 17, 2024
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A vibratory compactor is a heavy duty machine that uses either a plate or roller mechanism to compact soil, asphalt, or concrete. These machines are necessary to prepare a construction job site before building a structure. The building's future structural integrity depends upon its resting on sturdy ground produced by the vibratory compactor.

The main purpose of a vibratory compactor is creating a dense substrate. Soil, asphalt, and concrete have natural voids, or spaces, between their individual particles. If a building is constructed on a loose substrate, the weight of the structure will slowly compact the material downward. As a result, the structure will slowly warp in shape, causing cracks and costly structural damage.

Vibratory plate machines resemble a jackhammer shape, but with a flat, horizontal plate at the machine's bottom tip. A worker slowly walks with the machine in his or her hands, as the plate moves rapidly up and down along a small work space. The force and frequency of the plate's vibration causes the substrate below to slowly compact downward. Voids are naturally filled with broken substrate pieces, producing a solid ground layer.

Heavier plates are positioned on the vibratory compactor for a more forceful compacting action. Asphalt and concrete commonly require heavy plates for the best substrate manipulation since their individual granules are more difficult to loosen and rearrange than basic soil. Some plate compactor models have a water or sprinkler assembly that sloughs off adhering asphalt particles to prevent any build up along the machine's plate.

A roller vibratory compactor mimics the shape of a small tractor, but with two barrel shaped rollers flanking the front and back wheel areas. This machine is designed for large compaction job sites, such as laying asphalt for a highway. A worker sits on top of the roller and drives it forward. Mechanical vibration assemblies are built into the rollers, allowing the machine to compact continuously down a long substrate area.

Each machine is manufactured for specific substrate applications. Difficult substrates, such as concrete, must have a vibrating action applied with longer and harder movements. In contrast, soil requires short and less forceful vibrations for the best compaction results.

Both machines can be dangerous to operate by an inexperienced individual. Plate and roller compactor operators must be trained by an experienced user or designer. Feet and hands can be easily injured if the compactor accidentally strikes the body.

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