When a job site calls for compact equipment, the market provides contractors a variety from which to choose, be it for purchase or rental.
Today’s mini-loaders and backhoes not only offer size advantages, but more power, versatility, and integrated technology
Compact wheel loaders by design are small and compact for working on tight job sites or indoors with limited space, notes Joel Grimes, wheel loader marketing manager for Caterpillar.
In addition to being nimble machines, Caterpillar compact wheel loaders are designed for optimal visibility, he adds.
Grimes points out that the newer models are more powerful than previous offerings. Caterpillar has given the new 903D model a 25% boost in payload to handle classic palatized materials such as wet sod, hardscape, and grain bags, and to fertilize totes with ease, he says.
“This boost in payload, combined with a 25% increase in ground speed, makes the 903D a very productive machine that is ideally suited for landscaping and agriculture work,” he adds.
The new options on the 903D give it the versatility to run a variety of attachments, says Grimes.
For hydro-mechanical attachments such as brooms, landscape rakes, and snow blowers, the 903D offers throttle lock to set the engine RPM, continuous auxiliary flow to set tool speed, and creep control to fine-tune ground speed.
The development of Electro-Hydraulic (EH) controls for Cat compact wheel loaders will give end-users the ability to customize their experience for individual applications or personal preferences, notes Grimes.
“A few examples include programmable kick out positions and cylinder snubbing on the Cat 918M,” he says. “Operators can now, with a simple press and hold of a soft touch button, program distinct linkage positions such as the level tool that can easily be returned to using detents in the joystick.”
Additionally, contractors can derive “all-day comfort with the cylinder snubbing that acts like a damper to slow the motion as the linkage returns to a programmed kick out,” says Grimes. “Hydraulic response and speed also can be easily adjusted with EH controls to match the application. For example, Cat compact wheel loaders feature fine mode control where the speed can be reduced and modulation refined for material placement with forks or increased for quick bucket work.”
“We are seeing more contractors updating or adding to their compact equipment fleets with compact track loaders because the machines may be operated in ground conditions such as soft or wet soil, or sandy ground conditions,” says Jason Boerger, marketing manager, Bobcat Company.
“This is a direct reflection of contractors looking to extend their working seasons and allowing them to maintain their schedules and stay productive,” he adds.
With a tight labor market and strict deadlines, going without a machine or not being able to work because of soft soil can be critical, which is why these machines provide a distinct advantage in the equipment market, Boerger says.
Bobcat Company offers a range of compact track loaders with widths from 55 to 82.8-inches.
“Contractors are always wanting more performance from the same size package, meaning they want to get more done with the same size machine,” says Boerger. “They understand the relationship between power and fuel usage, but they know their increased fuel costs will be more than offset with increased production.
“Knowing this mindset, we are seeing a trend with manufacturers offering higher horsepower machines. For example, Bobcat Company now offers the new T870 compact track loader that has 100 horsepower, which is an increase from the previous model of 92 horsepower.”
Contractors are always finding new ways to use their compact loaders because of the attachment versatility, Boerger points out.
“Adding attachments to a contractor’s equipment fleet can allow them to expand their service offerings and ultimately become more profitable,” he adds. “Whether they are adding a hydraulic breaker to break up concrete and asphalt or a snow blower to extend their season into winter, the attachment versatility of these machines gives contractors a great opportunity for growth.”
There are many machine control technologies currently being offered on compact loaders, Boerger says.
“Joystick controls are offered on many loaders, which provide fingertip controls enabling an operator to easily control numerous machine functions without letting go of the joysticks,” he says. “Some features may include speed management, which allows the operator to adjust travel speed independently from the engine speed for greater attachment control, or steering drift compensation, which keeps the loader on a straight path as an operator side-shifts certain types of attachments.”
“The true benefit of the Kubota compact TLB (tractor-loader-backhoe) is the versatility it offers the end-user,” notes Jeff Jacobsmeyer, product manager for excavators, wheel loaders, and TLBs for Kubota.
The versatility is as such that one machine has the capability of replacing two or more, he notes.
The Kubota L47 and M62 TLBs’ three-in-one options enable end-users to perform front loading, rear excavating, and other implement tasks such as a pallet fork or a box blade via either a mechanical two-lever quick coupler or an optional hydraulic quick coupler.
The Kubota TLB has an integrated frame to stand up to the heavy-duty demands of construction applications, yet offers the ability to convert to a loader landscaper tractor with a true 540 rpm power takeoff to drive rear attachments. The larger TLBs do not have this ability.
The new TLBs are more powerful than previous offerings, Jacobsmeyer notes.
“Along with a productive front loader and powerful tractor, Kubota’s M62 TLB features highly efficient backhoes that dig deeper and reach farther than previous models,” he says.
The new models now feature the ability to utilize certain Kubota mini excavator buckets, which can provide for more versatility on the job site, he adds.
The Kubota’s L47 features a 10-foot digging depth and a bucket digging force of 5,825 pounds. The M62 offers contractors more excavating ability than its predecessors, with a 14-foot digging depth, which is a 17% improvement over the previous generation’s 12-foot maximum depth.
“Additionally, both engines are more powerful than their predecessors,” points out Jacobsmeyer. “The engine of the L47 produces a rated 47.1 gross horsepower, while the M62 produces a rated 63 gross horsepower.
“The L47 and M62 are equipped with a much larger 17.7-gallon fuel tank at 48% more fuel capacity than those of the previous TLBs, allowing both new models to work longer with less downtime required to refuel.”
The L47 and M62 host a number of interior upgrades aimed at increasing functionality and optimizing operator comfort, notes Jacobsmeyer.
“The clutch pedal has been eliminated in both models, thereby allowing the brake pedal to be relocated to the left side of the cab, reducing interior clutter and simplifying driver operation,” he says.
Foot space on the backhoe platform has been increased 27% over the previous models, providing the operator with a roomier work area, he adds.
“A new throttle-up switch increases engine revolutions per minute while holding vehicle speed steady for those times when extra power is required for front loader work but vehicle speed needs to remain constant, and the electronic throttle lever and PTO switch require less physical effort to engage than older mechanical controls,” says Jacobsmeyer.
John Deere offers five models of compact wheel loaders which Drew Miller, product marketing manager for John Deere Construction and Forestry, splits into two groups.
The first two models are the 204L and 304L and have a 73 gross horsepower (hp), says Miller, adding they typically would be considered standard articulation models. There are fewer electronics on them, so they tend to be more serviceable with more simple maintenance, he adds.
The L-series is designed to be under 8 feet in height.
“If you’re limited on height constraints, that can be a big advantage, especially if you’re working through overhead doors,” points out Miller. “There are even some contractors who work in and out of containers and that machine can enter under an 8-foot door height.”
On the 204L and 304L models, contractors can choose an open canopy that allows for easier ingress and egress or opt for an air-conditioned/heated cab.
The other three machines—the 244K-II, the 324K, and the 344L—are what John Deere calls “articulation plus models,” says Miller, adding that the 344L is 106 gross hp.
Those three models articulate like most loaders, says Miller, “but rather than articulating 40 degrees, they only articulate 30 degrees and then we add 10 degrees of rear wheel turn. That does three things for those machines: they’re more capable, more stable, and more maneuverable. By articulating less, they give you a higher full turn tip load.”
The machines also are designed with a tighter turning radius, “and because we are articulating less, it means our straight tip load compared to our full turn tip load numbers are closer together and that will help with stability,” adds Miller. “It helps in general by articulating less and also helps with the stability of the machines.”
In choosing the right equipment for the job site, contractors would do well to consider the site in which they will be working, notes Miller.
“If they are working in tighter spaces, that would be a reason to push them toward the compact equipment,” he says. “From a capacity standpoint, if they’re considering a larger piece of equipment, then it really is going to come back to what’s efficient for them, so it’s understanding the operating capacity of that compact equipment.”
Another factor to consider is in loading the trucks, Miller notes.
“The smaller machines are going to have lower dump heights, depending on what they’re loading—whether they’re loading flatbed trucks or dumping into dump trucks or on-road trucks,” he says. “They would want to understand that the machine they’re getting is still able to reach above the bend of the trucks into which they’re loading if they’re loading dirt and aggregate.
“Another consideration might be as you’re loading a flatbed truck, are you able to unload that truck from both sides or do you need a machine that can reach across the truck to grab a pallet at some far side of that truck rather than being able to come around to that side of the trailer? That could be a consideration for the site’s layout, how a contractor is looking at equipment, and what’s capable of making that reach and lifting the load off that flatbed for them.”
As John Deere products move into final Tier 4 engines, “the 75 horsepower level is where we see the need for diesel exhaust fluid (DEF),” says Miller. “Above 75 horsepower, typically you’re going to see manufacturers using DEF fluid in those machines versus if you’re staying under the 75 horsepower range. That will remove the need for DEF fluid.
“Depending on what their current fleet looks like if they’re used to using DEF fluid, that could be part of their consideration—their knowledge level around that or their willingness to buy a machine that’s above 75 horsepower because of that additional need.”
John Deere offers aftermarket or field kit technology options for the machines, says Miller, adding that the company offers its JDLink telematics system for the articulation plus models.
When it comes to the choice between a loader or backhoe, John Comrie, compact product manager at Volvo Construction Equipment, notes that the physical size of Volvo’s compact wheel loaders provides an advantage over backhoes. “Because they’re more compact and they articulate, they’re easier to maneuver in tight areas and urban environments.
“They also provide better visibility when using the pallet forks and the standard bucket on a compact wheel loader offers a competitive payload as compared to a backhoe. Their physical size also leads to better all-around visibility, which helps a less experienced operator see the bucket or other attachment better than on a backhoe. Operators also do not have to worry about the extra weight and size hanging on the back of the wheel loader,” he adds.
Comrie points out that “obviously, a backhoe is a two-in-one machine which can be advantageous versus a compact wheel loader, but a compact wheeled excavator such as the Volvo EW60E also is a good alternative to a backhoe for mobility of more than 19 miles per hour, 360-degree rotation, ability to backfill with the dozer blade, and greater attachment versatility.”
“Compact track loaders also have certain advantages over compact wheel loaders—they’re smaller in size and allow for working in confined areas,” he adds. “The compact track loaders, because of their engine horsepower versus compact wheel loader, can offer a higher high-flow system, allowing the use of attachments like the larger asphalt paver or HD brush cutter.”
Volvo’s new L20HS increased in horsepower by 15% versus its predecessor and the L25HS increased minimally by 1 hp, which allows Volvo to offer more commonality between the two models, says Comrie.
“The H-Series models also are Tier 4 Final with added exhaust after treatment, so not only are they easier to maintain, but they’re significantly more fuel efficient,” he adds.
“Both of these models also offer an increased travel speed of 19 miles per hour,” says Comrie. “That’s a big benefit for any contractors who move around, such as landscapers, utility contractors, or farmers. A low range restricts travel speed to five miles per hour for applications where safety is a concern due to the need to operate in tight spaces.”
The L20HS and L25HS come with an option for a higher flow of 29 GPM with larger hydraulic coolers to ensure oil stays cool during operation of hydraulic attachments such as mowers, notes Comrie.
“There also are redesigned cab interiors with tilt steering, upgraded electronics, and improved engine safety measures,” he adds. “An operator can now utilize an auto engine shutdown and benefit from reduced fuel consumption.”
Volvo designed the cab to be more comfortable to lower fatigue and increase productivity, Comrie says.
The company also offers ActiveCare Direct, which sends case alerts with the fault code and the likely cause, recommended solution, and consequence of not taking action, Comrie says, adding that it enables contractors to catch problems before they occur.
Monthly reports provide information enabling equipment owners to make more informed fleet management decisions and improve profitability.
New Holland’s skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders are classed by rated operating capacity, notes Joe Boufford, construction equipment marketing.
“Smaller units are great for nimble material handling and landscape work, while the large units with greater horsepower and more hydraulic flow can be used for dozing, heavy lifting, and for use with power implements like brush cutters, brooms, and trenchers,” he says.
To understand the equipment’s limitations is to understand the job requirements, Boufford points out.
“Will the machine be primarily used over the end or due to space constraints, will it need to be used over the side? For each situation, the New Holland machine will have published lift capacity charts in the cab that state at x weight plus x distance, the machine can lift this much,” notes Boufford.
“In addition to lift capacity, the operator should be aware of how deep they need to dig or high they’ll need to dump as both metrics are proportional to machine size. It’s probably best to purchase or rent a machine that is more than what the job requires as more of a contingency, especially if it is for continuous use.”
Design engineers are constantly improving engine performance and hydraulic output, says Boufford, adding that not only does this improve power and performance, but efficiency as well.
“Each power unit is equipped with a powerful engine which is optimized for the size and class of the unit and a compact frame while still making it easily serviceable,” he says. “Simple design enhancement such as increasing the diameter and angle of the lift cylinders on a skid or compact track loader can increase the lifting capacity without having to change the size of the unit’s chassis.”
Adding a vertical linkage system like New Holland’s SuperBoom allows for higher lift and forward clearance while loading, due to the unique design in which the boom moves towards the load point while raising overhead, Boufford adds.
Compact track loaders and skid-steer loaders are as versatile as the available attachments, Boufford points out.
“The hydraulic systems on these products are designed and optimized to deliver constant, powerful hydraulic flow,” he says. “This allows a digging machine to become a breaker, cutter, mower, compactor, or drill (auger). A hydraulic or mechanical coupler enables the user to switch easily between the necessary attachments.”
All of New Holland’s construction equipment line-up is telematics-ready, says Boufford.
“Information is key and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) is changing the way companies do business,” he says. “Fleet management systems not only allow contractors and rental houses the ability to keep track of their assets, but also allow for planned service scheduling for routine maintenance and service parts orders. Telematics systems have the ability to transmit error codes back to a monitoring center so that the appropriate action can be taken.”
Brent Kuchynka, vice president, corporate fleet management for United Rentals, points out that compact backhoes range from digging depths of 14 to 20 feet and from 69 to 175 hp. Skid-steers typically have load capacities of 800 to 3,600 pounds and 45 to 100 hp, he adds.
“Both equipment categories are benefitting from an R&D focus by manufacturers,” says Kuchynka. “This has led to better coupler compatibility and other design improvements that reduce downtime onsite.
“To improve productivity, many of the models use technology including telematics, remote diagnostic tools, and grade control solutions. Payload and outrigger sensors make the equipment safer to operate.”
Kuchynka notes that with skid-steers, there is a “definite trend” toward track units versus wheeled skid loaders.
“The track units are more maneuverable with better traction,” he says. “These machines are Tier 4 Final-compliant and ergonomic. They’re designed to run at higher RPMs and they’re easier to service. For example, these newer units have automatic alert systems for maintenance and daily service requirements.”
Backhoes are versatile and popular machines, Kuchynka points out.
“Newer models offer improved breakout force and backhoe arm adjustments for tight operating areas,” he adds. “The cab and controls are easier on the operator with a more ergonomic design. Like the skid-steers, the backhoes comply with Tier 4 Final specs and are less cumbersome to service. Quick-fit oil attachments are gaining interest, while other features are manufacturer-specific. JCB units, for example, do not require diesel exhaust fluid.”
Kuchynka notes that the wide range of skid-steer loaders now on the market has eliminated many of the constraints to job site performance.
“These models are ideal for rental because a contractor can match the size and features of the loader to a specific job and then choose a different unit for the next set of conditions,” he says.