Always on the Move
Skid-steer and track loader users, dealers, and manufacturers have been riding out the current economy in different ways. Tools and machinery are still in demand, still doing what they’re designed, engineered, and built for.
Success in this economy is good and welcome news. One firm is doing a tremendous amount of business renting to operations in a Gulf Coast state, and another end user far to the north has just had his busiest three years in over 50 years of operation. Grading & Excavation Contractor checked in with contractors, dealers, and manufacturers to get their take on how their equipment is being used nowadays. Staying versatile, finding the best equipment for the job, and working on efficiency seem to be the common themes. And, as always, the machinery and new engineering is going where the money is.
Mini-Excavators to the Rescue
In Hallock, MN, some 220 miles west of International Falls, Shane Weleske of Weleske Improvements has a full excavating service doing water, sewer, and utility work as well as a great deal of work in confined spaces involving site excavating work. Confined space work keeps his company the busiest.
Weleske Improvements doesn’t advertise its services; neither does it have a Web site. But it’s running about two to three weeks behind at the moment because it has so much work. The company needed to update some mini-excavators and decided to look at Terex so it could stay with one brand. “We purchased a PT-30 and PT-100, which are very good for work in confined areas, as are the Terex excavators. Everything’s worked out well. They’re moving; they’re not sitting in the yard,” says Weleske.
Weleske recently finished a job inside the local full-service hospital with a nursing home and assisted living area attached. The crew had to take the basement floor and core out of the building to a depth of about 4 feet. A water main had broken in the hospital in December 2009, flooding the basement above the boilers and running down the hallway toward the main hospital area.
Two water lines come into the hospital, one domestic and the other a sprinkler system. At an elbow, a breach on the 6-inch water line burst after rubbing on the rock for 28 years, instantly heaving the floors up and destroying the boilers and everything in the maintenance room.
“Since this was in December, we had to do everything by hand, fixing the inside and taking out material by pail, as it was too cold to use the vacuums or excavating equipment,” explains Weleske. “We’re on the open prairie, and when the snow gets to blowing, you don’t go very far. We got the hospital flood damage fixed temporarily and then, later in the year, started working with our mini-excavator, bringing it in through a hole we punched in the wall.”
First the crew began tearing out concrete. When it reached soil, conveyors were used to clear that out through the door.
Though the whole county the town is in has a population of only 4,000, the company does a lot of site work. “We’ve been very fortunate over the last few years,” he says. “These have been bumper years for us, despite the downturn in the economy. We travel, but in recent years the farthest we’ve had to go is 25 miles away.”
Shane’s father, Tom Weleske, started the company in 1956 and is still active in the business, going strong at 78. “We’re established and have a niche,” says Shane Weleske. “Our use of the mini- and compact equipment means sometimes the big operators end up hiring us. We’re in a farming area, and farming has done really well up here. I would say these last three years have been among our five top grossing years in the history of our firm.
Keeping Things Rolling
Terex is Bob Galloway’s main line at DP Equipment in Camden, MI, a Terex dealer since 2001. Galloway also handles some Gehl products but deals mostly with compact equipment, handling a full line of Terex’s compact equipment from mini-excavators and compact wheel loaders to backhoes and compact rubber track loaders. At this time, Terex does not have a skid-steer loader but is scheduled to come out with one soon.
Small contractors or owner operators make up about 60% of DP’s business. “They do a variety of different construction and excavation projects, including greenfields, swimming pools, basements for new homes and septic systems,” explains Galloway. “But, at the moment, we don’t find much work going on in the digging of basements, as there is little new homebuilding out there now. We do some municipality bidding, but that’s tightened up, too.
“We offer full-length service, parts, sales, and do a lot of rental business, too. We do the full gamut, including infrastructure work. I guess what we see when we talk to other dealers is that we’re caught on a roller coaster, quite busy for a couple of weeks, quoting equipment for people, busy with rentals, and then we will see that fall off. You then go real quiet for a couple of weeks before things pick back up again. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. But everyone is clearly looking for a bargain.”
Just as with residential work, the commercial market has shriveled, if not dried up. It is very small, according to Galloway. “But we do see activity in the area of landscaping work. Landscapers remain busy, as people are staying home and wanting this work done, spending money on the house and things close to home and making themselves feel better by spending money on the landscaping of their homes. The landscaping market is fairly large.
“The biggest of our Terex compact track loaders is being used for right-of-way management for mowing for gas companies, power companies, and pipeline companies. Over the last five years, there has been much growth in the right-of-way market.
“With our skid-steer and our loader, they’re all universal, so all the attachments are interchangeable. The difference is that, in the track loader, you have the flotation capabilities making for better tractive efforts due to more surface area contact on the ground. You will also get more lifting capacity. The Terex track loader is actually very well liked for snow removal in the wintertime in areas such as our in Michigan or further north in the US. Because of the way they are balanced, they make good pushing machines for clearing the white stuff.”
Getting Things Moving
Cary Safe, engineer with Terex Construction Americas, points out that Terex compact track loaders come standard with a loader-mounted quick-attach interface, allowing operators to easily attach to a wide range of attachments including an auger, backhoe, brush cutter, leveler, pallet forks, box rake, snow blade and blower, tiller, and trencher, as well as general-purpose, light-material, and multipurpose buckets. Attachments designed for Terex compact track loaders are performance-matched to ensure proper fit, balance, and operation.
Terex has made changes with the introduction of the new Terex PT-100G and PT-100G Forestry compact track loaders. Terex has made improvements to their undercarriages, hydraulics, loaders, electronic controls, and cabs. These changes include a 13.5% increase in tractive effort in low gear for more pushing power, a 9% increase in horsepower to the attachment, a redesigned loader arm to achieve greater reach, and 13% more bucket breakout force over their predecessors.
The new PT-100G models include the Terex patented Posi-Track undercarriage technology and suspension system for the smoothest ride available in the industry, according to Safe. With 48 contact points on the ground, compared with the previous models’ 42, the PT-100G machines offer increased traction and higher flotation in all ground conditions and longer track life.
“These loaders set a new benchmark in the industry with a load-sensing, high-flow auxiliary hydraulic capability of 45 gallons per minute at 3,800 psi [incrementally adjustable in 1-gallon steps from 30 to 45 gallons per minute],” adds Safe. “Other features standard on the PT-100G and PT-100G Forestry include load-sensing, infinitely variable, low-flow auxiliary hydraulics from 0 to 20 gallons per minute, two-speed drive motors up to 10 miles per hour, auto-idle, creep mode, a selectable pattern changer from ISO to ‘H’ pattern, and adjustable loader-bucket sensitivity.”
Terex track loaders are equipped with a comfortable operator station for easy operation, according to Safe. On models equipped with heat or air conditioning, a pressurized and sealed enclosed cab comes standard.
Skid-steers and track loaders: Both have their uses and supporters.
Brand new to the PT-100G models, the cooling fan blades will automatically adjust to provide optimal airflow while minimizing impact to engine performance. The auto-reversing fan on the PT-100G Forestry has been enhanced to allow the operator to trigger it at set intervals in five-minute increments to keep the machine’s cooling system running at peak performance.
“Factors driving all those changes on our equipment may dovetail with the reality that rubber track loaders are the focus of our company’s compact construction equipment business. In fact, ASV—now owned and operated by Terex—created the market and customer demand for compact track loaders,” says Safe. “As a result, we design and build our machines to be rubber track loaders without the compromises to machine width, ground clearance, machine weight, and balance that other manufacturers make when they adapt their skid-steers to rubber track undercarriages. We’re the only manufacturer to offer such a broad range of machine sizes and only the Terex undercarriage includes suspension.
“We continually research, design, develop, and test our tracks and suspension systems to maximize two key factors: the machine’s productivity and the ownership experience. Terex is always working to better serve its customers with technology and innovations to provide them with the best quality equipment. We heavily rely on our customers’ experiences and their feedback on the equipment to drive these improvements—it’s a passion for us.”
Unlike many competitors who mount a rubber track on an existing skid-steer chassis, Terex designs its machines from the ground up to run on a suspended rubber track undercarriage, according to Safe. “This means that Terex machines provide the smoothest ride in the compact track loader industry,” he says. “Because the most important part of any machine is the operator, Terex loaders also have more features and built-in comfort than other brands.”
The company’s proprietary rubber track is the culmination of over 30 years of research and development. It’s a lightweight, pliable, yet tough composite material. No steel is used anywhere in the rubber track, avoiding the problems of corrosion, delamination, and early failure that are common on rubber tracks with steel inserts.
“In today’s market there are only two choices in undercarriage technology: Terex undercarriage technology and rigid track technology,” explains Safe. “Terex technology includes several patents and is composed completely of proprietary designs. Terex undercarriage technology can be divided into three equally important categories: contact points, internal drive, and suspension.”
Using the Downturn as an Opportunity
With the current economy, versatility has become even more of a central issue with products in general and specifically with such utility products as skid-steers and backhoes. When the market was good, a lot of the people were able to focus on one specific job and be really good at that. There was enough work out there for everyone to make a decent living, according to Chris Giorgianni, general manager of product marketing for JCB North America.
“Now what we continue to see are more unique and different applications, businesses that might have been focused on housing now expanding to waste recycling or other more resilient areas. But the issue eventually boils down to the versatility of the product. Backhoe loaders are in effect Swiss army knives. You can put buckets and shovels on the front and back of the machine in addition to hammers, augers, compactors, tampers, and a whole wide array of other attachments usable on the machine. For every attachment, that’s another dimension or profit opportunity for the customer.”
JCB skid-steer loaders have a universal quick-hitch up front enabling users to mount buckets, pallet forks, culp liners, augers, hammers, or compactors. As the economy dropped, customers started looking at their machines and how they could increase and maximize the versatility, or look at doing jobs better or more efficiently than they were before.
The JCB product team under Giorgianni works on many projects involved in expanding the versatility on the machines. “From a product development standpoint, we continue to develop products not linked to products already out there. We try to give customers other ways to solve problems because, when you think about it, a piece of construction equipment is solving a problem, whether it be having a hole dug, bringing a load of bricks to a certain height, or digging a trench for a particular reason; it’s a means to an end. We like to give the customer the most efficient way to solve problems.
Except for mud, skid-steers can master nearly every terrain.
Even when the market’s down, JCB continues to invest in this side of the business. The company has actually been launching more products now than it has in the previous years. The company likes to promote unique selling points, not what everyone else is doing, and a lot of these start with the operator’s environment. JCB always starts its focus there, and then it emanates out into the actual machine, according to Giorgianni.
When the market downturn hit, this enabled JCB to take a good look at its efficiencies, including changing its Savannah Georgia plant’s focus to be centered more on skid-steers and the military backhoe. The HMEE, for example, is a military backhoe that JCB has built for the US military.
The company is in the process of making that transition now. The Savannah plant used to be the supplier (backhoe loaders, telescopic handlers, and skid-steer loaders) for the North American market. It will now supply skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders worldwide for JCB in addition to supplying the HMEE backhoe for the US government.
“We have the industry’s only skid-steer loader with a single boom, enabling entry and exit out of the side door of the machine. This supplies maximum visibility and safety for the operator and top-of-the line performance. JCB invented the concept of the backhoe loader back in 1953, and, we have been enhancing and building upon it ever since.
“To this day, a lot of the features seen on many of the backhoe loaders started with us. We even have features today that the industry doesn’t have. Torque-lock, for example, which allows an operator to move more efficiently from point A to point B when roading a machine. You want to make your customer more productive with your machine because that’s going to bring them back to buy more of your machines.”
Poised and Ready for the Recovery
“Versatility is an important benefit to contractors looking for ways to cut costs and get the job done effectively,” says Curtis Goettel, Case Construction Equipment marketing manager. “Contractors are sticking with mainstream tools and attachments: buckets, brooms, hydraulic hammers, forks. Skid-steers and compact track loaders have the advantage of offering a wide variety of attachments for any number of applications.
“We’re starting to see some stimulus-driven projects around the country, but it varies from state to state. In some states, such as Illinois, the stimulus funds are flowing a bit more quickly. What business there is seems to be the larger government-funded projects rather than smaller municipal and commercial work. The commercial side of the private sector has picked up a little, but we’re not seeing much evidence of recovery in the residential construction market. Construction lending is still tight, and that’s continuing to have an effect on the market.
“Compact equipment is being used more on government infrastructure projects than in the past. This may be explained by the facts that skid-steers, compact track loaders, compact excavators, and other compact models are highly versatile, affordable to buy or rent, and very economical to operate.”
Lightweight Proves a Heavyweight
For Bud Martin, sales manager for Terramite by TerraQuip, his backhoe provides a skid-steer’s ability to load as well as the capability of doing ditching, trenching, small ponds, foundations, footings, backfilling, loading, and carrying with the bucket end of the machine, using the proper attachment. It’s a small-size version of a tractor-loader backhoe, according to Martin.
“I consider it a combination of both pieces of equipment,” says Martin. “Our equipment is lighter in weight, so therefore there is not as much restoration of the landscape involved. It’s smaller in size, so you are able to get into spots where the bigger machines cannot reach in addition to being very inexpensive to operate and easy to trailer around.”
Martin says that repair work digging can be very surgical, exposing a break in a water line or gas line. “You probably don’t need that big machine in there anyway, as you’re probably only going down a couple of feet. Our machines are perfect for use in those applications.”
Terramite has been around for over 45 years. Founder Kelly G. Cunningham made the first tractor loader backhoe. “We’re still doing pretty well; we’ve been out there a long time, are well known in the industry, and I think that’s kept us going in this economy,” says Martin.
Equipment Suited to the Landscape
Takeuchi equipment is one of many products rented out by JPS Equipment, LLC, a Volvo Rents franchise. Jason Bullock, general manager, who with his father manages their company’s four locations in Louisiana and one location in Arkansas, points out they do have a substantial inventory of Takeuchi track loaders and cover pretty much the entire state of Louisiana and south Arkansas.
“The skid-steers and track loaders are being used for construction work, including all types of cleanup and general construction,” explains Bullock. “We utilize our machine with the hydraulic breaker attachment for concrete tear-out and the hydraulic auger attachment for drilling holes for the installation of fence posts, light poles, and so forth. We frequently use the machines with fork attachments for pallet and material handling.”
In tight areas and boggy situations, they’ve proved a good fit, as they have in normal settings using regular dirt buckets for moving dirt, sand, and fill material. “We’ve seen folks moving away from the rubber-tired skid-steer in our market and move in the direction of the track loader of the Takeuchi type. I think this is mainly due to their stability. They’re a lot more stable than a rubber-tired skid-steer and have a lower ground pressure compared to the tired loader.
“Obviously, being in Louisiana we’ve got lower-lying land in marshy areas, and from a traction standpoint this setup makes a big difference compared to the rubber-tired machine. Business involving the track skid-steer has done nothing but go up.”
Bullock points out the many cleanup efforts under way in his state. Many grapple buckets are in use for tearing down and cleanup. All types of utility work are going full speed, too, as are infrastructure upgrades and highway work.
“The great thing with track loaders is there are just so many attachments you can utilize with the machine,” he says. “That is chiefly what keeps the use levels on those units so high. We’ve been extremely busy and have grown by leaps and bounds, acquiring some 20 new machines just this year.”
In addition to the company’s hectic pace of business, Bullock points out that the firm has opened up two new locations this year, taking advantage of the increased demand for equipment as it covers a larger geographic area. “We keep very, very busy. They’re outstanding machines, and Takeuchi does a great job on the track loader size. And we down here in Louisiana have a full plate—we’re just glad to help get the work done.”
More Work in Less Time
“For contractors, one of the biggest advantages of owning compact loaders is their versatility,” explains Greg Rostberg, segment application marketing manager with Bobcat. “If work dries up in one market, contractors can rent or buy an attachment and go to work in another market. When times are tough, compact loaders help pay the bills and keep the doors open. That’s not as true with specialized machines.”
Photo: Case Construction Equipment
Soft footprint and stability are two reasons for considering a track loader.
Currently, Bobcat’s best sellers are its midrange compact loaders and larger. The new Bobcat M-Series large-frame loaders have been very popular. Contractors like the larger cab, lower noise levels, and better performance, according to Rostberg.
“The most popular attachments have been augers, breakers, angle brooms, grapples, trenchers, and snow-related attachments,” he says. “Again, the key is versatility. These are attachments that can be used in a variety of markets, including utility work, paving, demolition, and property maintenance. Contractors continue to look for machines that help them do more work in less time. A good example is the Bobcat deluxe instrumentation panel on M-Series loaders that makes it easier for contractors to adjust and control attachments without getting out of the cab.”
New Compact Track Loader Reports for Work
The current economic situation has only added to the demand for powerful, efficient, and versatile compact equipment, according to Erik Ouwersloot, Kubota product manager, SVL Series. “Our new compact track loaders are a welcome addition to this range of construction equipment.”
The new SVL75 and SVL90 mark Kubota Tractor Corp.’s entry into the compact track loader market. The new compact track loaders are Kubota designed, engineered and manufactured, and powered by a Kubota diesel engine. Among the key features are best-in-class bucket breakout force and exceptional lifting capacity, providing outstanding performance and productivity. The 74.3-horsepower SVL75 boasts a 6,204-pound bucket breakout-force and a 4,881-pound lifting capacity. The 90-horsepower SVL90 has a bucket breakout force of 7,961 pounds and a lifting capacity of 5,869 pounds. Both models are powered by a four-cylinder, direct injection, turbocharged Kubota diesel engine.
“Kubota surveyed our dealer network; and in combination with market research to review horsepower, size, capacities, and other current industry customer needs, our decision became clear,” explains Ouwersloot. “When Kubota finalized the decision to enter this market, we conducted a variety of field surveys and let many operators run our prototype CTLs on their own job sites.
“We noted their remarks and continued to update prototype details per customer requests. So, end users had great impact on our design, shape and features for our production models. Examples of customer-requested features that are included on our new SVL75 and SVL90 models include the wide cab entrance, plenty of flat-floor space without interference from foot pedals or other obstructions, a smooth ride, a high-back suspension seat, an optional air-ride seat, great visibility, and longer service intervals. A hand-and-foot throttle ensures exceptional convenience. Both models are also equipped with two-speed travel and high ground clearance for optimal travel performance on rough construction site terrain. The overall design is built to ensure stability and comfort in uneven terrain.”
Not only is operation easy, but these compact track loaders are designed with time-saving maintenance in mind, featuring an easy tilt-up cabin for convenient access, according to Ouwersloot. Daily maintenance checks for engine oil, fuel filter, water/fuel separator, air cleaner, and coolant level are simple, and greasing the machine is also easy with all grease fittings accessible from ground level. A slide-and-tilt radiator and oil cooler are simple to reach, requiring the removal of only four bolts, and can be tilted for easy cleaning. In addition, Kubota’s compact track loaders were built to sustain hard work and heavy loads; the mainframe and undercarriage are a one-piece unit welded to provide uncompromised structural strength.
“All our Kubota equipment is designed to incorporate safety features such as excellent visibility, operator comfort, and easy access for maintenance work,” says Ouwersloot. “Specifically for the compact track loader, Kubota has included an operator presence switch in the seat; to avoid any movement of the machine without an operator sitting in the seat; and a ‘covered-control switch’ for the hydraulic Quick Coupler; to help avoid accidental activation. The new Kubota compact track loaders, the SVL75 and SVL90 are powerful units with a focus on exceptional operator comfort, outstanding performance, and easy maintenance, and they are Kubota-built for durability.
“Kubota continues to introduce construction equipment with durability and efficiency in mind. Our Kubota dealers have continued to do their best at providing outstanding service and some financing options, as available, that may help customers make purchasing decisions in tougher economic times.”
Watching Out for the Operators
“I have noticed that the public and private construction segments have seen a significant boost in spending due to stimulus funding,” explains Gregg Zupancic with John Deere Worldwide Construction and Forestry Division. “In the meantime, we are doing our all to provide contractors with the equipment they typically use and need. Those attachments used in the compact equipment world include buckets, pallet forks, augers, and hydraulic hammers.”
John Deere has recently brought out its next generation of skid-steer and compact track loaders. Major changes with the D-Series include an all-new cab environment that lets operators work with lower noise levels, improved visibility, easier ingress/egress, and a sealed and pressurized cab option. There is also an addition of E-H controls to all midframe models, along with an all-new E-H performance package option.
“On our two new compact track loader models, Tier-3 and Interim Tier-4 engines come with an all-new engine injection system and hydraulic cooling system as well as an industry first: Auto Idle for noise reduction and fuel economy,” adds Zupancic. “The D-Series includes customer-driven features to provide even higher productivity and operator comfort.”
Peter Hildebrandt writes extensively on engineering and scientific subjects.
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