Skid-steers are essential equipment for many landscape contractors, allowing them to tackle big, demanding jobs like moving boulders or cutting irrigation trenches. The newly released models of these machines are even more powerful, efficient and multifaceted than in the past, giving landscapers more tools for taking on tough work.
“These are small, compact machines that can do a range of big jobs on the budget of a landscape contractor,” says Tim O’Brien, brand marketing manager with Case Construction Equipment, which released its Alpha Series in July. “We’ve thrown a lot more into these new machines so that our customers can get more out of them.”
Recently, Lawn & Landscape spoke with the manufacturers of several different skid-steer loaders to examine newer features that give landscapers more for their money. We also talked with industry experts about where the skid-steer market is headed and how contractors can take advantage of these trends to maximize their productivity.
More power. Big things often come in compact packages, and that’s certainly true of the new models of skid-steers. They’re even more powerful, with more bucket breakout force, torque and horsepower, allowing contractors to reap more out of their machines.
“When compared to machines of five to seven years ago, they have significantly more capability, but manufacturers are also not asking for a lot more in price than before,” O’Brien says.
Case’s new Tier 4 compliant Alpha series offers 12 percent more useable torque when it’s needed, allowing contractors to operate at a lower idle that improves fuel efficiency. The new, patented piston design is specifically engineered for use in high-pressure common rail (HPCR) systems, optimizing combustion, power and fuel efficiency.
In addition to having more torque on the wheels and better breakout force, Bobcat’s new M series can also operate for longer periods of time, says Loader Specialist Mike Fitzgerald. “We’ve increased the cooling capacity on the engine, giving our higher horsepower machines proper cooling so they can operate when they need to.”
Bobcat’s newer machines also offer a vertical lift path (allowing operators to lift heavier loads higher), a radius lift path (improving reach and visibility), and increased lift height. Bobcat’s hydraulic systems have been engineered for higher standard flow and pressure, so that attachments have the power to work more quickly.
Caterpillar’s new 272D skid-steer loader is more adept at picking up heavier loads than ever before. It has a more powerful engine, stronger lift forces and increased high-flow capacity – in fact, the series represents the company’s most powerful machines ever.
“From a landscaping perspective, the focus was on being able to pick up heavy pallets of bricks and pavers,” says Kevin Coleman, skid-steer product specialist with Caterpillar. “These are high horsepower, high utilization machines.”
The new machines being offered by Takeuchi allow operators to work on uneven terrain with greater stability. Takeuchi’s skid-steers are also available with a two speed option – 12 miles per hour is the top speed – which increases worker productivity on the job site.
New Holland’s 200 Series skid loader allows contractors to work “faster, smarter and more profitably,” says Brand Marketing Manager Curtis Goettel. The 200 Series’ Super Boom loader arm offers increased lift height and reach, allowing contractors to load materials to the center of trucks and empty buckets quickly, increasing efficiency.
Economy on all levels. The new skid-steer loaders are also more economical, allowing landscape contractors to get more productivity out of their machines and go all day without stopping to refuel.
“The Case Alpha series is more fuel efficient in terms of how much it burns per hour, and also has a larger fuel tank that gives you the ability to run all day,” O’Brien says.
The Alpha series’ new cooled exhaust gas recirculation (CEGR) technology is controlled electronically, O’Brien adds – creating better performance, fuel efficiency and reliability.
Bobcat’s new M series won’t necessarily provide a reduction in fuel usage, Fitzgerald says, but contractors will see a boost in their productivity, making them more efficient. Bobcat’s new cooling system will also help to prolong the service lives of its machines.
New Holland’s skid-steers are also more fuel efficient. The engines “use less fuel and are easy to maintain, which helps decrease the operating costs,” Goettel says. “The turbocharged engines feature externally cooled EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) for efficient air handling and high engine power density with the shortest load response time. A state-of-the-art direct fuel injection system provides accurate fuel delivery.”
Caterpillar’s electronically controlled Cat C3.8 engine, designed with a high-pressure common-rail (HPCR) fuel system to enhance operating efficiency, is equipped with a diesel particulate filter for emissions reduction. Horsepower increases for the D Series range from 5-18 percent and flywheel torque has been increased from 13-27 percent. They have a 19 percent boost in lifting force compared with C models.
Versatility. Today’s skid-steer loaders have a range of attachments and features that make them more versatile than before. This means contractors can sometimes replace multiple machines with a skid-steer loader, making them much more efficient in their work.
Case’s newer machines offer electronic engine controls monitor EGR sensors and other inputs that help to determine diesel particulate filter (DPF) system regeneration needs. During operation, the electronic controls will trigger an automatic regeneration of the DPF system. These skid-steer loaders offer features such as ride control, switch-activated self-leveling and electro-hydraulic controls with switchable patterns. Case also offers nearly 100 attachments, further adding to the productivity of its machines.
Bobcat has also expanded its range of attachments. “Skid steer loaders are becoming a highly utilized piece of equipment for contractors,” Fitzgerald says. “We’re continually offering more attachments, such as landscape rakes, sod rollers and wheel saws.”
New Holland’s customers can now get their choice of standard, high-flow or enhanced high-flow hydraulics from the factory. The addition of enhanced high-flow has opened up the use of new and larger attachments such as mulchers/shredders and rock saws.
Caterpillar has introduced its CAT Intelligent Leveling System (ILEV). In part, it allows operators to self-level when they are raising or lowering material, something that hasn’t been seen in skid-steer loaders before. The system also offers two other features – the Work Tool Return to Dig and the Work Tool Positioner – that will automatically return the work tool to a preset position and angle after an interruption in work flow.
A better ride. In today’s landscaping world, skid-steer operators are often inside of the cab all day – making comfort not simply a luxury, but an essential item that helps fuel productivity. Fortunately, each new generation of skid-steer loaders has made working inside of the cab even more comfortable. In many new models, heat and air conditioning are standard items, air flow is enhanced and seats are heated. Operators enjoy more visibility, less noise and less vibration, and these small items can make a big difference when it comes to comfort. “Operator comfort is number one, right alongside performance,” Fitzgerald says. “Our M series offers increased visibility, pressurized cabs, higher efficiency heating and cooling, and better ventilation. We now have radios available as an option, and there’s a cup holder inside the machine. They can be comfortable for longer periods of time.”
Bobcat has also increased the size of its new loader cab models by about 10 percent, while New Holland claims to have the “widest, most comfortable cab in the industry.”
Takeuchi’s new machines now boast a standard foot throttle which allows operators to set or change the engine speed without taking their hands off of the joystick controls.
Caterpillar introduced the sealed and pressurized cabin in 2007, and has now added the air ride seat to its newer models. Other features include intelligent throttle control, which allows operators to decelerate when in a high idle position, and throttle smoothing. The latter allows the machine to electronically smooth out bumps in the road like stones.
Maintenance. New skid-steer loader models are carefully designed so that they’re easy to maintain and repair. They offer convenient access to filters and engine fluids and regular maintenance points that are easy to monitor on the outsides of the machines.
For instance, with Case’s new skid-steers, maintenance points such as the radiator, fuel filter, battery terminals and engine oil fill are easy to find under the engine compartment cover and door. A removable side panel allows access to the engine oil filter and environmentally friendly drain; the oil cooler and radiator tilt out for cleaning.
Caterpillar’s new machines are also easier to maintain. “The air, oil, hydraulic and fuel filters, everything is pretty much accessible from the ground,” Coleman says. “There’s been a strong focus on serviceability and access from our engineering community.”
In the case of Takeuchi’s new skid steers, the company says that specially-designed axle seals now help to protect the wheel bearings, which can reduce costly downtime.
New Holland’s machines are built with the understanding that “service downtime is lost revenue and maintenance is more likely to get done when it is easy to get done,” Goettel says. To that end, regular ground-level maintenance points are grouped together and service can be performed by opening the rear engine compartment and door.
Industry trends. What impact will all of these new features have on landscape contractors? Insiders say that as the landscaping industry comes back, skid-steers offer contractors ways to take their business to the next level while investing in more efficient, less costly equipment.
“Landscaping is the number one end use for skid-steers and compact track loaders, and all of the attachments that come with them have been a huge market,” says George Chaney, sales manager with JCB. “Landscape contractors now have extensive range of products that enable them to work in almost any type of ground condition or weather.”
Continued pressure from Tier 4 requirements will drive manufacturers to create better, more useful machines that they can sell for more money, adds Gregg Zupancic, skid-steer product manager with John Deere. That’s because customers typically are not willing to pay all of the costs associated with Tier 4 improvements. “Customers are not going to pay extra for better emissions levels, so we try to create value improvements.”
Economic pressures are pushing more contractors into the skid-steer loader market. “If a guy had $75,000 to spend a couple of years ago, he could buy a bigger loader or a small ’dozer,” Zupancic says. “Today, the prices are going up over $100,000 because of the engine technology. Now they might consider a skid-steer or track loader to replace that bigger item, especially as more options creep down in our category of machines.”
Zupancic sees tremendous future growth in the market and believes that skid-steers can be invaluable in helping contractors grow their businesses. “The great thing about a skid-steer is its versatility,” he says. “When landscaping jobs die off, you can place snow removal equipment on the front and do snow removal. It’s recession proof.”
For a round-up of the latest in skid-steers, visit www.lawnandlandscape.com and search “Hit the skids.”