Is Smaller Better?

Aug. 28, 2014

If you attended the 2014 Conexpo in Las Vegas, you might have noticed the wide variety of new and redesigned compact equipment for grading and excavation work. Of course, the expo had the equivalent of 41 football fields of equipment, so maybe you missed a few of the new offerings that are driving the growth of this popular category. If that’s the case, we’ve rounded up some of the best examples, plus some insight from the manufacturers as to the new features that make compact machines such versatile tools for contractors.

Let’s start with the newest additions to John Deere’s E-Series line of skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders. These machines gathered plenty of attention at John Deere’s exhibit, according to Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager with John Deere Construction and Forestry in Moline, IL. The company recently introduced two skid-steer models (318E, 320E) and two compact track loader models (319E, 323E), with upgraded boom performance, auxiliary lines that are integrated through the boom for improved visibility and protection, and cab improvements to boost operator and machine productivity, uptime, and lower daily operating costs.

“These machines have to be versatile, because we could be selling to landscapers, construction firms, excavation and road-building contractors, and even the agriculture segment,” says Zupancic, “We’re seeing trends among customers that typically would have bought a large wheel loader in the past, or maybe even a dedicated crawler, but they have found that skid-steers and compact track loaders can fill those needs and provide them with a better asset.”

So, what makes them better?

Credit: Deere
A 326E skid-steer from John Deere moves earth.

For starters, they’re easier to operate and transport than their big brothers in the heavyweight class of machines. But don’t stop there, says Zupancic, “Let’s say a guy decided to buy a compact track loader rather than a dozer. He can save on the acquisition costs, the ownership and operating costs, and then there’s the versatility. So there’s a better return on the investment with this compact machine. Also, you see companies that have multiple operators with different skill sets, and they could be familiar with one style of control pattern. So we offer choices to meet more of those operator skill sets with one machine by offering switchable controls.”

The E-Series offers all major control patterns, including traditional hand and foot controls, hand only controls, or low-effort, electro-hydraulic (EH) joystick controls in both the ISO and “H” patterns. “The joystick control is where you get a lot of flexibility with the availability of a software package, so you drive with your left foot and you use your right hand for your boom and bucket,” Zupancic explains. “A more comfortable operator is a safer operator with less stress and more productivity, and the easier controls have an impact on performance and getting the job done fast. Then resale value is important, and if you own a machine that has more versatility for a wider segment of potential buyers, that can have a positive impact on the resale value.”

The mid-frame models also include an optimized boom design for smoother performance throughout the lift path. It offers greater reach at truck-bed height and increases lift height to the hinge pin. Plus, there’s a ride control option that features shock-absorbing boom cylinders to cushion bumps, helping retain full bucket loads over rough terrain. Another option lets customers convert the foot throttle pedal into a decelerator pedal for increased productivity in dozing and loading applications.

Contractors looking to fit their machines into tight working spaces found some new mini-excavators with unique features at Kobelco’s exhibit.

The Houston, TX”“based Kobelco Construction Machinery USA displayed four mini-excavators in the 3,000- to 12,000-pound classes. The smallest, the SK17SR model, has a compact footprint with zero tail overhang and retractable tracks that adjust to an overall width of 39 inches. Less than 4 feet wide! Now, that is skinny. There’s also a bucket with a round bottom for increased penetration. The SK17SR has a maximum digging depth of 7 feet, 1 inch, along with a bucket digging force of 3,420 pounds and a bucket capacity of .058 cubic yards. Auxiliary hydraulics, pattern changers, and a dozer blade are standard, and it’s powered by a fuel-sipping 15.2-horsepower engine. But is that enough power for a 3,640-pound machine?

With modern advanced engineering, it’s more than enough, according to George Lumpkins, product marketing manager for Kobelco. “Years ago, with the mechanical hydraulics, I would say no,” says Lumpkins. “But with these modern variable displacement systems, you don’t need that horsepower, because you’re using it more efficiently. And the owner-operators that are the typical customers for the smaller excavators are watching their fuel and operating costs.”

As excavators get smaller, it’s harder to isolate the operator from the machine’s noise and heat, but Kobelco’s engineers have developed an effective solution. “We have a system called integrated noise and dust reduction,” says Lumpkins. “It’s unique because it brings air in from above and into a sealed engine compartment. That’s important with a smaller machine because the Tier 4 engines have catalytic converters, and with very hot exhausts you can’t blow that upward because the operator is right there. But blowing it backwards can cause damage to surroundings in tight environments. So this runs out of the bottom of the machine, and the noise reduction air blows around it to diffuse the heat and keep the noise under the machine.”

For contractors that want to move dirt faster, the SK27SR and SK35SR mini-excavators provide a bit more muscle for heavier-duty digging and lifting. Their Tier IV engines are rated at 21.3 horsepower, with the SK27SR putting out a bucket digging force of 6,341 pounds and a bucket capacity of .105 cubic yards. The larger 28.4-horsepower SK35SR has a bucket digging force of 8,430 pounds and a bucket capacity of .144 cubic yards. These models feature a zero tail swing radius, and at 5,870 pounds and 8,200 pounds they are stable. For heavy digging, an integrated-flow pump system directs extra output from the third pump to the arm circuit for added power.

“The bigger machines have more digging power and higher breakout force and arm power,” notes Lumpkins. “Most of the contractors choose rubber shoes instead of steel tracks because they’re working on concrete and dirt. But you can change quickly to steel tracks without making any modifications. The most popular attachment is a hydraulic thumb and we put on auxiliary hydraulic controls as standard.”

Further browsing at Kobelco’s exhibit revealed the 55SRx, a 12,295-pound, 39-horsepower short-radius machine designed to provide full-size performance. Yet its compact size fits those job sites where you can’t afford to compromise stability, bucket size, or lift capacity. The 55SRx is supported by a long X-frame, and features a high-grade, reinforced steel boom, a cast-iron boom swing bracket, plus sealed rollers, sprockets, and travel motors to extend track life. This model has a maximum digging depth of 12 feet, 10 inches, and a bucket breakout force of 11,240 pounds.

At Doosan, based in West Fargo, ND, the new Tier 4-compliant Doosan DX63-3 and DX85R-3 excavators have more muscle and upgrades, including higher-precision controls, greater force, and overall enhanced productivity. They’re more nimble, too. The 6.3-metric-ton DX63-3 compact conventional tail-swing excavator and the 8.5-metric-ton Doosan DX85R-3 reduced tail-swing excavator can negotiate tight spaces with finesse, thanks to multifunction joysticks, an Auto-Shift drive system, and rubber tracks.

Compared with the previous DX60R, the DX63-3’s upper structure was shifted rearward, so the DX63-3’s 11.6 inches of tail-swing overhang improves over-the-side lifting performance and slew performance on side slopes. Digging depths reach 13 feet, 6 inches, and the DX63-3’s hydraulic system delivers fast-loaded cycle times.

For jobs with minimal workspace, the DX85R-3’s 5.8 inches of tail overhang fits in congested environments and next to buildings or other obstructions while still digging to depths of 15 feet, 6 inches…with power to spare. Doosan boosted the DX85R-3’s bucket force to 14,509 foot-pounds of breakout force, an 18 percent increase over its predecessor. For grading and excavation contractors, a new blade-float feature provides versatility to smoothly grade, level, or backfill material. The DX63-3’s blade height jumped to 16.1 inches, a 21% increase compared with the previous DX60R model.

For traveling productivity, the Doosans come standard with Auto-Shift travel, which shifts the excavator out of high range or low range and back automatically. Both the DX63-3 and DX85R-3 excavators incorporate fingertip boom swing and auxiliary hydraulics functions. This not only improves multifunction capabilities, but also gives the operator more floor space. Independent boom swing control on the joysticks allows operators to more easily position the work group for offset digging. Selectable auxiliary flow rates and the detent (continuous flow) mode allow for more precise attachment performance.

Moving on to the offerings from the Moline, IL”“based Hitachi Construction Machinery Co., the exciting news comes from the company’s recently introduced ZX35U-5, ZX50U-5, and ZX60USB-5 excavators, the newest compact models to join the Zaxis Dash 5 lineup. These new models are aimed at meeting a rising demand for versatile compact equipment, says Greg Bauer, product marketing analyst with Hitachi. “If you look historically at the number of compact excavators, the market has grown significantly, and people are using them more than other pieces of machinery just because they’re so portable. And fuel economy is important. Machine costs are rising, and people are trying to get more performance out of a smaller machine that they can take from job site to job site with a half-ton to 1-ton truck and a trailer. They can do their dig-and-go jobs and get a lot of the performance and power that you would expect from a mid-sized excavator, with the flexibility to get into those tight spaces.”

Tight spaces often include digging next to structures such as walls, and Hitachi engineers incorporated an independent swing boom to position the bucket or other tools as close as possible. “It allows you to rotate the boom so it can be right next to a wall and dig very easily, and that’s a good function for less-experienced operators to help them get the job done quickly and professionally,” says Bauer. “We also offer a short arm or long arm option to match the desired dig depth. You can dig deeper with a long arm, and it comes with a standard counterweight to maintain the machine stability. Looking at the grading blades, we’ve seen a growing use of blades for backfilling trenches and rough grading. So to increase productivity we offer both a straight blade or an angled version that moves about 25 degrees to allow for more efficient backfill or light grading.”

Inside the cab, controls are designed with short throw levers that allow operators to precisely control the arm and the boom. To accommodate the needs of inexperienced operators, there are two options; running the excavator with the power set to economy mode can slow down the control response, or a lower setting on the engine’s speed (rpms) can have a similar effect. It’s easy to monitor engine settings and operational data, Bauer says. “We’ve added an enhanced monitor that provides quick access to the vital operating information such as temperature and fuel levels. And we also have fingertip control of auto idle that allows you to set how many minutes you want the machine to idle before it shuts down. The auto shutdown and power-and-economy mode is there, and we added two trip meters for a wide variety of purposes, such as tracking engine oil and hydraulic oil life, or potentially you could track the number of hours you’re working on a particular job.”

Credit: Hitachi
The ZX35U series from Hitachi is aimed at meeting the rising demand for versatile equipment.

At the exhibit area for Komatsu America Corp. in Rolling Meadows, IL, the company introduced the new PC55MR EPA Tier 4 Final compact hydraulic excavator. This new excavator focuses on improved operator comfort and lower operating costs for contractors working in a variety of construction, utility, landscaping, and other excavation applications. A new auto decelerator and economy mode helps to reduce operating costs. Maintenance is enhanced with Komtrax remote monitoring, a service that sends machine operating information to a secure website or smart phone application. Such data as fuel level, operating hours, location, cautions, and maintenance alerts are relayed to the web application. Benefits include increased machine availability, reduced risk of machine theft, remote diagnosis by the distributor, and information tracking to drive business efficiency and productivity.

For versatility in digging, the PC55MR features a maximum digging depth of 12 feet, 6 inches and a maximum reach of 19 feet, 11 inches. A swing boom with single large diameter swing pin provides long life and durability of the boom swing mechanism, while enabling the PC55MR to work in confined spaces. A bucket thumb mounting bracket, auxiliary piping for attachments, and a 6-foot, 6-inch blade is standard. An optional power-angle blade allows the operator to angle the blade 25 degrees to the right or left.

Do you need a machine for heavier work, yet still small enough for those awkward spaces? Komatsu also offers an excavator that’s ready to handle bigger jobs, yet it’s more compact than a conventional excavator. It’s the PC228USLC-10, designed with a “tight-tail” feature that allows the machine to work in confined areas for road, bridge, and urban applications. The rounded cab design allows the cab to rotate within the same swing radius as the counterweight. An additional 2,865 pounds of counterweight increases lift capacity over the front and side of the machine. The operating weight is between 54,123 pounds and 55,336 pounds, and it’s powered by a Tier 4 Interim 158-horsepower Komatsu SAA6D107E-2 engine. The PC228USLC-10 uses a closed center load sensing hydraulic system to increase efficiency, while lowering hydraulic loss and fuel consumption up to 4% over the previous model.

A visit to the booth of Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas Inc. in Norcross, GA, revealed some interesting examples of versatile designs for that company’s R55-9A and R55W-9A series of excavators. The tracked R55-9A has steel tracks with the option of rubber tracks, and the R55W-9A is wheeled. The wheeled R55 is gaining a lot of traction with municipalities, according to Lee Shirey, technical support representative, CE Division, Hyundai. “These wheeled machines are versatile, and the 65-horsepower engine can push them fast enough to drive on city streets, so they’re much simpler to transport,” says Shirey.

A redesigned hydraulic system includes an arm flow summation system, boom-holding system, and a swing parking brake. Structural improvements include stronger but slimmer tubing in the cabin for improved visibility, and low-stress, high-strength steel integrally welded for a stronger upper and lower frame. “Hyundai uses the same steel as they use in their ship building business and these machines are very strong,” notes Shirey.

“We find that customers like to load them up with attachments and use them like a Swiss Army Knife.”

An advanced LCD display allows operators to select personal machine preferences and monitor data, such as engine RPM, engine oil temperature, water temperature, and information for all electronic devices. Button selections are provided for auto idle mode, max power mode, and travel speed. A security feature prevents the machine from starting without a password. Both models have counterweight rear guards to protect the engine hood and a boom cylinder cover.

At the Terex exhibit, the Southaven, MS”“based company had the new PT-35 on display. It’s the smallest compact track loader in the Terex lineup, with just a 4-foot-wide profile, and features a three-cylinder, turbocharged Perkins 403F-15T diesel engine, rated at 36.2-horsepower. Terex says its purpose-built chassis is designed to be a heavy-duty machine within a compact, maneuverable package, and ideal for landscaping, rental and small construction projects. With 83.3 ft-lb of peak torque, a tipping load of 2,100 pounds, and a 1,050-pound operating capacity at 50% tipping load capacity, the lift height reaches 101 inches. By distributing the machine’s 3,970-pound operating weight down to 3.3 psi of ground pressure, the PT-35 loader is well suited to soft or sensitive surfaces.

All Terex compact track loaders, including the new PT-35 model, use a proprietary all-rubber track rather than a rigid track technology with steel-embedded tracks mounted on an existing skid-steer chassis. For contractors that need to change attachments quickly, there’s a front-mounted, quick-connect hydraulic fittings and an electronic connector for control of attachments, enabling it to use industry-standard attachments such as augers, backhoes, brush cutters, levelers, pallet forks, box rakes, snow blades and blowers, tillers and trenchers, as well as general-purpose, light-material, and multipurpose buckets.

Terex has also ventured into the area of hybrid design, though its TC16 twin-drive hybrid-powered mini-excavator isn’t available worldwide, it’s worth noting that a diesel engine and an electric motor provide a unique alternative for working in spaces where noise and pollution aren’t welcome. When powered only by the electric motor, the unit hums rather than rumbles, and there are no exhaust emissions.

Volvo Construction Equipment, located in Shippensburg, PA, has taken the hybrid concept a step further and gave Conexpo attendees its vision of the excavator of the future when it debuted the GaiaX concept. This design favors a fully electric power compact excavator powered by batteries that also work as counterweights. The futuristic design features lightweight materials, and the option of remote operations using an augmented reality key controller. Unfortunately, the reality of seeing this excavator on a job site isn’t coming anytime soon. The company is predicting a product rollout around 2030.

Credit: Kubota
Kubota’s compact loaders come ready to work in every direction.

In the meantime, the new Volvo ECR58D and ECR88D short-swing-radius excavators can fill the gap. The D-Series excavators feature automatic two-speed travel for superior traction, and hydraulic travel pedals for easy and accurate track control. Volvo engineers chose a narrow body design and centrally positioned boom, making the superstructure on the ECR58D and ECR88D so compact that its rear swings within its track shoe. Operators can work extremely close to other objects without risk of collision, and the short front/rear radius provides an extra margin of safety for work along single highway lanes. Slew and offset movements are controlled simultaneously by a joystick. For greater flexibility, the excavators are available with a mono-boom (or an optional two-piece boom on the ECR88D) and several arm configurations.

Volvo also brought its latest addition to the C-Series line of compact track loaders, the MCT110C. At a 2,250-pound-rated operating capacity, the introduction of the MCT110C puts the offering of Volvo’s tracked models at four. Other models include the radial-lift MCT110C and the vertical-lift MCT85C, MT125C, and MCT135C. All share the same assortment of features such as a Tier 4 final four-cylinder 74-horsepower engine. The MC85C offers 62-horsepower, and the MCT85C uses cooled-exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), a common rail system, and fixed-geometry turbocharger, so a diesel particulate filter isn’t required.

Versatility in handling different environments and tasks is complemented with three levels of control sensitivity to suit the application at hand, as well as operating preferences. “It’s a very user-friendly control system,” says Lars Arnold, product manager for Volvo Construction Equipment. “With Volvo you get the same feel in the cab as our other equipment, and we have our electronic ECH [electro hydraulic] controls on the full lineup for track machines. Let’s say that somebody is new or little bit cautious and needs smoother controls, but others like more aggressive controls. We have three modes for making the machine more aggressive or slowing it down.”

An automatic idling system returns to idle if controls aren’t operated for five seconds. When the operator resumes use of controls, the engine picks up RPMs to revert to the preselected speed. For handling a variety of jobs, Volvo attachments include buckets, augers, pallet forks, trenchers, dozer blades, hydraulic breakers, grapple buckets, manure fork with grapple, silage defacer, tree spade, stump grinder, rock saw, cold planer, sweepers, landscape rake, auto rake, preparator, tiller, trencher, brush cutter, forestry cutter, and vibratory roller. The attachments are typical on skid-steers but there’s one feature on Volvo’s C-series that sets these machines apart from others.

Volvo’s C-Series are designed to do everything a skid-steer loader has to do, but the single-boom design gives operators an advantage, says Arnold. “With a single-arm design, you can have a side-door entry without climbing over the attachments. Secondly, it offers the best visibility; and third, with the forward-tilting cab and the arm raised up, you have excellent accessibility for maintenance. The single arm has the same design concept as our excavator boom. It’s very strong and there’s a lifetime warranty on the arm.”

Advanced fuel efficiency was the theme at the Case Industrial America LLC exhibit. In late 2013, the Racine, WI”“based Case introduced the new Tier 4 Final TR270 Alpha Series compact track loader, an updated 74-horsepower model with a bucket breakout force of 7,270 pounds and torque of 232 foot-pounds”¦yet, it weighs in at just (8,200 pounds). Low ground pressure plus a narrow design that’s less than 66 inches provides easy transportation and minimal impact on the jobsite. The TR270 offers a new EZ EH (electro-hydraulic) setup menu that features nine preset speed and control settings adjustable on the fly. New handles with additional “feel points” improve controllability and feathering. All Case Alpha Series compact track loaders feature a dozer-style undercarriage, designed for stability on steep slopes and in muddy and sandy terrain. The rigid track frame features fewer moving parts than suspension track systems, making it durable and easy to maintain.

The Tier 4 Final SR160 skid-steer loaders with radial lift provide muscle and best-in-class peak torque up to 188 newton meters. Compact dimensions and a 60-gross-horsepower engine help these machines tackle a wide range of applications. Next is the SR210 skid-steer, featuring a particulate matter catalyst that’s maintenance-free and, according to Warren Anderson, product manager at Case, the SR210’s 2,100-pound lift capacity puts it right in the sweet spot for contractors seeking a versatile skid-steer loader. “The most popular attachments are the trenchers, hammer or breaker attachments, pallet forks, or upgraded buckets,” says Anderson.

Case also offers a four-in-one bucket that’s useful for a wide array of tasks. “It lets you go about your daily business of moving dirt, or grading and digging,” Anderson adds, “but then it’s useful if you’re in areas where you need to pick up something like a log and move it out your way, or you’re dumping into a wheelbarrow or somewhere that you don’t want to dump the entire bucket. So you just open the clamshell and let the dirt trickle slowly. And when you open it up you can actually use it as it dozer blade as well.”

In today’s digital world the human/machine interface is a common term, and it’s been translated to a new forward-mount instrumentation system on the Bobcat series of compact excavators. The West Fargo, ND”“based company designed the system for enhanced functionality and improved ergonomics for six existing models of Bobcat compact excavators. According to Tom Connor, Bobcat excavator product specialist, a key feature is the ability to help owners and fleet managers better understand and evaluate their performance and costs, as well as assisting in identifying opportunities to improve machine and operator efficiencies.

“When you sit in the machine, it’s a beautiful full-color instrument panel in the right front corner,” explains Connor. “The display is strategically placed so it doesn’t obstruct your view, yet it gives you the ability to keep tabs on the fuel level or other information but not lose a sense of the work you’re doing. This system also has a password protection option so at the owner’s discretion it can be activated and the operator would need a four-digit code to start the machine.

Along with the new deluxe instrumentation panel, the control switches are more ergonomic. Advanced control operations include improved auxiliary logic that makes the auxiliary hydraulic paddle switch live when the console is in the lowered position, eliminating the need to activate the auxiliary hydraulic mode, new joystick switches that improve the boom swing and auxiliary controls.

“The auxiliary controls, along with the boom swing controls, are fingertip switches on the joystick, so you can do all these functions without removing your hands from the joystick,” Connor adds. “When operators sit in the machine and see those controls and notice that there’s no more boom swing pedal on the floor, the pace looks much cleaner. So there’s lots of room, and we put in a super-deluxe seat with full suspension and multiple adjustments in order to really fine-tune it to any operator’s comfort. You can move the entire seat, which includes the joystick. However, if you have long arms you can adjust the seat independent of the joystick. These machines have many applications, such as demolition and sewer and water, septic service, swimming pools, and larger hardscape projects.

For contractors that could use a compact wheel loader, Takeuchi, Pendergrass, GA, showed their TW80 Series 2 model. It replaces the TW80, and employs a Tier 4 turbocharged Deutz 2.9-liter, water-cooled engine, featuring large heavy-duty coolers,

a self-adjusting serpentine belt, and an electric fuel pump. At operating weight of 12,698 pounds and a tipping load of 10,064 pounds, it’s capable of travel speeds up to 24.8 mph. Operators will find a new cab with updated gauges and switches, a large floorboard with improved pedals, a fully adjustable seat and armrests, as well as a frameless door for improved visibility. A deluxe lighting package and air conditioning are available.

Compact size and a versatile new dozer blade attracted contractors to the Kubota booth. The KX040-4 six-in-one hydraulic blade angles to the right or left to push soil to the side as the machine moves forward, eliminating the need for repetitive repositioning at right angles when backfilling trenches. The 5-foot-, 10.9-inch-wide blade stretches across the entire machine width, even when tilted. In terms of productivity, the blade’s capacity is increased almost .75 cubic yards over the standard blade, and the savings on backfilling time can be as much as 35%. “The angled blade lets the soil slide off it faster, and the six-way blade also tilts 10 degrees one corner up and one corner down, and that’s a benefit for customers that are landscaping or shaping swales for drainage,” says Keith Rohrbacker, product manager, Kubota Tractor Corp. in Torrance, CA.

“Buildings are getting tighter and tighter and in places where you could use a full-size and hydraulic excavator it’s not possible anymore,” says Rohrbacker. “Contractors need compact excavators to get in and do the job. The 04 is a premium model for this purpose because it’s a great match of mass and speed and power and hydraulics functions. It’s very smooth and quick and powerful, and it’s easy to tow with a three-quarter-ton pickup on a 16-foot trailer.”

The Eco Plus system, gives operators the option of “eco mode” for up to 20% less fuel consumption than prior models. The system boasts auto downshift travel motors that shift automatically to improve productivity, along with smoother turns and faster backfilling. Gross horsepower tops out at 42.2, while dumping height reaches 12 feet, 9.5 inches, and the digging depth is 11 feet, 2.6 inches. “The reach and digging depth is important,” says Rohrbacker, “but most of our customers are digging just 4 to 6 feet. So a machine with a 10-foot digging depth has a long reach that lets operators reposition less often. Bucket capacity is also important for productivity, and it’s also a measure of stability. The 04 is very stable, even when you have a full bucket at maximum reach, whether it’s out over the front of the machine over the side.”

Kubota also displayed the U35-4 Tight Tail Swing Compact Excavator. It offers a 5-ton cab on a 3.5-ton machine, plus, a new digital panel and enhanced ergonomics for optimal operator comfort. Adding and removing attachments is easier, thanks to an auxiliary diverter valve that allows operators to leave the thumb attached and to connect other hydraulic attachments to a second port. For extremely tight work spaces, KX018-4 is Kubota’s offering in the 1- to 2-ton class. A 17-gross-horsepower engine meets the latest engine emission regulations without extra emissions equipment while providing improved digging force and a wide working range. Other features include a long tumbler distance and wide variable track for increased stability and lifting capacity, plus a variable track gauge and auto down shift travel motor for smooth operation.

In the tractor category, Kubota had its Kubota Grand L60 series under the spotlight. The unit features advanced, user-friendly computer controls. “We have a full array of implements for the rear of these tractors,” says Paul Williams, senior product manager for Kubota. “There’s a rotary cutter and rotary tiller for ground maintenance and then blades and scrapers. In California it’s box scrapers, but back East it’s mostly blades. Then there are number of other attachments like spreaders and a variety of different cutters and front-end attachments, like grapple buckets, to make it a versatile machine. For the backhoes, we offer hydraulic thumbs and mechanical thumbs, so this is also a carrier you can use to set rocks and timber and move these items.”

For extra productivity on the L60 HST Plus model, a Throttle-Up switch, located on the loader lever, gives operators more engine RPM power. With the push of a button operators can set their preferred RPM speed in the Intellipanel. Engine speeds rise on demand, resulting in reduced noise and improved fuel efficiency. Along with the L6060, there are five other models (the L3560, L4060, L4760, L5060, L5460), with five choices of clean-emission engines and three transmission options.

Let’s end our tour with Caterpillar’s exhibit, where the Sanford, NC–based skid-steer loader division introduced three new Cat D Series compact track loaders, three new Cat D Series multiterrain loaders, and four new D Series skid-steer loaders. Cat also displayed two updated large-frame D Series compact track loaders and two updated D series skid-steer loaders, making for a wide array of compact offerings at the company’s Conexpo exhibit. The machines feature completely new cabs, new lift-arm designs for improved sight lines, and increased engine performance. The eight D Series rubber-track loaders range in rated operating capacity (50% of tipping load) from 2,800 pounds to 4,650 pounds. Midsize frame models, as narrow as 66 inches, are the 257D multiterrain loader (MTL) and the 259D compact track loader (CTL). Larger-frame models are the 277D and 287D MTLs and the 279D and 289D CTLs. These six D Series models feature an electronically controlled 3.3-liter engine that meets Tier 4 Final (Stage IIIB) emissions standards. The Cat C3.3B engine provides 74-horsepower with 8% more torque and 6% improved fuel economy compared with the previous models.

According to Kevin Coleman, senior marketing engineer with Caterpillar, the six Cat D Series skid-steer

Credit: Caterpillar
Caterpillar’s multiterrain loaders are equipped
to meet the most demanding conditions.

loader models range in rated operating capacity from 1,800 pounds to 3,700 pounds. The 236D and 242D are midsize frame models and can be as narrow as 60 inches. To provide a broader selection for skid-steer buyers, the 236D has been redesigned to a smaller platform size. The result is a power-dense radial-lift-path model that combines compact dimensions with impressive performance specs.

The largest D series models, the 299D and 299D XHP CTLs, along with the 272D and 272D XHP SSLs, launched in early 2012 and continue to be powered by an electronically controlled Tier 4 Interim 3.8-liter engine. The Cat C3.8 produces 98 gross horsepower for the 299D and 110 net horsepower for the 299D XHP, which powers an auxiliary hydraulic system producing as much as 40 gpm of flow at 4,061 psi to handle the most demanding powered work tools. The 299D and 299D XHP also receive the new cab environment and features as well as the new lift arm design.

Operator comfort and efficiency is a key factor in these machines. The D Series models incorporate a “cab-one” operator station designed with one-piece modular construction. Additionally, the improved HVAC system supplies 20% more airflow and approximately a 50% increase in heating and cooling rates. All-air suspension seats have independent arm bar/joystick control adjustments to allow the machine to be configured for different sizes of operators and different applications. The control monitor expands the number of security (operator) codes to 50 and can store and recall the operating preferences for each one. These preferences include language, gauge style, ride-control setting, creep speed, top-speed limit, response for the hystat drive system and response for the implement control system. The display also expands diagnostics capability by allowing the master-code holder to review operator-specific machine information. It’s also video capable and supports the first integrated rearview camera ever offered on compact track loaders.

Cat’s line of compact skid-steer loaders also benefit from cab improvements, says Kevin Coleman, senior marketing engineer with Caterpillar. “One of the things we concentrated on with the D Series of skid-steers was to provide better visibility for the operator, which translates into better safety on the job site,” notes Coleman. “Customers told us that job sites are getting smaller and tighter and they have to be careful around utilities and other obstacles. So visibility is key and we’ve taken that to the next step with the ability to offer an integrated camera solution.”

The cab is sealed and pressurized and features a modular design based upon one-piece unitized construction. “Our previous cabs used a multi-piece design, so in raising it a portion stayed with the chassis,” Coleman explains. “But with the new design, it’s all one piece, and the beauty of that is that it’s totally sealed. You don’t have to rely on gaskets and foam to seal the cab to the chassis, which can shift or wear over time. So when you’re working in dusty, dirty environments, you turn on your air conditioner and it’s sealed tight.”

Other features include a return-to-dig function that allows the operator to set the digging angle of the bucket and then to automatically recall the setting and lower the lift arms by depressing a trigger switch on the joystick. The work tool positioning feature allows the angle of the tool to be preset, as when setting a trencher for the proper depth, and then to automatically recall the setting if the machine is repositioned. 
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Ed Ritchie

Ed Ritchie specializes in energy, transportation, and communication technologies.

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