Skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders (CTLs) always have been true workhorses in the field. As they continue to grow in popularity, equipment manufacturers are working to make these machines faster, more powerful and more efficient for landscape crews to operate.
“For landscape contractors, it’s all about time and labor savings,” says Perry Girard, product marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment, based in Racine, Wis. “Whether you’re working with a skid-steer or compact track loader, landscape contractors need to ask themselves, ‘How can I be doing more with what I have?’”
New and improved
While both CTLs and skid-steers continue to be popular in the landscape industry, Jason Boerger, marketing manager for Bobcat Co., based in West Fargo, N.D., says he is seeing an increase in contractors updating or adding to their compact equipment fleets with CTLs. He says this trend is because these machines can perform better in soft, wet or sandy ground conditions.
“This is a direct reflection of (landscape companies) looking to extend their working seasons and allowing them to maintain their schedules and stay productive,” Boerger says. “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 we think compact track loaders will only continue to increase in popularity in the landscape market.”
Boerger says skid-steer and CTL manufacturers are placing more focus on torsion axle suspension systems and self-tensioning track technology. Last year, Bobcat introduced a five-link torsion suspension undercarriage on its M2-Series T870 CTL. The new undercarriage provides increased durability with a 15 percent increase in diameter to the drive shaft inside the gearbox, and a continuously lubricated outer bearing in the drive motor. An additional fifth link on the rear axle stabilizes the undercarriage to increase machine stability and performance when grading and provides enhanced ride quality for operators.
“As the torsion suspension undercarriage absorbs stress and vibrations on rough terrain, it provides a smoother ride that operators can feel throughout the machine to enhance productivity,” says Boerger, adding that the undercarriages are designed with a solid cast spindle mount for increased durability. “This design eliminates welds and distributes stress across one seamless piece that has additional metal and strength precisely where it is needed most.”
The five-link torsion suspension undercarriage also features an automatic hydraulic track tensioning system.
“No longer do loader operators need to manually adjust the compact track loader’s track tension with a grease gun,” Boerger says. “The hydraulic tensioning system automatically ensures the proper track tension, thereby increasing machine uptime protection.”
Girard agrees that manufacturers are focused on improving productivity and performance. Case increased the rated operating capacity of its SV340 skid-steer by 400 pounds compared to the previous model, while keeping the same size footprint by designing a more robust lift-arm, H-link and upper chassis. The company also made improvements to the manifold valves, gear pumps and the auxiliary loader circuit for added power and performance. Case also recently introduced the TV370 CTL, which Girard says is suited for applications that call for lift capacity and strength but may not require higher horsepower to run high-volume production attachments.
“Not every contractor needs to run high-volume mulching heads all day long, but they still need to load higher trucks and lift heavy pallets,” Girard says. “The TV370 is for that guy.”
Brandon Barker, commercial operations manager for J. Barker Landscaping in Bedford, Ohio, has a fleet of four skid-steers that he uses year-round for tasks such as hauling material, moving trees and removing snow. Because the machines are used so frequently for snow removal during the harsh Ohio winters, Barker says his company prefers skid-steers over CTLs because they perform better in the snow. The company purchases, rather than leases, its skid-steers and keeps them for five or six years depending on the level of wear and tear they experience. The machines used frequently for snow removal are replaced sooner because of damage caused by salt and extreme weather conditions. Barker says the company will sometimes rent skid-steers for snow removal to prolong the lives of the machines it owns. J. Barker Landscaping provides 40 percent design/build, 25 percent maintenance, 20 percent snow removal, 10 percent demolition and 5 percent dumpster services to a 60 percent residential, 40 percent commercial clientele.
“Our skid-steers have tended to work out really well for snow,” Barker says. “They are just as fast as a truck and a plow, and they are much easier to maneuver, which allows us to complete jobs in a timely manner.”
Over the years, Barker says he has noticed several new features that have made skid-steers more functional and efficient. For example, backup cameras are useful when working in tight areas or when operators are working alone and don’t have someone to guide them. Keyless start systems make the machines much less prone to theft, especially those that are left on job sites. Barker creates a custom pass code to start the machine, eliminating the need for a key.
“This is a nice option if you are leaving them out on the job site,” Barker says. “We haven’t had any experience with theft, but it’s good peace of mind knowing the machine isn’t going anywhere.”
Barker says skid-steers have also become faster and more powerful, which increases productivity on the job site. His crews are able to do more work with fewer people in less time.
“These machines absolutely save you money on labor,” Barker says. “Where you may have needed three or four guys to move a large tree, you can now use a skid-steer with a forklift. With the increasing difficulty of finding good labor in our industry, it’s definitely helped out to make sure you’re getting the jobs done.”
Attachments are another way Barker’s crews increase productivity with skid-steers. They regularly use a bucket, a forklift and a harley rake but will also rent other attachments when needed for specific jobs.
Boerger agrees that adding attachments increases a machine’s versatility, providing contractors the opportunity to offer additional services.
“Adding attachments to a contractor’s equipment fleet can allow him to expand his service offerings and ultimately become more profitable,” he says. “Whether it be adding an auger to dig holes for posts and trees to a snow blower to extend the season into winter, the
attachment versatility of these machines gives contractors great opportunity for growth.”
When purchasing skid-steers, Barker first determines the primary use of the machine. He then says the most important factor to consider is whether his operators, who will be the ones using it on a daily basis, like how the machine performs. Barker works with his dealers to test several different skid-steers on actual job sites to see how they handle and operate before selecting one. He urges contractors to try out different brands because some manufacturers provide better machines depending on the application.
“Price isn’t always a factor because if we know we are buying the right machine for the right application and the operator is comfortable with it, we will get our money’s worth,” he says. “Do your due diligence and research—make sure you’re exploring all of your options, checking out multiple brands and testing out multiple sizes.”