Becoming 'attached' to skid-steers

The variety of skid-steer attachments is almost endless, and recent introductions enable these units to perform almost any task.

Lee Geistlinger / December 28, 2000

Yesterday's skid-steer loader had a bucket. It was good for cleanup tasks
on road or bridge construction sites; it could be used to load salt into
truck beds or unload aggregate. It was a rugged unit, and it did a good
job performing the limited amount of work it was able to handle.

That was yesterday.

Today's units perform so many tasks that it would perhaps be easier to list
what the units can't handle, rather than the other way around. While many
factors have combined to make the skid-steer the contractor's Swiss Army
knife, the proliferation of attachments is the No. 1 reason the skid-steer
is the tool it is today: an indispensable part of almost any contractor's
or agency's equipment roster, a unit of peerless versatility.

"I always compare skid-steers with power drivers, those hand-held units
that have attachments that do almost anything," says Steve Barber,
Case Corp.'s marketing manager for skid-steers. "You used to use a
screwdriver to put in a screw, a drill to bore a hole. Now, you just put
all the attachments on the drill and they do everything: buff, drill, screw.
That's what skid-steers are like."

As one might expect, the "Big Three" skid-steer makers-Case Corp.,
Melroe Co. and New Holland Inc.-offer some of the most extensive lines of
attachments. While most skid-steer makers offer a somewhat predictable assortment
of attachments, such as backhoes and utility blades, this trio of market-share
leaders offers some surprises. For example, Case dealers and New Holland
offer cement-mixer attachments; all three offer cold planers and vibratory
rollers, as well.

Obviously, the use of a skid-steer-driven cement mixer is not going to put
any truck makers out of business. But use of an attachment such as this-whether
as a rental or purchase-may enable a contractor or agency to get to those
small jobs that wouldn't be an economic reality if a full-sized mixer had
to be called in. And for those very small jobs, the mixer can cut down on
the traditional "mixing in the wheelbarrow" technique, speeding
repairs and reducing labor costs. Either way, such attachments enable a
contractor or agency to profitably tackle jobs they would not have been
able to approach in the past.

It should be noted that many of the attachments offered by skid-steer manufacturers
are not made by the company. For example, the cement mixer Case dealers
and New Holland offer is a Palm Mixer; the cold planers offered by the same
two are Alitec units.

To further muddy the waters, the Alitec cold planer Case offers is actually
branded with the Case name. However, second-party involvement does nothing
to undermine the quality of the products, a point Barber stresses: "If
we sell the attachment, we have done the tests on them."

One of the sticking points among skid-steer manufacturers is the "universality"
of attachments. For example, if you had purchased a small Melroe Bobcat
or Case Uni-Loader a few years ago, built up a roster of attachments for
it, and then decided to upgrade to a larger unit by another manufacturer-say
a Gehl 6625 or a JCB 185 Robot-wouldn't you want the attachments to work
with the new unit? In some cases, this might not be the case.

"We generally say we offer 35-plus different attachments," says
Lynn Roesler, product coordinator for skid-steers at Melroe. "They
work on some models. Some are universal you could say; some need couplers
to be swapped." He says there does appear to be a consensus slowly
building in the industry to settle on one "universal" coupler
for attachments, but that day has yet to arrive.

Attachment manufacturers, such as Palm and Alitec, would obviously prefer
to have an industry-standard coupler-then they would not have to bother
with the extra costs of supplying couplers for different manufacturers'
units. For skid-steer makers, however, the issue is not as clear-cut. Not
only are there retooling costs involved in changing couplers, but there
is a certain amount of pride in offering what each manufacturer considers
"the best" coupler. This is why many manufacturers still offer
attachments in two styles: one with the near-universal coupler, based on
Melroe's design; and the other outfitted with the "house brand."

The trend does appear to be heading toward universality. While it will not
happen overnight, the very fact that the industry is leaning toward the
coupler offered by industry market-share leader Melroe bodes well for universality.

However, a universal coupler does not mean that all attachments will work
on all units: For many attachments, high-flow hydraulics is required. The
ability to deliver this higher-performance hydraulic power is often the
fulcrum upon which the sale of a skid-steer rests. "Certainly it is
the auxiliary hydraulics that make [such units] attractive," says Greg
Emmanuel, senior product engineer for JCB Inc. "We have high-flow options
available; this enables the units to run cold planers, snow blowers, rock
saws-items such as these."

As with any purchase, contractors or agencies weighing the relative merits
of various companies' units should try to take a look at what they will
want the unit to do in the long term, as well as the in short run. A hydraulic-hammer
attachment is one of the more popular attachments these days, but this tool
requires high-flow hydraulics. You may not want that hammer today, but will
you need one tomorrow? If so, get the unit that will accommodate it.

The general consensus among skid-steer manufacturers is that the number
of attachments is going to continue to rise. "Right now we list about
30 attachments," say Peter Mabee, marketing manager for Thomas Equipment
Ltd. "And more are coming in all the time-we have about 15 waiting
for approval right now."

While many of the new attachments, such as rock saws and scrap shears, require
a higher-powered unit than those common in the past, the majority of attachments
are those that require little more than a little skid-steer: rock rakes,
light-duty graders, bolt-on bucket teeth and so on.

Attachments that are sometimes overlooked are those that improve the performance
of the units but are not "tools" in themselves. For example, most
manufacturers offer treads that slip over skid-steer wheels, enabling the
unit to work in soft or sandy sites. Another option-solid tires-can improve
the performance of some units on hard surfaces.

The list of attachments could go on for pages-in many manufacturers' catalogs,
it does. And all these tools are designed to, in some manner, raise the
productivity of the the units. The products listed on this pages is not
intended to be a complete listing of attachments or even a balanced overview.
Rather, it is intended to show some of the newer and more popular attachments,
as well as to give users a sense of just how much is available. Products
listed on these pages are just the tip of a very large iceberg; a massive
floe that seems to grow every day.

"Skid-steers are such a versatile piece of equipment that the return
on investment is unmatched by others," states Larry Henkensiefken,
product manager for Mustang Manufacturing Co. Inc. "Once a contractor
buys a skid-steer, he'll will never get rid of it-he just won't want to
be without one."

Like the old Swiss Army knife many individuals are reluctant to part with,
the skid-steer is always there, and-thanks to the explosion of attachments-there seems to be a new use for it every day.

About the Author