Round 'em Up

Dec. 28, 2000
Skid-steers are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on a job site, and it is this versatility that makes it such a popular machine. "Skid-steer versatility allows the machines to fit into a variety of applications," explains Ray Szwec, compact machine product manager with JCB Inc., White Marsh, Md. "It is not just the loading and push performance that make them so popular.
Skid-steers are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on a job site, and it is this versatility that makes it such a popular machine. "Skid-steer versatility allows the machines to fit into a variety of applications," explains Ray Szwec, compact machine product manager with JCB Inc., White Marsh, Md. "It is not just the loading and push performance that make them so popular. The selection of specialized attachments that can be used and powered from the skid-steer is key to their utilization."

It's this wide variety of attachments that gives the machine the ability to tackle numerous and different jobs. This makes it popular among users. Rusty Schaefer, marketing manager, industrial wheel and skid steers, Case Corp., Racine, Wis., provides an example, "On a single job, a contractor might use a skid-steer equipped with a cold planer to ready a road bed, then couple that same unit with a broom attachment for cleanup after the road has been re-asphalted."

Its ability to perform many tasks once handled by specialty equipment is lauded by many in the industry. Jeff Stewart, product specialist, John Deere, Raleigh, N.C., says, "Contractors are finding out that they can use this machine for more than one job. They can take it with several attachments out to a job site and now accomplish the same things with one piece of equipment as they were doing with two or three before."

Lynn Roesler, skid-steer loader product manager, Melroe Co., Fargo, N.D., agrees, "There are so many different things that you can do with it. It can replace two or three other pieces of equipment."

This ability to perform a wide variety of tasks has made it an attractive machine for highway contractors. "It use to be that almost every highway paving job had a sweeper and usually that sweeper was mounted on the front-end of a mid-size utility ag tractor. And that was all that they did with that machine. With a skid-steer you can have a bucket on it, you can have a set of forks on it, you can unload trucks or you can put the sweeper on it. Put a skid-steer on the job site and you can do a dozen different things with it," states Bill Sauber, product manager for skid-steer loaders, New Holland Inc., New Holland, Pa.

"Larger contractors are buying skid loaders whereas years ago they didn't even look at them. They are finding skid loaders have a lot of uses. Whether it's in bridgebuilding or road work some of the larger series skid-steers are really helpful," adds Kelly Moore, skid loader product development manager, Gehl Co., West Bend, Wis.

In addition to the versatility achieved through a wide array of attachments, the machine's small size, maneuverability and quickness allows it to perform in almost any work environment. Roesler points this out, "It can get in spaces a lot smaller and maneuver a lot better than larger pieces of equipment."

Transporting it to a job site also is easier because of its small size. "Getting a skid-steer to a job site is a lot less work and trouble than transporting a crawler dozer or excavator. Skid-steers are easy to get around in and easy to move from site to site," comments Schaefer.

Sauber sums it up, "It is a small, very maneuverable, self-propelled power unit."

Down on the farm

The skid-steer came from humble beginnings. Once a piece of farm equipment, its abilities soon had it taking on jobs other than agricultural work. As its uses spread the percentage of new machines going into the agriculture segment has dropped.

Melroe's Roesler explains, "Agriculture is up and down. It has gotten smaller because the volume of the other segments have grown so much. We are probably selling more units to agriculture then ever, but the percentage has shrunk over the past 10 years. Twenty years ago agriculture was the biggest chunk of sales."

This is true for other manufacturers as well. "Ag has declined as a percentage of the total over the past five years or so. It is not that ag has dropped so much but that the other uses have increased. Ag is down to less than 20% of the business, whereas 10 years ago it was probably 50%," adds Sauber.

The construction segment has been growing considerably. Szwec notes, "Construction accounts for the largest share of the skid-steer market, about 35%."

A large number of Melroe's skid-steers go to work in the construction segment, around 40%, according to Roesler. However, the company includes landscapers and demolition contractors in its construction segment figures.

Gehl is relatively new to the construction segment, however, like the other manufacturers they too are experiencing growth in this segment. Moore explains, "We have more overall ag dealerships nationwide because we have been in the ag business longer, but the construction end of the business has been growing significantly versus the ag side."

The rental segment is increasing along with construction. Stewart points out, "Most of the growth seems to be in the construction and rental side."

Other segments are improving as well. "As far as growth, we expect the recycling and waste transfer industries to employ more and more skid-steers as they continue to realize the power and versatility these machines offer," states Schaefer.

JCB, which has introduced a new version of its steer loader, the Robot 165 Series 2, shares this optimism. According to Szwec, "We expect to see even more Robot skid-steers in the industrial and rental markets."

New machines

The skid-steer's popularity and the changing market segments encourages manufacturers to improve their designs and introduce new models. Gehl recently introduced two new larger class lines of skid-steer loaders, the 5635 and the 6635 with lift capacities of 1,800 lb and 2,300 lb respectively. Known as the 35 Series the machines are powered by an oil-cooled Deutz direct-injection engine. An oil-cooled engine does away with the possibility of water or antifreeze contaminating the lube oil.

Moore explains why this effort, which took over two years, was made. "We wanted to do some updating to increase the capacity, provide more power and extend the wheel base. In the process we standardized the design, which helped our parts and manufacturing. Previously we had two distinctly different machines in the larger class."

Based on customer and dealer feedback the new loaders feature a universal hook-up so that attachments from different manufacturers may be used, and offer either dual T-bar, hand-foot or dual-hand controls. The machines continue to separate the hydraulic oil reservoir from the lube and cooling oil. In order to power more attachments the models also are available with high-flow hydraulics.

Ease of maintenance also was important in the design. Lee Walter, Gehl's director of skid-loader engineering, explains, "The entire ROPS/FOPS structure pivots back out of the way, locking in the up position for full and easy access to drive and hydraulic components."

At the recent World of Concrete show in Las Vegas this January, Hydra-Mac introduced its new, flagship skid-steer, the TUF 2250, with an operating capacity of 2,250 lb.

The launching of this product coincides with a new, aggressive marketing approach adopted by the company. It has even redesigned its logo, incorporating a silhouette of a gear, to increase name recognition and to emphasize the all-gear drive of its skid-steers, a feature unique to the company's products.

"All of our machines have features found only on Hydra-Macs, hydrostatic all-rear drive, heavy plate steel frames and sealed pivot steel bearings," states John Luoma, president, Hydra-Mac, Thief River Falls, Minn., "Ours is the only skid-steer sold in the U.S. market place that is all-gear driven."

The company has been involved in manufacturing skid-steers for 27 years, marketing under brand names such as Gehl and International Harvester. They have kept a low profile over the years, serving small niche industries. Luoma explains, "The niche was the nursery industry. We furnished equipment for use by tree plantations and at the same time we had a small group of farm dealers. We also sold in the recycling industry."

But Hydra-Mac plans to change all that. "Our new strategy is to have a national dealer network and we are pursuing that network to expand into the national market place," continues Luoma.

When asked if the company's plans included expanding into the construction market Luoma answered yes. "We feel we have a good product to offer people who are in construction whether it is building construction or any construction where dirt has to be moved."

The new model is built as a modular unit, which allows the customer the option to select controls that match their current equipment or preference. It also comes with a universal attachment plate. For the grader attachment the company offers a laser-guided system supplied by Spectra-Physics.

Over the past two years New Holland has introduced six new models, the LX465, LX485, LX565, LX665, LX865 and the LX885, which range in capacity from 1,380 lb to 2,353 lb. Each features boom hydraulics, work lights, a headliner kit for reduced cab noise and a universal attachment system.

The machines provide increased visibility with a large rear window, low engine hood and no frame towers. The low-boom cross member also allows the operator to see the bucket's cutting edge when the boom is down.

The new models continue to provide the long wheel base and low center of gravity designs, which according to Bill Sauber, have been features of New Holland's skid-steers since the 1970s.

Melroe's latest model is the Bobcat 863. It "came out in May 1996 on a limited basis and became widely available around August of 1996," says Roesler. It features an increased travel speed of 7.2 mph and an extended wheel base.

It is rated at a capacity of 1,900 lb and features a 73.5-hp, 167-cu in., four-cylinder, turbo-charged, oil-cooled diesel engine. It is a member of the company's C-Series and is equipped with the Bobcat Interlock Control System, which requires that the operator be in the seat with the seat bar down before the loader's lift and tilt hydraulic functions and traction drive system can be operated.

With capacities of 2,353 lb and 1,410 lb, respectively, the JD8875, introduced in late 1994 and the JD5575, introduced in early 1995, are two of John Deere's most recent skid-steers.

Powered by a 61-hp John Deere Series 3029T engine and a two-speed transmission the JD8875 is the company's most powerful skid-steer with the capacity to reach speeds of 12 mph. Its instrument panel provides a digital reading of 15 equipment functions.

The JD5575 is powered by a 37-hp, 3-cyclinder John Deere Series 220 diesel engine. Its low center of gravity and 37-in. wheel base allows it to work on rough terrain job sites.

On both models the cabs lift completely forward to expose the engine, hydraulics and hydrostatic drive components for ease of servicing.

JCB has revised its Robot 165, which now features a standard manual control system. The company has also introduced a skid-steer/backhoe loader called the 208S MiniMaster. It "is a mini excavator that can load and a skid-steer loader that can excavate," says Szwec.

When asked what the thinking was that went behind the development of this unit he responds, "JCB, which reinvests about 4% of each year's sales revenue in research and development, saw the need for one machine that could serve as a 2-ton mini excavator with the loader performance and maneuverability of a 1,300-lb skid-steer loader."

Like a standard skid-steer it can accommodate various attachments including a 6-in-1 shovel, a breaker, a trencher, a sweeper and a sweeper collector.

Skid-steer future

Skid-steer lift capacity is broken down into five segments: under 700 lb; 700-975 lb; 975-1,350-lb; 1,350-1,750 lb; and over 1,750 lb. As more skid-steers are being used in the field of construction the demand for larger units has risen.

Sauber explains, "Several things have happened if you look at the trends of the overall market. There is a continuing shift towards the larger capacity machines. About five to six years ago the 975-1,350 lb segment accounted for more than 50% of all the loaders sold. Now that's down to 30%, and the 1,350-1,750 lb segment is up to almost 50%. The most rapid growth is in the highest segment, which is up to about 12%-14% of the market. This segment has almost more than doubled in the last five years."

Larger sizes can provide some extras for the user. "Larger sizes give you a little more lift capacity, a little more comfort for the operator and a little more horsepower for powering attachments," says Moore.

Stewart provides one answer to this trend. "It seems that now they [skid-steers] are getting popular with bigger contractors and so they want them to do a little bit more work."

Getting more work done is one reason. "People are upgrading to the next model where they feel they may get more work done because they have more capacity, more horsepower available," states Luoma.

One trend that will continue strong into the future is the use of attachments. Roesler explains Melroe's views on the future, "We will continue to look at different attachments and continue to make the machine even more versatile. It is almost becoming a misnomer to call it a skid-steer loader, it is almost a skid-steer attachment carrier."

Attachment manufacturers and even the users are driving this trend. "The attachment manufacturers continue to come up with new uses and the users find out ways to do things with the skid-steers by making attachments themselves," says Sauber.

Stewart explains how the user's inventiveness affects the manufacturers, "As the customers start to use more attachments and want the skid-steers to do more jobs, we'll have to adapt to what they're wanting to do with them."

The increasing use of attachments affects the hydraulics, so to satisfy the desire for more versatility through attachments, manufacturers are providing high-flow hydraulics. "High-flow hydraulics gives you the ability to power more attachments," explains Moore.

Roesler adds, "Just about everybody has loaders with high-flow hydraulics on them, including us. Manufacturers offer this so that you can run a lot more attachments. That's something I think you'll see a lot more development of in the future, high-flow, or high-horsepower, systems."

He offers some final views on what to expect in the future, "You'll see a lot more attention paid to operator comfort on loaders in the future. Skid-steers in the past have gotten a reputation in some circles for being noisy and uncomfortable to run. Loaders of today are a lot different, I think they're more comfortable to run. This is something that everyone pays close attention to, in part because of European regulations. Some of the design work on European loaders carries over to machines here in the U.S."

"It is all part of making the operator happy, if you make him happy he is more productive."