When the first skid steer from the John Deere Dubuque Works was delivered to a John Deere dealer and customer in August, it was such a big event that the lieutenant governor of Iowa came out to celebrate.
Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson said she was encouraged that Deere had brought the manufacturing operation to Iowa, a state in which John Deere is already the largest manufacturing employer. "Deere is a great Iowa company," she said, "and we are pleased to help sustain good jobs in Iowa through the use of economic development programs that benefit Iowa communities and Iowa workers."
Economic incentives were not the only thing that persuaded Deere to ship its skid-steer production line to Dubuque from Loudon, Tenn., over the course of 10 months.
"We had excess capacity here at the Dubuque facility," Larry Foster, business analysis manager for skid steers at John Deere Construction and Forestry Co., told Roads & Bridges. "And one of the key markets that skid steers go into is the construction market, so it fits well with this equipment division of Deere. To help optimize our efficiencies in manufacturing, bringing skid steers to Dubuque made excellent sense."
The Dubuque Works also makes other Deere construction equipment, such as dozers, crawler loaders, backhoe loaders, winches and components for various heavy equipment products.
The skid-steer manufacturing line took over space left when Deere moved an engine manufacturing line from Dubuque to a plant in Mexico. The employees from the engine line were kept at the Dubuque Works to work on the skid-steer line.
The Dubuque Works employs a total of about 1,700 workers. Deere has sold the Loudon plant.
Deere hasn't even slowed production in order to sell down accumulated inventory the way many U.S. manufacturers have during the recent recession. According to Foster, Deere does not keep inventory of skid steers.
"We don't build inventory; we build orders," he said. "We only build products that are ordered, and our turnaround time is significantly less than it was years ago."
Dealers are still making fewer sales of skid steers than they did a few years ago, even though the worst of the recession may be past. The market for skid steers shrank about 15% in 2002 compared with 2001, according to Foster. And 2001 sales were down from their historical peak in 2000. He said he expected industry sales of skid steers in 2003 to be the same as or slightly less than in 2002.
Foster declined to comment on Deere's sales figures for the year, but he said that Deere was "no exception" to the trend.
Perhaps the biggest trend in the skid-steer business is not quite part of the skid-steer business. More companies are putting tracks on their machines, making them into what are generally called compact track loaders.
Putting tracks over the tires of a skid steer has been done for decades, but putting a dedicated tracked undercarriage on a skid-steer type of machine is a relatively new phenomenon.
"Four to five years ago, there were only a few models in the industry offered that way," said Foster. "Today there are almost 20 models of compact track loaders offered by numerous brands."
The move to tracks is the result of the overall growth of the machines in the category and the realization that, with better flotation, these versatile machines can extend their applications into the realm of small dozers, with good traction and gradeability but with a wider choice of attached tools.
Deere, along with a couple of other big names in the industry (Case and New Holland), does not currently manufacture a compact track loader, but probably will: "No doubt all three of us will," said Foster. "It's just a timing thing."
All of Deere's current skid steers now have standard vertical-lift booms?another hot feature on skid steers, especially large ones.
Deere's Series 200 machines (Circle 915) include the models 240, 250, 260, 270 and 280. They range in rated operating capacity from 1,500 to 3,200 lb and in operating weight from 6,165 to 9,200 lb.
As for the vertical-lift feature, Foster pointed out a big advantage: "One is the ability to place the load away from the machine at full dump height. It reaches into the center of the truck when you're dumping it."
The Deere 280 skid steer has servo-controlled low-effort steering levers. The rest of the line has manual controls.
"We've improved the steering system from a standpoint of its ability to maintain its adjustment for a long time," said Foster. The manual controls in skid steers tend to lose their adjustment over months. "That's a normal maintenance item. We're trying to make this system more bulletproof, so that once it's set it stays that way for a very long time."
What follows are brief descriptions of a few of the skid-steer product announcements we have received recently. It is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of products currently on the market.
Caterpillar Inc.'s latest skid-steers feature vertical lift to a height of 9 ft 11 in. and a reach of 30 in. at a bucket angle of 45°. With rated capacities of 1,750 lb for the 232 model and 1,900 lb for the 242 model, the smaller Cat skid-steer loaders (Circle 916) are ideal for higher stacking of pallets of bricks, concrete blocks and other materials or for loading trucks, according to Caterpillar.
Caterpillar's Multi Terrain Loaders?the 247 and the 257 (Circle 917)?are compact rubber-tracked machines with an undercarriage designed by ASV Inc., a Caterpillar affiliate, and the upper portions are the Cat 226 and 242 skid-steer loaders, respectively. The 247 features a ground pressure of 3.8 psi, with an operating weight of 6,665 lb; the 257 has an operating weight of 7,628 lb and a ground pressure of 4.3 psi.
The S300 vertical lift-path skid-steer loader has a lift height of 10 ft 6 in., a forward reach of 34 in. and a rated operating capacity of 3,000 lb. The S300 (Circle 918) from Bobcat Co., West Fargo, N.D., has a hydraulic lift breakout force of 6,300 lb and a hydraulic tilt breakout of 6,840 lb. It has 20.7 gpm auxiliary hydraulic flow and 3,300 psi system pressure. A high-flow auxiliary option package boosts flow to 30.7 gpm at 3,300 psi for operating special high-performance attachments.
The latest skid steers from Case Construction Equipment, Racine, Wis., feature more power and performance, better lift capacity and greater maneuverability.
The 40XT, 60XT and 70XT (Circle 919) replace Case's 1800 Series, including the best-selling 1845C, and fall into the fastest-growing market segment, the 1,741- to 2,200-lb class. The 40XT delivers more power (60 hp) and more lift capacity (1,500 lb) than the Case 1840. The 60XT (75 hp) boasts 25% more horsepower than the 1845C and a 1,800-lb lift capacity. New in its class, the 70XT offers an 85-hp turbo-charged engine and a 2,000-lb lift capacity.
The R-Series All-Surface Loaders from ASV Inc., Grand Rapids, Minn., feature the benefits of rubber tracks on a skid-steer-style loader. The RC-50, for instance (Circle 920), has a 9-ft 7-in. lift height, 12-in. ground clearance and a 9-mph top speed. The track undercarriage lets the 4,750-lb machine crawl over virtually any surface and exert only 2.7 psi under its 15-in.-wide tracks.
Take this loader
The TL130 is the smaller of two compact track loaders made by Takeuchi US, Buford, Ga. It (Circle 921) is powered by a 67-hp engine and has an operating weight of 7,497 lb, an operating capacity of 1,620 lb and a ground pressure of 4.86 psi on its 12.6-in.-wide rubber tracks.