Round 'em Up

New and revised skid-steers join the herd giving the user more options in an already versatile machine.

Article December 28, 2000
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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."

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