Turf Care Equipment
Small loaders produce big benefits
By Buck Storlie
Landscape contractors see big advantages from smaller compact track loaders.
By Buck Storlie
There’s no question that compact track loaders are one of a jobsite’s most versatile tools. The right selection of attachments is one aspect that makes the possible applications nearly endless. But the size of the machine can be another gateway to new business for contractors.
Many contractors use primarily mid-size compact track loaders, but there are big benefits to rounding out a fleet with the industry’s smallest sit-in track loaders. The equipment opens new job opportunities and provides a solution for the trend away from walk-behind and stand-on loaders toward safer equipment that can still deliver high productivity. This type of equipment allows contractors to train their operators better and improve safety.
New market opportunities
The size of these small sit-in compact track loaders helps make them a fit for a wide variety of applications, including those with size restrictions where larger equipment is too bulky. Walk-behind and stand-on loaders are popular for similar reasons, but are flawed with safety, comfort and productivity limitations. Contractors can use small sit-in compact track loaders as a similarly priced alternative.
The smallest sit-in compact track loaders are only about four feet wide, giving them the flexibility to get into tight areas that would be difficult to access with larger models. Their small sizes and low weights of about 3,600 pounds or less make them generally easy to transport with a half-ton pickup truck and standard trailer. The sit-in loaders can also feature speeds almost two times faster than walk-behind or stand-on versions and rated operating capacities as much as 931 pounds. This means getting around the jobsite or from site to site more quickly while hauling more material.
Small residential or backyard projects don’t necessarily need a huge machine. Landscape contractors can use a small compact track loader as an economical choice that is faster than doing the work manually and safer than using a walk-behind or stand-on loader. This could include stump removal and backyard landscaping projects such as installing a new garden, reshaping, or installing a retaining wall.
As contractors know, new housing developments are often built with structures close together, providing little leeway for moving equipment between houses and into backyards. Smaller equipment can often fit through those tight spaces and can mean the difference between driving through the fence gate and removing a portion of the fence to accommodate the machine.
These small machines are also useful for finishing work, such as trenching for wiring and piping. Contractors can take advantage of equipment heights as low as six feet to work below jacked up houses for adding additions.
For the winter months, small sit-in compact track loaders excel at clearing snow in tight areas such as alleyways, small parking lots, driveways or sidewalks. The loaders not only fit in these areas, they provide more maneuverability, speeding up the job and posing less risk of property damage. In addition, some manufacturers offer compact track loaders with excellent flotation on snow, ice and slush, providing much better performance than most other tracks on the market. Operators will be thankful, as well, if the equipment has a heated cab.
Landscape contractors should look for small sit-in compact track loaders with low ground pressures for minimized turf damage. Some manufacturers offer unique undercarriages that allow lower pressures than anything else on the market. Because they have a shorter track base, walk-behind and stand-on loaders generally have 25 per cent higher ground pressure, usually starting at four psi compared to 3.1 from some small sit-in compact track loaders. That means less risk of a torn up lawn and better flotation on soft surfaces and mud when operating a small sit-in compact track loader.
Safer, easy-to-use equipment
Contractors know there’s always a risk when new employees operate equipment, so there are significant benefits to machinery that is safer and easy to use.
One tradeoff for that open-air, no-cab feel found in walk-behind and stand-on loaders is operator safety. Such equipment, when used improperly, may be prone to tipping, meaning a higher risk of an operator being thrown off or injured by the machinery during a rollover. The operator is also exposed with no protection on any side from debris, branches or other obstacles. Some of the smallest sit-in compact track loaders have ROPS and FOPS rated cabs, allowing for excellent protection from rollovers or falling objects.
Another benefit of small sit-in compact track loaders is their usability. The size of the machines can make them less intimidating to new operators, and they are easier to operate and learn for the same reason. This is especially true for equipment with standard joystick controls rather than dual-lever foot or H-pattern controls. For an experienced operator, these features offer greater productivity. In addition, some of these compact track loaders feature 360-degree visibility so it’s easy to see in all directions, improving safety and ease of use.
Many of the same features that make a compact track loader safer than a walk-behind or stand-on loader also mean more comfort. Sitting on a padded seat means less fatigue on a long workday, and a pressurized cab outfitted with HVAC and a radio improves the overall experience. There’s also the comfort of familiarity. Walk-behind and stand-on loaders often have different control systems from manufacturer to manufacturer, while a small sit-in compact track loader has controls familiar to anyone who’s operated a larger unit.
The undercarriage can also contribute to operator comfort. Walk-behind and stand-on loaders generally have little to no suspension, meaning every bump is transferred to the operator and the machine. Certain small compact track loaders feature independent torsion axles and a flexible track that contribute to more comfort and less wear on the machine, as well as less material loss from the bucket caused by bumps.
Save on maintenance
Ease of service can mean a faster ROI and lower total cost of ownership. Many small sit-in compact track loaders are easier to service than their larger counterparts thanks to ground-level access.
Experienced operators know how common it is for compact track loaders to derail. Derailment can mean spending half the day putting the track back on, eating up time that could be used getting work done. Some small sit-in compact track loaders are virtually derailment-proof. These machines include an undercarriage with extra track guiding and a flexible high-strength Polycord-embedded track for more ground contact, almost eliminating the possibility of derailment.
When track change-out is necessary, the small size of the loader can make it simple to change a track with just one person. This is especially true if the equipment features an all-rubber track, which is lighter than steel-embedded versions. General service items are close to ground level, speeding up the process, and can be serviced with normal-size tools.
Some models require no exhaust after-treatment, saving the time that would need to be spent maintaining a larger model with the requirement. For even easier maintenance, contractors should look for models with a large rear-tilting hood to provide easy access to all maintenance points, including filters, oil and fuel tanks, reservoirs, hydraulic and water separator drains, and the battery. Easy loader valve access is another plus. Another feature to watch for is standard metal-face seals on the front and back to ensure the drive hubs don’t require maintenance for the life of the machine.
Round out your fleet
Many jobs call for a mid-sized compact track loader or skid steer, but having smaller sit-in models on hand can mean big benefits for a landscape contractor. From new markets and high versatility to excellent uptime and safety, the industry’s smallest compact track loaders may bring in business contractors didn’t know they were missing.
Buck Storlie is product line manager for ASV Holdings Inc., a Grand Rapids, Minn.-based manufacturer of compact track and skid steer loaders used in the landscaping, construction and forestry markets.