Compact wheel loaders offer precision with versatility
By Jenny LescohierDecember 01, 2021
On construction sites, there’s long been a balancing act between wanting the precise tool for every job, and also wanting those tools to be versatile enough to tackle a variety of tasks.
Look around at the machines on the market today, and it’s clear equipment manufacturers are working hard to offer the best of both worlds, with the compact wheel loader a prime example.
A compact wheel loader is a natural tool carrier, able to switch easily from one attachment to another, including those used on smaller types of equipment such as skid steers and compact track loaders.
“Compatibility of front attachments is very popular with today’s new compact wheel loaders,” says Tim Boulds, Kubota CE product operations manager.
“Many of the same attachments for compact track loaders and skid-steer loaders can be shared with wheel loaders if the wheel loader is equipped with a skid-steer style coupler. Specialty buckets, pallet forks, sweepers, snow pushers and grapple buckets are just a few examples of what can work on both product lines,” he says.
Small wheel loaders are regarded as versatile machines for a broad range of different applications, but their appeal is broader than that. Simply put, they are easy to use.
They also meet an increasing demand for higher comfort levels and the need for increased safety standards in the small wheel loader sector. Ease of use is an important trend in that segment, because usually small wheel loaders are used by many different machine operators, and productivity rises when working and driving functions are self-explanatory and can be learned quickly and intuitively by the operator.
Attachments make the grade
The ability to utilize a wide variety of attachments and switch them with ease is part and parcel of what compact wheel loaders stand for. Manufacturers offer a slew of features to make this happen.
Kubota claims its R430 is unique in offering the ability to install a backhoe that provides up to 9 feet of digging depth for trenching projects.
“The R430 is the only model that has a backhoe option and will be a popular choice when working in extremely compact areas,” notes Boulds. “The ‘bend in the middle’ articulation design for all Kubota compact wheel loaders allows for less scuffing and damage to tender surfaces compared to a compact track loader or skid steer.”
Boulds notes Kubota’s R630 features four operating modes that are referred to as Power, Standard, Economy and Attachment. With a broad selection of operating modes, it allows the operator to match the machine to the application and front attachment for the most efficient operation.
“In many cases, there is no need to own a totally separate line of attachments for a compact wheel loader because of front coupler compatibility with other machines in an operator’s fleet,” he states. “Owners and operators still need to make sure the recommended operating capacities are not exceeded, according to the compact wheel loader or attachment guidelines, since the lifting capacities are often greater than many compact track and skid loaders.”
The implementation of new technology or design solutions in smaller wheel loaders has to be functional, well thought out and within the customer’s budget.
Kubota machines, for their part, offer joysticks with a forward-and-reverse switch that allows for convenient, on-the-go direction changes without clutching or braking (included with the R530 and R630).
Volvo CE is one of the leading players in the compact wheel loader sector. The company recently announced that the H-Series wheel loaders have received additional enhancements that help reduce total cost of ownership.
These include the rimpull control system now coming as standard on all H-Series models, Volvo Co-Pilot monitor being available on a wider range of machines and an extended engine oil change interval of 1,000 hours as standard for H-Series models equipped with Stage V engines.
The use of telematics is changing the service business for compact wheel loaders in line with the rest of the construction equipment market. It’s enabling dealers to be more proactive in providing service and maintenance, ensuring optimum performance and a higher resale value. It also provides peace of mind to owners that service and maintenance are taken care of.
Electrification, or the use of alternative fuel (hydrogen, gas, etc.), will play a prominent role in the future of compact wheel loaders. The new technology required for this, however, will initially cause higher costs for customers. It will take time for the cost of such machines to come down, and for the surrounding infrastructure on the job site to be in place, such as charging points for electric compact wheel loaders, for example. Therefore, there will still be a market for diesel-powered engines.
Another important point to remember is that compact wheel loaders carry out fundamental tasks of loading, dumping and traveling, and for these duties, some customers are happy to have a rather basic machine, while other customers expect advanced features. Fortunately, today’s manufacturers are offering customers a mix of both.