Latest wheel loader models leverage smart technologies to reduce TCO

By Riley SimpsonSeptember 22, 2021

The John Deere 944K Hybrid wheel loader has a hybric-electric drive system that improves performance by 17%, compared to machines with conventional systems

A staple on many jobsites, the wheel loader has undergone several innovations in the past few years – and will see even further updates in the near future.

It’s been a busy 2021 for wheel loaders as several large manufacturers have released new models, including the new G-Series from Case; Caterpillar’s 980, 982 and 992 machines; and Doosan Infracore North America’s DL380-7, which joined the company’s -7 Series of wheel loaders.

The machine that loads and carries an array of materials and aggregates is a workhorse for contractors, but manufacturers are starting to capitalize on opportunities to improve wheel loaders’ efficiency and productivity, along with operator safety and comfort.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 talked with industry manufacturers to read the pulse of the wheel loader market and discover the upgrades that contractors can take advantage of.

Increased efficiency and productivity

Doosan debuted the DL-580-5 wheel loader, with an operating weight just under 80,000 lbs, at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in March 2020, and since then, the manufacturer has refreshed it and the models in its -7 Series.

Aaron Kleingartner, product and dealer marketing manager for Doosan Infracore North America, said the 580-7, which has a bucket capacity of 8.4 cubic yards, is a “true two-pass machine,” which means it fills up trucks in two loads – not 2.5 loads like some smaller wheel loader models.

“From the cycle-time perspective, [2.5-load machines] can wreak havoc in a day having that extra half-load; you sometimes end with overloaded trucks and underloaded trucks,” Kleingartner said. “That true two-pass [580-7 machine] has been a great addition to our lineup, and the -7 Series machines, in general, are the next generation of the product.”

That confidence in the wheel loader’s steady two-pass performance means it’s easier for jobsites to manage and maximize time, fuel, logistics and efficiency.

An ongoing trend with equipment is the shift to more fuel-efficient machines with lower emissions, Kleingartner said, and Doosan’s engineers have been tasked with meeting various emissions regulations.

Although complying with those mandates is necessary, Kleingartner said that adding productivity features to their machines while ensuring they’re more fuel-efficient.

The DL480-7 wheel loader from Doosan Infracore North America

The result is what Doosan calls “situational awareness technology,” which was introduced with the -7 Series of wheel loaders, and it senses the speed, power and hydraulic needs of the machines, according to Kleingartner.

He said the functionality’s job is to make minor adjustments when needed to reduce the hydraulic output – this makes sure the engine doesn’t bog down while staying within its prime working range.

“That type of technology just helps make the machine more efficient, more productive, and at the end of the day, [it] burns less fuel, and it makes the operator more productive [so] they can meet their targets throughout the day,” Kleingartner said.

John Deere is modernizing its fleet of wheel loaders with its own efficiency measures.

Luke Gribble, solutions marketing manager at John Deere, said the manufacturer’s hybrid-electric drive (or E-Drive) makes the company’s wheel loaders stand out, even though the technology has been operating with the 644 X-Tier mid-sized and 944K hybrid large models for a few years now.

“It’s something that provides a lot of those benefits: [being] more efficient, more productive, easier for the operator to us,” Gribble said.

The 644 X-Tier wheel loader comes with an E-Drive transmission system that delivers “premium performance and efficiency,” according to John Deere’s site, and the 944K model has a hybrid-electric drive that recaptures energy to slow the machine when the operator lets off the accelerator, a feature that lessens the load on the engine and reduces fuel consumption.

Gribble said that these systems help contractors extend the lives of their wheel loaders and avoid extra maintenance costs such as tire replacements and machine damage.

“The overall total cost of ownership of that machine is going down substantially when you compare it to a conventional machine,” Gribble said. “And while I mentioned that our machines [with hybrid-electric systems] have been out there for a few years now, we’re just getting customers that are starting to look at those real-life opportunities and seeing those cost advantages.”

John Deere’s studies on the efficiency of these systems pays out big dividends in terms of performance, Gribble said: The 644 X-Tier model can consume up to 10% less fuel than one of John Deere’s machines with conventional drives, and the 944K has a 17% fuel advantage over conventional machines.

And electric wheel loaders are abundant of late: In August, LiuGong introduced a new electric, remote-controlled wheel loader that runs on a 5G network, and in June, Volvo announced the L25 wheel loader would be available in the U.S. this year.

Ensuring the safety and comfort of wheel loader operators

At the end of the day, contractors are the ones operating these machines, and wheel loader manufacturers have them top of mind when it comes to implementing new features.

‘Transparent bucket’ said to eliminate blind spots in front of wheel loader bucket

“We want to make sure that the features are going to benefit the operators so they can stay comfortable in the cab all day long because they’re often working longer shifts,” Gribble said. “And it’s important to keep the operator happy because it’s a challenging job.”

Kleingartner said that after the customer feedback Doosan has received over the past several years, Doosan’s 12 wheel loader models come standard with heating, air conditioning and fully closed cabs – with the latest -7 Series wheel loaders coming with 14% more glass area for better operator visibility in the work area of the machine.

“Operator comfort has been paramount the past five to 10 years in helping to build the things that customers have been asking for,” Kleingartner said.

One of Doosan’s newest innovations for operator safety and ease is the industry-first “transparent bucket” technology.

Normally, Kleingartner said, a wheel loader’s bucket can impede an operator’s visibility at times, but this “unique” new optional functionality “basically gives you a complete view in front of the machine like the bucket isn’t even there,” he said.

Kleingartner explained the feature as an electronics system with multiple cameras mounted at the top and bottom of the front of the machine with a monitor inside the cab that displays a superimposed image in real time using a curved projection method.

The technology is a boon for jobsite safety, as well as productivity, as it removes all obstacles from the operator’s field of vision while enabling a forward perspective through the monitor during loading and unloading.

First teased at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in March 2020, a similar feature from John Deere for all its wheel loaders called Advanced Rods and Virtual Mirrors will debut in the near future, according to Gribble.

He said two additional cameras set up on the rearview mirrors to provide increased visibility around the machine, and the manufacturer will also have a more optimized radar system on the back of the cab, which will alert operators while they back up – much like how modern cars beep at drivers while in reverse to warn of obstacles.

“You’re going to have enhanced operator awareness and understanding some of those areas that might be hard to see from the cab,” Gribble said.

Along with the advanced system for visibility, John Deere has also redesigned its wheel loader cabs with standard features such as more leg room, automatic temperature control, updated HVAC systems that optimize airflow and more user-friendly monitors. Optional cab upgrades include heated seats.

“Those [upgraded features] might seem minor, you’d think … well, I’ve got all that in my car, so why wouldn’t I have it in my wheel loader?” Gribble said. “There are so many of those comfort features that we want to make sure that you have [because operators] probably spend more time in that machine than they do in their car a lot of times.”

The fact that these improvements came from customers and contractors is not lost on Gribble

“Really what we do for our advanced products is continue to talk to customers on a daily basis and allow them to kind of tell us what the direction is where we need to be going in the future,” he said.

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