Compact loaders offer the right tool for the job, with versatility too
By Jenny LescohierMarch 10, 2021
There’s always been a balancing act between wanting the right tool for every job and 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 have done an admirable job of offering the best of both worlds, and the compact wheel loaders is a prime example.
A natural tool carrier, these machines are 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,” said 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.”
Mario Bican, product manager for small wheel loaders at Liebherr, said small wheel loaders are famous as versatile machines for a broad range of different applications, but their appeal is broader than that. Simply put, they are easy to use.
“We observe that the demand for versatile helpers has been growing steadily,” he stated. “Above all, we see 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,” he continued. “For the equipment owner, ease of use means that productivity is rising when working
and driving functions are self-explanatory and can be learned fast and intuitively by the operator.”
Comfort is king
Operator comfort is key to productivity, and so many of the recent improvements to Hitachi compact wheel loaders reflect this, said Seigo Yamamoto, product manager for mini and compact products, Hitachi Construction Machinery.
“These include a new standard seat that is more comfortable, new right window for better visibility, redesigned arm rest for more convenient support, DAB+ radio as an option, and upcoming pilot control levers to operate the wheeled loader more easily and precisely,” he explained.
Yamamoto noted Hitachi compact wheel loaders feature a self-stabilizing concept which consists of an articulated pendulum joint that transfers the center of gravity of the rear end to below the pendulum axis. The resulting self-stabilization of the pendulum motion not only increases the stability but also translates to better driving comfort and optimum stability on all terrain.
Likewise, visibility makes a big difference in ease of use to the operator. Hitachi offers large tinted windows on its loaders to ensure all-round visibility, Yamamoto said, noting, “The panorama roof allows for an exact overhead view, for example for truck loading.”
Attachments make the grade
The ability to utilize a wide variety of attachments and switch them with ease is key to what compact wheel loaders stand for. Manufacturers offer a slew of features to make this happen.
For its part, Hitachi offers the Monoboom offering high tear out forces. Cables and hoses are protected and out of the driver‘s field of vision, the company stated, while the protected, internal Z-kinematics allow parallel guidance of the attachments.
“This translates to a high degree of safety, particularly when loading pallets,” Yamamoto said. “Fast cycles and an unrivalled view on the attachments make daily work even more efficient.”
Kubota claimed 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,” noted 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 wheeled skid loader.”
Kubota loaders feature an optional quick coupler to allow easy bucket and attachment changes.
Boulds noted 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 stated. “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.”
With further regard to attachments, Liebherr offers a hydraulic quick hitch for its small wheeled loaders. The company said it is useful to switch between attachments such as earthmoving and light material buckets, fork attachments, buckets with hydraulic clamp or snow plows.
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).
For example, in terms of design, Bican pointed to the generous amount of window space in the cab of Liebherr wheel loaders and the mirror arrangement that ensures unimpaired all-round visibility during work.
In terms of technology, Bican said Liebherr offers several intelligent solutions. “For example, the new L 509 Tele features the ‘Comfort operation Tele’ to make working with the telescopic lift arm easier and safer. This includes automatic bucket return-to-dig, programable auto lifting and auto lowering, as well as visualisation of the equipment position on the display.”
Volvo Construction Equipment (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 from April 2020.
Volvo CE have committed to only producing electric compact wheel loaders in the future.
The use of telematics is changing the service business for compact wheel loaders, in line with the rest of the construction equipment market. It is 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.
To that end, it’s now possible to install ABAX remote monitoring software on Hitachi compact wheel loaders to track working hours and location.
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.
“We already have the technology for electrification and alternative fuels from the automobile industry, and it is relatively easy to apply this to compact equipment,” Hitachi’s Yamamoto stated.
“But 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 pretty basic machine, while other customers expect advanced features. Fortunately, today’s manufacturers are offering customers a mix of both.