Wheels vs. Tracks: The Debate Over Compact Loaders – Part 5

April 5, 2015

Weighing the Benefits
Every OEM has a pitch for the advantages offered by its brand, which can help a contractor make a decision, or further complicate the choice. Terex ASV CTLs are lighter weight, Harris indicates, which helps increase speed and efficiency. “Most of our competitors use a rigid track technology with steel-embedded tracks mounted on an existing skid-steer chassis. Our machine-specific designs include a patented Posi-Track undercarriage system.” By using more bogie wheels, Terex ASV CTLs provide maximum ground-contact area, with the lowest ground pressure on the market. That increases flotation while increasing traction, even in wet, muddy, or snowy conditions. Additionally, the internal positive drive system has less friction than external drive systems, which contributes to smooth, efficient operation at higher speeds.

Constructed of composite materials rather than steel, the tracks do not corrode or rust, resulting in longer life. Terex ASV undercarriages feature two types of suspension: single level, where the entire undercarriage is suspended from the chassis of the machine by torsion axles, or dual level, with a second level added to allow the bogie wheels of the machine to flex as well, creating exceptional ride comfort and traction. Independent torsion axles reduce vibration and shock associated with running over rocks, curbs and other rough terrain for a smoother ride.

Steger says Takeuchi is known for frame strength. “Skid-steer manufacturers adapt the track undercarriage to the frame, but we use thicker material—stronger, more durable—and put cross-beams where needed.” Engineering a unique undercarriage design around the track system enhances durability, he says. Other advantages of the powerful “red and gray machine” are its serviceability, thanks to simple hydraulics and electrical system and ease of access, as well as a focus on operator comfort that includes a roll-up door so operators can work with it open or closed.

Similarly, Case loaders (including eight skid-steer models and four compact track loaders) are built as welded, one-piece chassis, making them, as Hughes describes, “robust.” Additional benefits he lists include loader arms that rest low on the chassis so energy goes through the entire machine.

That translates into less flex and more “power behind the push.” Puncture-resistant steel fuel and hydraulic tanks dissipate heat, keeping it away from the operator. They are also easier to clean than plastic tanks, which can become impregnated with algae growth introduced by the water and moisture in alternative fuels.

The horsepower and torque have been increased on all Case models—up to 53% on the 420, Hughes notes. But power isn’t the only focus. Cabs are bigger, more comfortable and more ergonomic for optimal operator comfort, which, in turn, leads to increased productivity. Another feature that contributes both to productivity and safety is Case’s exclusive side lighting: 360-degree visibility for night work.

With 12 skid-steer and seven CTL models in its lineup, Bobcat has also placed more emphasis on enhanced operator comfort. “Our new M series loaders are quieter,” Fitzgerald says. They feature a pressurized cab that has been moved forward for better visibility, an adjustable seat for more legroom, and three control options (foot, hand, and selectable joystick).

Horsepower, operating capacity, and size are critical and are typically the first questions contractors ask. What some contractors don’t think of initially is width. Some Bobcat models are only 36 inches wide, allowing them to fit through gates and into other tight spaces. Weight is another important aspect, due to trailering requirements. In addition to answering those questions, Fitzgerald alerts contractors to look for features like a transversely mounted engine for easy single-side service, a center-mounted chain case for higher ground clearance and an all-steel undercarriage that’s solid-mounted to the frame for durability. Bobcat also offers a choice of radial- or vertical-lift arm configurations.

Radial-lift arms rise in an arc, but Beesley explains that they are not efficient for loading trucks, because the arm moves back in an arc. Vertical-lift arms allow an operator to dump into the center of a truck because the bucket stays the same distance from the machine from the ground up. With a change of attachments, forks can move straight up like a forklift. “Radial is better for digging,” he says, because there’s “more weight on the cutting edge.”

Rather than radial or vertical, JCB customers are asking one arm or two? The JCB monoboom skid steer has a sturdy arm that’s bigger than the competitor’s, with 50-50 balance left-to-right, Giorgianni claims. “It’s beefy, robust, and structurally strong.”

It’s also safer, he contends, because the operator can get in or out on the left side instead or at the front. Because there’s only one tower and a low-slung arm, operators enjoy 360-degree visibility.

Is That Your Final Question?
Before they ask equipment dealers detailed questions about the equipment, contractors need to ask themselves what kind of work they’re performing: loading, dirt work, time-sensitive production? What are the site conditions?

A contractor must evaluate his business now, in the past, and in six months, Giorgianni specifies. “If you’re working in wet ground conditions 30% of the time, you need a track machine.” Hughes agrees: “Guys are always looking for new stuff—the latest and greatest—but think about what you’re doing today and what you’ll be doing tomorrow and what you really need.”

Size matters. Giorgianni asks, “Where are you working? If there are tight quarters or confined areas, you may need a smaller piece. You have to factor in the work envelope.” Projects with tighter work areas and closer lot lines have led to growth in the compact equipment market in the last 10 to15 years. However, no one wants to give up horsepower or capacity.

You have to carefully tabulate operating capacity. Steger explains that a skid steer is rated at 50% of tipping load: a 4,000-pound tipping load equates to 2,000-pound operating capacity. A CTL is rated at 35% of tipping load: the same 4,000-pound tipping load equals 1,400-pound operating capacity. “But,” he emphasizes, “you must understand the numbers. On a hard surface, the numbers could be the same.”

Hard surfaces mean higher maintenance costs, cautions Murphy, although Harris disagrees and claims Terex ASV CTLs have a longer track life than skid steers “in most all conditions.” Whatever the conditions, operators must keep the track area clean and free of debris. “It’s incumbent on the operator to check,” Harris insists. Similarly, skid-steer operators must monitor tire wear, the biggest maintenance cost associated with wheeled machines. If tire pressures are low or uneven, wear is accelerated, fuel consumption is higher and productivity decreases.

Whichever type or brand of machine you’re considering, Steger advises setting up head-to-head demonstrations. “Get in the machine and try it in actual conditions.”