Nov. 10 2021 11:39 AM

Look for features that boost productivity in new mini skid steers.

Landscape contractors looking for new mini skid steers and compact loaders will have a range of features to prioritize. While the projects that a skid steer can help with haven’t changed, the vehicles offer new ways to be useful for industry professionals. That’s leading to an increased demand, says Buck Storlie, product manager for ASV Holdings Inc., Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

“When looking at mini track loaders, the biggest trend to call out is their growing popularity in general,” says Storlie. “In landscaping in particular there is a desire for smaller machines that can fit through yard gates and work comfortably in tight residential situations. Cabbed small track loaders are being looked at more and more by landscapers who want to use the machines for snow removal, where they have the obvious advantage over open-air, stand-on type units.” The small size of the machines can make a big difference for prospective buyers, opening the door to projects that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

“Some of the smallest sit-in compact track loaders in the industry are good machines as they are extremely compact to offer all those advantages,” says Storlie. “But they also have the safety and year-round comfort benefits of enclosed cab CTLs.”

But a small frame doesn’t necessarily have to mean a sacrifice in lifting capacity, says Trevor Koolmees, sales manager for Vermeer Corporation, Pella, Iowa.

“The mini skid steer loader market is trending larger units over the last several years,” says Koolmees. “The mini skid steer’s design allows it to be operated on job sites where traditional loaders may not be able to access. In recent years manufacturers

have introduced models with higher lift capacities and auxiliary hydraulic flow for running attachments. These advances help bridge the gap between the skid steer/compact track loader and the mini skid steer product categories.”

Environmental efficiency

One of the new trends with mini skid steers and compact loaders involves building a more “green” and climate-friendly product to stay up to date with consumer and market demands, says Delvin Wilger, product and marketing specialist for Leon Manufacturing Company Inc., operator of the Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Ramrod brand.

“It is no surprise that reducing emissions is on everyone’s mind across the industry,” says Wilger. “Meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 4 emissions standards is one of the ways this product category is staying relevant, and getting that mix of capability and [low] Or br is going to be a major concern for everyone going forward.”

When buying a new skid steer or mini compact loader, purchasers should be aware of the environmental efficiency of the product, says Wilger. With a variety of environmental concerns, requirements and expectations from their consumer base, the industry is taking a customized approach to solutions.

For some companies, some of the product design has focused on an increased demand for more sustainable practices through alternative energy options, says Lars Arnold, electromobility product manager for Volvo CE, based in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“We are meeting the need from the emerging trend of sustainability with the development of electric machines,” says Arnold. “This includes a battery-powered electric compact wheel loader and an electric compact excavator.”

According to Arnold, this includes best practices in sustainability such as developing products with zero exhaust emissions and significantly lower noise level than diesel machines. The products have been shown to provide the same performance level as equally sized diesel counterparts. Another perk with electric models is that costs can be quickly offset, thanks to significantly lower maintenance needs.

Figuring out features

While the features vary from product to product, there’s one detail that makes sense to use as a starting point for contractor comparison, says Darren Ashton, product manager of compact equipment for Volvo CE. “A very important factor in a purchase is the number of attachments that a compact wheel loader supports,” says Ashton.

Wilger says the number of attachments is often a make-or-break differentiator between products. “The attachments make the biggest difference. Each new piece is another chance to expand your machine’s use,” he says. “Essentially, the machine you own is future-proofed, because it is constantly getting extra capabilities. With constant development it is really the case where you can blink and discover something new that your machine can do.”

Along with attachments, comfort is also a predominant feature as product lines expand.

“For skid steers, like other compact equipment, we’re seeing a growing focus on cab and comfort features,” says Storlie. “Operators and business owners are seeing the impact a comfortable cab can have on productivity.” When operators are using a piece of equipment all day, the cab needs to be comfortable and provide features to improve ease of use. Details like 360- degree visibility, more glass area, large color touchscreen displays, dual-throttle capabilities and upgraded cab pressurization can all be helpful.

Mobility around the project and between work sites is another factor to consider for efficiency, Ashton says. “The best products should offer a high-speed driveline option for compact wheel loader models. This allows mile-per-hour speeds to double, providing faster cycle times and allowing the machines to travel more quickly between job sites.

Machines with a standard-speed transmission can be slow, and the alternative of transporting them by truck from site to site can be expensive.

“This higher travel speed is not only efficient but it also improves productivity in applications like load and carry and clearing snow,” he says. Contractors should look for multiple driveline speeds with the product that should range anywhere between 10 miles per hour and 35 miles per hour. With all the flexibility in the product base, compact wheel loaders are a necessity for more jobs than many contractors think.

“Their maneuverability, weight, horsepower, digging performance and lifting performance make compact wheel loaders a versatile machine,” says Ashton. “Their size and all-around visibility also make them a great option for safely working in tight spaces.”

Koolmees emphasizes the three areas where larger mini skid steer loaders excel when compared to smaller units are lift capacity, hydraulic flow to attachments and breakout force.

“These qualities benefit landscape contractors working with heavy materials, running ground engagement attachments like soil cultivators and harley rakes, and for digging,” says Koolmees.

Purchasing power

Purchasers often do not have a complete concept or vision of all the jobs that can be handled when buying a compact wheel loader and the actual environment it will be working in, says Wilger. “It is important to keep in mind where you are working and where you want to go in order to get the right machine. If your business mostly works in very small spaces, take a look at a more compact machine.”

Wheel and track specifications make up an important part of understanding how any machine will work in an environment, Wilger says. If a contractor is working on turf, look for tracks that will minimize damage.

“You want to make the best use of your investment as you can, so that means taking a close look at your regular clientele and which of the vast array of attachments you need before you decide which machine is the best fit,” he says.

Ashton recommends that potential purchasers physically write down details about the environment the machine will be used in, along with current jobs and possible future clients, so that list can be referenced once the buying process begins.

“Sometimes when contractors picture a compact wheel loader, they only picture it utilizing buckets or forks. They can also be designed to handle more robust attachments,” says Ashton. “Some original equipment manufacturers have the option to factory-fit wheel loaders with extra hydraulic lines that allow customers to operate and run a variety of hydraulically driven attachments like brooms, grapples, snow blowers and more. For applications like sweeping streets or moving snow, the added height of the cab and increased speed options allow for quicker, easier work compared to compact track or skid steer loaders.”

For landscape contractors, Storlie recommends purchasing machines that can maximize performance while minimizing ground disturbance.

“This is where we recommend looking at compact track loaders over skid steers for their better flotation and lower ground pressures,” says Storlie. “But not all CTLs are created equal here. The highest quality product lines have low ground pressures. Also look for turf tracks in smaller models that can greatly reduce any nasty damage to sensitive turf.”

There are ways to reduce the cost of ownership on compact wheel loaders, so try to avoid making a purchase based on price alone, says Ashton. “Make sure your machine is sized to the job and utilizing the right attachments. Selecting tires that are appropriate for the application, plus implementing regular checks of tire pressure, will prevent premature tire failures. It is also wise to take advantage of machine monitoring programs available on some compact wheel loader models. Having a monitoring program like this gives owners the most service life out of their machines.”

And while weight and dimensions play a part in determining the available jobs, they’re not the only thing to consider, says Koolmees. Identifying the proper retailer is also just as important as selecting the right unit.

“Today, there are more options of mini skid steer available to buyers than ever before with new models that have been introduced offering more horsepower and lifting capacity,” says Koolmees. “It is important to keep in mind that a bigger machine isn’t always better. For buyers looking to purchase a mini skid steer, choosing the right size model for your needs helps optimize production. It is also important to work with a local dealership that has expertise in matching a model to a specific application.”

Rodric Hurdle-Bradford is associate editor for Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at rodric@igin.com.