By Bill Wake
There are a number of points to consider when choosing a compact track loader that can significantly impact productivity and ROI. It’s important to examine basics, such as what the machine will be used for, the types of surfaces it will be used on, ease of maintenance, and operator safety and comfort. The best combination of features results in an all-weather, all-application machine.
Is Size a Factor?
The most demanding jobsites require bigger, more powerful machines for large-scale construction and forestry applications. The most powerful machine on the market produces 360 foot-pounds of torque. A lot of larger machines are sold for applications where high-flow performance is critical. Many manufacturers publish theoretical hydraulic flows and pressures on their spec sheets but cannot run more demanding attachments entering the market, such as mulching heads and cold planers.
Consider life-and-carry work. Vertical lift designs are best for that type of work, such as handling materials, moving pallets, and loading trucks. The radial lift design is the best solution if the primary function is mulching or excavation that requires heavier attachments.
Lifting also requires an examination of lift height and reach requirements. Determine the appropriate height. A lifting height of greater than 10 feet could mean the difference between moving material twice or being able to sort and load with one unit.
Make sure the unit works with attachments that fit the type of work it will be doing. Manufacturers design compact track loaders to be attachment drivers, which leads to higher utilization and more flexibility to complete a variety of jobs. Research what attachment types and sizes the machine will accommodate. This includes looking at the unit’s hydraulic flow rate and the weight of the attachment to match it to the loader specifications.
To maximize torque to the attachment and enhance overall performance, the unit must run at peak efficiency. Rubber track undercarriages reduce friction, improving horsepower efficiency by as much as 10 percent compared to steel-embedded undercarriages. This is because the engine requires less horsepower to power the tracks, and more power is directed to the hydraulic system for powering the attachment.
Demanding applications often require specialized features in order to maximize durability and productivity. A one-machine-fits-all approach simply won’t work. If the typical applications include high debris, rough terrain, and difficult surroundings, it’s best to look for a machine purpose-built for those demands. Forestry-specific or heavy-duty models offer features that enhance comfort, reduce downtime, and extend the life of the machine.
Forestry and right-of-way work often involve sharp turns and driving across hills, things that frequently cause track derailment on standard track loaders. Choose a model with a large number of lugs and contact points to virtually eliminate derailment when working in such harsh environments.
Track width is also important. Look for a wider track for more traction. The extra width can mean the difference between completing a job and spending the day getting unstuck.
The heavier the attachment and the higher the ambient temperature, the more important it is to have an efficient cooling. Look for a machine designed to keep water and oil temperatures in safe operating ranges under 100 percent load, 100 percent of the time at temperatures exceeding 118 degrees F. These units can run attachments such as mulchers without the addition of expensive external cooling. Many manufacturers stack the radiator, oil cooler, and air conditioning condenser on top of each other. These designs run the same air through multiple coolers, reducing efficiency. For enhanced cooling efficiency choose a side-by-side radiator and hydraulic oil cooler with a separate A/C condenser. This will prevent debris from trapping between coolers and warm air from one reducing the efficiency of the other.
Efficient hydraulics and cooling systems can allow a lower horsepower machine to outperform a higher horsepower unit, resulting in more power and lower fuel consumption. Though a less efficient cooling system costs less up front, there will still be the price of added cooling systems that are required to perform some of today’s more demanding tasks.
Choosing the best machine for a variety of jobs requires identifying the surfaces the unit will most often work on. A compact track loader with excellent ground pressure, flotation, traction, and ground clearance is a valuable all-season machine.
Rubber track machines have as many as four times more ground contact points in their tracks than steel embedded models, spreading the unit’s weight evenly for lower psi and extra flotation on delicate surfaces. Look for wider tracks for even lower ground pressure.
More contact points also means more flotation and traction on steep, slippery, and wet ground, giving contractors more control on snow, ice, mud, and slush. Low psi and good flotation can even give a compact track loader the ability to drive on top of snow or mud without sinking.
Designs that make it easy and convenient to perform regular maintenance also enhance utilization and overall efficiency. Most models only offer a rear door to access the engine compartment, which provides limited access for daily tasks. Some manufacturers build machines with multiple side panels in addition to the rear access. This provides more accessibility and can cut recommended maintenance times in half.
Be sure to consider whether the ground the compact track loader will be driven over includes brush or small abrasive materials that could become trapped in the undercarriage and wear away at components. Steel-embedded undercarriages have a closed design from which material is unlikely to escape and which are difficult to clean. All of the wheels are exposed in rubber track undercarriages, allowing material to easily spill out.
Look carefully before choosing a common, one-size-fits-all model. A smart choice results in a compact track loader that’s not only versatile, but also features the high performance and efficiency to finish jobs faster, better, and with minimal downtime.
By Bill Wake, ASV LLC director of product development. www.asvllc.com
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