It performs a variety of tasks. It can dramatically reduce labor costs. It's easy to operate. And many can fit in the bed of a pickup truck.
What is this mysterious productivity booster? It's a compact track loader — and some industry experts say it represents the future of landscaping and grounds maintenance.
“There have been 14 new track loaders introduced just this year,” says Tony Wixo, product manager for the Polaris Professional Series. “There are now 22 models available. The track loader market is expanding rapidly.”
Although it's gained tremendous acceptance in the past two years, the origin of the compact track loader dates back more than a decade. So why after nearly 15 years have track loaders suddenly become so popular?
“I think what we're finally seeing is greater consumer awareness of the benefits track loaders provide,” contends Wixo.
LOW PRESSURE AND HIGH FLOATATION
Arguably the biggest of the compact track loader's benefits is its ability to work on and around finished landscapes without the danger of damaging turf and sprinkler systems. Some of today's machines produce a mere 2.5 psi — less than what's generated by the average human footprint.
And not only does the track loader's design distribute the weight of the machine throughout the undercarriage, it also provides increased traction and the floatation necessary to work in loose soils and sandy conditions. The tracks provide a stable platform for working on slopes and deliver a comfortable ride by spreading out the bumps. The vehicle's ability to counter-rotate results in greater maneuverability, enabling it to operate in the tightest of spaces.
While compact track loaders are primarily used for moving materials in less-than-ideal conditions, optional attachments can provide added productivity gains.
Among the most popular attachments that can be driven by the loader's hydraulic power plant are power rakes, trenchers, adjustable pallet forks, flail mowers, power augers, power sod rollers, land levelers and even a snowblower.
“A single hardworking machine can replace a lot of expensive hand labor,” says Wixo.
It's estimated that just two people using a compact track loader equipped with an attachment can complete the same work as a crew of five or more manual laborers.
Brad Lemke, director of new product development at ASV, points out that not all track loaders are built the same. He says there are some subtle but significant differences among track loaders, specifically with regard to their tracks.
“Most people don't realize by a simple glance that the suspensions on compact track loaders are very different,” says Lemke. Some machines use a traditional steel-track technology with rubber bonded to the outside, whereas other machines use no steel in the track. Another important distinction is that some manufacturers do not advise operating their vehicles on concrete and pavement, while others using different technology actually recommend it.
While some of the first-generation track loaders required more frequent maintenance, the modern track loaders are lower maintenance. Some even contend there is actually less maintenance involved with track loaders than other equipment because there are never any flat tires to repair.
Not only does the track design eliminate downtime resulting from a flat, the dedicated tracks also rid themselves of debris. Mud, sand and other abrasive materials are shed away reducing wear on the tracks and wheels.
Most of the today's compact track loaders require minimal daily maintenance. To keep the loader performing at its best, Wixo recommends inspecting for leaks and checking fluid levels before operation. Following a job, you should inspect hydraulic fittings and hoses and review tracks for proper tension.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
The price of today's compact track loaders ranges from $20,000 to around $40,000, depending on the size and features of the machine.
“You pay a slight premium … but there's a clear return on that investment,” says Wixo. “They allow the operator to work both earlier and later in the season when the ground is soft, muddy or wet.”
And the ability to get the job done without doing any damage is likely to become even more necessary in the years to come, especially with vacant land at a premium in most urban areas and redevelopment of existing sites is on the rise. And the compact track loader will make a big impression without leaving a single mark.
Mark Seuferling is the engineering technical publications editor for the Polaris Professional Series line of commercial-grade vehicles and equipment.
ASV introduces the RC-50 all surface loader with the RTSS II undercarriage. The machine uses 15-inch-wide rubber tracks and 24-wheeled contact points to transfer the weight of the machine to the ground. The RC-50 operates with increased traction and stability and has a ground pressure of only 2.7 pounds per square inch. This adds control to the RC-50 for conventional work as well as fine grading plus multiple levels of suspension for greater load control and a smoother ride. The unit has a Caterpillar 3024C, 4-cylinder 50-hp diesel engine with new Posi-Power Control system. The RC-50 has an operating capacity of 1,500 pounds, top speed of 9 mph, 115-inch lift height and 12-inch ground clearance. It comes equipped with auxiliary hydraulics delivering 15 gpm and 3,000 psi.
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Bobcat introduces the vertical lift-path T300, which has a rated operating capacity of 3,000 pounds, making it the largest in the Bobcat track loader lineup. The machine's 17.7-inch-wide rubber tracks produce just 4.1 psi of ground pressure, providing both flotation and traction effort. The T300 is powered by an 81-hp, turbo-charged, liquid-cooled Kubota engine. The T300 has instrument panels that provide operational, diagnostics and monitoring features along with an optional deluxe instrument panel that includes a keyless start security system, lockouts, digital time and job clocks, a multi-language display as well as a “help” menu. There is an optional climate-controlled cab available with factory-installed heat and air conditioning.
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The Boxer TL offers an adjustable track system as narrow as 29.5 inches and as wide as 41.5 inches, enabling it to navigate and perform within barriers such as existing landscaping, fencing and gates, fixed buildings or other constructed obstacles. The TL, TF, (fixed track) and WF (wheeled unit) offer versatility with attachments including a hydraulic tilt blade, 36-inch auger, adjustable pallet fork, aera-vator, tree shear, stump grinder, a 4-in-1 bucket and a multi-purpose tool that can be used as a tree boom. The units have a dump height of 58.88 inches and ¾-inch boom arms for lifting. The models come with an air-to-oil cooler with fan, boom controls equipped with a float function, a stand-on platform with shocks and a 24-hp, V-Twin Honda engine.
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Caterpillar introduces the 247 and 257 multi-terrain loaders, both featuring a new suspended undercarriage that allows the machines to work in a broad range of applications and terrain conditions. The 247 combines the upper portion of the Cat 226 skid-steer loader with a newly designed rubber-track undercarriage from ASV Inc., a Caterpillar affiliate. It has an operating capacity (as defined by SAE as 35 percent of tipping load) of 1,354 pounds. Its operating weight is 6,665 pounds and ground pressure is 3.8 psi. The 257, built from a Cat 242 skid-steer loader and the new ASV undercarriage, has an operating capacity of 1,614 pounds, an operating weight of 7,628 pounds and 4.3 psi of ground pressure. Both machines are powered by a Cat 3034 diesel engine.
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The 254 and 244D FINN Eagle are compact, stand-on skid-steer machines designed 35.5 inches wide, allowing them to maneuver into small and tight areas. The 254 Eagle has a heavy-duty uni-body frame construction, a 25-hp Kohler engine, a 650-pound operating capacity, 18-inch foam-filled tires, a standard four-cubic-foot bucket and an oil cooler that helps maintain power output in hot conditions. The Eagle 244D model is available with the same features, but with a 23.5-hp Caterpillar diesel engine. The units both feature a parallel hydraulic system with 3,000 psi, 13.25 gpm and a 14.75-gallon reservoir. They come with more than 40 available attachments and offer a quick connect for attachments using a hydraulic motor. Both provide a universal faceplate that can fit standard compact attachments from most manufactures.
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Gehl has added two new track loaders to its compact construction equipment line. The CTL60 and CTL80 feature a dedicated rubber crawler track design with rated operating loads of 1,620 pounds for the CTL60 and 2,470 pounds for the CTL80. Both units are powered by Yanmar diesel engines, with the CTL80 available in a turbo-charged configuration. With lift heights to 126 inches, both machines provide a 93-inch dump height. Operating weight on the CTL60 is 7,497 pounds and the CTL80 is 10,692 pounds. Routine maintenance and component accessibility easier with the machine's tilt-back operator's compartment and swing-out rear door. Both models feature standard equipment that includes a 2-speed travel, pilot-operated servo joy-stick control; auxiliary hydraulics; engine shutdown system; and a spacious cab that features a full-suspension seat.
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JCB introduces the new 190T and 1110T Robot skid-steer loaders — the first JCB Robots equipped with high drive rubber track systems. The units are powered by an 80- or 92-hp engine. The 190T and 1110T Robots, with rubber tracks, offer increased operating capacities over the previous 185 and 1105 Robots. The operating capacity of rubber tracks on skid-steer loaders is rated at 35 percent of the SAE-rated tip capacity versus 50-percent on wheeled skid-steer loaders. The 190T skid-steer loader has an operating capacity of 1,985 pounds, and the 1110T skid-steer loader has a rated operating capacity of 2,250 pounds. Both models offer high drive rubber track systems that provide increased floatation, reduce ground-bearing pressure and increase lift capacity. The 190T offers 4.5-psi floatation. The 1110T has 4.8-psi floatation. The 190T Robot is equipped with 12.6-inch-wide rubber tracks for working in narrow, confining work environments. Both models are available with 17.7-inch-wide rubber tracks, providing excellent floatation and low ground-bearing pressure. The 190T has a tipping load of 5,821 pounds while the 1110T has a tipping load of 6,439 pounds. Both have a single loader arm mounted in a low level, single tower on the right hand side of the machine. The single loader-arm design offers visibility with a completely unhindered view to the rear and right-hand side of the Robot for easier operation and greater on-site safety.
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Kanga mini skid-steer loaders are compact multi-purpose machines, available with 13-, 20- and 24-hp Honda gas engines and a 20-hp Kubota diesel engine. Maximum lifting capacity ranges from 220 to 550 pounds, and the loaders offer a travel speed from a walking pace to 3.75 mph. The drive system uses hydraulic wheel motors and the drive control is fingertip control. The units offer a range of practical attachments for applications such as trenching, paving, turf laying, digging fence post holes, tree planting, irrigation systems, drainage, snow plowing/removal and horizontal boring.
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The Polaris ASL 300 is designed with an R-Series Traction and Support System (RTSS) that provides optimal traction by evenly distributing its weight over a larger area. The ASL produces 2.5 psi for work on delicate turf or around sprinkler systems. The ASL's undercarriage platform features 24 rubber-on-rubber track inserts and wheels that reduce wear and extend the track's life. The unit is powered by a 1.5-liter Caterpillar 3-cylinder diesel engine. Its easy-to-operate hydrostatic drive achieves a top speed of 6 mph. The ASL 300 is equipped with ROPS/FOPS protection, a lap bar, seat belt and parking brake. Available attachments are a general-purpose bucket, adjustable pallet forks, a power rake, trencher, flail mower, multi-purpose bucket, power auger, power sod roller, snow blower, land leveler and cable plow.
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Ramrod introduces Taskmaster Models 800, 950 and the 1150 Ramrod Trackmaster. All feature push-pull power/digging power from 1,300 to 1,600 pounds. The lifting capacity to the full height ranges from 800 to 1,150 pounds and the carrying capacity ranges from 1,600 to 1,900 pounds. These models have a lift height of 6 feet and a self-leveling lift system is standard. The three models have 16-, 24- and 27-hp gasoline engines and 406-cc and 927-cc diesel engines. An eight-gallon fuel tank, 4-wheel drive and hydraulic drive are standard equipment. Ramrod models power more than 40 attachments to accommodate any job or task.
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Toro Dingo TX 425 Wide Track compact utility loader features increased horsepower, enhanced ground-to-track contact and low ground pressure. Powered by a 25-hp, air-cooled Kohler Command Pro Series engine, the TX Wide Track offers more than 35 quick-change attachments including auger, trencher, vibratory plow, backhoe, leveler, tiller, cultivator, hydraulic blade, adjustable forks, two-stage snowthrower, and several sizes of buckets. With the quick-attach system, add or remove attachments by simply turning two locking pins and for hydraulic attachments, connecting two hydraulic lines. A dedicated auxiliary hydraulic circuit provides 11.2 gpm of flow at 3,000 psi of hydraulic power. Featuring “skid-steer” style turning, the unit is 41 inches wide. The unit's dedicated track drive features dual Kevlar reinforced rubber tracks, and has 3.4 psi of ground pressure.
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