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Construction : Feature | February 2018 | Source : Equipment India

Small machine making Big Impact

With its compact size and versatile application features, skid steer loader has all the possibilities to become a popular equipment in Indian market. The new activities in urban infrastructure development and waste management initiatives, this mini equipment class is expected to see more demand in future.

Skid steer loader is fast
finding traction in the infrastructure development, especially in urban infrastructure projects with its convenience of use in congested and hard to reach space. Its ability to perform versatile tasks with the use of various attachments makes this machine an ideal equipment in small size projects also.

User concept and advantages
Amit Bansal, Sales & Marketing Director - Building Construction Products, Caterpillar India,
elaborates on the concept behind skid steer loaders, 'The need for having a compact machine that can work in constrained places gave birth to the concept of skid steer loaders. Though initially the requirement in farm that was behind the conceptualisation of this machine, it finds use in a wide variety of application and majorly used in construction segment.'

Skid steer loader has got some distinct advantages - visibility, compact size, manoeuvrability and versatility.

Visibility: The cabin is closer to the work tool and the operator has a visibility to the work tool edges, which cannot be matched by any other piece of equipment.

Versatility: Skid steer loader comes standard with a mechanical quick coupler and auxiliary lines. This makes it more versatile as it can be fitted with a lot of attachments easily with less effort and time. A work tool can be changed in less than five minutes with a reasonably experienced operator without any additional help or tool.

Compact size: The machine is very compact in terms of length, width and height and even weight. So it can work in very narrow and confined spaces without any trouble.
Manoeuvrability: The turning radius of a skid steer loader is very less. It can even rotate about its own envelope. This aspect comes in very handy in multiple application requirements.

Jasmeet Singh, Head Corporate Communications and External Affairs, JCB India, elaborates on the JCB's skid steer range, 'JCB skid steer loader is a compact, versatile and manoeuverable machine that not only offers high productivity, but also leads in performance in segments where space is a constraint. Moreover, with its ability to enter narrow lanes and its unique zero turning radius feature, this versatile machine is designed to perform in restricted areas effortlessly. A joystick-based machine, JCB skid steer loader is best suited for applications like urban rejuvenation and municipal solid waste management projects.'

Says Singh, 'Equipment in the compact segment are used for different applications depending on their strength and functionality. Machine's productivity and fuel efficiency is primarily related to the application it is being used in. JCB skid steer loaders find great utility in material handling applications along with many others and they are known for offering best-in-class productivity and fuel efficiency.

Operator's comfort and safety are of paramount importance and JCB India has made significant advancements in product design to enhance operator productivity. JCB offers the world's safest skid steer loaders with a unique single loader arm layout of the machine.
Safety and productivity features

Major players in skid steer loader market have come out with safety features and other technology developments. Bansal says, 'For Caterpillar, the motto is 'Safety First' and that is given the top-most priority while designing a machine.'

He further elaborates on the safety features in Cat machines:

  • The canopy/cab of the machine is ROPS (Roll Over Protection System)compliant
  • Arm rest bar, unless it is pulled down the engine, cannot be started. When it is raised, the machine's parking brake automatically engages and hydraulics lock out   
  • Spring activated hydraulically released brakes ensure effective and fail-safe braking
  • Operator presence seat mounted censors automatically engage
  • the parking brake, if it does not sense a minimum of 22 kg after a few seconds
  • Dead engine lower valve helps in bringing down the loader arm in the event of engine shutting and hydraulic system malfunction.
  • Back-up alarm
  • Optional beacon (to show the machine is in operation during day/night)

On fuel efficiency and productivity, Bansal adds, 'Our 216B3 skid steer loader is fitted with load sensing hydraulics and provides optimum performance. Thus, the hydraulic oil flow is directed to where it is needed. Be it implements or work tool circuit instead of drive motors during work cycle. It is also fitted with a foot throttle in addition to hand throttle to adjust engine RPM. This allows the operator to set the engine at lower rpm, and while facing a heavier load, the rpm can be increased by pressing the foot throttle. Once the operator takes the foot of the pedal, it comes back to the original RPM which is lower. This works in tandem with load sensing hydraulics, offering better fuel efficiency. This also makes the machine more productive.'

Singh explains on the safety aspects of JCB machine, 'The JCB skid steer loader range is the safest in the world as it comes with a unique side door entry. This enables the operator to enter the machine from the side in a conventional manner. In addition, the machine offers 270-degree visibility which is 60 per cent more than the products presently available in the Indian market. JCB skid steers come with three emergency exit options with servo isolator switch for operator safety.'

Designed and built for maximum performance and output, JCB India offers two world class variants - the 135 and 155- that offer the best-in-class fuel efficiency and give maximum return with the lowest cost of application. Its unmatched structure and design helps machine perform in tougher applications as well, according to Singh.
He adds, 'With the single design power boom, the operator has excellent visibility on the left and right side. It has ROPS and FOPS level-1 certified as the standard. Apart from this, some of the other safety features of JCB skid steer are: single power boom, three emergency exits, servo isolator switch, and machine's cabin is equipped with grills both sides.'

On the productivity features, Singh elaborates, 'JCB skid steers in particular offer 46 per cent more cab volume and capacity. Their class leading cabin space with low effort servo controls and unmatched comfort makes operators more productive at all times. The pressure sealed cab and low effort controls are some of the ergonomically designed features to ensure operator comfort. Operator friendly joystick controls enables the user to operate a wider variety of hydraulically driven attachments aid productivity. Its tilting cab design enables easy access for better machine servicing.'

A versatile equipment 
Skid steer loader machine's main advantage is its versatility that is aided by the various work tools (attachments) it can handle. Bansal explains the feature in Cat machine, 'The CAT216B3 comes fitted with auxiliary lines as standard that makes it attachment-ready. There are more than 15 attachments that can be fitted on to the skid steer loader. Apart from the standard buckets, most common ones being pallet forks, utility broom, multi-purpose buckets and auger. There are many more attachments like soil compactor, hammers, backhoe, grapple bucket, snow remover etc. This allows the machine to handle multiple applications with a single machine.'

Bansal elaborates on the key features of the CAT 216B3 as follows:

  • Pilot controlled joystick levers as standard: All the operation like drive, lift, dump, bucket and auxiliary flow can be done with just 2 Joystick levers. It is effortless and reduces the operator fatigue.
  • Inline engine and pump stack: The engine is linear mounted and is directly connected to the pump stack eliminating the need for a belt. This makes it more efficient.
  • Hydraulics: The hydraulic tank is larger and the shape is unique which ensure the cavitation formed in the hydraulic oil is removed before it gets into the system. The cooling fan is driven hydraulically which ensures the fan is not affected by the engine speed. This coupled with the 'side by side' cooling pack for hydraulic and engine oil compartment ensures optimum cooling.
  • Anti-stall system: This ensures the engine does not get stalled when the load is high and ensures the hydraulic power requirement does not exceed the engine power. The swash plate in the pump adjusts itself accordingly by reducing the flow but maintaining the torque to match the operator command.
  • Axles and chain: The machine comes with a dual chain case system and with four separate short stub axles. This system allows the axles to be adjusted so that chain can be tightened in case if it becomes slackened.

Singh claims on the versatility of the JCB machine, 'It is a perfect example of unmatched strength, durability and performance. To make the machine even more versatile, JCB offers a wide range of attachments such as industrial grappler, industrial fork, muck fork and grab, shovel, dozer blade, snow blower, rock breaker, and sweeper collector, thus, further enhancing  its productivity.'

About the connectivity features, Bansal says, 'In India, now we are providing the Product Link device as standard. This allows the machine owner to get details such as location of the device, machine hour meter reading, and set a geo fence (to monitor machine getting out of the work site). This can be done by logging into the website with the credentials. Telematics acceptance is growing amongst customer as it helps them to monitor the machine, even from a remote location.'

Skid steer loader vis-a-vis track loader
The utility and performance of skid steer and track loader are not very different. However, track loaders are easy on the surface. They don't disturb the ground as much as skid steer loaders and are preferred to work over the lawns, landscaping and in forestry application. This is mainly because the point of contact is spread across the track length. But on general hard surface like solid ground and concrete, the skid steer loaders are preferred.

Market trend
According to Bansal, unlike the other major machines in Indian market like backhoe loaders and excavators, which experienced big growth and drop, skid steer loaders have been very stable for the last 6-7 years. 'They have been in the range of 500-550 units per year.'

But according to Singh, skid steer loader as a concept is gaining popularity as the material handling segment is seeing growth. He adds, 'There is also a considerable opportunity owing to a significant increase in the number of urban rejuvenation projects. As building of urban infrastructure gains momentum, there will be a need for modern material handling equipment.'

Growth drivers
Though skid steer loader finds use various application segments, major ones would be general construction (residential and commercial) and industries such as steel, cement and foundries, according to Bansal. 'Of late, due to government's focus, we also see a lot of opportunities in waste handling application in government bodies, viz, Corporations, Municipalities and Local Bodies,' he adds.

Skid steer is an ideal equipment in the material handling applications where there is a requirement of lifting, placing and handling material, and also that of manoeuverability and productivity. Singh sees government's Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan as a key growth driver for this multi-utility product. He says 'Given its versatility and higher loading output, skid steer is also being used in wide range of applications such as agriculture, industry, construction and maintenance. Its compact size can provide enhanced mobility in projects that include multi-level parking.' 

Market outlook
According to Bansal, skid steers is still in a concept selling stage in India and not many customers are aware of the product. He adds, 'We are seeing many new entrants getting into the market, which will help expand the industry. At a conservative level, we expect skid steer loader industry to grow to somewhere around 700-800 units by 2020. A lot depends on the speed of projects related to infrastructure development, Smart Cities development and Clean India initiatives.

We will continue to spread awareness about Cat skid steer loaders in the Indian market through various channels and provide the best solutions to our customers for
their requirements.'

Says Singh, 'Skid steer loaders are best suited in applications where space is a restriction or in situations where frequent changes of attachment are required to suit a wide range of applications. Thus, as modern infrastructure or best practices in other segments are introduced, skid steer loaders will find a lot of utility.'

With its compact size and multi-utility features, skid steer loader is a key equipment that finds productive application in urban infra projects as well as smaller projects. However, more awareness among contractors and users is important for the popularity of skid steer loaders among the user fraternity.

 - Sudheer Vathiyath
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