When constructing a cast of equipment to take out on a job, a loader certainly ranks as a high priority in moving materials from point A to B. And while skid steers have been a popular choice in the past, wheel loaders are becoming a favorite on utility construction jobsites. With the ability to switch out attachments, move large loads and keep operators comfy in their spacious cabs, wheel loaders can deliver big power and productivity in a variety of different sized units.
Below, take a look at the offerings from popular wheel loader manufacturers from John Deere and Case to Komatsu and Wacker Neuson. Explore their product lines, compare specs and gather up advice from industry experts. Maybe even find the right machine designed to tackle your to-do list.
Pam Kleineke is Associate Editor of Utility Contractor.
Fifteen Hard-Working Machines Designed to Tackle a Variety of Tasks
John Deere manufactured its first wheel loader in 1969. Today, the J- and K-Series are the latest generations. There are five loaders (204K, 244J, 304K, 324J and 344J) that make up the compact class; six models that make up the utility loader class (444K, 524K, 544K, 624K, 644K and 644K Hybrid); and four models in the production class (724K, 744K, 824K and 844K Series II).
John Deere’s wheel loaders have evolved to the point that they are equipped with many features that make them unique in the category. For increased cooling efficiency and durability, the innovative Quad Cool design isolates coolers in a separate compartment away from engine heat and is very resistant to cooler plugging while also being the easiest to clean. The larger wheel loaders also feature on-the-fly differential locks as standard equipment. On-the-fly engagement allows operators to configure traction while pushing piles, working on banks, etc. John Deere is the only manufacturer with automatic differential lock that is ideal for inexperienced operators, says the company.
From a control standpoint, two-lever hydraulic controls and joystick steering are both very popular features on the larger models. These features have both trickled down to the smaller models and have been very popular with customers who own both the larger and smaller models as it provides operators consistent controls between machines, which results in safer operation and greater productivity.
Product Spotlight: 644K Hybrid
The 644K Hybrid utilizes two sources of energy: diesel and electric and the wheel loader captures regenerated energy as it’s being created and uses it to power the machine. The 644K Hybrid is equipped with a John Deere PowerTech 6.8-L Tier 4 Interim (Tier 4i) engine that runs at an operator-selected constant speed from 900 to 1,800 rpm. The hybrid boasts a net 229 hp and is equipped with all the key features of the conventional John Deere K-Series wheel loader line.
The machine’s hybrid technology delivers performance that is equal to or better than the conventional 644K, depending on the application. The engine’s constant operating speed maintains continuous hydraulic flow at all times, which delivers crisp hydraulic responsiveness and reduces cycle times. The electric motor smoothly delivers torque resulting in fluid operation and a smoother ride. As a result, the 644K Hybrid delivers optimal performance for novice and experienced operators alike.
“Consider purchasing quick couplers to increase your versatility and ability to use more than one attachment,” says John Chesterman, Product Marketing Manager, Wheel Loaders for John Deere Construction and Forestry. “Be on the lookout for telematics and onboard diagnostics as well. John Deere loaders come standard with a three-year subscription to JDLink, allowing remote diagnostics as well as phone or e-mail notification of fault codes.”
Case Construction Equipment
More than Five Decades of Innovation Leads to Fuel-Efficient, Tier 4-Compliant Models
Case Construction Equipment’s history with wheel loaders dates back to 1957 when the company introduced its first “W Line” of rigid frame front-end loaders. The product line has evolved significantly since then, spanning from compact wheel loaders designed for supply yard work to large, heavy wheel loaders intended for work in more demanding applications such as aggregates and mining.
Case has made a name for itself today as one of the early adopters of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology in many of its Tier 4 wheel loaders (although the compact models, and the very largest model, will remain CEGR for now). Case implemented SCR because of the strength of the technology and the natural match it provides to wheel loader operations. Given a wheel loader’s operating characteristics, SCR is well suited because it’s an after-treatment system that lets the engine do what it’s designed to do: generate power at varied engine loads.
Product Spotlight: 621F
The 621F provides up to a 10 percent increase in fuel economy over the previous model, while delivering faster acceleration, quicker cycle times and higher travel speeds. The machine relies on SCR technology to meet Tier 4i emissions standards. SCR results in lower temperatures in the exhaust system, while optimizing combustion with no downtime or extreme temperature spikes attributed to regeneration found on machines outfitted with CEGR and diesel particulate filters (DPF). The Case 621F wheel loader features a 6.7-L Tier 4i engine that delivers up to 162 hp. Classified as a 2.75-cu yd wheel loader, the Case 621F has an operating weight of 26,641 lbs.
The 621F also now comes standard with Case ProCare, comprehensive factory-provided heavy machinery coverage that will come standard on Case heavy machines built with factory-installed SiteWatch telematics. ProCare is a suite of product assurances, including a three-year Advanced Case SiteWatch telematics subscription, a three-year/3,000-hour full-machine factory warranty and a three-year/3,000-hour planned maintenance contract.
“Figuring the optimal bucket size to match to the trucks you regularly load will give you a good starting point in knowing how large of a machine you need,” says Brad Stemper, Solutions Marketing Manager for Case Construction Equipment. “Tier 4 is particularly important to this product line, and users will find that wheel loaders with SCR technology are more productive, more fuel efficient and don’t require the regeneration found in CEGR models.”
Volvo Construction Equipment
Sixteen Models Highlight Nearly 60 Years of Wheel Loader Workmanship
The earliest wheel loaders associated with the Volvo name were introduced almost 60 years ago by Bolinder-Munktell, a manufacturing company that initiated a successful Volvo wheel loader history. The first model — introduced in 1954 and named H-10 — was a rear-wheel steer machine powered by a three-cylinder diesel engine with an output of 35 hp and a five-speed mechanical gearbox. It was the first wheel loader in the world with an attachment bracket and parallel movement. The H-10 was a modified tractor with the loader unit placed over large wheels to open up opportunities for lifting heavier loads and achieving higher breakout forces.
The H-10 was groundbreaking, and ultimately led to the introduction of larger wheel loaders by the early 1970s. In 1973, the company changed its name to Volvo BM AB and the products were marketed under the Volvo BM brand. In 1977, Volvo launched a new generation of wheel loaders — the 4000-Series. The newly-introduced wheel loaders included significantly more Volvo original parts, resulting in even higher productivity levels. Today, Volvo Construction Equipment has 16 wheel loaders, ranging from the smallest compact wheel loader (the L20F) to the largest wheel loader (the L350F).
Product Spotlight: L60G
Command and control provide the genetic makeup of the Volvo L60G wheel loader. The machine is suitable for a wide range of applications, including material-handling jobs. The 161-hp middle-weight wheel loader has an operating weight of 29,320 lbs and features a hydraulic attachment bracket that is capable of quickly changing tools. The L60G is equipped with a Volvo 6-L, six-cylinder turbocharged V-ACT (Volvo Advanced Combustion Technology) off-highway diesel engine and meets Tier 4i emissions standards. The production of torque and power at low engine speeds, combined with load-sensing hydraulics, promotes work at a lower rpm, which in turn extends engine life, lowers fuel usage and dramatically reduces noise.
CareTrack — the Volvo telematics system — comes standard on new Volvo wheel loaders. CareTrack provides owners with pertinent machine information to help reduce fuel costs, optimize performance and maximize uptime, including real-time machine operating data, fuel reports and utilization reports. Service reminders and history, as well as parts alerts are also provided for operator ease of use and extended machine lifetime.
“High-speed shifts are the most common culprit in wear on the wheel loader transmission and the transmission clutch,” says Doug Phillips, Product Manager for Volvo Construction Equipment. “If the operator is making high-speed shifts, he’s using the transmission and torque converter to change direction of the machine when he reverses the loader, shoves it into forward gear and hits the accelerator, or vice versa. If the wheel loader is used in loading all day and the operator never touches the brakes, all that excessive force is taken into the transmission and torque converter and can overheat those components.”
Nine Carefully-Crafted Machines Boast a Blend of Computer Control and Monitoring Systems
Komatsu entered the wheel loader market in the 1960s with non-emissionized engines and open cabs. Nearly 50 years later, the company has evolved to Tier 4i technologies and closed, climate-controlled cabs, featuring heated, suspension operator seats. The most notable changes include computer control and monitoring systems, such as the company’s SmartLoader Logic, Traction Control System and KOMTRAX. These systems help save fuel and improve machine efficiency, as well as remotely track and monitor a machine.
With the introduction of Komatsu’s newest generation of construction equipment, the company has made an effort to standardize monitors across its product lines. For consistency and ease of use, all wheel loaders share a virtually identical monitor with Tier 4i articulated trucks. Similarly, Komatsu developed one Tier 4i emissions solution that was used across the entire product line as well.
Product Spotlight: WA270-7
The WA270-7 wheel loader is Tier 4i certified, with a net horsepower of 149 hp. Built on Komatsu’s proven Tier 3 engine platform, the new wheel loader decreases fuel consumption by up to 10 percent compared to the WA250-6. The WA270-7 utilizes the versatile parallel Z-bar (PZ) loader linkage, which provides the added advantage of parallel lift for pallet moving and high tilt forces to handle large attachments. The PZ linkage also offers a larger bucket breakout force and a 10 percent increase in lifting force to make bucket filling quick and easy. Komatsu’s SmartLoader Logic decreases engine torque when the loader isn’t working hard. It functions automatically and doesn’t interfere with operation, saving fuel without decreasing production.
Now in its third generation, the Komatsu electronically controlled hydrostatic (HST) drivetrain features higher efficiency and responsiveness. The dynamic-braking effect of the HST drivetrain slows the machine when the accelerator is released, significantly reducing brake wear. Komatsu Traction Control System (K-TCS) facilitates operation in soft or slippery ground. The WA270-7 offers easy service with increased cooling capacity, wider cooling fin spacing and a standard auto-reversing fan to help keep the radiator clean. Like all models in Komatsu’s Tier 4i lineup, the WA270-7 is equipped with the latest KOMTRAX technology as well as Komatsu CARE.
Craig McGinnis, Komatsu’s Product Specialist for Wheel Loaders, points out that since HST style loaders operate slightly differently than torque-convertor machines, it’s important that operators receive the proper training to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness on the job.
A Versatile Product Line for Jobs of All Sizes
Caterpillar offers a broad range of wheel loaders — as small as compact units for work in tight spaces and as large as mining loaders capable of loading trucks that haul 250 tons. Five Cat K Series mid-size wheel loaders were introduced in 2011 and feature new designs and engines certified to meet Tier 4i emissions standards. The loaders offer high productivity and excellent fuel efficiency, have a new operator station for efficient and comfortable operation, new electro-hydraulic steering with either joystick or steering wheel control, Performance Series Buckets and a more efficient drivetrain. The Cat K Series small wheel loaders — 924K, 930K and 938K — were introduced in 2012 and feature an efficient electronically controlled hydrostatic drive system and new Optimized Z-bar loader linkage for high productivity and easy operation. A wide choice of couplers and buckets allows matching the machine to the application and boosts productivity.
Product Spotlight: Cat 938K
The Cat 938K wheel loader is a versatile size for utility contractors, and it features superior engine efficiency, easy maneuverability and powerful digging capabilities. The 938K meets Tier 4i emissions standards with its Cat C6.6 engine producing 170 net hp. The C6.6 engine’s rated speed setting of 1,800 rpm, compared with 2,415 rpm for the H-Series, contributes significantly to reduced fuel consumption, lowered sound levels and reduced wear. An engine-idle shutdown system further reduces fuel consumption.
The 938K is equipped with a step-less, four-range, hydrostatic drive system that allows independent control of ground speed and engine speed for efficient operation of hydraulically powered work tools. A creeper control feature further improves low speed operations by allowing the operator to adjust maximum ground speed down to 1 mph. An operator-controlled rimpull-control system helps reduce wheel spin and consequent tire wear, and a front differential lock enhances traction.
An Optimized Z-bar loader linkage blends the breakout power of Z-bar linkage with the parallel lift and load handling characteristics of Integrated Toolcarrier linkage. A choice of couplers and a large range of work tools allow matching the machine to the application.
Eight European-Inspired Machines Re-engineered for the North American Market
Wacker Neuson’s history with wheel loaders dates back 80 years on jobsites across Europe. In 2008, the company successfully launched articulated and all-wheel steer models to North America. To accommodate the North American market, Wacker Neuson engineers have outfitted its units with universal skid steer attachment plates and have increased the hydraulic flow (up to 33 gpm on the WL37), as well as have added electrical attachment controls. Equipped like this, a compact wheel loader can handle anything from a broom to a cold planer. The big advantage of the wheel loaders in general is up to a 30 percent fuel savings and up to 75 percent in tire savings when compared to a skid steer loader.
Product Spotlight: WL 30, WL 37 and 550 AWS
The best-selling WL 30 is compact enough to fit on tight jobs, and when equipped with a narrow wheel kit, it can fit on a 48-in. sidewalk for tasks such as snow removal. The WL 37 is a bit beefier and comes with a 75-hp engine with allows up to 33 gpm true high flow — making the machine ideal for large snow blowers, cold planers or stump grinders. The WL 37 has more payload and can handle even a soaking wet pallet of sod.
The 550 all-wheel steer (AWS) loader has the unique advantage of unmatched stability regardless of the steering angle. The long wheel base offers smooth driving and easy handling even across the roughest terrain. The 550 AWS is powered by a 47-hp Tier 4i diesel engine and offers a straight tipping load of 4,365 lbs and maximum bucket pin height of 10 ft. With its low weight and constant high payload, this is an ideal machine for a variety of construction, landscape and snow removal applications. Like all Wacker Neuson wheel loaders, these models feature a universal skid steer attachment mounting plate — making them ideal tool carriers for all jobs.
On top of discussing your desired application with a dealer, Will Wright, Product Manager for Wheel Loaders and Skid Steers at Wacker Neuson, mentions that bucket selection should be another key consideration in your buying process. “A wheel loader bucket is shaped differently than a skid steer bucket,” he says. “Using the wrong bucket can cost you a third of your productivity.”
Hyundai Construction Equipment
A Powerful Product Line Featuring Three Unique Engine Modes and High-Reach Models
In 1947, Hyundai started as a general contractor to develop and industrialize post-World War II Korea. Throughout the century, the company grew into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. Hyundai introduced Hyundai Construction Equipment’s first two excavators to the North American market in 1989 with a philosophy to provide economical high-quality products with dependable support. Today, the company offers more than 33 different models of excavators and 16 wheel loaders. Hyundai is invested in R&D and state-of-the-art production facilities in Ulsan, Korea, to continue innovating and evolving its products toward customer’s demands.
Product Spotlight: HL760-9A
Hyundai’s HL760-9A wheel loader offers high production and performance with a 222-hp Cummins Tier 4i QSB6.7 engine. Operators can choose between three unique engine modes: Power, Standard and Economy, which enable the machine to switch between full power and reduced fuel consumption according to the user’s preference. The loader has an operating weight of 40,450 lbs, a maximum dump height of 9 ft, 9 in., a 4.3-cu yd bucket capacity and a bucket breakout force of 35,780 lbs. The HL760-9A is also available in an extended reach (XTD) model for jobs where a higher dump height is needed, such as loading high-sided trucks and hoppers.
Hyundai’s 9A Series wheel loaders are loaded with standard options including automatic AC/Heat, automatic bucket positioner, hands-free phone, AM/FM/MP3 player, heated mirrors, heated air ride suspension seat, rearview camera and Hyundai’s exclusive Hi-Mate remote management system. Hyundai’s total coverage warranty includes a three-year, 3,000-hour full machine and five-year, 10,000 hour structural warranty.
Kirk Gillette, General Manager of Construction Equipment for Hyundai Construction Equipment, offers these three considerations to address when purchasing a wheel loader:
Check out what the price includes. Some brands include more features at the same cost.
A comfortable operator is a productive one, so make sure to keep those features in mind.
Look for fuel-saving technology; multiple power modes let you choose between fuel savings or full power.
The German-Made Line Features Articulated Steering and Lower Fuel Consumption
Terex wheel loaders were originally developed by German manufacturer Schaeff in 1971. In 2002 Terex acquired Schaeff, and today, Terex loaders are manufactured in Crailsheim, Germany. Terex wheel loaders range from 50 to 200 hp with bucket capacities between 0.65 and 8.5 cu yds and achieve breakout forces from 8,320 to 26,995 lbs. Each model incorporates transverse-mounted engines to easily lift and transport high payloads, as well as lower fuel consumption. Designed with an oscillating rear axle, they provide easy handling on rough terrain by maintaining four-wheel traction, as well as feature articulated steering to maneuver in tight spaces.
Terex wheel loaders also utilize hydrostatic or hydrotransmatic transmissions. A hydrostatic drive system provides a high power output per unit mass and has infinitely variable and step-less speed, as well as up to 90 percent of the maximum torque is available at start-up. Fuel usage can be reduced up to 10 percent with a hydrostatic drive system. Hydrotransmatic transmissions utilize two piston hydraulic motors that work together to create a very efficient drive system. Both motors provide power to the transfer case when high torque requirements are needed; only one motor is utilized when high speed is required. This system also lowers fuel consumption.
Product Spotlight: TL120
The Terex TL120 compact wheel boasts a powerful 101-hp Tier 4i Deutz engine with a cooling system that uses a hydraulically-operated and temperature-controlled fan, which starts automatically to help reduce fuel consumption. Using parasitic reduction, the fan can be adjusted down to compensate for cool climates. A reverse function is available for working in dusty environments to push debris from the radiator. The combination of the cooling package and the rear hood cuts exterior noise levels from 102dB(A) to 99dB(A) — reducing noise pollution and making it ideal for use on urban or decibel-level controlled jobsites.
Further efficiency gains come from the Terex Smart Control, a new intuitive operating concept, which makes it much easier for the operator to configure the machine precisely to an application. Within the cab, the dashboard display provides an at-a-glance of machine operation information, while the multi-function joystick comes with an electro-proportional control circuit and a slow/fast key for precise handling. The keypad has extra-large keys for easy operation, and all the fuses and relays are mounted inside the cab for additional protection.
“When choosing a wheel loader, make sure the piece of equipment is going to be adequate for 85 to 90 percent of your jobsites needs — don’t sacrifice power, breakout force or anything else just to save a dollar,” says Jamie Wright, Terex Product Manager. “Productivity features are important in building a case for investment to meet on-site productivity requirements and project time constraints. ROI will be considered in the context of the hours the machine is working and revenue generated. And, always buy quality — a wheel loader needs to be durable and reliable because downtime is expensive.”
Eleven Units — Both Large and Small — Excel at Utility Applications
Back in the 1930s, a U.K.-based company called Chaseside began manufacturing some of the heavy equipment industry’s first loaders (some of which were operated using ropes). Then in the 1950s, Chaseside developed hydraulic loaders, which offered a tremendous improvement from earlier models. Meanwhile, JCB introduced its first major loader in 1949, soon followed by a machine called a “loadover” in the ‘50s. In 1970, JCB acquired Chaseside, moving loader production to its Rocester facility. The first JCB articulated wheel loader was introduced in 1971. As the decades rolled along, JCB continued improving its wheel loader line, introducing the 400 Series in 1982 and new loaders with rear-mounted cabs in 1994.
Today, JCB sells 11 wheel loaders in North America ranging from compact hydrostatic drive models to giant power-shift machines — all sharing the same basic DNA. Performance-wise, JCB wheel loaders provide big power and torque, high power-to-weight ratio, powerful breakout forces and excellent traction to suit a wide variety of applications.
Product Spotlight: Compact 411
Powered by a Tier 4i, 4.4-L JCB Ecomax diesel engine, the 411 delivers lower fuel consumption, less noise and greater productivity without the need for a diesel particulate filter (DPF). This allows JCB to install the Tier 4i engine in a compact loader design with no negative effect on visibility from the cab and no requirement for larger cooling packs or expensive additional maintenance.
The 411 features a new single-piece hood for excellent service access and visibility. Other improvements include a completely redesigned cab with a new full-color LCD monitor and an intuitive menu system that provides a wide range of real-time information for the operator. Fuel consumption and cycle time data can be displayed, allowing operators to adapt their driving style to optimize machine productivity and efficiency. The 411 is available with both standard and super-high-lift loader configurations, with the standard arms offering a pin height of 11.4 ft and a dump height of 8.4 ft when using a 1.5-cu yd bucket. Weighing in at 18,000 lbs, the 411 has the power to provide stronger digging forces and better lifting performance.
“The No. 1 consideration when purchasing a wheel loader is ensuring that you have the right size machine for your particular application,” says Jim Blower, Product Sales Manager for JCB. “In addition to a larger initial price tag, a machine that’s too large will result in higher ownership and operational costs due to excessive fuel usage and maintenance. A machine that’s too small will most likely be overworked, resulting in excessive service costs and lower resale value.”
Kubota Tractor Corp.
Compact Units Designed to Keep Operators Productive in Tight Spaces
Kubota Tractor Corp. (KTC) entered the U.S. wheel loader market in 1986 with the R400. Since then, the company has introduced several models in the R10 Series and R20 Series. Each new generation has offered greater power, enhanced ease of use and improved safety. Kubota employed various new technologies to provide a superior level of performance including a load-sensing transmission, rear frame oscillation with stability and an articulated frame to reduce the turning radius. Kubota’s articulated wheel loaders, like Kubota’s compact excavators, compact tractor loader backhoes and compact track loaders, offer increased opportunity and productivity on jobsites where they are able to operate on irregular surfaces and in tight or confined spaces.
Product Spotlight: R520S
Powered by Kubota’s 49-hp E-TVCS four-cylinder diesel engine, Kubota R-Series wheel loaders are equipped with state-of-the-art features designed for ultimate productivity. The Kubota R520S is highly maneuverable in tight spaces with 40 degrees of articulation and 8 degrees of frame oscillation. Four-wheel drive, limited-slip differential and rear frame oscillation provide traction and stability through rough terrain.
Combining outstanding power with operator comfort, the Kubota R520S features an ultra-comfortable cab that offers great visibility, a suspension seat and hanging-type foot pedals. Also, clutchless electric shuttle shifting allows for quick, smooth directional changes without the need to brake. Plus, the Load Sensing Transmission (LST) automatically adjusts speed and torque in response to load conditions.
Satisfying a customer need for attachment versatility, front and rear auxiliary hydraulic systems are standard on the R520S, and a front valve and control lever are built-in to universally accept hydraulically operated attachments. The Kubota R520S produces a maximum bucket breakout force of 7,425 lbs with an operating weight of 8,980 lbs and hinge pin height of 10 ft, 10 in.
“All wheel loaders have a rated operating capacity recorded in the operator’s manual and on the decal adhered to the machine,” says Keith Rohrbacker, Kubota Product Manager. “The operator must be aware that the rated operating capacity is reduced when the machine is articulated. Exceeding the rated operating capacity, especially when articulated, can cause the loader to tip. It is very important to pay attention to the weight of the load that will be lifted and carried, along with low travel speeds, usually less than 4 mph, and a low carry position.”