What’s new in wheel loaders? More sophisticated hydraulic systems. More comfortable cabs. Better buckets. An extra gear. In some cases, all-new models. Utility contractors looking to trade up have plenty of reasons to do so.
But they must look carefully if they are to find the machine they need. Some manufacturers tend to spread new features across a full wheel-loader lineup, while others congregate new features in a few models especially well-suited for an application. Consequently, buyers of wheel loaders need to go into a new equipment yard knowing what they want a machine to do.
“As companies look at redefining their products, they really are trying to analyze how to impact the customer the most,” says Brad Stemper, wheel loader brand and product manager for Case Construction Equipment. “Traditionally, redefinition meant, let’s make it bigger and faster. Now a piece of equipment is developed within a finite window of what the machine will try to do.
“The goal is to maximize a machine for an application. It follows that smaller machines are designed with a different mentality than larger machines. Smaller ones are lighter, quicker, more nimble and more customized for a variety of applications, while a larger machine is defined for big production applications.”
Over at Hyundai, Wheel Loader Product Specialist Juston Thompson points out the features of the company’s lineup. “The 940 is a little different than the others. The cab is a little smaller, but otherwise features are the same throughout the entire lineup,” he says. “When you go from one machine to the next, they are basically identical from the 955 on up to the 980.”
New wheel loader models and features are introduced either because a manufacturer anticipated a need, or customer feedback suggested such a feature. “Sometimes we anticipate,” acknowledges Thompson, “but we also do a lot of work to get customer feedback — and we take it to heart. We don’t always get it right.”
So, on occasion a new feature or model is introduced to an underwhelming response. It happened when Hyundai launched its XT wheel loader, which features a higher lift-longer reach boom that appeals to ag customers in livestock operations as well as to some utility contractors. Buyers liked the XT but believed the boom was too short. Six months later, Hyundai re-introduced the model … with a 14-in.-longer boom.
Deere Construction and Forestry has created customer buzz with its “enhanced production light material buckets” in three sizes: 4, 4.5 and 5.25 cubic yards. “They’ve been a real hit with customers,” says Chris Cline, Deere’s product marketing manager for utility wheel loaders. “They really like the bolt-on shoes and the optional bolt-on side-cutters. They particularly like the integrated spill guard.”
Cline, like others, sees growing demand for versatile wheel loaders that can accommodate tool attachments. But quick-attach systems aren’t the sole manufacturer response to this demand. “Wheel loaders also need to be designed with hydraulic systems and controls that customers are demanding. The coupler should provide easy changeability, but the hydraulic system also needs to be easily adaptable to different tools.”
B.J. Meier, Cat’s compact wheel loader marketing engineer, concurs. He sees compact wheel loaders as the primary beneficiaries of the trend to use tool attachments, “and this is driving the need for models with more hydraulic flow and pressure just to meet the demands of the tools.” He cites snow removal as a tool application requiring greater hydraulic function: Customers want to run a high-flow snow blower on the front and a salt spreader on the back.
One Cat feature — its popular “optimized Z-bar loader” — was a product of feedback. “Customers wanted a single machine that could provide the breakout force of the Z-bar for buckets and also provide parallel lift for forks for unloading trucks,” says Lucas Sardenberg, medium wheel loader product application specialist. “Caterpillar is the only manufacturer that provides both solutions in one linkage.” The optimized Z-bar is offered on Cat’s 950M and 962M models.
Choosing between a wheel loader with a standard loader linkage or a high-lift variation continues to be a factor in selecting a model. Manufacturers say extended-reach, high-lift loaders are growing more popular because they give operators more dump orientation options and more height clearance, yet the standard loader remains very popular. “I don’t think the high-lift linkage will ever take over,” says Stemper.
Hyundai’s Toolmaster wheel loader models are popular with utility contractors, according to Thompson, because the models are tool-friendly. They also offer self-leveling all the way through a lift cycle and a “fine modulation” feature, which offers more precise control of bucket and boom. Yet with all of that, Thompson notes that many sales are keyed to an entirely different kind of tool: the operator’s cab. “That’s a main concern of buyers, making sure the cab enhances the performance of the operator.”
Case recognizes this. It was a new cab that the manufacturer emphasized in last November’s launch of its G Series loaders. The cab was completely redesigned, with floor-to-ceiling glass for all-around visibility, and a small LED monitor displaying numerous measurements of machine performance. Stemper describes the interior as “a cleaner visual environment” with heads-up display of screens and a new keypad for automating boom and bucket functions, such as return-to-dig and return-to-travel.
“All the creature comforts found in the auto industry are being driven by demand into the equipment industry,” Stemper says. “Operators today definitely have different expectations about operator platforms. The mentality of the traditional operators has changed. So, making operators safer and more productive was one of the main goals of our redesign.”
The G Series of wheel loaders aren’t the only new models in the market. Caterpillar’s new 918M is actually a reintroduction of a wheel loader that was dropped decades ago. “It left a gap in our lineup,” says Meier. “It provides customers exceptional power in a smaller footprint.” The 115-hp loader is fitted with the optimized Z-bar loader linkage.
Deere updated three models last fall — the 524-II, 544-II and 624-II loaders — all of which have improved fuel economy. They also have five gears versus the four gears in original models. Cat’s new 950GC targets a particular task. “For customers looking for a truck-loading unit, the GC offers the right mix of productivity, fuel consumption and comfort along with a lower acquisition cost,” says Sardenberg.
Hyundai this spring introduced the HL965 and HL975 models, with Cummins diesel 269-hp and 331-hp engines, respectively. The smaller of the two machines is a good fit for utility contractors. Years after their introduction, some features continue to attract utility contractors. A good example is Hyundai’s onboard weighing system for bucket loads, which was introduced in 2015. It’s offered in models HL940 on up.
Thompson says customers continue to cite the weighing system as their reason to buy. “Very few manufacturers are offering it across the lineup as a standard feature,” he says. “Accurate weighing of loads affects a whole operation. Making sure a truck is loaded correctly, not underloaded or overloaded, is important for productivity, so making an operation productive is where this component comes into play. Everyone wants their operations to be as productive and profitable as they can be.”
Yanmar America’s Construction Equipment Division recently added three new, larger wheel loaders — the V8, the V10 and the V12 — to their product offering. The loaders feature parallel kinematics, a choice of quick-couplers, a rear non-rigid axle, automatic self-locking differentials on both axles, multifunction joysticks and fingertip controls to provide excellent operability, maneuverability, productivity and precise control. The engines are Tier 4 Final and offer lower displacement and fuel consumption with more torque and power. Yanmar Smart Control offers easy, intuitive operation for machine monitoring and diagnosis and precise control of auxiliary hydraulic oil flow. For more info, visit booth 1906 or www.yanmar.com/us.
Giles Lambertson is a freelance writer for Utility Contractor.