By Debbie McClung
Landscape professionals looking to outfit equipment fleets with compact track loaders have never had more quality options available to them. Increasing demand for the versatile capabilities of compact track loaders is making them one of the fastest growing segments in the equipment industry. And manufacturers have responded with a wide variety of machines that are as adept at installing irrigation systems and constructing hardscapes as creating today’s attractive landscapes.
Effective fleet management requires the knowledge to select the right tools to perform the tasks. With any smart acquisition, one of the most important metrics to evaluate is utilization, and these track loaders offer some of the highest usage rates of any compact equipment.
“Utilization is key with compact track loader selection because the more frequently you can use it to fit your job applications, and the more attachments you can put on it, the faster the return on your investment,” said Mike Fitzgerald, loader product specialist with Bobcat Company.
Achieving the best fit for an operation requires an understanding of the primary types of compact track loaders that will be best suited to the jobs you need to perform, and the features and attachments that will help accommodate the project elements your customers are requesting.
Distinguishing loader types
Two main types of compact track loaders are designed to provide varying levels of power, lifting capacity and mobility for new construction, renovation and maintenance projects:
Mini track loader
To streamline physical labor and perform most of your work on established properties, you may want to consider a mini track loader and attachments. One of the major benefits of this small loader is the ability to navigate narrow passages between houses or gates and mechanize tasks that would otherwise have to be performed by hand outdoors and indoors. Operators typically have the flexibility to walk behind these units or attach a ride-on platform to enhance comfort and reduce fatigue.
Compact track loader
If access isn’t an issue, landscapers may prefer a compact track loader with a cab. These larger machines offer a higher-rated operating capacity and more pushing and lifting power than a mini track loader. Pressurized cabs reduce noise, provide all-around visibility and keep an operator clean and comfortable in dirty, dusty applications. An operator’s experience can be further enhanced with cab-forward designs that give operators a better view of the jobsite and the attachments they are using.
Extending working seasons
When other equipment slows or shuts down due to the weather, the design of mini and compact track loaders can keep contractors up and running longer in a season. Low ground pressure — as low as 3.6 psi in some manufacturers’ mini track loaders and 4.6 psi in compact track loaders — allows operators to work more productively in soft, sandy, wet or muddy conditions. This can be especially beneficial when making dozens of trips from a remote material staging area to the worksite, and when unloading pallets of landscape rock or sod.
“For many equipment owners, it translates into several additional days, weeks or months of work, allowing projects to start earlier in spring and work later into fall,” said Fitzgerald.
The length and width of a compact loader’s tracks have a direct effect on ground pressure and traction, and ultimately a machine’s mobility. Narrow tracks provide better traction and maximize ground pressure on hard surfaces or slippery ground. A wide-track option lowers ground pressure and increases flotation when working in challenging terrain. Plus, the machines’ rubber tracks minimize damage to existing turf, which also eliminates the need for costly jobsite repairs when the project is complete.
Producing lifting performance
Outfitting a fleet with compact track loaders should involve the assessment of two different lift arm designs in some manufacturers’ compact track loaders. The design you choose should best match the landscaping applications you work in most frequently. A vertical-lift-path design offers greater lift capacity and reach at full lift height, which is ideal for truck loading. A radius lift path is ideal for maximum reach at truck bed height. Radius-lift-path loaders excel at backfilling, unloading flatbed trucks and dumping over foundation walls.
Generating returns with attachments
Even tenured landscapers with blue-ribbon lists of commercial and residential clients are encountering very competitive bidding on new construction projects — from seeding lawns to building patios to maintaining properties — so every edge helps.
High-performance attachments that are designed specifically for landscaping tasks are not only helping contractors remain competitive, but their versatility is increasing productivity and allowing them to generate new revenue sources with their mini and compact track loaders. These attachments range from landscape rakes and soil conditioners to sod rollers and grass seeders (see sidebar).
It’s easier to expand a business when attachment changes in the field or shop are simple and efficient. To manage fast changes, some attachment mounting systems are compatible with dozens of attachments that are vertically integrated with the loaders’ hydraulics and electrical systems.
Outfitting a fleet with the capabilities of a compact track loader and tailoring that investment with numerous attachments can strategically position a landscaping firm to capture more work throughout the year. From there, the possibilities for projects and the potential to expand a business seem limited only by the imagination.
Debbie McClung is a technical writer with Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.
Article provided by Bobcat Company, West Fargo, N.D.
12 Attachments to Leverage Landscaping
Auger: Ideal for digging a large number of holes for fence line, tree plantings or deck footings. Models featuring a knuckle joint allow the auger to hang plumb even on uneven terrain.
Box blade: Designed for rough grading in landscape applications, new models are now available with laser control systems for accuracy of ± 0.25 inch.
Combination bucket: Use it as a bucket for loading, carrying and dumping; as a grapple to handle odd-shaped objects like logs and stumps; or as a dozer for leveling and spreading material.
Dumping hopper: Easily move large quantities of materials like sand and gravel to areas that might be inaccessible.
Landscape rake: It smoothes, levels and rakes while collecting surface debris such as small rocks and the type of trash that accumulates around new construction.
Pallet fork: Lift, carry and place pallets of sod, bagged fertilizer, brick and block, and even plants and shrubs.
Root grapple: The root grapple simplifies renovation and replacement projects by separating roots, brush, rocks and other debris from sand, soil or gravel.
Spreader: Distribute dry, free-flowing material like seed and fertilizer with a loader-mounted spreader that can throw material up to 20 feet on either side.
Soil conditioner: Tear out old sod, separate rocks and debris and pulverize clumps of dirt. Grade, level and fill ruts and holes. Most units operate in both forward and reverse directions and can be angled up to 25 degrees.
Tiller: Till and mix the soil with compost, fertilizer, manure and mulch. An offset-mounting feature enables tilling next to sidewalks, curbs or buildings.
Tree fork: Attached to a small loader, it handles ball-and-burlap trees, large potted plants, decorative rocks, boulders and other odd-shaped objects. It’s ideal for transporting materials on landscaping jobsites or at a nursery.
Trencher: Cut trenches for irrigation systems or electrical lines for landscape lighting. Some machines have a manual or hydraulic side-shift feature to dig a trench close to buildings, fences and other objects.