While abrasive soils such as sand don't necessarily affect the tread, they can wear out the metal embeds in the sprockets. "In sand conditions, we will sometimes see owners/operators run their track 'loose'," says Fitzgerald. "That can reduce stress on the metal embeds so you can minimize some of the wear and extend the longevity. They may also rotate the track from side to side to get a new wear surface. It's best to check with your local dealer, who can provide the best procedures for your operation."
Built to traverse challenging terrain
Uneven, difficult terrain and multiple surfaces are among the most demanding conditions compact track loaders will encounter.
"Continuous travel on uneven ground for extended periods of time will test the reliability of the loader's undercarriage," says December. "When operating on slopes, the weight shifts and places a certain amount of stress on one undercarriage at a time. Given that compact track loaders normally weigh twice as much as their wheeled skid-steer loader counterparts, that's a considerable amount of stress."
Single-flange front and rear idlers on New Holland units help prevent detracking on inclines, as do the crawler-style rollers by using a larger inner diameter flange positioned between the track tabs. And steel-embedded track cables and crossbars resist stretching while transferring the power of the drivetrain through the track and to the ground.
When working in these conditions, it's even more important to know the terrain. "Scaling the terrain with a heavy attachment or full load places a lot of stress on the frame," says Steger. "[To accommodate for that] Takeuchi's undercarriage uses ? thicker metal and a welded frame that is integrated into the whole machine."
All Terex ASV undercarriages have a torsion axle suspension, and two models offer a second-stage suspension for the bogie wheels. "This enables them to navigate over objects and uneven terrain with ease, while the operator enjoys a comfortable ride," says Gulbraa. "The suspension reduces vibration and shock to the machine, which also improves undercarriage and machine life, ultimately lowering operating costs and increasing overall productivity."
A greater number of bogie wheels also provides more even weight distribution, lowering impact when traveling over rocky or rough terrain. "Less impact helps to increase track life and overall undercarriage life, as well," says Gulbraa.
Some operator comfort features, such as roller suspension, can indirectly enhance durability. "It minimizes some vibration back into the machine," says Fitzgerald. "While there is not a direct correlation, it can add to the machine's overall durability."
Developments in tracks
Tracks have also undergone an extensive amount of development since the first compact track loaders were introduced.
Terex's all-rubber track is lighter in weight than steel-embedded tracks, says Gulbraa, which extends the life of the undercarriage components and eliminates rust and corrosion.
Bobcat offers a C-pattern tread type to provide traction, yet minimize cracking. "It's critical to balance natural and synthetic rubbers to make sure the track is cut and abrasion resistant," says Fitzgerald. "You can build a track that is super cut and abrasion resistant, but in order to do that, you have to make it from very hard rubber. Then it doesn't bend around rollers and idlers very well. You have more potential for cracking of the track. That leads to other issues of internal damage. There's a fine balance as to how you design and build rubber track."
Takeuchi incorporates a full steel-on-steel undercarriage in the design of its track loaders. The foundation of this system is the forged steel mandrels embedded into the rubber track and wrapped with continuously wound steel cable.
"These mandrels mesh with the drive sprocket, much like a bicycle chain engages its sprocket," says Steger. "We differentiate ourselves where the lower and rear rollers contact the track. Instead of riding on a layer of rubber that can be damaged, our rollers contact the high-strength mandrel through its incorporated contact pad. This allows any material that gets in between the track and rollers to be pulverized into small pieces instead of damaging the rubber of the tracks, resulting in a more durable, longer lasting track."
Because track and undercarriage designs do vary, it's important to evaluate your options and select a configuration suited to your primary applications and conditions. "If you are considering a track loader, it is probably due to the benefits that the track system can provide," notes Steger, "so evaluate the entire market to see what's best for you."