Better, stronger, faster ... these words aren't referring to Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. In fact, they're referring to today's backhoe-loaders, machines which are evolving to be just that -- better, stronger, faster and more.
"Backhoes are getting easier to operate and becoming more productive, both for newer, less proficient operators and for the more experienced, who still benefit from new technologies that get the job done faster, with less effort and often more fuel efficiency," says Bob Tyler, product marketing manager, backhoes, John Deere Construction & Forestry Division.
Efficiency is the name of the game, according to Jim Blower, mid-range product manager at JCB Inc. "With the energy conservation trend, we're all trying to make things smaller but yet get the same production," he says. "It's all about how much dirt the machine will move per gallon of fuel."
With this in mind, fuel consumption in and of itself is less of a concern than the productivity gained as a result of the fuel consumed. "More and more people are looking at fuel consumption," he says, "But it's important to look at how much fuel a machine burns per tons of dirt moved, not simply how much fuel it burns in a day. You want to look at how efficient the machine is, not just how productive."
Edgar Chavez, director of marketing at New Holland & Kobelco Construction, agrees, adding, "The backhoe is not a continuous-cycle machine, so it's not important how fast you can dig a trench, it's how much material can be moved for the amount of fuel burned."
Chavez points out that New Holland's B Series backhoe-loaders were the first to offer a fully compliant Tier 3 engine, noting the company's dedication to its engine design. "Since we have our own in-house engine, it's a better match with the machine," he says. "It gives us the flexibility to maximize the hydraulic flow and improve cycle times. The machine is designed from the engine out."
It's a control issue
Manufacturers today are focusing heavily on making their backhoe loaders as easy to operate as possible because they know this allows operators to be most productive.
At JCB, this has always been a primary objective. "A comfortable operator is a productive operator," says Blower, noting that JCB has incorporated pilot controls in its backhoes for the past several years.
Now, pilot controls are becoming the norm on backhoe loaders. This is a benefit to many applications because they allow faster cycle times and create less operator fatigue. "As a result, the operator can work longer in a day, or take fewer breaks since he or she remains comfortable while working," says Tyler. "Lever efforts are lower, and lever travels are shorter, both of which help to keep the operator from tiring as quickly."
John Deere recently introduced a cab control package called Total Machine Control (TMC) that combines ease of operation and productivity enhancements. It's an industry-exclusive option for the 310SJ and 410J backhoes.
"The key to the TMC design innovations is the use of electro hydraulics to automate a number of functions operators otherwise must complete manually," Tyler says. "The touch of a fingertip now replaces foot pedals, levers that would control the stabilizers and front and rear auxiliary hydraulics."
For its part, New Holland also offers pilot controls as an option on all its backhoe loaders. Located on the tower where the operator rests his wrist, the controls are fully adjustable.
Tyler notes that the TMC system has addressed operator comfort by replacing pilot towers with armrest-mounted joystick controls that turn with the seat and give the operator more visibility and more comfort both from a roominess standpoint and because the absence of hydraulic oil keeps the heat down in the cab.
Deere has also made changes it its controls that address the issue of maneuvering in tight places. "TMC includes an exclusive mini-joystick on the right-hand controller that lets the operator move backhoe and loader simultaneously to scoot around obstacles faster and more precisely," Tyler says.