Although backhoe-loaders in the 14-ft. dig depth and above size class have long been regarded as essential tools on commercial construction sites, their smaller counterparts (12-ft. dig depth and below) have generally been perceived as too lightweight for such use. Yet, this mind set is starting to change.
"Years back, there were a few... tractor-loader-backhoes (TLBs), especially in the compact class, that were almost considered 'toys'," says Doug Dahlgren, product manager, Allmand Bros. "They were better than a shovel, but frankly not a lot.
"What's happened over the last few years is that they've really become... a serious piece of construction equipment," he states. "We raised the level of performance on the machines to make them more appropriate for a contractor."
Consequently, even the smallest of compact models (10-ft. dig depth or less) are finding use in a much wider range of applications.
"Years ago, the machines were used in more 'surgical' type applications. They were used for very small projects for opening up a hole, very light digging operations, very light backfill operations," says Bud Martin, sales manager, Terramite. "Now that they have become more powerful - with better breakout on both the front and the back end, better lift capacity, better carrying capacity - there's really nothing out there that I see these machines are excluded from. They are able to do just about any operation that a full-size backhoe will do."
Packing in performance
A primary reason behind this shift is the added power being packed into the machines. Compact TLBs have seen significant gains in engine output. "They're now up into the 30- to 40-hp class," says Martin. "Before, they used to be limited to the 20-hp class."
And 12-ft. models hover right around the 60-hp mark, putting them nearly on par with the smallest 14-ft. backhoe-loaders.
Coupled with this higher horsepower are increases in hydraulic flow capacities. "Years ago, you had 5 or 6 gpm; now everybody is at about 8 to 10 gpm," Martin points out. "That opens the door to a broader range of [attachments] that are compatible with the machine."
Many models are also available with quick couplers and auxiliary hydraulics, enabling them to utilize attachments such as breakers and 4-in-1 buckets. "Basically, they have all of the options available that you have on the larger machines," says Martin.
The advances in hydraulics extend beyond attachment capabilities. Consider Yanmar's CBL40, which has a variable-displacement piston pump hydraulic system. This feature provides the ability to combine functions (boom, swing, arm, bucket) for simultaneous operations. The unit also includes HMT (Hydro-Mechanical Transmission), a blend of hydrostatic and mechanical transmission technology.
Hydraulic self-leveling loader control valves and a backhoe "creep" mode are featured on Kubota's TLB models. "Hydraulic self-leveling loader control valves improve pallet fork work, and are easily shut off... for loader work," says Keith Rohrbacker, product manager, Construction Equipment, Loader/Landscaper Tractors, Kubota Tractor Corp. "The backhoe crawling mode allows the operator to move the machine along the trench - in either direction - while at the backhoe controls, saving time and money while repositioning down a long trench." Dedicated boom swing pumps further speed the trenching process.
These and other features are enabling smaller TLBs to tackle a wider range of job sizes and types, including utility installations, footings, general excavation, material handling and other tasks once requiring the capabilities of full-size machines.
"Almost all of the features of the larger machines have been incorporated into the compact TLBs," Martin points out. "The OEMs have worked hard to change the products from being job specific to a dedicated construction machine."