When it comes to using a backhoe-loader, the most skilled operators are usually the ones with the most seniority. After all, optimum proficiency is something that typically evolves over time.
Yet, even a relatively new operator can become more efficient given the right tools and techniques to do the job. Whether you're building up operating experience, or trying to break some time-consuming habits, you can achieve the productivity you need by using the right equipment for the application, and taking advantage of features designed to promote ease of operation.
Start with proper sizing
Some productivity issues can occur before you ever set foot in the cab of the machine. Get off to the best start by spec'ing the right size backhoe-loader for the task.
"Size does matter," says Doug Dahlgren, product manager, Allmand Bros. "The width and depth of the trench and how much material needs to be excavated will determine whether a compact machine with an 8.5-ft. backhoe and a 16-in. bucket is appropriate vs. a larger piece of equipment."
It's about knowing which piece of equipment will be more productive in a given situation. "Obviously, you can move more dirt in an hour with a larger piece of equipment," says Dahlgren. "But you wouldn't want to take a full-size backhoe into a backyard to [install] a sprinkler system. It can destroy the turf or the yard. Instead, you may be able to take a compact model into the yard and not do any damage. Taking a full-size machine into that situation can create more work than picking the right piece of equipment initially."
That being said, you also don't want to select a unit that is too small for the job. "A lot of people may try to get by with a less expensive machine, which typically equates to a smaller model," says Jim Blower, mid-range product marketing manager, JCB, Inc. "It might not necessarily do the job. You run the machine to its limits all the time."
That scenario is not good for equipment longevity. "You make the machine work pretty hard," Blower points out. "A smaller machine won't be as productive because it doesn't have as much power. And the size of the bucket may be too small, so you have to work hard and fast to keep moving and doing the job that needs to be done. Maybe size up so you're not running at full throttle all the time, so you can get a little more productivity out of it."
Spec the right attachment
The attachments you put at either end of the machine can also play a role in backhoe-loader productivity.
"One of the more common mistakes is not selecting the correct size backhoe bucket," says Lowell Stout, product manager, Terex Construction Americas. "Many times, a contractor will complete a job with a backhoe bucket that is either too large or too small for the task at hand."
Perhaps the contractor only has one bucket, or maybe he or she was unable or unwilling to take the time to change to a bucket more suitable for the job. Either way, it adds up to inefficiency.
"A bucket [that is] too small will often require more passes to complete the excavation, which can make it take longer to complete the job, and can burn more fuel," says Stout. "If the operator uses too large of a bucket, he/she can end up removing more material than necessary, and can increase the job time by returning the unnecessary material to the trench - again, burning more fuel as a result."
An integral part of bucket sizing is the density of the material you're trying to move, especially when using the loader end of the machine. "You can put a 2-cu.-yd. bucket on and try to move heavy material, but you will overload the machine," says Blower. "This size bucket is designed for lighter-density materials, not heavy soils such as wet sand."
If frequent bucket changes are required, a quick coupler can make selecting the right bucket - or any attachment - faster, easier and more efficient.