Standards have changed. The compact track loader you use today isn't anything like the one your father used. In many cases, it isn't even like one an older brother might have used. The most current models highlight marked improvements in operator comfort compared to those available even five years ago. While operator cabs may not fully replicate the interior of your pickup truck, they are worlds ahead of the rustic, minimalist "after-thought" cabs of the earliest models.
And why shouldn't these machines be more comfortable? Operators are spending an increasing number of hours behind the controls. With that comes an increasing expectation that the work environment be as comfortable as possible.
The true cost of climate control
Creature comforts do, in some cases, add to the overall cost of the machine. But manufacturers indicate the return on investment is also higher, since a comfortable work environment can help reduce operator turnover, while allowing operators to work more comfortably for longer periods of time.
"Contractors are putting in longer days," says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat Co. "They are working more hours to utilize the equipment better. [That means] operator comfort features are getting more critical all the time.
"It's harder and harder to find good operators," he continues. "Those you do find, you want to keep happy. That keeps them productive, working and on the job with the same company."
Fitzgerald cites the payoff determined by one customer, who broke down the per-day cost of an air conditioned cab to be less than the price of a soda. "When we averaged the cost of air conditioning over the time frame he would use the machine, he determined it cost him less than $1 a day," he says. "He figured... it was more cost effective to spend the money on air conditioning than buying a drink each day, because it would keep his operator happy all day long rather than just the few minutes it would take to finish the soda."
Climate-controlled cabs are becoming increasingly popular even in areas where air conditioning or heating may not be perceived as necessary. "In Northern climates, we can have 90°, 95°, even 100° days with 90%+ humidity at any time during the summer months," Fitzgerald says. "And in the Southern tier, when it gets 40°, 50°, even 60°, having a heating system allows operators to work on days they might not otherwise.
"Heating and air conditioning systems are becoming so popular," he adds. "The vast majority of our track loaders go out with cab enclosures. They make the operator more productive during the day because they're less fatigued and sharper for longer."
Many compact track loader models will also feature sliding windows for ventilation in favorable weather conditions, and moveable vents to enhance cab climate when using heat and air conditioning. "Sometimes, it may only be little features that we build into the machines that make [operators] more comfortable," Fitzgerald points out.
"Overall, the general business climate and environment require that operators work longer in the machines," he continues. "They're looking to get more done in a shorter time, so we need to accommodate workers for that environment. That's the ground work for us to develop machines. Long days and repetitive tasks lead us to try to minimize operator fatigue and maximize comfort."
Enhancing the ride
Climate control in the cab is just one of many features aimed at keeping operators comfortable. Some other notable features focus on enhancing the ride.
By their nature, tracks will inherently offer a smoother ride in off-road rough terrain compared to wheels because they bridge the gaps between ruts and bumps on a work site. But many manufacturers take it a step or two further by adjusting and/or adding features to their tracks and track systems. For example, Takeuchi offers tracks with an offset lug pattern that helps to even out the ride on hard surfaces.