Personal preferences vary
Despite all the latest bells and whistles available on today’s skid steers, many operators still prefer the simplest, tried and true method of controlling their machine. As such, rental businesses need to assess the preferences of their customer base when outfitting their skid steer fleet.
Kelly Moore at Gehl says the type of control utilized in a skid steer is primarily driven by personal customer preference, based on past experiences. “Whether the customer is a smaller operation with few employees to a larger business with many employees, the experiences and acclimation to the type of controls is usually most important when it comes to renting one or more skid loaders,” he says.
Wright agrees. “Most customers want a control option their employees are accustomed to operating. There seem to be more contractors who wish to accommodate the next generation of operators, so we are seeing more diversity in control options in our customers’ loader fleets. Rental companies typically choose the control options that are more regionally accepted.”
While younger generations enjoy selectable joystick controls, some contractors, however, still favor mechanical linkages. “There seems to be a feeling among some of the mature operators that mechanical linkages will give them a better feel and control of the machine,” Wright explains. “Again, it depends upon what the operator is used to running. Mechanical linkages have a longer throw to get the unit to do what the operator wants it to, which increases the range of motion it takes - this makes the operator perceive that they have better feel and control over the loader.”
He adds, “Mechanical linkage is currently less expensive than joystick due to the lack of technology and testing required to dial-in the joystick controls. But, maintenance is minimal with the joystick control due to very few moving parts, whereas mechanical linkage offers many pivot points, some of which need to be greased to increase the life of the moving part.”
Fitzgerald says the vast majority of machines going into rental are still sold with standard controls. “It’s the least expensive and most customers are familiar with those controls,” he says, admitting their numbers are dwindling. “Every year we sell more skid steers with joystick than the year before. Younger operators are familiar with joysticks,” he says. “Also, many companies are downsizing from larger equipment and those operators who are coming off larger pieces of equipment want joystick controls.”
Easy on the operator
Despite those who still enjoy the feel of a longer throw, the latest control options offer simplicity and less stress on the operator. “Joystick seems to be the easiest for people to understand if they have limited operating experience,” Wright says. “The range of motion is minimal, and if an operator has bad ankles, hips or knees, foot pedals are not the right choice. Joystick operation is smooth and concise, and the speed of the unit can be reduced by manipulating the engine speed, which will slow things down while the operator is getting accustomed to the controls. As it takes very little energy or effort to operate a joystick-controlled loader, at the end of a long work day, an operator won’t feel as fatigued.”
He adds, “As with any type of equipment, operators should be trained prior to use.”
Moore at Gehl agrees with Wright that joystick controls are likely the best choice for novice users. “For the majority of weekend renters, the simpler the controls can be, the easier and safer the operating will be.”
As we all know, the bottom line in equipment rental is customer satisfaction and that means adjusting to meet the needs of all equipment operators. “In today’s world, it’s more and more important to keep operators happy,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s increasingly difficult to find equipment operators, and they’ll move from one company to another if they don’t like the equipment they are operating.”