Being able to maintain a steady speed makes attachment operation more efficient, especially when using attachments such as mowers, trenchers, planers and rototillers, Fitzgerald adds. "You can set it so you don't overload the attachment and run the hydraulics over relief," he explains. "Once you have it set to the proper speed, you don't have to be 'on task' all the time trying to watch your speed and keep the lever in the proper position. You can place the lever in the full forward or backward position, and the machine's maximum speed is set to the load on the attachment. It adds to the efficiency and comfort for the operator."
Horsepower management is another benefit gained with joystick controls in Bobcat models. "When you dig into a pile, the electrical system will help manage the power of the machine and the drive system," Fitzgerald states. "It's more efficient at digging, and the operator doesn't need to work quite so hard to keep the machine in its highest performance zone."
An operator attraction
Joystick controls have the added value of being easier to maintain. "Joystick handles that are running hydraulic controllers are all completely sealed," says Moore. "There's no maintenance, no servicing involved. You don't have any adjustments or greasing."
They can also offer an indirect benefit by enabling you to attract and retain those difficult to find employees, especially younger operators who may be familiar with joysticks used to control video games. "They usually have more experience with joystick controls," says Moore. "They can get acclimated to these types of controls in a skid-steer loader more quickly compared to an operator who has run a machine with traditional controls for a lot of years."
Operators familiar with traditional-style controls may find it more difficult to get used to joysticks, and may opt for the original control style. "That's why we build skid steers with both types of controls," Moore points out. "We have not abandoned the original style. We're just making joystick controls an added feature for those customers who want it."
The percentage of contractors opting for joystick controls is trending upward every year. They are especially gaining popularity in larger, higher-horsepower models. "The larger the machine, the more likely it is to have a joystick," says Moore. "In the smaller size machines, it doesn't seem to be as predominate."
In part, this is because joystick controls are typically an option that will add about $2,000 to $3,000 to the overall cost of the machine.
"The cost of our selectable joystick control is the same no matter what size machine you purchase," says Fitzgerald. "But it has less impact on the overall purchase price of a larger, more expensive machine compared to a smaller one. Also, on a more expensive machine, contractors are more willing to spend the extra money because these machines tend to be utilized in more of a production-based environment. A contractor may get 8, 10, 12 hours of work done in a day. A smaller unit may be used as more of a utility machine, where workers only utilize the loader in between doing different tasks.
"Larger machines also have more weight and horsepower," he continues. "A machine equipped with joystick controls will be less fatiguing to an operator over a long period of time, and that operator is more comfortable."
"It gets down to comfort - to ergonomics," Moore agrees. "When a machine is equipped with a joystick, it's easier to operate. It's less fatiguing. That's the big factor. A customer/operator can be in the machine for more hours. It takes a lot more effort manually pushing levers a longer distance, plus using foot pedals simultaneously. Yes, there is an additional cost [for joystick control], but it's an investment for higher productivity."
Adapting to the market
Even with the growing popularity of joystick controls, production of skid-steer loaders with traditional mechanical controls isn't being abandoned. And manufacturers continue to provide enhancements to these models, as well. Features such as low-effort servo hydrostatic controls are now standard on most machines equipped with mechanical levers.
Servo controls in a skid steer act similar to power steering in a car, says Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager, John Deere. "Without power steering, turning the wheel would be very difficult," he notes. "Servo controls in a skid steer allow fingertip operation to drive a machine that would otherwise be much more physical to operate due to the weight of the machine, application or load."