The payoff is increased operator productivity. "They reduce the effort needed from the operator so he can be in the machine for longer periods of time to be more productive throughout the day," Zupancic points out. "And they increase controllability to make novice operators good and good operators better."
Servo controls are particularly beneficial in larger, heavier skid-steer models. "On smaller machines that are lighter and more compact, you may be able to utilize purely mechanical levers. They are less expensive, and contractors who are price-conscious may be willing to sacrifice comfort," Zupancic comments. "But as the machines get larger, manufacturers offer servo assist to make it easier to operate. When you get a skid-steer or track loader in muddy conditions, it's a lot harder to turn the machine. With mechanical linkage, a contractor would be straining in that application. The machine becomes heavier with mud that comes around the wheel wells.
"The heavier a machine gets, the harder it is to steer," he adds, "so you have to offer some assistance."
The industry is continuing to move forward with different setups for owners and operators to utilize, Fitzgerald indicates. "Contractors state that finding and keeping operators is more and more of a challenge," he says. "That's what has driven us as a manufacturer to develop different controls. We're trying to adapt to the market to make their operations more efficient."
Even More Control in Future
Looking down the road, the implementation of joystick controls on skid-steer loaders has the potential to bring a host of other benefits. Take Bobcat's new remote control option, for example. It's available as a kit that can be added to all-wheel-steer models, and also skid-steer and compact loaders equipped with joystick controls.
As it relates to construction applications, Gregg Zupancic, John Deere, expects joystick controls will open the door to even more performance-enhancing features. "Long term, you may be able to push a button and have an attachment such as a bucket automatically lift to a certain height," he says. "For example, you could set the height of the arms for unloading pallets. This is something that would be more difficult to do with a mechanical system.
"Your only limitation is your mind," he continues. "You can integrate push-button technology so all an operator has to do is push a button and have the boom and bucket return to the dig position that you have preset. These are some features that are offered in excavators and larger equipment. But now they have the potential to migrate into skid-steer and track loaders. Joysticks become more of an enabler for productivity features than mechanical levers."