With skid steers being offered in increasingly bigger and beefier proportions, is there still room on the jobsite for the compact tractor-loader-backhoe (TLB)?
When it comes to versatility, both machines top the charts. There are numerous attachments available for each machine, and many of them can be used interchangeably on both. But despite what they have in common, compact TLBs and skid steers each command a niche on the jobsite that makes them irreplaceable.
Just what is a compact TLB?
Most sources agree that a compact tractor-loader-backhoe is one with a digging depth of 12 feet or less and a horsepower rating at or below 80. Doug Dahlgren with Allmand Bros., however, says the classification has more to do with weight, size and maneuverability.
"What makes a TLB compact isn't so much the horsepower and digging depth as it is the weight and maneuverability," he says. "Being able to easily move a machine on the jobsite or from job to job is a huge part of what makes the machine compact. It means not needing a CDL license and a big truck simply to transport the equipment. Anybody with a 3/4-ton pickup and an automotive trailer can haul a piece of compact equipment around."
Because of their small footprint, compact TLBs are uniquely suited for applications in confined spaces and wherever it's important to protect the turf from damage. These machines are ideal for fertilizer mixing/loading applications inside storage buildings with confined space. Concrete contractors use loaders inside existing structures for removing spoils with buckets and bringing in new materials with pallet forks. They are used on construction and demolition sites as well as for nursery, landscaping and golf course maintenance. They are also used by recycling and utility company repair crews and for snow removal and more.
"They are very versatile and can utilize many attachments for different tasks," says Keith Rohrbacker, construction equipment product manager at Kubota. "Larger loaders many times won't fit in areas and skid-steer loaders can damage surfaces."
Can they compete against the skid steer?
"A larger skid steer with a backhoe attachment does pose a slight threat to the compact TLB market," says Jeff Powell, marketing manager for earthmoving equipment at Ingersoll Rand. "Loading and dumping can be done with both, but when a skid steer is outfitted with a backhoe attachment, you have to take it off to go back to the loader. With a compact TLB, the downtime between loading and dumping is minimal."
Also, Powell notes that compact TLBs offer better control and improved operator comfort. The cabs are bigger and with that, cycle times are reduced because operators are more comfortable.
Faster cycle times translate into higher productivity. "When the jobsite is not very large and time is not critical, a skid steer with a backhoe attachment is okay," says Powell. "But if time is a factor, the compact TLB fits in well."
Dahlgren at Allmand says he doesn't see skid steers as a threat to TLBs because they are completely different machines. "The skid steer does a really good job at the application is was designed for: handling debris with a loader," he says. "Generally though, the backhoe attachments for skid steers are not all that effective, and I frequently hear from contractors that they're tired of taking a skid steer out on a job and having to take an excavator as well. When it can handle the application, it's probably easier to have a compact TLB on site that can handle both jobs."
TLBs have long been called the Swiss army knife of the jobsite because of their versatility. As such, sources say there's really no chance they will ever be replaced. "Whereas a mini-excavator may do a slightly better job of below-grade digging, it doesn't do as good a job of loading," says Dahlgren. "The compact TLB might only be 85 to 90 percent as effective at digging, but it is considerably more effective for backfilling or loading."