A skid-steer loader can dig more efficiently for longer periods of time, and a full-size telehandler can lift heavier loads to higher heights, but when it comes to doing a combination of both, a compact telehandler is hard to beat.
Compact telehandlers are relatively new to the construction industry, having migrated to North America within the last 10 years. Their heritage can be traced to the agriculture industry in Europe, where farmers used them for everything from cleaning livestock facilities to stacking hay and pulling wagons. For European contractors, they have proven to be essential fleet machines for moving in and around tight spaces and in between close buildings. Since their introduction to this side of the Atlantic, they've been on a roller coaster ride from boom to bust and back again. Today, sales are on the rise, in large part because of the machine's versatility.
"Recently, there has been an upsurge in activity in this market segment," indicates Jay Barth, product manager at JCB. "The whole compact market is really beginning to unfold and heat up. I think we'll see some exciting new features with these machines. A lot of people are now realizing what compact telehandlers can do. They're beginning to see that they aren't toys, but rather fully capable machines."
Dave Baxter, director of marketing & market development at JLG Industries Inc., which introduced two new compacts at this year's Rental Show, states that compact telehandlers make up the fastest-growing segment of the construction equipment market in North America in terms of unit growth. "The reason for this growth is a result of the emerging need for this type of versatility."
Operating in tight spaces
The compact telehandler's capability and versatility stems from its design. As its name suggests, it's a small machine — much smaller dimensionally than a large construction telehandler, says Scott Cooper, senior project engineer at Caterpillar.
For example, Caterpillar's TH210 is only 5 ft. 11 in. wide and 6 ft. 5 in. tall. With these dimensions, it can operate in much tighter spaces than its full-size counterpart, including in parking garages and inside buildings that don't have commercial truck doors.
"We see these compact machines in applications where size is critical in industries such as construction, agriculture, landscaping, nurseries and in rental fleets," says Cooper. "In these applications, large telehandlers may be too large, too heavy or not maneuverable enough to work effectively."
Baxter at JLG notes that another benefit to their diminutive size is ease of transport. Usually weighing in between 9,000 and 14,000 pounds, compact telehandlers can be towed by a pickup truck and trailer, which means your customers can drive away with them, leaving you with one less delivery to make.
Because they are designed as lifting machines, the compact versions can lift and place materials — although admittedly not to the heights of full-size models, which reach to 42 ft. and beyond. But most compacts will be able to move materials to a height of a two-story building. "Since it is smaller, the physics of the compact machine just don't allow it to lift as high or as much," says Marty Miller, VersaHandler product manager at Bobcat. "But for general contractors, two stories is typically high enough."
Mike Schlauch, Schlauch/Bottcher Inc., finds that his Gehl RS5 compact telehandlers are a nice complement to his larger units. The custom home builder from Bozeman, MT, has equipped his fleet with three compacts and nine full-size models.
"My smaller machines may not reach as high or lift as much weight, but I would never want to be without them," he says. "They aren't as heavy as my large machines so they don't tear up the ground as much. And I can also use them in lieu of scaffolding for some jobs."
Intended as a tool carrier