The ability to work in tight spaces is an ever-growing concern for many contractors. Yards are becoming increasingly smaller, lot lines are moving closer together and gates and fences prohibit access to larger, more traditionally-sized construction equipment.
Luckily, there are a growing number of options for maneuvering in and around confined areas and through narrow gates. These include mini skid-steer loaders (also known as compact utility loaders) and compact skid-steer loaders under 1,000-lb. rated operating capacity. Both can minimize the amount of manual labor required on a jobsite by replacing wheelbarrows and shovels with machines.
Admittedly, a mini skid steer and a compact skid steer can do essentially the same tasks. They can both dig a hole and move dirt, and they can both auger and trench.
"We offer three machines 'two minis and one compact' that do basically the same job, and cost about the same amount of money," says Gerald Zastrow, mini loader product specialist at Bobcat. "But each machine has its specialty, so you need to ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish to determine which machine is best for you."
Attachment and size advantages
Start by evaluating the application. Do you do more digging or more attachment work?
Virtually any attachment available for traditional-size skid-steer loaders is also available in a smaller size for these more petite machines. But while both can utilize a large variety of attachments, mini skid steers are designed to be attachment carriers, says Zastrow. "Because hydraulic flow rates are greater, you will get a little bit better attachment performance from a mini skid steer, especially when using auger and trencher attachments," he says.
For example, the hydraulic flow rate of Bobcat's 463 compact skid steer is 10 gpm, whereas the flow rate for its MT52 and MT55 mini skid steers is 12 gpm.
"With the higher flow rates of a mini skid steer, available power on some of our units can run up to about 25 hp, which is about the same as you might see in a larger lift capacity skid steer," notes Mike Lumbers, senior product manager at the Ditch Witch organization. "So for contractors who require auxiliary power, they can dig deeper and auger and till faster with a mini skid steer. That's one reason why the mini is so popular. In some cases, you can have the same power in a smaller package."
If you're using a lot of different attachments, a mini skid steer may also be a better choice. "It can be more cumbersome to change attachments with a compact," says Jon Kuyers, compact solutions manager at Vermeer. "With a mini skid steer'either a walk--behind model or one with a stand-on platform'you can hop on and off quickly. With a compact, you have to crawl in and out of a cab every time you want to change attachments."
Because mini skid steers are smaller than a compact skid steer, they can fit into those especially tight areas where only wheelbarrows and shovels could previously go. "Generally, most of these smaller machines'minis and compacts'can fit through a 36-in. gate," says Kuyers. "But compacts are a little wider and heavier to maneuver in those really confined spaces."
"Plus, with a mini you don't have to worry as much about running into anything," adds Lumbers. "With a compact, visibility is reduced because the machine has a cab and is bigger, bulkier and taller."
The smaller size is one reason Chris Nash, owner of Northwest Arbor-Culture, Inc. and Northwest Arbor--Care, Inc. in Newberg, OR, purchased a Vermeer S600 mini skid steer a few years ago. The S600 replaces a lot of manual labor involved with Nash's landscape and tree care businesses. "We can get into places with this mini skid steer where we just couldn't get with mid-level equipment," he says.
Equipped with attachments that include a roto-tiller, trencher, grader, bucket, auger and pallet forks, the S600 can do a number of tasks, including minor grading, trenching, tilling and material handling. Nash also hopes to add a cement mixer in the near future.