"This machine helps improve efficiency for many tasks and it minimizes much of the back breaking work," he says. "It has really been a good investment. And it meets my requirements for being a safe machine that, for the most part, makes the operation more efficient."
Big benefits in a small package
While minis may have the upper hand in tasks involving frequent attachment changes or very confined jobsites, the extra size and therefore weight of a compact skid steer gives it an advantage over a mini skid steer when it comes to frequent digging and material-handling applications. That added weight enables it to handle heavier loads that can typically be lifted to higher heights.
"With its physical size being smaller, a mini just doesn't have the lift capacity of a compact," says Lumbers. And because it is lighter, a mini may have some limitations when it comes to supporting heavier attachments.
A compact skid steer also has an enclosed cab with ROPS protection, which provides several benefits related to operator safety and comfort. For loader work, the cab shields the operator from any debris that may fall from the bucket as it's being lifted above his head.
In the area of operator comfort, an enclosed cab with climate control makes it possible to continue to work even when Jack Frost and Old Man Winter come knocking.
"In the winter, a fully enclosed cab with heat is certainly a benefit," says Zastrow. "And the fact that you sit down in a cab for the duration of a job'rather than walk behind or stand on a platform'is less fatiguing physically, especially if you're operating the loader for an extended period of time."
Mini skid steers are controlled solely with the hands, and most within the industry agree that they are easier for first-time operators to use. Controls are more consolidated and most functions can be controlled with one hand.
However, some end users prefer the traditional feel of a skid steer. Trey Philstiker, owner of Rain Dance, a landscape company in Phoenix, AZ, indicates that his workers appreciate the familiarity the compact skid steer controls provide. Philstiker and his crews provide new landscape and backyard upgrades to just over 4,000 homes a year with the contractor's 20-plus Bobcat 463 compact skid steers.
Rain Dance began using compact skid steers about 15 years ago. But Philstiker eventually abandoned them in lieu of larger skid-steer loaders because of the smaller machine's limitations in hydraulic flow rates for trencher attachments. In places where the larger machines couldn't fit, he turned to manual labor. And for digging irrigation lines, he relied on walk-behind trenchers.
Then about five years ago, Rain Dance returned to the smaller units when flow rates increased enough to accommodate trencher attachments.
"With the smaller machine, we can get through some tight access areas in backyards," Philstiker says. "Now we can run them in the backyard without taking down walls. And with the trencher attachment and the versatility of the other attachments we can use, we have been able to streamline our operation. We can trench and set grades as well as boulders with these small machines. We don't have to have guys doing manual labor."
Rain Dance also relies on buckets and forks during the course of a day on the job. Workers might begin the morning by grading, switch to pallet forks to unload sod, then move to the trencher attachments to dig irrigation mainline laterals for sprinkler systems.
"Then, with the weight of the machine, we can compact and settle the trench lines," Philstiker adds. "We've been very happy with these machines and we're beginning to see a lot more contractors use them, in part because of the labor costs they can save by going to machinery. For us, we've been able to reduce crew size from six to three workers with these machines."