With your rental business renting to so many different operators, the types of controls available in your skid steers is very important. Ideally you want a machine that only needs a quick explanation of how it works before the operator can use it.
"Many users are acclimated to a certain type or style of control," says Kelly Moore, product manager with skid loaders and track loaders for Gehl and Mustang brands. "But today's skid steers offer a variety of types of controls, and a rental business should understand the different types before selecting machines for its inventory."
There are three basic types of control systems offered on skid-steer loaders: manual controls, servo controls and pilot controls.
Manual controls offer a direct linkage to hydraulic lift arm and bucket control valves, as well as the hydrostatic transmission swash plate (which controls machine direction).
"Industry wide, manual controls are the dominant skid-steer control system - 60 percent of the units sold today are equipped with manual controls, followed by 25 percent with servo controls and 15 percent with pilot controls," says Larry Foster, product marketing manager, skid steers, John Deere Construction and Forestry Division.
He notes that larger-frame skid steers tend to dig, push and carry heavier loads. "If a skid steer is equipped with manual controls, the load forces can be transmitted back through the controls to the operator, requiring the operator to apply more force to the controls," he states.
Control forces can be dramatically reduced through the use of servos or pilot controls. "Our three largest models are all servo machines," says Foster. He compares servo controls to power steering on an automobile.
"Servos provide smooth 'power steering-like' control efforts," he says. "The servo applies the forces to the transmission, not the operator. The operator's experience at the controls is an effortless, smooth feel coupled with precise control."
Moore with Gehl agrees, noting that Gehl machines are similar. "Six out of our eight models are servo controlled," Moore says. "It's much more effortless. Operators are running these machines for hours a day, so the more comfortable you can make them, the easier it is for them to be productive."
Bobcat Co. offers standard manual (mechanical) hydraulic controls, an Advanced Hand Control System (ACS) and Selectable Joystick Controls (SJC). "With ACS, steering is manually controlled by two levers. Lift arm and bucket functions can be changed from foot pedals to hand actuated," says Mike Fitzgerald, product representative for Bobcat. "It's very popular with operators who have operated multiple brands of equipment and are familiar with either foot pedals or hand controls."
SJC also allows the operator to choose from two modes of operation.
"The SJC-equipped machines use short electric joysticks that allow the operator to utilize his hands and wrists for machine movement, as well as lift arm and bucket functions," says Fitzgerald. A switch in the machine enables the operator to change the selectable joysticks from ISO-pattern (left joystick controls drive functions, while the right joystick controls lift and tilt functions) to H-pattern (fore and aft movement of each joystick controls left and right drive functions independently, while side-to-side joystick movement controls hydraulic functions).
Finally, some skid steers utilize pilot hydraulic controls. Similar to servo controls, pilot hydraulic controls require minimal effort and provide precise control.
Adapting to the operator
The ability to change control patterns at the flick of a switch has many benefits for rental businesses who will have several operators using one machine.
"We are trying, from a product standpoint, to offer operators the ability to run a machine in their most learned method of operation," says Fitzgerald. "That's why we offer different types and styles of controls. The operator can choose the control system with which he is most familiar."