In Control

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."

The ability to select different control patterns just scratches the surface of electric capabilities. "We have the ability to change the way the machine operates via the electric controls, and allow for smooth operation at slow speeds when people are trying to work in tight, confined areas,” says Fitzgerald.

A snail icon on the left handle slows down the machine. "You still have full joystick movement, but you are operating at 4 mph instead of 7 mph,” says Fitzgerald. "Now your maneuverability is much better in those tight areas."

"You still have full engine horsepower, but you push that button, and it slows your travel speed down and you get more efficient operation," says Lance Mathern, a Bobcat marketing manager. "It's also adjustable. You can dial it up or down to be anywhere essentially from zero to 7 mph. If you are running a planer or a wheel saw - something where you want to go very slow at a very consistent speed - you can set that speed and push the joystick all the way forward.

"You don't have to be constantly holding that joystick in a specific place," he continues. "It's almost like cruise control, except you have to hold the joystick forward."

Complex control from the cab

"Precise and accurate control of work tools increases productivity,” notes Chris Key, commercial supervisor, skid-steer loaders and multi-terrain loaders, Caterpillar Inc. "The biggest advancements for in-cab control of work tools are to put more functions in the operators' hands and give the operators of machines the functionality they want at their fingertips." The layout of the buttons, triggers and sliders can actually enhance control of the work tool.

Several manufacturers offer joystick-style controls.

"The applications that benefit most are those requiring use of hydro-mechanical work tools, which require more than one function," Key states. For example, a cold planer requires control of the drum for cutting the road surface. You must control the sideshift, tilt and cutting depth.

"The joysticks also provide proportional control, which is a benefit for a number of hydro-mechanical work tools," says Key. These types of joysticks allow several hydraulic functions to be easily controlled. "The one-touch continuous hydraulic flow is an easy way to set a hydraulic flow at a required level. This is achieved by selecting the desired hydraulic flow on the right Deluxe joystick, then locking in flow by pressing a button on the left-hand Deluxe joystick."

Likewise, these joysticks accommodate precise functions on hydro-mechanical work tools. "Momentary hydraulic control allows fine adjustment on a work tool," says Key. "For example, this could be used for setting the depth of cut on a cold planer."

Switch attachments from the seat

Most manufacturers offer in-cab, powered quick-attach mounting systems that allow operators to switch attachments from their seat. "If you have to hook up hoses, you still have to get out of the machine. But for buckets, bale spears, pallet forks, landscape rakes and several other attachments, you can connect to your attachments from the seat by simply pushing a switch," notes Foster with John Deere.

The first in-cab quick-attachment systems came out about five years ago. "It's really gaining popularity," says Foster. "I can't think of any drawbacks. At approximately $750, customers are finding a real value in this option."

The powered quick-attachment systems decrease cycle times and reduce the amount of effort required. They also offer advantages in packing or heavy debris applications. "The powered quick attach would provide more force than rotating the levers manually," says Foster.

However, not everyone is sold on the powered quick-attachment systems. Despite running a wide array of attachments that includes buckets, forks, a tree spade, an eight-way V-plow and a backhoe, NCD Developers, a Bristol, RI, development company, doesn't use a powered quick attach. "I prefer the manual quick attach on the skid-steer loaders," says Fonseca. "That way I know somebody gets down and locks them down. I don't have to worry about the attachment coming off."

Whether you're using a powered or a manual quick-attach system, you should verify that the attachment is properly connected. "The operator should always visually confirm the quick attachment pins or pawls are properly engaged into the attachment," advises Foster.

With all the different types of in-cab controls available on today's skid-steer loaders, it pays to know your customers' preferences and expectations. But, cautions Moore with Gehl, rental businesses need to research the suppliers to know their capabilities and what they can offer.

"Rental businesses shouldn't just reference a color or brand of the machine," he says. "They need to understand what each supplier can offer for in-cab controls and fit that with their customers' needs before selecting a skid loader for their inventory."

Look, ma! No feet!

There are four common control patterns available on skid-steer loaders: hand-foot, hands-only, T-Bar and joystick.

The most popular of the four, say manufacturers, is the hand-foot pattern. This pattern uses the foot pedals to control the bucket and loader arms while the left and right handles control speed and direction of the skid steer.

With the hands-only style, bucket and loader functions are controlled by moving the joysticks left and right. Moving the joysticks back and forth controls speed and direction. Manufacturers point out that hands-only controls are starting to be requested as much as the hand-foot pattern.

Moore with Gehl notes that he sees a transition of operators going to hands-only controls. "They're easier to learn, more intuitive," he says. "There's more likely a higher percentage of skid loaders leaving the factories now with hands-only systems."

According to Moore, the Gehl hands-only style - the T-Bar style control - is also available on some Mustang skid loaders. With the T-Bar control, the left hand controls the driving and steering functions and the right hand controls the lift and tilt functions.

"This is our most popular control," says Moore. "It's a servo-type control, and it's more intuitive. We've had it for many years, and the percentage of users that prefer it is growing.”

Finally, joystick controls, are similar to the T-Bar pattern and operate like an excavator. Most skid-steer manufacturers offer various patterns to choose from, so your rental business can best meet your customers' needs.