Construction places unique demands on wheel loaders compared to their larger cousins used in quarries and plants. Many construction loaders are used in multiple applications with a variety of attachments, such as forks, specialty buckets and brooms.
We asked several contractors experienced with using wheel loaders to share their advice on features that make these machines more productive in their operations.
Operator environment emphasized
Phend and Brown Inc. is a northern Indiana-based highway and heavy contractor that owns a couple of asphalt plants and also performs some sewer work. Its fleet includes several larger Kawasaki plant loaders, plus a pair of Volvo L110 and two older Volvo L120 loaders working in the field.
This contractor looks at all loader makes when making a purchasing decision. “You go for your best price and your best all-around machine,” says Tim Baker. It also looks at several major criteria. “Visibility is number one,” says Baker.
Some models they have encountered provided limited visibility to the work area. “That’s one thing we really like about the Volvo units. We can see what is going on around us, especially when we are trenching.”
It is also important to note that comfort is directly linked to operator productivity. “The more comfortable he is in the unit, the more productive hours we will get out of him,” says Baker.
Features like the comfort of the seat can have a major impact on operator performance. “We like the air seats,” says Baker. “That really took the burden off of a heavier-set fellow. The mechanical seats are only good for so much. But you go to the air-ride seat and it just makes a world of difference.”
Richards Corp., a family owned and operated Connecticut-based site development contractor, has six wheel loaders. “We have two John Deere 644s, a Komatsu 320 and a 380 and two Dresser loaders,” says Dennis Doyle. “They are used year-round for loading material, side dumping if we are doing sewer work and all winter long we have a contract for snow plowing.” All but one of the loaders have side dump buckets and forks. One has a 12-ft. snowplow for winter operations.
The company’s loaders are equipped with air-suspension seats. Prior to becoming a partner and the equipment manager for the company, Doyle was an equipment operator. “Operator comfort is very important,” he states. “The loaders are geared for a man to get in there and be productive for eight to 10 hours a day, then get out and go home to his family and still be able to play with his kids.”
Ritschard Brothers Inc., an Indiana-based site development contractor that also performs demolition work, has found that noise is another factor that impacts operator comfort. The company has nine loaders, including Michigan and Volvo units ranging from an L70 up to L120s. “Volvo has such a wonderfully quiet running engine,” says Dave Reinhold.
Reinhold believes all new wheel loaders are becoming more operator friendly. “When I look into a new wheel loader now, basically they are all pretty much thinking about conditions for the operator,” he states.
Make it perform
Loader performance can be measured by several criteria, including handling, fuel economy and tractive effort. One feature that can increase performance is ride control boom suspension systems.
Ride control not only impacts comfort, it allows an operator to traverse a jobsite at greater speeds without spilling material from the bucket.
Phend and Brown Inc. has found this feature particularly helpful. The company does a lot of paving and uses the loaders to backfill. “A lot of times there will be a 1 to 1 1/2-in. drop from the new pavement,” says Baker. Keeping backfill material off the new pavement is important. “With the boom suspension system, you can almost run full speed off the edge of the paving. The wheel loader will rock up and down, but [the material] doesn’t dribble out all over the place.”