Advancements in backhoe-loader controls have increased the options available. To make the best choice for your needs, you first must understand what’s available and the advantages and drawbacks of each system.
Backhoes are constantly evolving. “Most recent innovations — such as excavator-style joystick controls, pattern changer valves and ride control systems — focus more on efficiency, controllability and ergonomics,” says Curtis Goettel, brand marketing manager, New Holland Construction. “These innovations not only help make the operator more comfortable and productive, they also allow for faster working speeds from higher flow rates, more effective engine power, greater fuel efficiency and minimized engine overloading or stalling.”
He adds that it’s essential to provide operators with the control pattern, digging position and control feel they prefer. “Less experienced backhoe-loader operators who may have previously worked on excavators, for example, will have a different feel for the controls than the more experienced operator who may choose a more ergonomic style of operation,” he points out.
This is why several control options are typically available. “Control options provide the operator with greater, more precise control with less effort, making them more comfortable,” says Goettel. “And a comfortable operator is a productive operator, especially when working in tough conditions and on jobs like digging trenches or placing pipes.”
To accommodate operator preferences, New Holland offers pilot and two-lever controls on its C-Series backhoe-loaders. “The pilot control option, which is growing in popularity, provides infinite forward and reverse movement,” says Goettel.
“For owner operators, the feel of the backhoe can be a primary factor in the purchase decision,” says Sherrie Carter, backhoe-loader product marketing, Caterpillar. “It’s why Caterpillar spends a significant effort during the product development on hydraulic tuning. This involves intricate work on hydraulic valve spools to create smooth modulation, balanced multi-function performance and quick response to operator inputs. Good tuning enables the operator to work confidently in applications like fiber optics, yet be very efficient in production trenching operations.”
Open or Closed?
JCB introduced servo controls on its backhoes in the mid-’90s. “The whole reason to go to the servos from the mechanical levers is to reduce operator fatigue,” says Jim Blower. “You push the lever less distance and it takes less effort to push it.”
Operator comfort is directly linked to productivity. “Pilot-operated joysticks offer primarily ergonomic advantages,” says Carter. “But the reality is that, in an eight- to 10-hour day, those advantages can translate to more work done simply because the operator is less fatigued.”
“Before servo controls came along we had manual controls through the levered link through the valve block,” Blower indicates. The move to servo controls required some changes. “The manual controls have an open-center circuit and a full-flow valve block.” Early servo controls required a move to a closed-center hydraulic system and flow-sharing valve blocks.
Open-center and closed-center systems each have unique operating characteristics. “Open-center circuits give the operator a feel for a backhoe,” says Blower. “If you dig a trench with an open-center machine and you encounter an obstacle and you want to power through it, you pull the lever a little bit further to increase the pressure. This increases the breakout force of the bucket edge. The operator has to do something (i.e., move the lever) to increase the pressure. When you go to a closed-center system and encounter an obstacle, the machine senses the resistance and increases the pressure automatically to increase the breakout force.”