Skid Steer Loader and Multiterrain Loader


Skid-steer loaders began catching on in the construction field in the 1980s because they offered contractors a way to automate functions that had previously been performed by manual labor.

Those were small, inexpensive machines that improved labor productivity and reduced work-related injuries. Their small size and maneuverability allows them to operate in tight spaces. Their light weight allows them to be towed behind a full-size pickup truck, and the wide array of work-tools makes them very flexible. They were utility machines, used for odd jobs ranging from work site clean up to small scale digging, lifting, and loading. In most cases, they logged far fewer hours of usage each year than backhoe loaders and wheel loaders, but they were cheap, and so easy to operate that anyone on a job site could deploy them with very little training.

Since then, the category has become wildly popular in all avenues of construction. They are the best-selling type of construction equipment in North America, with annual sales exceeding 50,000 units. They still tend to be low-hour machines, but, thanks to a virtually unlimited variety of attachments, skid-steer loaders can handle a huge array of small-scale jobs, from general earthmoving and material handling to post hole digging and landscaping to pavement milling and demolition.

As the machine has grown in popularity, it has become one of the hottest rental items in North America. Equipment rental houses consume roughly one-third of the new units sold each year, and most stock a wide array of attachments, too. The ready availability of rental attachments - especially high-ticket, specialty items like planers, vibratory rollers, tillers, and snow blowers and pushers - has turned the machines potential for versatility into a cost-effective reality.

As the skid-steer has become more popular in construction, the average size of the machine has grown, too. In the mid-1980s, the most popular operating load class was 900 to 1,350 pounds. By the mid-1990s, the 1,350 to 1,750 pound class was the most popular. Today, the over-1,750-pound classifications are the fastest growing.

Larger machines have dominated new product introductions, too, though our survey of recent new product announcements has turned up a spate of compact and sub-compact introductions, too. The smallest of these are ride-behind models aimed mainly at the consumer rental trade, but they are also used in landscaping and other types of light construction essentially to automate jobs that would otherwise be done by laborers with shovels.

Road contractors and government highway departments should find the new super-duty class of skid-steer loaders especially interesting. These units have retained the skid-steer's traditional simplicity of operation and compact packaging, while also boasting power and weight specifications that let them perform many of the tasks done by backhoe loaders and compact wheel loaders. Nearly all boast high-pressure, high-flow hydraulic systems to run the most sophisticated hydraulic attachments. They also feature substantial break-out force ratings for serious loading and substantial lifting capacities for material handling.

The skid-steer loader represents an interesting alternative for fleets that have low- hour backhoe loaders in inventory. Led by Bobcat, Gehl, Mustang, and other companies that make skid-steers but not backhoe loaders, skid-steer marketers have been pushing the proposition that it is more cost effective to replace a backhoe loader with a skid-steer and a mini-excavator. The rationale: for about the same amount of money, you can get more hours of utilization because you have two machines that can be working simultaneously at different jobs.

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