Small but mighty
By NATE HENDLEYConstruction Equipment
Latest generation of compact machines boast new features.
Several OEMs have recently released new compact wheel loaders, track loaders and excavators, and many others are updating their existing mini and small-sized equipment. One manufacturer has also developed an online tool to help clients configure compact equipment orders. Needless to say, this is a hot sector of the equipment market.
Trend-wise, high-tech features, some of which originally appeared on larger equipment, continue to abound. In general, these solutions are designed to enhance visibility, safety, and/or efficiency.
“It’s been around for a while, but automation is coming more to the forefront. Not just us, but other companies, you see them trying to integrate grade control with their machine,” notes Jonathan Gardner, product manager, construction equipment at Kubota Canada.
“Safety seems to be more at the forefront. Backup cameras are becoming standard,” he continues. “With safety you think about physical stuff, but you see companies trying to lower the decibel reading in the cab as well because hearing is safety too.”
Darren Ashton, product manager for compact with Volvo Construction Equipment, points to the growing emphasis on telematics and guidance systems in compact equipment.
“It’s the sort of new technology that helps get better efficiency out of the machines,” he says. “The other thing I see a lot of manufacturers working on is reduced maintenance.”
Luke Gribble, solutions marketing manager at John Deere, cites “safety and operational awareness” as ongoing trends. He said that his company will be adding a surround-view camera and vision system to its new P-tier compact wheel loaders.
“It’s going to be very representative of a bird’s eye view. An operator will be able to see not only in front of them but on both sides of the machine and the rear of the machine. To give them more confidence when they’re operating on the site. It allows them to see other obstacles, machines, and people on a site,” states Gribble.
With these trends and features in mind, here’s a look at what’s new and/or noteworthy in compact equipment.
In May 2023, John Deere transformed its 244L, 324L, and 344L compact wheel loaders into 244, 324, and 344 Performance- tier models.
“A lot of what existed with our L-series compact loaders basically went into the P-Tier loaders,” explains Gribble. “We added standard features in base like ride control, and we added some options like the auto-reversing fan, and we kept a lot of the performance-enhancing features like Articulation Plus and the very comfortable cab.”
Articulation Plus, says Gribble, is a feature that he says is exclusively on John Deere compact loaders. It is designed to facilitate rear-wheel steering by adding another 10 degrees of rear-wheel steering capability to the steering system’s standard 30 degrees of articulation, making the machine more maneuverable.
An optional auto-reversing fan that can be activated from the cab, is handy for clearing the air when working on dusty or debris-heavy worksites. Ride control, long an option on compact loaders to smooth out travel when moving material on hard surfaces, is now standard on P-Tier CTLs.
Ride control is a “great tool” that improves operator comfort while making it easier to keep material in the bucket during travel over rough terrain, says Gribble.
A JDLink Modem connects machines to the John Deere Operations Center, letting operators track performance hours, fuel burn, location, and other metrics. JDLink was previously only an option on compact track loaders and skid steers. This solution proved so popular, however, John Deere decided to make it a standard feature on new models going forward, says Gribble.
Kubota’s SVL75-3 compact track loader, which was released in December 2022, represents a “complete redesign, from chassis to interior,” says Gardner. “We brought in a lot of updates [like] auto downshift, a very popular feature in excavators. However, compact track loaders never had that feature.”
Auto downshift is designed to address a specific challenge. When traveling in second gear, a compact track loader might not have sufficient torque to turn. The auto downshift system senses when an operator enters a turn and will “automatically downshift for you, so you can make your turn with maximum torque … This definitely improves efficiency,” explains Gardner.
Other high-tech features on the SVL75-3 include an Electronic Torque Management System and Intelligent Control System. The Electronic Torque Management System monitors the machine load and controls output of the hydraulic pump. The System “basically protects the engine from stalling out when it feels a heavy load. All of our compact track loaders and skid steers have this,” states Gardner.
Using the Intelligent Control System, an operator can view machine vital signs and maintenance schedules, and check visuals from a standard rear-view camera on a cab monitor. An optional KubotaNow telematics system tracks data and can help prevent theft by creating geofences while an optional reversing fan is ideal for dusty worksites.
The new SVL75-3 also offers a spacious interior, a 74.3 hp engine, a sealed pressurized cab where noise levels have been reduced from 80+ to 78 decibels, and a seven-inch colour multi-function LCD monitor.
The end-result of all these improvements is “more power, more productivity,” states Gardner.
He also points to the versatility of the SVL75-3. “Compact track loaders with attachments—you can do whatever you want. You can trench with it; you can dig with it; it’s a very common machine for grading,” says Gardner.
Develon unveiled a prototype of its new DTL35 compact track loader at CONEXPO- CON/AGG in March of this year.
Scheduled to be released in 2024, the DTL35 offers standard electrohydraulic joystick controls, a best-in-class Develon 116 hp diesel engine for maximum performance, optional 360-degree All-Around View Monitoring (AVM) camera set-up and an object detection system. The compact CTL is intended to complement Develon’s recently expanded mini-excavator line.
“We will provide the rear-view camera as a standard piece,” says Jacob Sherman, Develon’s product marketing and dealer marketing manager. “Through the [optional] AVM display, you’ll be able to see completely around that machine to help avoid contact with individuals or workers, or anything when it comes to obstructions.”
He says the AVM solution enhances both safety and operator comfort. “If you’re trying to look around you and behind, it becomes labour intensive. Get an AVM and a display, and you will get that visibility.” he explains.
CTLs often work in cramped quarters so excellent visibility is a must, he continues. The camera system is augmented by object detection which alerts operators if the machine is nearing an obstacle or a person.
Like other CTLs, the DTL35 offers a light touch, creating minimal ground disturbance when the machine is in use.
The DTL35 can also be fitted with multiple attachments for a wide variety of applications, which is why Sherman describes it as “the Swiss Army knife of our portfolio.”
In October of 2023, Caterpillar released the all-new, next-generation Cat 255 and 265 compact track loaders, both of which feature a ground-up redesign.
The Cat 255 and 265 are powered by a 74.3 hp engine and feature bigger cabs, lower engine mounting for improved visibility, easy entry and exit, stiffer undercarriage for greater stability and reduced pitching when the bucket is being filled with material, standard five-inch (127 mm) LCD monitor or eight-inch (203 mm) advanced touch-screen monitor, depending which technology package the customer choses.
Both CTLs are capable of using Cat Smart Attachments, including grader and dozer blades and backhoe, says Scott Britton, global attachments marketing manager for Caterpillar. Cat has been on a mission to expand the use of its smart technology in general. Earlier this year, the company introduced an external control kit that enables more existing Cat CTLs to be kitted out with smart grader blade capability.
“We have a smart backhoe. We have a smart grader blade—which is by far our most popular one. It’s very intuitive. And we have a smart dozer blade. We’ve got smart technology for our cold planers and wheel saws as well,” says Britton.
A new 3D GPS/GNSS grade control for smart dozer blades helps CTL operators precisely grade slopes, contours, planes, and complex curves, while providing blade horizontal positioning and vertical height guidance.
Smart blades aren’t the only high-tech tool Cat has embraced; last year the company introduced a series of next generation mini-excavators fitted with a Tilt Rotate System (TRS). The company’s TRS4, TRS8 and updated TRS6 models are equipped with a TRS system that allow attached work tools to rotate 360 degrees.
The tools can also tilt 40 degrees side-to- side for additional functionality, allowing the mini-excavators to reach more areas on a worksite from the same position while easily maneuvering tools past obstructions during excavation work, grading ditches or placing pipes.
With TRS “you can be much more efficient,” notes Britton.
Volvo Construction Equipment has released a new online tool designed to make it easier to configure purchases of electric compact excavators and wheel loaders.
Available via the Volvo CE website, the configurator tool, as the company calls it, provides consumers the ability to check out such options as cab versus canopy, and charger and attachment selections, on various models.
The tool is designed “to make [purchases] easier for people who don’t have experience” with compact electric machines, says Ashton. “I don’t foresee us actually rolling out to the diesel equivalents unless the demand changes a bit,” he adds.
While its focus is currently on making it easier to purchase from its electric lineup, the company continues to emphasize safety features in all of its construction equipment. These include relatively low-tech solutions such as orange seatbelts and green beacons, which flash when the operator is wearing an orange seatbelt. “If the foreman is walking around the site, they can tell if people are wearing it,” explains Ashton.
And expect to see be more “new” from Volvo on the way. Word is that next year, the company will be releasing a 3.5-ton compact excavator, although details remain under wraps at present.
Nate Hendley is a freelance writer and author, and is a regular contributor to On-Site Magazine.