May 4, 2018 by Nate Hendley
Wheel loaders are getting safer, more comfortable and more “connected” as manufacturers introduce new machines and new features. Telematics technology, enhanced visibility, ergonomics and cameras with warning systems are all top of mind for companies that make wheel loaders.
From an operator’s point-of-view, some of the most striking changes in wheel loaders involve user-friendly controls and cab comfort. The latter has become a particular focus, which is understandable given the link between interior design and operator performance.
“For an operator, sitting in a seat eight (to) 10 hours a day, you want to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible (so they) give maximum productivity. You’re also trying to eliminate fatigue. When the operator becomes fatigued (they make) mistakes,” says Eric Yeomans, Wheel Loader Product Manager at Volvo Construction Equipment.
“For a number of years, most OEMs have made machines standard with heat and air conditioning, but a lot of work has been done recently to make the ergonomics better for the operator, which improves machine safety and productivity,” adds Aaron Kleingartner, Marketing Manager at Doosan Infracore North America.
This operator-focused approach to design can also involve “adding functions within the display screen — buttons or switches” for ease of use, continues Kleingartner.
Telematics technology allowing for remote machine performance monitoring is rapidly becoming a must-have feature in new wheel loaders.
“I think the industry is kind of demanding that (telematics) be standard. Our customers are asking for it. Anything the customer can do to increase productivity, machine longevity and reduce cost of ownership,” says Juston Thompson, Product Specialist/Sales Training at Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas.
“The big thing I see recently is the advent of mobile-enabled devices being able to access machine information from anywhere. You don’t have to be sitting at a desk to get machine information… This (trend) will only grow within the next years, as data becomes more and more important,” echoes Kleingartner.
Other trends include a move towards fuel efficiency via engines that get better mileage and functions that reduce fuel consumption and idling time.
For all the hype about autonomous technology, no one expects to see self-driving wheel loaders on worksites any time soon. Engineers would face major challenges creating an autonomous wheel loader that could perform the multiple tasks such machines are capable of, or adapt to unexpected situations such as a truck or person suddenly appearing in its path.
In terms of what it is available, here’s a round-up of some of the new wheel loaders and newly introduced upgrades to existing machines.
Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas recently announced some major enhancements of its HL900 series of wheel loaders.
Among other things, Hyundai said it would make All-Around View Monitoring (AAVM), a proprietary, four-camera system with Intelligent Moving Object Detection (IMOD) capability, available on new HL900 factory orders. AAVM was originally a feature on Hyundai excavators.
The IMOD function warns operators, through an alarm and flashing arrows on a seven-inch colour touchscreen in the cab, when someone or something gets too close to the wheel loader. The system can be programmed to activate warnings at two different ranges: 6.5 feet (two metres) or 22.9 feet (seven metres).
AAVM gives operators an expansive panorama of their work environment, including 2D and 3D views, a unique “bird’s eye” perspective and “a full 360 degree image all the way around the machine,” says Thompson.
Another recent enhancement entails an optional redesigned quick coupler that can accommodate multiple types of attachments.
The HL900 series comes standard with the company’s Hi-Mate telematics solution which allows clients to remotely monitor performance including hours of operation, fuel consumption, travel time, idle time, wheel loader location, service status, etc.
For cab comfort and performance, the HL900 series offers “a tilting and telescopic steering wheel,” says Thompson.
The HL900 series also features standard Bluetooth radio, a fuel-saving “eco pedal” function and “a fully pressurized and sealed cab” — an important consideration given OSHA’s increasing interest in dust contamination on work sites, he adds.
John Deere just released the 344L, latest in its L-Series of compact wheel loaders.
“It’s what we call an articulation plus machine. In comparison to standard articulation, the 344L articulates 30 degrees but then adds 10 degrees of rear-view steer,” says Drew Miller, Product Marketing Manager for compact wheel loaders, John Deere Construction and Forestry.
John Deere’s Articulation Plus system offers greater full-turn tipping load, enhanced stability and a tighter turning radius, he adds.
“From a safety standpoint, we offer a boom lock. That’s a standard safety feature for all of our loaders. It allows an operator to place a boom lock on the machine, then they can go safely under the boom and work on the machine even if they’re out in the field,” says Miller.
Visibility from a safety perspective was a big factor in the design of the 344L. In the new cab, they’ve increased the amount of glass to improve visibility for the operator, he continues.
Cab comfort has also been enhanced, with a larger cab than previous models and an optional heated air ride seat to provide lumbar support. The 344L also comes with “a three-way tilt and telescoping steering wheel,” says Miller.
Other features include Rimpull control (which manages power going to the wheels to reduce tire-wear) and an optional connection to JDLink, the company’s telematics system.
Volvo recently rolled out the H-Series 2.0 Update — a series of enhancements, improvements and “significant changes” to the company’s wheel loader line, says Yeomans.
Among other things, a new transmission, working in tandem with H-Series wheel loader engines and axles, offers greater efficiency and stability. An updated OptiShift system lets users customize the lock-up engagement of their wheel loaders. OptiShift also integrates a new torque converter and Volvo’s unique Reverse-By-Braking (RBB) solution with lock-up to establish a direct drive between the transmission and engine, according to the company.
On several of its models (L150H, L180H, L220H, L260H and L350H), Volvo also introduced the next generation hydraulic system where the hydraulic pumps are disengaged when lowering the boom and dumping the bucket, increasing fuel efficiency.
A new dry P-brake (parking) and eco-pedal can boost fuel efficiency while a 10-inch rear-view camera offers “really good visibility and a rear proximity warning” function, says Yeomans.
“As you get closer to objects, you will see these lines (on a monitor) and an audible alarm goes off in the cab,” he explains.
As an option, Yeomans says the H-Series offers seats that “automatically adjust to the weight of the operator” — a helpful function when different people are using the machine (or you’re just coming back from lunch at the all-you-can-eat buffet).
Buckets on H-Series wheel loaders have been redesigned “to improve productivity,” he adds.
Customers who buy an H-Series 2.0 Updated wheel loader can employ ActiveCare Direct, a Volvo telematics service which includes fleet utilization reports and around-the-clock remote machine monitoring by company technicians.
“The new DL280-5 is a model line extension that will allow us to extend our reach into a couple key applications within the construction space as well as the scrap and recycling industries,” says Doosan’s Kleingartner.
The DL280-5, which is scheduled for a spring release, features optional heavy duty axles that improve performance in harsh conditions and an optional wide-fin radiator that offers more efficient cooling while reducing the likelihood of clogging. The forward-neutral-reverse joystick on the DL280-5, meanwhile, has been re-designed to make it easier and more comfortable to use. Operators don’t have to worry about hand fatigue and “have a better feel for the control,” says Kleingartner.
The DL280-5 also has “a standard rear-view camera with separate monitor in the cab” and a telematics system that offers performance data and service status updates, he adds.
The telematics system can be accessed with “any web-enabled device” be it a smart phone, laptop or computer, says Kleingartner.
In terms of future trends, industry experts say machine control (on-board systems connected to satellite networks that can be used to assess grade, determine geographic coordinates and gather and transmit data) might be the next high-tech frontier for wheel loaders.
Machine control systems are handy for “grading… keeping track of the amount of material removed and knowing where machines are on a job-site,” says Kleingartner.
Hyundai’s Thompson anticipates more developments in connectivity and communication — wheel loaders “talking” and sharing data with other machines and vehicles as manufacturers continue to add innovations to a construction industry standard.