| October 06, 2010
Case takes on the field with N Series backhoe
Industry pioneer adds punch at both ends
By Mike Anderson
The Case “loader/backhoe” – as the company calls it – is a signature product, proudly carrying history that dates back to 1957, when Case introduced the first integrated backhoe loader in North America.
With the first family update of the product’s second half-century, Case is digging in with its mantra that the backhoe loader retains an integral place on the construction jobsite. During the modern era of increased market acceptance of compact excavators, skid steers and compact wheel loaders, Case engineers believe the backhoe loader doesn’t just have a supporting role. The constitution of the new four-model N Series, with enhancements at both ends of the machine, is about productivity as much as it is about maneuverability and convenience.
Leading up to the product line’s formal introduction, Equipment World was able to join Case engineers, product experts and marketing officials at the Case Customer Center near Tomahawk in northern Wisconsin for a first look at the N Series backhoes. Joining the group was Jordan Hess, one of the independent equipment operators from across North America at the core of the product development process behind the Case N Series, based in Burlington, Wisconsin. The third generation in the family-owned Hess Excavating, of Coon Valley, Wisconsin, the 26-year-old Hess is one of “the Burlington Six” – as N Series chief engineer Wayne Bietz dubs the select beta testers.
The Burlington Six’s involvement came midway through a process that began more than three years ago, when Case sent out teams of product personnel to chronicle the thoughts of backhoe market customers in applications ranging from utilities to landscaping. This was followed up by a much broader survey to equipment users. At one point, engineers were staring at upwards to 1,200 sticky notes containing “actionable statements,” Bietz says. “During that time, we had more than one customer tell us, ‘You know, I hate to say it, but the backhoe’s kind of a necessary evil. You’ve got to have one on site, but it’s kind of like a wheelbarrow.’ It wasn’t doing enough for them.”
It was then that the definition of the N Series started to take shape. It needed, as Case has since marketed, to be “stronger everywhere.”
Powering through the lift
Bietz calls it “a balance” – the give and take that engineers engage in to rationalize strength and size. “If you bulk up a backhoe so it gets all the capacities that a wheel loader or an excavator has,” he says, “you now have a machine that’s not very maneuverable.” Indeed, there are reasons why backhoe loaders beyond the 15-foot class are marginal players in the market.
Activated by a rocker switch located on the left side console when the operator is in the rear-facing position, Case’s new Power Lift backhoe option increases the system pressure while reducing engine rpm. Case product promotion specialist Steve Cudd, a longtime excavating contractor now employed at Tomahawk, demonstrated the new feature by using the back end of a 590 Super N to lift a 3,500-pound concrete rainwater transfer station and placing it into a hole. He then lifted out the object, bearing the additional 450 pounds of the backhoe’s bucket to which it was hooked.
“When we maximize our lift capacity, we operate at approximately one-third of the usual audible tone,” Case marketing manager Rob Marringa observed on site. “Not only is this able to lift 16 percent more than without Power Lift engaged, but it’s also at a quiet tone, so it’s easy for a spotter to communicate with the operator.”
Also, with lowered rpms, the load was placed more precisely with steady, smooth movement, noted Marringa. The lift started out about 10 feet from the centerline of the hole.
“This is typical of where an object like this would be located on a jobsite – about 18 to 24 inches away from the edge of the hole,” said Marringa, noting the Extendahoe on the 590 Super N was pushed out about 24 inches during the lift. “Standard bucket lift capacity and breakout is typically measured at the lift pin or the joint pin, but we all know that the majority of the time we’ve got loads like this where it’s out further.”
In terms of pure load lifting ability, a 3.1-metric-ton compact excavator would be comparable, he said. But the compact machine would offer only about half the reach of a backhoe.
The benefits to Power Lift go beyond lifting, too. The increased dipper and bucket crowd forces allow the backhoe to break through such extreme conditions as frost, dry clay and roots, says Case.
“It’s like an excavator,” offers beta operator Hess. (And if any operator would be skeptical of the backhoe capabilities, it’s a guy whose company actually traded in its last Case backhoe for a CX160 excavator.) “With the amount of power that they’ve got in that backhoe, you’re really pulling on something if you’re getting it stuck.”
The lowered rpms of Power Lift bring with it an advantage that Hess says enlightened him when he set about to test on heavy lifts – the ability to easily converse with any worker on the ground at the same time. “You don’t realize that you’re not able to do it because you get used it,” he says. “But not only is it a huge safety thing, but it’s just a comforting feeling that you can talk to somebody without having to yell at them, or without having to idle it down, talk to them, idle it back up and then do the work. Just that communication between you and those outside the machine is huge … and it’s necessary.”
With the N Series backhoe, which comes with a mechanical coupler as standard, a larger single bucket pin replaces the two pins of the previous design. Recognizing the investment Case customers have in backhoe buckets and their desire to use those same buckets on the new machines, the company offers retrofit kits. One retrofit kit per machine will enable N Series customers to use all M Series 3 attachments. The center line dimension of the pins has not been changed; only the diameter has.
Retained on the back end of the machine are the over-center boom and the overlapping cylinder design. “We knew we could enhance capacities just by working with pressures and new kinematics of the backhoe,” Bietz says, “Power Lift allows us to bring the capacity of the backhoe up to a point it will be more versatile without being more bulky.”
“Though the loader usually represents 25 percent of the total use of the machine, the ability for it to lift and carry materials is critical,” Marringa says. “The loader end has definitely changed with the N Series.”
By lengthening the loader by about 4 inches, the increased reach allows the front-end bucket to reach the center of full-sized truck bodies. “Plus, from a site preparation standpoint, we are able to dig at a lower depth with the loader than we were before – upwards of 14 percent more than we had with the previous M Series 3,” Marringa says.
From the operator’s seat, the front view, feel and performance are comparable to that of a compact wheel loader, something Case values, Bietz says. “We’ve added Full Flow Loader to all the Super models on the N Series, which means we’ve upped the loader speed by 30 percent,” he says “Case does this by managing the control of the torque.
“We pull back the flow as the machine gets into the pile, when you don’t need the flow, anyway,” Bietz says. “With this, you’re not driving all of the horsepower out of your drive train.”
Hess says he’s become a fan of the Comfort Steer feature, a holdover from M Series 3 which reduces the normal four to five lock-to-lock turns of the steering wheel down to a half-turn. “If you’re in a short-cycle loader operation,” Bietz explains, “you’re not wearing yourself out on the steering wheel.”
Holding over from the M Series 3 is the 4.5-liter Case 445TA/E3 diesel engine, but what is new on the N Series is the Powershift S-Type transmission option available on each of the four models. This is in addition to the previously-available hydraulic Powershift H-Type and traditional synchromesh Powershuttle transmissions, of which the new Powershift S-Type transmission is essentially a combination. It functions similar to the H-Type in manual mode, but with clutching and shifting synchronizers similar to the Powershuttle. There is no auto mode.
For smoothing out the ride during load-and-carry applications, Case has retained its Ride Control feature.
A bright future
In addition to the jobsite safety features of the quieter Power Lift, Case unveiled a likewise safety-enhancing lighting package when it used the Equipment World visit to Tomahawk as an opportunity to hold its first-ever night demonstration. The deep darkness of the Wisconsin Northwoods proved an ideal setting to show the power of new adjustable side/rear lights on the cab.
“Customers aren’t just working daytime hours,” Bietz says. “In fact, with the tougher economy, they are working any hours they can get. That’s what drove us in this direction.”
As Cudd worked the backhoe, fellow Tomahawk product promotion specialist Jeff Jablonski stood on the ground to Cudd’s left, just beyond where the operator was placing the excavated material. With the former lights, Jablonski was a mere shadow, barely seen both by the observers from inside the new Tomahawk product reviewing center and, most importantly, the backhoe operator excavating at night. When Cudd turned on the two additional 55-watt lights, “it was awesome,” he said. “The safety factor was enhanced 500 percent, if not more.”
As an operator often working in dim light, Hess was likewise enthusiastic over the lighting package. “We noticed the safety right away,” he says. “It adds a whole new perspective to working at night.”
“Regardless of what other ambient light is available,” Marringa says, “the lighting system is able to create enough lumen power to light up the entire backhoe operating envelope area and therefore makes it a much safer machine to operate.” Adds chief engineer Bietz: “It’s not only that the operator can see, but the machine itself is much more easily seen, too. This thing glows with the full set of lights on.”
With its 18 quickly found grease zerks up front and 27 likewise zerk-equipped pins in the rear, the N Series backhoe retains its ground-line serviceability, says Russ Wadzinski, Tomahawk Customer Center manager. “You can easily see where all the grease zerks are. If you make it simple enough for operators to do it, it’s going to get done,” he says.
The relocation of a grease zerk on the outer Extendahoe is just one of the N Series features that make Hess grin. This was a Burlington Six suggestion, along with other such conveniences as the relocation and reduction in size of the cab’s back window locking plunger and the replacement of the blocky M Series interior door handle.
“The first time we saw this backhoe,” Hess recalls, “the windows we were still taped on, nothing was painted and we were not allowed to dig with it.” It became clear soon after that any input from him and the other independent operators was being taken seriously. “There were engineers standing around us, listening to us and writing stuff down. It was an eye-opening experience. Then you get back home and the phone’s already ringing.
“Well, I think a lot of us expected, ‘Yeah, we’d like to see all this change, but it’s not going to happen for years. We’ll see it down the road.’ All of a sudden, two months later we come back and everything we mentioned has changed. So then we just started throwing all kinds of ideas out there,” Hess says. “Like with the window. You notice it right away, but you don’t notice the door handle. Then, once the window is fixed, then you notice the door handle. You just keep speed-balling everything. It’s been a process.”
Bietz credits the involvement of the Burlington Six for much of the engineering success of the N Series program. “They understood what the company was asking them to take on,” he says. “When you are going to make major changes, you want to make sure we’re going in the right direction, so we have always used customers in our development process. With this project, we stepped that up significantly by involving a select group as early as possible.
“Even though the market’s down, we know it’s going to be hungry for something new,” Bietz says, “and with the mature loader backhoe, something new is hard to come by. By listening to the customers both from the interviews and in the surveys that we did, and then making the direction that we made and involving the customers, we’ve confirmed we are creating a new future for the backhoe.” EW
• 79 net horsepower
• 14’9” – standard backhoe dig depth
• 18’2” – Extendahoe dig depth
• 1.25 cu. yd. – maximum loader bucket capacity
Case’s solution to putting excavator-style strength into a backhoe is an N Series option called Power Lift, available on:
• the 14-foot-class, 91-horsepower 580 Super N model, which replaces the 580 Super M Series 3;
• the 14-foot-class, 95-horsepower 580 Super N Wide Track (WT) model, which replaces the 580 Super M Plus; and,
• the 15-foot-class, 108-horsepower 590 Super N model, which replaces both the 590 Super M and 590 Super M Plus.
(As is Case tradition, a basic entry-level model, the 79-horsepower 580N, is also part of the new series offering, in this instance retaining the open center gear pump hydraulic system formerly on the 580M, 580 Super M and 590 Super M models. All Super N machines have a closed variable piston pump system with a minimum flushing valve for some flow at standby, a feature formerly offered only on Super M Plus models.)
580 Super N
• 91 net horsepower
• 14’9” – standard backhoe dig depth
• 18’2” – Extendahoe dig depth
• 1.25 cu. yd. – maximum loader bucket capacity
580 Super N WT
• 95 net horsepower
• 14’6” – standard backhoe dig depth
• 18’0” – Extendahoedig depth
• 1.04 cu. yd. – maximum loader bucket capacity
590 Super N
• 108 net horsepower
• 15’5” – standard backhoe dig depth
• 19’5” – Extendahoe dig depth
• 1.5 cu. yd. – maximum loader bucket capacity
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