Compact Focus: Compact rubber track loaders

Compact rubber track loaders obviously share common design and performance points with skid steers. Savvy contractors know both machines have their places on jobsites. Each can be used in landscaping, site prep, homebuilding, utility and general excavation applications.

“Compact rubber track loaders excel in wet conditions,” explains Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager, skid steers and compact track loaders, John Deere. “They can virtually be used 365 days a year because of the flotation the tracks provide. In many cases, taking advantage of that flotation allows you to start your construction season earlier than you can using a skid-steer loader.”

The improved traction and stability rubber tracks offer can open up new roles for compact track loaders – or even new businesses for your company, Zupancic adds. “Those tracks provide greater stability on hills and slopes than rubber tires,” he explains, “so you can take on jobs with difficult terrain you might once have passed on.”

Rubber tracks also exert less ground pressure than tires. This means their tractive effort digs into the soil less when propelling the machine, resulting in less lawn damage in landscaping applications – and more money in your pocket since there’s no displaced turf to clean up and replace.

And, Lance Mathern, product specialist, Bobcat, notes compact rubber track loaders are ideal machines for hurricane cleanup work. “These machines can go in and work even when the ground is completely saturated, when other equipment simply couldn’t work in those wet and muddy ground conditions.”

Still, contractors should be careful when using these machines in disaster relief work. Their ability to maneuver quickly and precisely and turn around in their own machine length is a huge benefit, but their use should be limited to off-pavement areas relatively free of abrasive debris.

“Track loaders perform best on surfaces like dirt, sand or other loose conditions where they have better traction and pushing performance than other machines,” Mathern warns. “Caution must be taken when these machines are operated on asphalt or concrete. These surfaces can cause premature wear on the rubber tracks when the machines turn. Also, compact track loaders used on demolition sites may experience additional maintenance costs because of highly abrasive debris. Solid tires on a skid-steer loader are best suited for demolition applications.”

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Look beyond lift capacity when spec’ing your track loader
Properly spec’ing a compact rubber track loader depends on accurately gauging several important criteria. Chief among these is the machine’s rated operating capacity, although Todd Lynnes, product manager, Caterpillar, says other machine features may be more important. “A machine’s rated operating capacity only indicates stability when lifting loads,” he explains. “Depending on your application, performance factors such as breakout and lift force, drawbar performance and hydraulic horsepower may come into play. If you need to operate a trencher or asphalt cold planer, for example, a machine with high-flow auxiliary hydraulics will be more productive than a standard-flow machine.”

“Make certain your machine has a high power-to-weight ratio,” suggests Brad Lemke, director of new product development, ASV. “You want a good balance of horsepower and weight so the machine will have plenty of power to handle the most difficult applications without sacrificing overall stability.”

Lemke says to consider the machine’s undercarriage suspension as well. “Some rubber track loaders have a suspension system, while others maintain a rigid undercarriage system.

Suspension helps keep track on the ground, providing more traction, lower ground pressure and longer track life. Suspension also plays a significant role in keeping material in the bucket or on a pallet, so productivity can be improved. A suspension undercarriage also keeps the operator productive and reduces stress on machine components, allowing a longer service life.”

Machine width is another vitally important consideration, especially for contractors working on confined jobsites. Narrower machines are also typically easier to transport. A machine’s ground clearance is less important on flat terrain, but can become a factor when the machine is operated on soft or uneven terrain, or on surfaces with projecting obstacles. “In soft conditions where machines have a tendency to sink, better ground clearance can mean the difference between keeping the machine moving or dragging bottom and getting stuck,” Lemke notes.

Operating Tips
Get the most out of your compact track loader by following these operating guidelines:

  • Operate using gentle turns only. Avoid counter rotating whenever possible to decrease wear on the rubber tracks.
  • Inspect track tension once a week.
  • Remember continued operation in rock, sharp gravel and other highly abrasive materials will accelerate track wear.
  • Clean out excess material from the undercarriage daily. This is especially important in cold climates to keep material from freezing in the undercarriage.
  • Cross sharp edges such as curbs at a slight angle.

Source: John Deere