Wheel loaders are straightforward machines. V-pattern loading and load-and-carry operations are among the most mundane applications in construction.
So how much demand can there be for new technology?
Equipment manufacturers say it’s there, and they have brought suites of technology to their latest models in response. They also say demand for these features is growing as awareness of them increases.
The new tech includes fuel-saving designs and automating repetitive tasks and monitoring for increased efficiency. They also are designed to increase return on investment, safety and ease of operation.
In this report, OEMs share their latest technologies and wheel loader models, as well as offer some buying tips for those looking to expand or modernize their fleet.
Cat expands XE to larger loaders
Cat’s XE technology has been on the 966 and 972 loaders for about a decade. It is now also available on the 980 and 982.
This means there are both Performance and XE level models in size classes from 7 to 11 tons. (None of the four models is available in Cat’s GC trim level, which has basic features.)
“Customers can now select from the smart and productive Performance models as well as the Premium XE models with their highest lifecycle return across this full range of sizes,” says Scott Schmidtgall, Cat product application specialist.
XE models come with Cat’s CVT instead of the Performance models’ powershift transmission. All option packages are available on all four models regardless of Performance or XE designation.
Performance models are improvements over earlier models with up to 20% lower maintenance costs and up to 10% greater productivity. XE models offer up to 25% lower maintenance costs and up to 35% better fuel efficiency.
Features include standard Cat Payload with Assist and partially and fully automated loading with Autodig. Filter and oil change intervals have been extended from 500 to 1,000 hours, with oil sampling recommended every 250 hours.
Other standard features include Autodig with Auto Set Tires for improved performance when loading, user-settable application profiles, integrated high-def rearview cameras, operator ID/security with passcode or Bluetooth (Cat key fob) login and Product Link, which provides PL161 attachment tracking and remote troubleshooting and flash.
A single part number adds a suite of features to the standard Payload with Assist including list management, multitasking, improved accuracy and tip-off assist. Other options include dedicated rearview camera with its own monitor and either standard or multi-view configurations. Rear object detection is also available.
Doosan: Information is power
Switches on previous Doosan models had been in various locations. On the new -7-Series models, they have been moved to the operator’s righthand side.
Doosan added an “I” (Information) button. Pressing it illuminates all the ISO icons. The operator can select one and have its function displayed on the in-cab monitor.
“Not all operators are familiar with all ISO icons,” says Bill Zak, product manager, wheel loaders, Doosan. “This is especially true as the number of icons increases and the differentiation between them becomes subtler. The ‘I’ button solves this problem.”
Doosan’s optional Transparent Bucket feature uses one high-mount and one low-mount camera and stitches together the views from both to give a view in front of the bucket. “The bucket is transparent, not invisible,” notes Zak. “An outline of the bucket remains visible.”
The all-new cab has 14% more glass and better glass placement for improved visibility. An optional Around-View camera provides a 270-degree rear view.
Other features of the -7 Series include available third-function auxiliary hydraulics that operate independently of the loader circuit and optional Doosan Integrated Scale on-board weighing. Some models went from a four-speed to a five-speed transmission with lockup torque converter.
The five-speed provides travel speeds of up to 25 mph, which is especially useful in snow removal where loaders are often driven from job to job. In Doosan’s testing, the lockup torque converter reduced travel time by up to 36% when going uphill with a full bucket. Within the range of the DL200-7 to the DL580-7 are 10 platforms offering configurations such as standard or high lift.
Hitachi ZW-6 goes for fuel efficiency
The ZW-6 line of loaders has a wide range of features, many of which are designed to conserve fuel.
“These loaders provide increased fuel efficiency versus the previous models during V-shaped loading and load-and-carry operations,” says Dustin Hoogeveen, regional business manager, Hitachi Construction Machinery Americas Inc.
Aftertreatment relies on selective catalytic reduction, which uses diesel exhaust fluid to control emissions. Hitachi chose SCR for its fuel savings compared to diesel particulate filters, which inject diesel fuel into the DPF during regeneration.
ZW-6 models are designed to operate conservatively in normal use, where peak power (and peak fuel consumption) are not required. A quick power switch allows the operator to access peak power when needed. An auto power-up feature delivers a performance boost automatically when the loader slows during uphill travel. This improves cycle times while optimizing fuel consumption, the company says. Auto-idle is also standard.
ZW180-6, ZW220-6 and ZW250-6 models feature five-speed transmissions. A transmission lockup feature is available on the ZW250-6 and larger models.
John Deere customizes your loader
Luke Gribble, Deere solutions marketing manager, says the company’s production loaders received major upgrades about three years ago. This includes the 744L, 824L, 844L and 844L AH.
Improvements included larger cabs and replacing pilot valves with EH controls with multifunction programmable buttons. 744, 824, 844 and 904 P-Tier models were added in 2022. They include L-Series upgrades and add optional Advanced Vision System and Advanced Obstacle Detection for improved visibility and safety.
Deere trim packages include comfort, visibility and operating features such as halogen or LED lighting, cloth or premium seating and a tire pressure monitoring system. Performance packages include locking differentials front and rear or front only that are engaged automatically or by the operator. Deere also offers machine configurations for such applications as waste, pipe laying and forestry.
Customers can choose from G-, P- and X-Tiers in select models. The G-Tier is the most economical choice with fewer features, although G models receive the full support of Deere dealers and the Deere factory.
P-Tier models are the standard with higher levels of features. The X-Tier has differentiated drive system, such as the 644 X-Tier loader with its diesel-electric drive. Performance tiering was introduced by Deere at ConExpo 2020 with new tier models continuing to be rolled out.
Deere’s largest loader, the 944K hybrid, has hybrid-electric drive with 536 net horsepower. It offers some 50% lower rebuild costs compared to conventional diesel models.
“Rebuilds in this size class occur around 20,000 hours,” says Gribble. “With the 944K, a typical rebuild involves swapping wheel-end motors front to rear and maybe an engine refresh. With a traditional model, a rebuild includes an engine swap plus changing other major items such as front and rear axles and the transmission.”
Komatsu’s WA475-10 brings host of improvements
Sometimes new models have a handful of features – not the Komatsu WA475-10. It brings everything that makes a modern wheel loader modern.
“It was a ground-up design with input from customers,” says Bruce Boebel, director of products and services, wheeled products.
The WA475-10 replaces the WA470. The cab is larger. Two rear pillars have been removed to improve visibility. Advanced joystick steering, improved suspension seating and an improved rearview camera are present.
Payload weighing is standard. “A load meter is an example of why features must be designed into the machine, not applied as a retrofit, for maximum performance,” says Matt Moen, product manager for wheel loaders. Auto-dig optimizes loading, and a return-to-level feature applies following dump or tilt.
The Komatsu Hydraulic Mechanical Transmission provides infinite speed control and minimizes brake wear while offering instant torque and shockless shifting.
A low-profile tire option provides additional stability, while an optional additional counterweight provides greater capacity. The mainframe of the WA475-10 is sturdy and easily handles the heavier yard loader counterweight with no modifications, says Boebel. The yard loader arrangement makes the WA475-10 ideal for such diverse applications as loading trucks, stockpiling mulch and feeding batch plants.
Liebherr next-gen mid-sized loaders
Liebherr’s 8th Generation loaders consists of three models: L 526, L 538 and L 546. They feature newly designed lift arms and Z-bar linkages coupled with improved working hydraulics to deliver greater breakout, holding and lowering forces.
Engine power is also increased. The L 526 has some 20% more engine power and more than 20% higher breakout forces than its predecessor.
“One example of the technology brought into 8th Generation models is Active Personnel Detection with Brake Assist,” says Andrew Luby, Liebherr earthmoving product manager. This rear camera setup applies the brakes when people or objects are detected behind the machine while it’s in reverse.
LiuGong to launch 8128H
LiuGong will introduce the new 8128H to the North American market in 2023.
The current 8128H’s engine will be replaced by a Tier 4 Final Cummins X15 rated at 541 net horsepower. The Dana T50 automated powershift transmission will offer manual, semi-auto and full auto modes and have a lockup torque converter. Buttons provide kickdown, forward and reverse functions.
“The drivetrain theme is power without waste,” says Mike Zhou, product manager for wheel loaders and material handlers for LiuGong North America
Auto-idle is a two-step sequence. After one second of no operator input, the engine speed drops 100 rpm. After three seconds, the engine goes to idle.
The new 8128H will have its lift arms closer together and a single tilt cylinder for improved visibility. Dedicated models for such applications as forestry and mining will include not only specific attachments but also application-specific lift arms.
Takeuchi seeks maximum ROI
Takeuchi has only one loader in the 90-horsepower-and-over size class, the 114-horsepower TW95. Product manager Lee Padgett offers tips for getting the most value out of wheel loaders of any size.
“Choosing the best attachment for your application is important,” says Padgett. “Sometimes operators try using the attachment they have on hand or that’s already attached to the machine rather than the one that’s designed for the particular task.” They think this saves time and money, but “in fact, the opposite can happen. The wrong attachment can cause additional stress on the machine.”
He says any inadvisable use of the machine will likely increase fuel consumption and tire wear.
Padgett also stresses the importance of daily checks and timely PM. He says while it’s tempting to skip dailies and get right to work, “the one time you take that chance and experience a breakdown that could have been prevented, you’ve lost any time you saved plus more.”
As for PM, “manufacturers create those maintenance schedules for a reason, so try to stick to them as closely as possible.”
Volvo offers flexibility
Chris Connolly of Volvo Construction Equipment North America says the company has a multi-channel production process that can efficiently produce many configurations of wheel loaders. There is a base spec for each model that has appeal to the rental market and would have been a dealer’s stock unit in pre-Covid days.
“Pretty much everything is build-to-order now due to supply chain issues,” he says, “although the base spec models are still quickest to delivery.”
Volvo offers nine application packages. Examples include log, waste, slag, block and agriculture. Within each package are five to 20 options. There are some 30 option codes for types and placement of lights, but those options are grouped into three packages to help simplify the decision process.
Other examples of flexibility within a package include air cleaner, tires, hydraulics, counterweight and guarding.
Are customers prepared for so many choices?
“That depends on their buying patterns,” Connolly says. “Those who regularly acquire new machines are likely well informed. Customers replacing 10-year-old machines may be surprised by the many ways to spec a loader to suit their needs.”
Connolly offers three tips to help customers get the right wheel loader:
First, understand your pain points such as ground conditions and airborne dust and debris.
Second, know your productivity requirements. Factors include travel speed, number of running hours per day and the types of materials being loaded.
Third, realize that bigger isn’t always better. The loader should be sized to work well with other equipment on site.