Is it Time for a New Wheel Loader?
Better Roads Staff
Advanced electronics, drivetrain refinements make the case for a new machine
By Marcia Gruver Doyle
As you’ve waited for the economy to turn, your wheel loaders have aged, and now those machines are perhaps two generations behind what’s currently in dealer order books. Buying a low-hour used machine – if you can find one at a decent price – is always an option. But the improvements in the newest generation go beyond new paint. As one manufacturer says, “It’s an exciting time for wheel loaders.”
Here are some reasons it may be time to bite the bullet and step up to a new loader in the 4-to-<6 cubic yard reference bucket size:
Tier 4 Interim engine
You’ll pay a higher price for new loaders and the primary culprit is the engine. These engines generally require large diesel particulate filters, low-ash oil and ultra-low sulfur diesel (see sidebar). But they also come with advanced electronics that allow a host of refinements in air flow rate, fuel injection, combustion and aftertreatment functions. These, in turn, optimize performance, reduce emissions and fuel consumption and provide advanced diagnostic capability. (Note: some machines in this size category are still transitioning to Tier 4 Interim engines.)
“Today’s wheel loaders are burning 8 to 10 percent less fuel than seven years ago, which has been primarily achieved through electronic controls, drivetrains and hydraulics,” says Rob Marringa, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment.
Idling also has gained attention in the past five years. Cat’s Engine Idle Management System, for example, kicks in when an operator applies a parking brake, reducing the idle rpm even further. The new JCB 457 has both a low idle feature and an engine shutdown mode, which starts after a pre-determined idle period.
“With the powerful engine control modules, we were able to do a lot more integration with transmissions, axles, linkage, buckets, cabs, really the whole system,” says Cedric Gold, wheel loaders marketing consultant, Caterpillar. “Transmissions, for example, can be smaller with a torque-based logic, so the machine is always going to be in the right gear for an application.”
Loaders now have more capable telematics systems, and the Big Brother concerns of yesterday have evaporated, says John Chesterman, product marketing manager, four-wheel-drive loaders, John Deere. Using Deere’s Service Advisor Remote, for example, a dealer can remotely update a machine’s software.
The information is just so good on all sides – customer, manufacturer and dealer – that many manufacturers offer telematics as standard. “Generally, whatever the dash can read, Komtrax can convey,” says Armando Najera Jr, wheel loader product manager, Komatsu. For instance, the Komatsu WA 380-7 monitor now displays fuel consumption, information that wasn’t available in previous generations.
While contractors remain slow to integrate telematics into their office systems (see Why the disconnect? story on page 35), manufacturers continue to preach the benefits. Telematics, says Najera, allow you to monitor a host of inputs, including idle time, which in wheel loaders can reach 40 to 50 percent, depending on the application. “Think beyond fuel savings,” he advises. Monitoring and reducing idle time helps equipment last longer. “If you save 200 hours a year off your service meter reading, not only will it help you stretch the time between service intervals, it means that three to five years down the road you have a machine with lower hours and a higher resale value.”
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