Backhoe Loaders Maintain Their Place On The Construction Site

By Mike Anderson, Senior Editor | September 28, 2010

For precise backhoe operation, Caterpillar now offers the AccuGrade machine control and guidance system as a factory-installed option on the 416E, 420E and 430E backhoe-loader models.

Utilization of both ends of a backhoe loader is key to the full “multi-tasking” development of the product type,” says JCB’s Jim Blower.

As the newest additions to the Case backhoe loader line, the 580 Super M Plus Series 3 and 590 Super M Plus Series 3 have variable-volume hydraulics, “which gives you fuel efficiency and a hydraulics-on-demand type of system,” says Jim Hughes, brand marketing manager, “and we’ve coupled that with our pilot controls.”



The backhoe loader has undoubtedly more challengers in the utility equipment game today, but rumors of its demise? Those are greatly exaggerated, say backhoe loader manufacturers. More to the point, those OEMs appear focused on product enhancements that will retain, even recapture, product market share.

“Manufacturers are starting to look at why a mini-excavator is so much better at digging a trench than a backhoe; why it’s so much more efficient; and down the road what’s going to happen with that in mind is that they will be using some of the characteristics of the mini-excavators in the backhoes . . . and taking from loaders and skid steers on the front end as well,” says Jim Blower, mid-range product marketing manager with JCB. “To try to claw back some of that business, as it were,” look for the multitasking characteristics of a machine that already carries two product names to be accentuated even more.

“Over the years, the backhoe’s always been the machine you’d bring onto a site and do every job with it,” says Blower, adding that over the past 10 to 15 years, skid steers, compact wheel loaders and excavators have dug their way into that market. “If a guy just typically wants to dig a pipeline trench, he’s going to put an excavator in there, because it does it a little bit more efficiently.

“Nowadays, in the last five years or so, the backhoe is still being seen as this multi-tasking tool that you put on the jobsite at the beginning and it’s the last thing to leave, because it can do so many odd jobs around the site. You’re not typically seeing it in the true production situation, but you are seeing it doing lots and lots of different odd jobs around the jobsite.”

At John Deere, Bob Tyler agrees, and sees an opportunity for full-sized combination loaders — those competing in the 14-foot dig-depth class and above.

“You’ll hear every so often folks talk about substitution of backhoes; in other words, mini-excavators and skid steers taking over from backhoes,” says Tyler, John Deere product marketing manager for backhoe loaders. “One of the reasons skid steers have become popular is because of the versatility. They have all these attachments that they can put on the front, and you can use the one machine for multiple tasks. And now we’re just doing exactly the same thing with the backhoe, so that you can use that one machine for multiple tasks. Of course, with the backhoe the advantage is you’ve not only got the front; you’ve got a back end that you can do the same thing with.”

In North America, the front end of the combination loader has been a bit of a mystery to equipment users, judging by its historical use — or lack of.

“We’ve recently done a study on exactly that,” says JCB’s Blower. “Everyone had the typical thought of 60/40, with 60 percent being the back and 40 percent being the front, but in actual fact it’s more like 85 percent in back-end use. In Europe, it’s more of a 60/40 split, but also thrown in there is that Europeans road these machines a lot more than typically people in America do. These things will easily spend three or four hours on the road getting to the next job in Europe. It’s just a lot cheaper to drive it there than it is to put a truck under it and get it to the next jobsite.”

In Tyler’s view, John Deere has tackled the front-end challenge with the introduction of the TMC Tool Carrier option on top of the Total Machine Control (TMC) option now available on the 14-foot-class 310SJ and 15-foot-class 410J backhoe loader models.

“For years with backhoes, you could put a hydraulic quick coupler on the front, so you could drop your bucket off and put the forks on. Well, that doesn’t make it a tool carrier; that makes it a backhoe with a coupler on the front of it,” he says. “The part that truly makes it a tool carrier is that it has parallel lift.”

Deere’s TMC Tool Carrier allows the addition of a couple of features established on four-wheel-drive loaders — return to carry and boom height kick-out — further utilizing the loader end of the backhoe loader product, says Tyler.

Particularly useful whenever a loading cycle is involved, Case Construction Equipment now offers Comfort Steer on all five of its backhoe loader models, including the all-new, wider 580 Super M Plus Series 3 and 590 Super M Plus Series 3 machines featuring variable-volume, closed-center hydraulics.

“Normally on a backhoe when you’re turning the steering wheel, it takes you about three to three-and-a-half times around in a full circle to get from full lock left to full lock right,” says Jim Hughes, brand marketing manager with Case Construction Equipment. “When you have the Comfort Steer engaged, it only takes one-and-a-half, so it cuts the work in half. Imagine you’re doing trench work: You’ve dug your trench, and you laid your pipe or done whatever you had to do in there, and now you have to go in and backfill the trench using the loader bucket. If you can cut the number of times you have to turn that steering wheel in half, what do you think that’s going to do for operators?

“When the operator doesn’t have to work as hard and can be more productive, what’s that doing? It’s putting money in his pocket. The longer it takes him to do the job, the less money he’s getting paid.”

Backhoes with brains?

The backhoe loader may be a run-around, do-it-all type of machine, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work smartly, too, according to Caterpillar.

The AccuGrade machine control and guidance system is now available direct from the factory for the Caterpillar 416E, 420E and 430E backhoe loader models. “The machine has everything on it, programmed, ready to run, when it shows up,” says Paul Grohsmeyer, Caterpillar backhoe loader sales and marketing. “All of the sensors on the machine are basically built into the cylinders, so that they are protected. They are not an add-on to the system. By having them inside the cylinders, they’re pretty well bomb-proof.”

Two AccuGrade options are available. The site reference system is an entry-level grade and depth check system allowing the operator to excavate to pre-determined coordinates. The laser reference system uses an off-board laser transmitter to set a grade reference over an entire work area.

“By doing it the way we have done it, it’s ingrained into the machine, so we know exactly what the machine is doing. You don’t have to worry about the operator having to go back and re-measure things,” says Grohsmeyer. “When the machine leaves the factory with the basic system on it, every Caterpillar backhoe bucket for that model line is already programmed in. So if the operator wants to change from a small-capacity bucket, to a soil-excavation bucket, to a high-capacity bucket, all he has to do is go to a screen and select the bucket. All the measurements are already taken for him; it’s already saved onboard the machine, and he doesn’t have to worry about doing any measuring himself.

“The aftermarket systems if you will, as good as they may be, still rely on the operator making those measurements and making the changes onboard the machine.”

Along with the operator comfort of having the joystick controls mounted in the armrests, Deere’s TMC option on the 310SJ and 410J models features three hydraulic speed modes — high, normal and precision. The high production mode is 20 percent faster than normal, whereas precision works at 60 percent of normal speed, which actually leads to “subtle” production gains, says Tyler. “That’s really useful for working around underground buried utilities, and you can imagine production can actually go up if you do that, because if you actually hit that underground utility because you were digging too fast, your production stops.” Similarly, he adds, when craning a load, a backhoe arm moving too fast leads to excessive load swing . . . and excessive waiting for the ground crew.

While the North American market continues to evaluate how it uses backhoe loaders, one manufacturer has moved away from a continental-unique designation to the adoption here of its worldwide nomenclature. Gone are the 200 Series of JCB models in exchange for the 3C, 3CX and four-wheel-steer 4CX product families of J.C. Bamford.

“It’s history,” says Blower. “Mr. JCB started off with the JCB 1, and then he went to the JCB 2, then up to a JCB 3. For the next step, he didn’t actually change the whole machine; he just did little changes, so it became a 3B, then it became a 3C, and then he invented extra dig, and hence the name 3CX.

“We decided that we needed to call the same machine the same thing all over the world.”

How various parts of the world view the same piece of equipment may, indeed, be coming together.

Cost of Ownership
Size List Price *Hourly Rate
* Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Adjusted operating unit prices used in the calculation are diesel fuel at $4.15 per gallon, mechanic’s wage at $45.39 per hour, and money costs at 5.125 percent.
Source: EquipmentWatch.com, phone 800/669-3282
14’ to < 15’ $75,044 $37.26
15’ to < 16’ $79,559 $41.75
16’ to < 17’ $81,241 $43.36

Backhoe-Loader Specifications
Model Standard Dig Depth Extended Stick Option Loader Breakout Force (lbf) Engine Model Net Engine Output (hp) Operating Weight (lb.)
Source: Spec-Check.com Xpanded Specs (as of September / 08)
Komatsu WB142-5 14’2” n/a 10,116 Komatsu 4D102LE-2 76 14,513
Case 580M Series 3 14’3” 18’3” 9,480 Case 445T/M3 79 13,359
John Deere 310J 14’3” 17’11” 9,350 Deere 4045HT054 84 13,880
New Holland B90B 14’3” 18’2” 15,212 FPT 445TA/M3 90 15,677
New Holland B95B 14’3” 18’2” 15,212 FPT 445TA/E3 91 16,008
New Holland B95B TC 14’3” 18’2” 14,109 FPT 445TA/E3 91 18,135
Caterpillar 416E 14’4” 17’11” 9,185 Cat 3054C DINA 74 14,960
Caterpillar 420E 14’4” 17’11” 10,242 Cat 3054C DIT 89 15,474
Caterpillar 420E IT 14’4” 17’11” 10,593 Cat 3054C DIT 89 16,219
JCB 3C 14FT 14’4” 18’0” 11,730 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 90.1 13,486
Case 580 Super M Series 3 14’5” 18’3” 9,480 Case 445TA/E3 91 14,285
Volvo BL60 14’5” 17’10” 9,866 Volvo D4D 83 15,653
Volvo BL70 14’5” 17’10” 12,445 Volvo D4D CBE2 90 18,910
John Deere 310SJ 14’6” 18’5” 11,160 Deere 4045HT054 93 14,510
John Deere 315SJ 14’6” 18’0” 10,300 Deere 4045HT054 92 16,865
Komatsu WB146-5 14’6” 18’2” 13,224 Komatsu S4D102LE-2 88 16,090
Komatsu WB146PS-5 14’6” 18’2” 13,224 Komatsu S4D102LE-2 88 16,090
JCB 3CX 14FT 14’7” 18’6” 12,638 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 90.1 15,053
JCB 4CX 14FT 14’7” 18’6” 12,638 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 97.6 16,986
Terex TX760B 14’8” 19’3” 10,485 Perkins 1104D-44T 87 14,975
Terex TX860B 14’8” 19’3” 12,291 Perkins 1104D-44T 94 15,964
Case 580 Super M Plus Series 3 14’10” 18’3” 9,480 Case 445TA/E3 91 14,905
John Deere 310SJ TMC 14’11” 18’5” 11,051 Deere 4045HT054 94 17,532
New Holland B115B 15’0” 18’4” 12,169 FPT 445TA/E3 108 18,289
New Holland B110B 15’3” 18’8” 14,109 FPT 445TA/E3 108 16,316
New Holland B95B LR 15’3” 18’8” 15,212 FPT 445TA/E3 91 16,028
Caterpillar 430E 15’5” 19’6” 10,401 Cat 3054C DIT 97 16,066
Caterpillar 430E IT 15’5” 19’6” 10,672 Cat 3054C DIT 97 16,811
Komatsu WB156-5 15’6” 19’7” 13,224 Komatsu S4D102LE-2 95 16,530
Komatsu WB156PS-5 15’6” 19’7” 13,223 Komatsu S4D102LE-2 95 16,530
John Deere 410J 15’10” 20’0” 10,210 Deere 4045HT054 98 15,080
Case 590 Super M Series 3 15’11” 19’11” 10,980 Case 445TA/E3 108 15,268
Case 590 Super M Plus Series 3 15’11” 19’11” 10,980 Case 445TA/E3 108 15,268
Terex TX870B 15’11” 20’4” 12,291 Perkins 1104D-44T 94 16,986
Terex TX970B 15’11” 20’4” 12,291 Perkins 1104D-44T 94 17,663
John Deere 410J TMC 16’1” 20’0” 10,300 Deere 4045HT054 98 19,022
JCB 3C 15FT 16’3” 20’1” 12,638 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 90.1 18,177
JCB 3CX 15FT 16’3” 20’1” 12,638 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 97.6 17,037
JCB 4CX 15FT 16’3” 20’1” 12,638 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 97.6 18,765
Caterpillar 450E 17’3” 21’4” 11,375 Cat C4.4 124 24,141
JCB 3CX 17FT 17’7” 21’6” 14,560 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 97.6 17,515
JCB 4CX 17FT 17’7” 21’6” 12,638 JCB Dieselmax 444 TC 97.6 18,968
John Deere 710J 17’10” 22’4” 15,540 Deere 6068T 123 23,000

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