Most manufacturers are playing it close to the vest in not talking about changes they’ll be making to their 200- to 300-horsepower loaders for Tier 4-Final, which hit this category as the calendar flipped to 2014.
Some are no doubt waiting for Conexpo next month, but you can find clues in a number of the most recent enhancements to loader offerings, including SCR engines, transmission and other power train tweaks designed to save fuel, and an emphasis on telematics to help fleets with costs and productivity.
Cost of Ownership
Size class (hp) Average Price Hourly Rate* 200-224 $210,995 $70.81 225-249 $235,669 $77.89 250-274 $298,876 $99.13 275-349 $349,076 $112.19
*The average hourly rate is the monthly ownership cost divided by 176, plus the hourly operating cost.
Unit prices used in this calculation: Diesel fuel $3.98/gallon; Mechanic wage $51.24/hour; Money cost 1.75 percent.
But first things first: There is good news in that the market is in better shape than it was a year ago. “The market for 2013, if you look at it year-to-year, is up from the previous year,” says Jim Blower, product sales manager for JCB. “And 2012 was a big returning year, after the crash, so it’s on an upward trend for sure.”
In addition to buying activity, there is also a healthy dose of rentals, something that’s relatively new to the 200- to 300-horsepower size class. This could reflect uncertainty among contractors as to whether any economic recovery they’re seeing truly has legs.
“We’re seeing a lot of these units go into rental of some kind, whether it’s dealer-owned rental fleets or independent rental businesses, so the rental sector is quite a big chunk, at about 25 percent,” Blower says. “Beyond the rental market, wheel loaders are widely used in street construction, mining and forestry. Oil and gas is also a big market for these machines with the increase in fracking and horizontal drilling in the oil and gas fields.
“Oil and gas is definitely coming on a lot stronger than it was a few years ago, and that’s based on the back of the fracking that’s going on, and now moving down to Texas. So the pipe yards are all up and running with wheel loaders supplying that demand,” Blower says.
Feature-wise, buyers seem most interested in anything that stretches the capabilities of their wheel loaders.
“We’re seeing more interest in extended-reach machines,” says Brad Stemper, solutions marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment. “Everyone enjoys more reach. It’s easier to top off a truck, get to the center of the truck.”
In addition to a Z-bar loader configuration, Case offers an XR extended-reach model for its latest entry in this size class, the 296-horsepower 1021F. The extended-reach option adds 21 inches of hinge-pin height.
“Customer interest also includes going to larger buckets, within the capabilities of the machine, to reduce the total number of passes it takes to fill a truck or hopper,” Stemper says. “Scales are in high demand, especially among aggregates operations.”
Creature comforts are important, as well, according to Stemper. “Some of these operators are running shifts ranging from 10 to 12 hours a day, and owners are making it a point to keep that operator comfortable. As a manufacturer, we continue to do anything we can to improve ergonomics and ease-of-operation,” he says.
“Telematics continues to achieve greater acceptance, especially with larger fleets, to understand the utilization of each machine and to keep a better track of maintenance and fleet-management activities,” Stemper says.
Industry-wide, however, telematics still doesn’t have an acceptance or use level anywhere close to matching the lengths manufacturers have gone to provide the feature. But OEMs keep plugging away with their message, looking to connect with an audience of owners who are more cost conscious than ever.
JCB’s Blower says telematics are a must for those serious about measuring fuel use in wheel loaders as part of the operating cost and production equation.
Stemper agrees. “Fuel economy continues to be an important deciding factor,” he says. “That fluctuates with fuel prices, naturally, but we do see potential owners paying even more attention to machine fuel economy than they have in the past.”
Blower points to business conditions as an impetus. “In the boom years, ’06 and ’07, it was just buy a machine and run with it,” Blower says. “‘I need the biggest machine I can get, and I’ll keep it running.’ But with the downturn, it was so fast and so hard, people are now watching pennies a lot closer than they used to. When you get into these bigger machines, people are looking more at the true productivity of the machine, what it can do for the money they’re spending.”
There are two styles of fuel measurement, according to Blower.
“There’s the old school way of how often you fill the tank and how long does it last, or you can use telematics so you can just log in from the Internet and monitor the machine,” Blower says. “You know what time it turned on, what time it turned off, and what it was doing. You can look at all sorts of different parameters within the machine, and one of them is how much fuel was used—very quickly it can tell you how much fuel, per hour, was burned.”
Some fleets take matters all the way down to the individual operator level, Blower says, knowing which operator ran the machine on a given day, how hard it was run, and how much fuel the operator was burning. This allows managers to make adjustments in tactics or training.
“Telematics can be almost a little bit of data overload, but you can really manipulate the data and look at it any which way you want to,” Blower says. “It’s a powerful tool if used properly.”
SCR engines have already arrived in the category in loaders from Caterpillar and Case, with more likely to come as several OEMs have announced that SCR will be at least part of their strategies for emissions compliance in the 200- to 300-horsepower band. Case is the only wheel loader manufacturer so far that relies on SCR as the primary Tier 4 solution throughout its product line.
“This technology provides distinct benefits to wheel loader applications, and customers are beginning to understand this,” Case’s Stemper says.
“SCR is well suited for wheel loaders because it’s an after-treatment system that allows the engine to do what it is designed to do: generate power at varied engine loads. The technology, which has been accepted for several years for on-highway diesel applications, also doesn’t require the use of regeneration to burn off accumulated particulates for faster throttle response time.
“The end result is full power and breakout force when needed. Additionally, SCR engines are optimized to create an efficient combustion process. The technology can actually improve performance because the engines breathe more freely, which in turn, results in significant fuel savings,” Stemper says.
Case chose to give CE a small heads-up as to wheel loader developments at next month’s Conexpo.
“We can’t go into specific detail yet, but Case will be introducing two new Tier 4-Final models in this size class and they will be featured at Conexpo,” Stemper says. “The Tier 4-Final F Series models introduced in Q1 will feature some new productivity features, as well as additional improvements related to visibility, comfort and serviceability. These models will continue to rely on the SCR-only technology that we built into our Tier 4-Interim F Series machines.”
Case offers three SCR wheel loaders in the category at present: the 211-horsepower 821F, 225-horsepower 921F, and the aforementioned 1021F.
Caterpillar has already introduced its Tier 4-Final 966M, 966M XE, 972M and 972M XE wheel loaders featuring SCR technology.
“We will have a 982M and 972M XE on the floor in the main display at Conexpo,” says Bill Campbell, senior market professional for Caterpillar.
“The 966M XE and 972M XE have Caterpillar’s advanced power train technology. They use a Continuously Variable Transmission that splits engine output torque between a hydrostatic variator and a mechanical path through planetary gear sets,” Campbell says. “The torque converter is eliminated, along with the associated inefficiency, thereby saving fuel and improving productivity.”
Cat says fuel efficiency, as measured in tons per gallon, is improved up to 25 percent compared with torque converter models.
JCB, which has one model in the size class, the 457, with two configurations (conventional ZX, and HT, a parallel-lift tool-carrier design), would not commit to whether or not its Tier 4-F version would appear at Conexpo. “That will be going into Tier 4-Final mid-year if not unveiled at Conexpo,” Blower says.
Terex says it does not plan to release the Tier 4-F version of its 203-horsepower TL310 at Conexpo.
In the meantime, before any big splashes are made at Conexpo, Blower reminds managers to stick to basics. “The key is understanding what the machine is going to do the majority of the time,” he says. “A lot of people will either overbuy or underbuy depending on which way they’re swinging. If they’re looking at costs only, they’ll underbuy the machine and work it to the end limit, which then increases maintenance costs. Or, on the other side, they’ll overbuy thinking that they need too big a machine. They’re then paying too much up front and also paying the operating costs of a bigger machine with a bigger engine, and for more fuel. Match the right machine into the job.”