Compact Track Loaders Now Full Equipment Team Players

Sept. 28, 2010

They have some common parts; they're often rolled out together, but the compact track loader is not simply an altered skid-steer.

And as more equipment manufacturers offer dedicated compact-track-loader lines, the differentiation of the product becomes even more profound.

"It is totally a different machine," says Dave Evans, product specialist for Caterpillar skid-steer and multi-terrain loaders. "You would operate it differently and you would maintain it differently."

Evans was speaking at the late spring introduction of the new C-Series of multi-terrain loaders or MTLs — the Caterpillar designation for compact track loaders.

"To get the most productivity out of the machine, you're not even going to drive it the same. It may share the same tools and look the same, but it's a night-and-day difference," says Evans. "On a skid-steer, you would counter-rotate and return to your jobsite. On a MTL, to maintain the maximum production of that machine as well as the life expectancy and maintenance, it doesn't take any longer to instead do a three-point turn. You are cutting down the ingestion of material into the undercarriage, and cutting down the material to clean out at the end of the day.

"It's all about owning-and-operating expense for the customer, really."

With the new C-Series, comprised of the 277C, 287C and 297C models ranging from 82 to 90 horsepower, Caterpillar is introducing its largest model yet, and incorporates some traits of the legendary tractor technology that most historically defines the company. Further separating these machines from their likewise young skid-steer cousins, all three of these track-loader models offer a choice of a single- or dual-level undercarriage.

"Metal-faced seal technology is taken down from the rest of the Cat family of track-type tractors. We incorporated that technology into our MTLs and put it standard equipment through all the track frames," says Evans.

"Before C-Series, we had a torsion axle that went from the left to the right side of the machine, all the way through the frame of the machine. Now with C-Series, it's four independent torsion axles, one for each corner of the machine. The track frame is independent from the frame of the machine. Then, on the dual level, we have four sets of wheels that are independent from the track frame itself, so you have two levels of suspension."

Caterpillar's growth in this product area has not come in isolation. The equipment manufacturing giant is a minority owner of ASV, the Minnesota-based small equipment manufacturer that drove compact-track-loader technology from the niche to the mainstream. ASV builds the Caterpillar undercarriage, and yet itself remains the most prolific of compact-track-loader innovators, offering a product line of 11 models based on the Posi-Track technology.

ASV approaches the track loader as anything but a doctored skid-steer — the company, in fact, doesn't make a skid-steer — and designs its machines from the ground up to run on a suspended rubber track undercarriage, not common rigid track technology. Last year, ASV expanded its full product line with the introduction of the 80.5-horsepower SR-80, which features an exclusive, independent, multi-level suspension undercarriage. The 71-horsepower SR-70 has many of the same features.

According to company officials, the ASV approach can be divided into three "equally important" categories:

  1. Contact Points. Bogie wheels transfer the machine weight through the track into the ground. More contact points mean more area of the track is transferring vehicle weight, thereby providing more traction. Having more contact points also reduces the amount of weight per wheel. By having less weight per wheel, there is lower actual ground pressure, higher flotation and less ground damage.
  2. Internal Drive. Instead of the sprocket poking through the track to drive, the inside of an ASV track is comprised of rugged molded rubber drive lugs which mesh with theinternal drive sprocket. Internal drive provides a faster maximum speed, track integrity and less friction.
  3. Suspension. Increased traction, longer track life and longer machine life due to less vibration are benefits to any piece of construction equipment. Most importantly, suspension makes for a much more comfortable and productive operator.

Yet, as just one of 12 companies responding to Construction Equipment's survey of equipment manufacturers offering compact track loaders, this market is now clearly important to the full- line brands, including Komatsu, Case, New Holland, John Deere and JCB. Still another group serves the market for smaller-sized machines commonly called mini-track loaders.

At Caterpillar, the arrival of the 10,000-pound-plus 297C is pushing the compact track loader into applications traditionally covered by other machine types.

"It's made for low ground pressure. This style of machine lets you float across terrain, but you've still got production digging capabilities and low-end torque, just like a great big dozer today," says Kent Pellegrini, an industry manager responsible for multi-terrain and skid-steer loaders.

Bring on the jobs, says his Caterpillar colleague Evans.

"When you look at hydro-mechanical tools, for instance mulchers for land-clearing applications, operators want to be able to have high-flow capability as well as the horsepower behind it to handle that tool and to take down the large material with any production," he says. "You have all that capability in the larger feller-bunch-style forestry products, but now to have it inan MTL, it's just that much greater to get into tight areas in low-ground-pressure applications."

It will be intriguing to watch just how much larger future models go.

"It all depends on the application," says Pellegrini. "If they're pushing a lot of dirt and can't afford a D3, it may be an option for them to come down here to start.

"Going bigger than this, you're getting into dozers. Then again, I shouldn't say that, because the customer's always going to dictate where we're going to go. If there's a demand for it, sure, I think anybody will go there."

C-Series, Caterpillar
Compact track loaders, such as the Gehl CTL80, bring compact attachment technology to jobsites best accessed by crawlers.
With this spring's introduction of the C-Series, Caterpillar has introduced its largest compact track loader yet, the 297C.
The Bobcat T180 compact track loader is well suited for a variety of attachments.
Buying File Gallery:
Compact-Track-Loader Specifications
ModelOperating Load @35% Tipping Load (lb.)Gross Output (hp)Standard Flow (gpm)Optional Flow (gpm)Ground Pressure (psi)Operating Wt. (lb)
Source: Xpanded Specs, Information Verified As of May/07
ASV Posi-Track RC-3056031.510n/a2.53,305
ASV Posi-Track RC-30 Turf56031.510n/a2.53,305
Polaris ASL 30056031.510n/a2.52,935
ASV Posi-Track RC-50 with RC-60 Arms1,3305016.3n/a3.56,200
ASV Posi-Track RC-601,3306017.4n/a3.56,200
ASV Posi-Track RC-60 Turf1,3306017.4n/a3.56,200
Caterpillar 247B1,3676215.6n/a3.86,668
Bobcat T140 K-Series1,4004916.9n/a5.26,660
Caterpillar 257B1,6156215.6264.37,559
Gehl CTL601,6206618n/a4.867,497
Mustang MTL161,6206618n/a4.867,497
Takeuchi TL1301,6206718n/a4.867,646
Case 420CT1,7505919.532.55.27,350
Bobcat T180 K-Series1,800n/a16.325.54.87,367
JCB 180 Tracked Robot1,8086015.930.45.068,000
ASV Posi-Track SR-701,9257130n/a3.77,890
Bobcat T190 K-Series1,900n/a16.325.54.97,612
JCB 190 Tracked Robot1,985822032n/a9,702
Caterpillar 267B2,0307322n/a3.19,371
Caterpillar 277B2,0658222n/a3.19,411
Gehl CTL702,0838119.8n/a4.19,590
Mustang MTL202,0838119.8n/a4.19,590
Takeuchi TL1402,0838119.8n/a4.19,769
Case 440CT2,1008921.932.65.08,915
ASV Posi-Track SR-802,17080.530n/a3.158,972
New Holland C1752,2006017.225.55.37,535
John Deere CT3222,2006619295.18,305
Thomas T3202,20087.421405.810,000
JCB 1110 Tracked Robot2,250922032n/a10,198
ASV Posi-Track RC-852,3808638n/a3.39,710
Gehl CTL802,4709723.4n/a4.310,692
Mustang MTL252,4709723.4n/a4.310,692
Takeuchi TL1502,4709723.4n/a4.310.902
Komatsu CK30-12,485n/a2134n/a9,546
Case 445CT2,50080.52133.74.39,815
New Holland C1852,5007819.334.74.09,155
Bobcat T250 K-Series2,500n/a21.2374.09,347
Caterpillar 287B2,5208222333.810,275
ASV Posi-Track RC-1002,66099.538n/a3.810,150
Case 450CT2,7008822.137.24.810,915
Komatsu CK35-12,755n/a2134n/a10,053
ASV Posi-Track RCV2,8008620383.610,500
New Holland C1902,9008021.937.34.39.811
Bobcat T300 K-Series3,000n/a21.2374.29,702
John Deere CT3323,2008224344.310,825
Average CTL Costs
Operating Load @35% Tip Load (lb.)List Price*Hourly Rate
* Hourly rate is the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Unit rates used for 2007 are diesel at $2.69 per gallon, mechanic's wage at $42.50 per hour, and money costs at 5.25 percent.
Source:; phone 800/669-3282
Up to 700$16,689$12.96
2,201 and up$56,351$33.60