Motor-Grader Operators Remain in Control

Sept. 28, 2010


Offering Not 'One Size Fits All'

With the new six-model G-Series lineup rolled out in March, John Deere offers grader users for the first time a choice of industry-standard console-mounted controls or industry-standard armrest-mounted fingertip controls. If fingertip controls are specified, the operator still has a choice between using lever steering or the ever-present steering wheel. Other new G-Series features are cross slope control, automatic differential lock and a rearview camera. A choice of ground-engaging tools includes a front- or mid-mount scarifier, or a rear ripper/scarifier.


Product Line M-Braces Joysticks

In a development considered revolutionary for the motor-grader market, Caterpillar introduced the joystick-controlled M-Series family in 2006. A pair of joysticks replaces as many as 15 levers and a steering wheel, reducing hand and wrist movement of operators by 78 percent, says Caterpillar. The 10-model H-Series grader family, with conventional controls and a steering wheel, is no longer offered in North America. Six M-Series models range from the 125-horsepower 120M to the 500-horsepower 24M mining behemoth.


Tight Turning Leads to Productivity

The seven-model G900 Series motor grader line boasts a new front axle that, according to Volvo, helps provide the tightest turning radius in class for improved maneuverability in close quarters. Also up front, Volvo's large bolt-on wheel spindles and large, high-capacity tapered roller bearings offer long service life. With autoshifting, no clutch is required to shift gears on the 8- and 11-speed graders, topped off by the 48,720-pound G990 with a maximum 198 horsepower. Newly available is a two-person cab option.


Dual-Mode Transmission Drives Family

A new grader product announcement is anticipated from Komatsu later this year. Currently, the longtime participant in the grader market offers three conventional steering-wheel-equipped models: the GD555-3 at 140 to 160 horsepower; and the GD655-3 and heavier GD675-3 each at 180 to 200 horsepower. Dual-mode transmission allows Komatsu graders to be operated in either direct-drive or torque-converter format. All are available with the Komtrax fleet monitoring system, ready for either Topcon or Trimble GPS systems.


800 Series Boasts Visibility Features

With a new product announcement “forthcoming,” Case Construction Equipment will leverage its existing three-model 800 Series motor grader line. With base output ranging 140 to 205 horsepower, the Case 845 DHP, 865 VHP and 885 graders feature an articulation point in front of the cab, which provides increased visibility to the moldboard and tires. Visibility to the rear is enhanced with the slope design of the flip-up rear hood, offering ground-level access for all major components and service points.


Compact Product Line Growing Up

Building upon a five-model offering of compact motor graders, Champion has recently added its two largest models yet — the C110 C Series and C116 C Series models at 23,500 and 24,000 pounds, respectively. The “production-class” graders fill a gap between true compact and full-size machines, says Champion's Bryan Abernathy. Powered by Cummins 6.7-liter Tier-3 engines, the new models offer the power and torque of full-size graders, he says, but retain the nimbleness of compact machines.

VT Leeboy

Three-Model Family Holds Its Place

Now under the VT LeeBoy corporate structure, the LeeBoy product line continues to offer two compact hydrostatically driven motor graders, the 635B and 685B with 8- and 10-foot moldboards, respectively, as well as the larger, powershift 785 with a 12-foot moldboard. Weighing in at just over 25,000 pounds, the LeeBoy 785 has 20 degrees of frame articulation. Blade side shift, up to 30 inches either way for the 785, is also available in lesser amounts on the two compact hydrostatic models.


Smaller Unit Offers Power Choice

The latest version of the NorAm compact motor grader, the 65E offers a 114-horsepower Caterpillar engine option in addition to the standard and likewise-Tier-3-compliant, 110-horsepower Cummins engine. The newly introduced digital electronic display and diagnostics system monitor operating systems for the powershift 65E, which weighs in at about 16,800 pounds equipped with a standard 10-foot moldboard. A blade side-shift feature provides 20 inches of movement right and 17 inches left. A 12-foot “rollaway” moldboard is optional.


'Simplistic Approach' Behind Grader

Described by Huber as “six machines in one,” the M-850-D compact grader is available with optional attachments that transform the 9,380-pound base unit into a bulldozer, front-end loader, scarifier, side dozer and berm leveler. Featuring a 9-foot moldboard with power side-shift of 19-plus inches right and left, the diesel-powered Maintainer incorporates a “simplistic approach,” says Huber. Easy to operate, the M-850-D “does not have any components that require costly, specialized equipment to diagnose and repair.”


Solo Model Has Loader Option

As part of the Basic Equipment family of road-building equipment, Shannon Chastain Enterprises offers the compact Model 601 hydrostatic articulating grader. Driven by a 49.5-horsepower Kubota diesel engine, the Basic 601 weighs 6,400 pounds, measures 16 feet 9 inches in length and 5 feet 8 inches in width, and comes equipped with a moldboard 8 feet wide and 16 inches in height. An optional loader system, with a universal quick-attach toolbar, provides lift height of 9 feet 6 inches.


When Buying File last focused on motor graders, the impact of Caterpillar's M-Series models and their joystick controls was up for debate. The steering-wheel-removed M-Series had just been unveiled, but had yet to hit market, and what was then the latest and most revolutionary of the sector's product developments had the grader world, at the minimum, watching and wondering.

Three years later, how best for an operator to work a grader remains at the core of product offerings from all industry players. And the answer depends on the player being asked.

Earlier this year, John Deere introduced the new G Series, offering its grader users for the first time a choice of industry-standard console-mounted controls or armrest-mounted fingertip controls. If fingertip controls are specified, the operator still has a choice between using lever steering or the ever-present steering wheel.

With the electronically-controlled Grade-Pro versions of the G-Series models, an electro-hydraulic control scheme minimizes the center console, allowing operators to adjust themselves into the best position to monitor the moldboard while remaining comfortable. This, says John Deere, reflects feedback from customer advocate groups who wanted clearer sightlines to the blade without the need to constantly move around in the cab. Arraying the electronic joysticks like conventional hydraulic levers means today's operators can quickly adapt to the new controls, too, says John Deere.

Looking ahead, the market for full-sized graders is anticipating the next wave of innovation from Volvo, and new grader-family announcements are anticipated in mere months from Komatsu. According to Komatsu America's Steve Moore, grader customers can look for improved weight and power from Komatsu, as well as all-wheel-drive among features, but there's one big thing that won't change.

With the joystick-operated electro-hydraulic control system, the interior of the cab on Caterpillar’s M-Series graders is opened up for enhanced lines of sight to the drawbar, circle and moldboard area, as well as to snow wings on machines working in winter road maintenance.

“There's a merit to having a steering wheel in a motor grader, and Komatsu's of that philosophy,” says Moore, Komatsu's product manager, motor graders and trucks. “Our studies indicate that the joystick is not the way to go on a motor grader.

“From what I'm seeing and from all of our testing that we're doing, we believe that the conventional type is the way to go. Whether you want to do it mechanical over hydraulic as we have, or you want to go electric over hydraulic because of forces, that's debatable.”

Caterpillar's 2006 unveiling of the M-Series graders culminated more than 10 years of development, always under the intent of enhancing operator experience, not negatively impacting blade hands who are universally considered the senior statesmen among operators, says Phil Newberry, market development engineer, Caterpillar's motor grader commercial team.

“We were told that the older operators would never accept the machine,” says Newberry, “and they're actually quicker to accept it than anyone, and that's due to the ergonomic improvements that we made. Many of them will tell you that, after they have been in the machine working all day, they're just not worn out; they have energy at the end of their day. The intuitiveness of the controls made it a pretty easy transition, and customer acceptance in the field is phenomenal. We took great pains in making sure our control efforts provide feedback to the operator.

“There's that initial resistance just when they look in the door, but once you put them in the machine and explain it, they take right off. They come back and go, 'Heyyyy . . . that's nice,'” says Newberry. “They first look in there, and it's, 'Oh, two joysticks, no steering wheel, I'm not sure about that,' but once they enter the machine, that simply just goes away.”

Making the grade

The grader market in North America is, in essence, two markets: the full-size, mostly variable-horsepower main line primarily covered by such construction-equipment cornerstone brands as Caterpillar, Volvo, John Deere, Komatsu and Case, all offering various model sizes; and the lighter, usually compact offerings from such niche brands as LeeBoy, Champion and even single-model suppliers like NorAm, Huber and Basic.

For full-size graders 130 horsepower and up, list-price increases as gathered and reported by may be reflective of the acceleration of new technologies for this equipment type in recent years. When compared to list prices from the 2006 Buying File on motor graders, there are double-digit percentage increases in each of the three size ranges that collectively cover from 130 to 199 horsepower. According to the most recent figures, machines in the 170- to 199-horsepower range average $290,674 — an increase of $33,429 or 13 percent from 2006.

Volvo’s G900 Series motor-grader line features a new front axle that, according to the company, helps provide the tightest-in-class turning radius for maneuverability in close quarters. In addition to 8-speed powershift models, 11-speed automatic versions are available.

What has also transpired since Buying File last chronicled graders is the stepping back of the North American market by Terex and New Holland, although New Holland's sister Case products remain prominent with the 800 Series. Case machines feature an articulation point in front of the cab, which provides increased visibility to the moldboard and tires. Visibility to the rear is enhanced with the slope design of the flip-up rear hood.

Volvo's current G900 Series, first rolled out in 2006, features the industry's first 11-speed transmission, providing more precise control in all speed ranges. The autoshifting feature eliminates the need for a clutch to change gears.

Komatsu has differentiated its established product offering with a dual-model transmission that allows the grader to work in direct drive, or in torque-converter mode for better control in slow travel, says Moore. “The advantage is when an operator is going into a very-slow-speed grading application where he might be under a lot of power,” he says. “Say he's into a cul-de-sac where he has to go very slow; he's making a tight turn and he's got a pretty good load on his blade. Or, if he's in snowplowing, where he's got a pretty good load on the blade and he's got to slow it right down. All he has to do is lift his foot. He can control the speed with the throttle pedal, just by lifting the foot up and down rather than trying to set the right gear all the time and use the inching pedal. It's less effort and it's more control.”

Their respective company's technological solutions may differ, but Caterpillar's Newberry and Komatsu's Moore agree the feel that grader operators have with the ground below them remains paramount.

While a company grader product line update is anticipated, Komatsu continues to leverage its traditional steering-wheel-equipped offering with a unique dual-mode transmission that allows Komatsu graders to be operated in either direct-drive or torque-converter format.

“Our cab improvements greatly enhance visibility down to the working tool of the machine,” says Newberry. “But even though visibility has been greatly improved, the operator feel is still such a huge issue.

“Every phase of our development, we would bring additional operators in and run them through a series of applications and download their feedback to make sure that operator input was the highest priority on our schedule. But nobody could operate the machine well with the seat-mounted controls because you lost the feedback of what the machine's attitude was. We went back to the rigid mount, which is the same as your levers would be, and that all went away.”

The grader's blade hand, says Moore, is “the finishing carpenter” of equipment operators. “He's a lot more particular about his controls than I think a wheel-loader operator or anybody else is.”

With a pair of joysticks replacing as many as 15 levers and the steering wheel, Caterpillar grader operators enjoy a reduction of 78 percent in hand and wrist movement, says Newberry, adding that direct feedback he receives is consistent with the independent third-party studies that determined the number cited.

“The motor grader is considered a pretty sacred machine. The complexity of the grader makes it definitely the hugest challenge to go to joystick controls,” says Newberry, referring to the grader's multiple operational functions, on top of steering, directional changes, gear changes, electronic speed control and differential lock. “We've definitely demonstrated that the market will adapt and appreciate the improvements in ergonomics and, by removing all of the obstruction in front of you, it does give you a great opportunity to improve their visibility.

“I think you'll see more machines transition.” We'll see.

The Cost of Ownership
Size ClassList Price*Hourly Rate
* Hourly rate is the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating costs. Unit prices used in this calculation are diesel fuel at $2.20 per gallon, mechanic's wage at $46.29 per hour, and money costs at 5.625 percent.
Source:, phone 800/669-3282
Up to 74 horsepower$65,000$34.11
75 - 114 horsepower$96,397$42.83
115 - 129 horsepower$178,980$49.89
130 - 144 horsepower$204,918$53.74
145 - 169 horsepower$271,386$66.94
170 - 199 horsepower$290,674$74.45
200 - 249 horsepower$325,052$83.20
250 horsepower and up$474,978$122.80
Motor Grader Specifications*
Operating ModelMoldboard Weight (lb.)Blade Side LengthNet Engine Shift (R / L)Transmission Output (hp)Max. Travel (Gears F / R)Min. Turn Speeds (mph)Radius
* Models listed by base horsepower, smallest to largest; ** Heavier AWD all-wheel-drive version also available; ***Automatic 11-speed version also available.
Source: Xpanded Specs (as of June / 09)
Laser-Grader 106-6WD3,2006'n/a22.5Hydrostatic (1 / 1)10 / 109'0”
LeeBoy 635B7,8808'12” / 12”48Hydrostatic (2 / 2)8 / 8n/a
Basic 6016,4008'12” / 12”49.5Hydrostatic (2 / n/a)8 / n/an/a
Mauldin M406XT7,6208'36” / 36”65Hydrostatic (1 / 1)10 / 108'3”
Huber M-850-D9,3809'19.25” / 19.25”80Hydrostatic (2 / 2)16 / 1619'6”
H-Mach FG110C Cross Blade13,00010'19” / 19”100Hydrostatic (2 / 2)16 / 168'6”
LeeBoy 685B15,20010'18” / 18”100Hydrostatic (2 / 2)n/an/a
Champion C60 C12,80010'n/a110Hydrostatic (2 / 2)20 / 2017'6”
Champion C66 C13,40010'n/a110Hydrostatic (2 / 2)20 / 2017'6”
Champion C70 C13,05010'n/a110Hydrostatic (2 / 2)20 / 2021'0”
Champion C80 C15,00010'n/a110Hydrostatic (2 / 2)20 / 2019'0”
Champion C86 C15,50010'n/a110Hydrostatic (2 / 2)20 / 2019'0”
NorAm 65E Turbo16,80010'n/a110Powershift (6 / 2)24 / 918'9”
Champion C110 C23,00012'n/a120Powershift (8 / 4)27 / 20n/a
Champion C116 C24,00012'n/a120Powershift (8 / 4)27 / 20n/a
LeeBoy 78525,30012'30” / 30”127Powershift (6 / 3)21 / n/an/a
Mauldin M413XT13,22010'36” / 36”133Hydrostatic (2 / 2)17 / 17n/a
Mauldin MG61818,59010'36” / 36”133Hydrostatic (2 / 2)17 / 1718'0”
Mauldin MG62222,84012'26.75” / 31.25”133Hydrostatic (2 / 2)22 / 2220'6”
Caterpillar 120M**31,06912'26” / 20.1”138 - 153Powershift (8 / 6)27.7 / 23.524'6”
Case 845 DHP29,77712'27” / 21”140 - 160Powershift (8 / 4)26.6 / 17.723'9”
New Holland G14029,91812'28” / 21”140 - 160Powershift (8 / 4)26.6 / 17.723'9”
Komatsu GD555-3 Tier 230,95012'32.3” / 32.3”140 - 160Powershift (8 / 4)26.7 / 24.322'4”
John Deere 670G33,82012'26.9” / 26.9”155 - 195Powershift (8 / 8)28.1 / 28.123'8”
Volvo G930***34,83012'26.5” / 26.5”155 - 204Powershift (8 / 4)28.4 / 2023'10”
Caterpillar 12M32,01612'26” / 20.1”158 - 173Powershift (8 / 6)27.7 / 23.524'6”
John Deere 770G34,73012'26.9” / 26.9”165 - 230Powershift (8 / 8)28.1 / 28.123'8”
John Deere 672G36,06012'26.9” / 26.9”170 - 195Powershift (8 / 8)28.1 / 28.123'8”
Sany PQ160 III A34,39212'n/a173Automatic/Hydrostatic (4 / 4)19.6 / 19.625'11”
Volvo G940***36,15012'26.5” / 26.5”175 - 225Powershift (8 / 4)28.4 / 2023'10”
Komatsu GD655-3 Tier 333,95112'32.3” / 32.3”180 - 200Powershift (8 / 4)26.2 / 23.822'8”
Komatsu GD675-3 Tier 334,85512'32.3” / 32.3”180 - 200Powershift (8 / 4)26.2 / 23.822'8”
Case 865 VHP32,26514'27” / 21”180 - 205Powershift (8 / 4)26.6 / 17.723'9”
New Holland G17032,07714'28” / 21”180 - 205Powershift (8 / 4)26.6 / 17.723'11”
John Deere 870G36,12014'26.9” / 26.9”180 - 255Powershift (8 / 8)27.7 / 27.723'8”
Caterpillar 140M**33,35612'26” / 20.1”183 - 198Powershift (8 / 6)29 / 22.925'6”
Intensus GR18033,95113'n/a193Powershift (6 / 3)23.6 / 8.123'11.4”
Sany PQ190 III A35,38312'n/a193Automatic/Hydrostatic (4 / 4)19.6 / 19.625'11”
John Deere 772G36,92012'26.9” / 26.9”194 - 245Powershift (8 / 8)28.1 / 28.123'8”
Volvo G946***38,14012'26.5” / 26.5”195 - 242Powershift (8 / 4)28.4 / 2023'10”
Volvo G960***38,69012'26.5” / 26.5”195 - 242Powershift (8 / 4)28.4 / 2023'10”
Case 88537,95014'27” / 21”205Powershift (8 / 4)26.7 / 1923'11”
New Holland G20037,73814'28” / 21”205Powershift (8 / 4)26.7 / 1923'11”
Volvo G970***41,66012'26.5” / 26.5”210 - 250Powershift (8 / 4)27.4 / 19.325'3”
Volvo G976***43,65012'26.5” / 26.5”210 - 265Powershift (8 / 4)27.4 / 19.325'1”
Caterpillar 160M**35,06014'37.4” / 32.2”213 - 228Powershift (8 / 6)29.5 / 23.324'11”
John Deere 872G38,24014'26.9” / 26.9”214 - 265Powershift (8 / 8)27.7 / 27.723'8”
Intensus GR21536,37614'n/a220Powershift (6 / 3)23.6 / 8.123'11.4”
Volvo G990***48,72014'26.5” / 26.5”225 - 265Powershift (8 / 4)28.1 / 19.826'9”
Caterpillar 14M47,13314'31.1” / 29.1”259 - 274Powershift (8 / 6)31 / 24.525'11”
Caterpillar 16M57,45216'43.1” / 25.6”297 - 312Powershift (8 / 6)33.5 / 26.529'3”
Caterpillar 24M137,69224'49” / 34.3”533Automatic/Powershift (6 / 3)26.7 / 25.640'9”