Comfort while operating equipment used to be more of an afterthought. That all seems to be changing.
Based on a recent survey from a top manufacturer, comfort is the number one factor customers look at today when considering which configuration of a compact track loader or skid steer to purchase. And it doesn’t take much contemplation to see why. Manufacturers across the board continue to up the ante with modern comfort features, meaning operators have become accustomed to a certain level of luxury, especially in the last few years. For the construction business owner struggling with employee recruitment and retention, having equipment that is enjoyable to operate could make all the difference in maintaining a strong, reliable crew.
And that let’s not forget productivity. Operators who are comfortable experience less fatigue, allowing them to not only spend more hours in the cab in a day, but to be more alert while they work, increasing both productivity and safety.
Options for comfort features on modern compact track loaders and skid steers are plentiful. Understanding the options available can help contractors choose the best configurations to maximizing their investment in both comfort and productivity.
Inside the cab is where comfort features are most obvious. Most newer models of compact track loaders and skid steers have suspended seats, adding at least a minimal buffer between the operator and the machine’s frame. Many manufacturers now offer air ride seats for even better protection for the operator, whether standard or as an option. Some brands take it a step further by adding full adjustability. These innovative sets allow adjusting of recline, slide, weight and even the four-way arm rest, allowing for a comfortable fit for any body type.
But cab comfort doesn’t stop with the seat. The integration of a single-sided lap bar enhances comfort further as opposed to the more cumbersome and restricting overhead lap bar design. A single-sided bar frees up space around the operator’s waist and makes entry and exit easier.
Roominess in the cab is primary feature for accommodating multiple operator body types and for comfort during long hours in the cab. While the maximum possible cab space will by necessity be limited by the size class of the machine itself, some manufacturers use strategic engineering to squeeze in every inch of operator space they can. The resulting cabs make even the smallest sit-in compact track loaders and skid steers far more comfortable than designs where cab roominess was less of a priority.
Other modern features may not affect the cab comfort or ergonomics but certainly impact the overall experience. These added features can include Bluetooth radios, speaker quality and placement, USB charging ports and cell phone trays and chargers.
Visibility and Ergonomics
Ease of operation and visibility play significant roles in operator comfort. Intuitive controls, minimal ergonomic inefficiencies and high visibility can make the operator more productive and less fatigued at the end of the day.
Visibility is one such attribute of a compact track loader or skid steer that can improve operator comfort and safety. More visibility means operators don’t have to shift their bodies around as much to get a better view, whether it’s of the attachment, proximity to obstructions or other individuals on the jobsite.
Clear visible area is one of the biggest factors of visibility. Some modern compact track loaders and skid steers have floor-to-ceiling visibility, including all-clear sides and frameless doors. These machines rely on advanced engineering, such as high-strength polycarbonate glass and strategic configurations to pull off almost 360-degree visibility while retaining the same level of operator protection as previous designs.
Ergonomics should always be part of the discussion when considering ease of use. Factors like intuitive switch placement, adjustable joystick controls and control panels may seem like small touches, but make all the difference when repeating the same actions hundreds of times a day. When trying out equipment, pay attention to the accessibility of these features.
To work comfortably and effectively for long periods of time, operators must be able to endure the ride. For both skid steers and compact track loaders, ride quality starts from the ground up.
When looking at compact track loaders, contractors can think of undercarriages in two main categories: rigid and suspended. Rigid-mounted undercarriages, also known as solid mounted, typically provide little to no suspension, transferring the effect of bumps through the entire machine and to the operator.
For the reasons mentioned, suspended undercarriages are becoming more and more popular. But not all suspended undercarriages are the same. One of the most advanced options a contractor could find is known as dual-level suspension, found on some mid- and large-frame modern compact track loaders. This style of undercarriage features not only the independent torsions between the undercarriage and the chassis, but also torsions allowing bogie wheels to flex with the track. This configuration keeps more track on the ground, improving operator comfort, traction and machine performance, and keeps more material in the bucket. Some designs maximize this advantage through the use of tracks with a polycord internal as opposed to steel for the best possible ground contact. The flexing track can morph around smaller obstacles like rocks, sticks or debris, minimizing rocking of the entire machine that can occur with rigid or single-level suspensions.
Skid steers are a little simpler when considering ride quality options since their designs are less complex and varied than their tracked counterparts. Two major factors affect ride quality: tire choice and wheelbase. Premium tires that provide an air tire feel with flat-free functionality offer the most comfortable ride. When considering wheelbase, longer means more stability and a more comfortable operator. A short wheelbase results in the machine’s tendency to buck and hop, tipping back and forth drastically on virtually any terrain with imperfections. A long wheelbase, by contrast, provides a flatter and more stable platform with less jarring for the operator.
Bringing It Home
With so many comfort features and options available on modern skid steers and compact track loaders, it can seem overwhelming for the contractor deciding which machine to bring home. But taking the time to evaluate which features make the most sense for a contractor’s business is undoubtedly worth the effort. Elevated productivity, improved employee recruitment and retention, and the simple pleasure of looking forward to starting work in the morning are all available to the contractor willing to navigate the options and invest in the right machine.