Multi-use machines gain in popularity
Advances in engine and hydraulics technology, a tough economy and a focus on increasing utilization rates at equipment rental stores has given rise to a category of equipment perhaps best described as “tool carriers.”
While tool carriers such as skid-steers and loaders have been available for decades, the development of quick-attach systems for attachments and better hydraulics have allowed manufacturers to turn other types of machines into utility players that can handle a variety of applications with the right tools.
For rental companies, today’s versatility of skid-steers, loaders, excavators, mini excavators and a variety of compact equipment expands the potential rental market for these machines, meaning the possibility of greater utilization and a faster return on investment.
For customers, tool carriers offer the opportunity to rent one machine with a variety of attachments to handle several tasks at hand on a job site instead of needing to rent several machines to complete a project.
“The goal of any rental store is to offer machines that customers need in order to fill a gap in their equipment fleets. A loader/tool carrier is an extremely versatile machine that can readily fill those gaps because of its adaptability and its ability to perform multiple tasks in different applications,” says Katie Pullen, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment, Racine, Wis.
“In short, a loader/tool carrier gives rental stores a more versatile fleet, so they offer customers that missing piece of equipment that will help them successfully complete any number of jobs,” she says.
Marcus Auerbach, director of compact equipment, Wacker Neuson Corp., Menomonee Falls, Wis., says tool carriers can help rental stores create value for customers by providing the right tools for the job and helping improve the contractor’s bottom line.
“We work with our dealers to train their rental reps on equipment and attachments and to ask the right questions when they discuss a job with a contractor. That way, they come up with solutions that really help the customer with the job that they might not even know about. When renting out a 3.5-ton excavator to a contractor, adding a 3-ton dumper to move the material has the potential to speed up a job in a totally unexpected way and help the contractor to increase profits,” Auerbach says.
Many manufacturers agree that tool carriers with more powerful hydraulics and quick-attach systems are now able to complete tasks almost as well as a dedicated machine, unless the same task is to be repeated a lot. That’s when a dedicated machine is likely to be the better choice.
“A tool carrier is anything that can be used for a multitude of jobs,” says Dean Barley, vice president and general manager, Terex Construction Americas, Southaven, Miss. “Skid-steers and compact wheel loaders are very versatile and track loaders to a lesser extent. Pre-recession, backhoe loaders were seen as tool carriers, but a challenge for the rental industry is transporting a backhoe loader compared to other compact equipment.”
Barley says the trend towards the popularity of tool carriers relates to what is happening in the economy. “The question for the end user operators is, ‘Do we want two machines when we could do the job with one?’ Contractors are now looking for one machine on a trailer that does it all with attachments,” he says.
As a result, Barley says both rental stores and contractors are choosing products to maximize productivity and get greater utilization, which leads to tool carriers.
“This type of equipment has advanced to such a state that it isn’t what it used to be. The reliability of attachments and advancements of the hydraulic circuits and engines can make tool carriers more efficient,” he says.
Some of this change is due to Tier 4 solutions that have resulted in electronically controlled engines. Now, engine horsepower can be reduced and the machine can do more with hydraulic horsepower to handle a wider range of attachments and applications.
“Before, using an attachment was like trying to use a pair of pliers versus a socket wrench. Now, you can electronically dial the engine and hydraulic horsepower to be an absolute fit to the application and give the exact flow and exact speed as needed at the right time. Technology has moved on, creating more efficiency with the use of attachments,” Barley says.
Another reason the tool carrier category has gained in popularity is that most quick-attach systems are compatible, meaning attachments made by one company will likely work with another manufacturer’s machine.
Randy Rupp, director of product definition, Ditch Witch, Perry, Okla., says his company considers four of its products as compact tool carriers, including the Zahn 300 that uses the same quick-attach system as skid-steers, plus one gas-powered and two diesel-powered mini skid-steers, all equipped with an industry standard quick-attach system.
“These machines are very popular with landscape and irrigation contractors as well as masonry contractors,” Rupp says.
“There is a niche within the customer base that requires a multi-use tool. Let’s say someone needs a loader and a trencher for a project. They don’t want to have to make multiple trips. They would rather have one trailer with one machine and multiple attachments,” Rupp says.
For example, with a mini skid-steer and the right attachments, Rupp says a landscape contractor could go to a site and use an auger attachment to dig a hole. Then he could use a grapple to pick up a tree and place it in the hole. Then switch to a bucket attachment to fill the hole with dirt and finally use a trenching attachment to run a sprinkler system.
“Interest is growing in these types of machines as customers realize what they can do,” Rupp says.
Case’s Pullen says another area of focus for most manufacturers, including Case, is in making the machines as versatile as possible, which in turn, increases the popularity of machines in the eyes of rental customers.
“The 570N XT, for example, can be built with a hydraulic quick-coupler that lets the operator exchange buckets and attachments without leaving the cab. Rental customers appreciate the ability to change buckets with ease or switch from a bucket to forks or other attachments, and back again, in seconds,” Pullen says.
Randy Hall, national accounts sales manager, Kobelco Construction Machinery USA, Houston, says that traditionally wheel loaders, loader backhoes, skip loaders, and skid-steer loaders have been considered “tool carriers” because of their ability to run a variety of attachments with a minimal amount of hook-up time involved to switch between attachments.
“If you use the broader definition of a tool carrier as a versatile machine that can be equipped with multiple tools to do different jobs then I think you have to include excavators in the tool carrier category today,” Hall says.
“Just over 50 percent of all the machines we sell into the rental channel are sold with more than just a bucket. As everyone in business has been pressed to work smarter and be more efficient the natural progression in the rental industry has been to seek out ways to improve utilization through stocking a larger variety of attachments,” Hall says.
“Two of the most important metrics in the equipment rental industry are return on investment and utilization, and both of these are positively impacted by using a single machine or category class for a variety of applications,” he says.
The development of pin grabber couplers and improvements in excavator auxiliary hydraulic packages is why Hall sees excavators being used more often as tool carriers, but adds that there are several attachments that do not work well with an excavator or mini excavator.
“The No. 1 tool carrier is a wheel loader. You can put forks on it to unload a truck. A wheel loader will do that with a set of forks just as good as a dedicated forklift. You also can put a sweeper on a wheel loader to clean up after the job. It doesn’t work as well as a dedicated sweeper, but it can do what’s needed on a construction site,” Hall says.
Mike Fitzgerald, product specialist, Bobcat, Fargo, N.D., says his company offers more than 600 individual attachments in 75 different categories, many of which can be used across multiple machines.
“A tool carrier today could be anything from a compact track loader to telehandlers to a skid-steer loader,” Fitzgerald says.
“When a machine can be used across multiple applications this translates into a time savings for the operator and improved profitability for the owner. Utilizing multiple attachments on one machine greatly increases efficiency, rather than using two dedicated machines. Operators spend more time in the seat rather than switching between machines. If a business owner can come in and rent one machine and multiple attachments, versus multiple dedicated machines, his costs and job efficiency increases exponentially,” Fitzgerald says.
“Usually, depending on the job, a tool carrier is more than adept to complete a task with the right attachment. This also goes back to the fact that a tool carrier with multiple attachments can get multiple jobs completed efficiently, instead of using multiple machines each designed for one job,” he says.
Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager, John Deere Construction & Forestry, Moline, Ill., says machines made today are more versatile than they used to be. “Over time, business has evolved. We’ve added more hydraulic performance and power to new machines that weren’t there before. For example, a mulching head on a skid-steer was not available five years ago,” he said.
“You can buy the same auger for digging holes and put that same attachment on a skid-steer or a compact excavator. Manufacturers are doing things to make that change from one product form to the other. Compact wheel loaders also have skid-steer style couplers,” Zupancic says.
The advantages of versatility, he says, are more evident with compact equipment that can do the job of a larger machine. “Machines like compact excavators and loaders are not as hard to operate and they are easier to transport than a big, dedicated piece of machinery. Skid-steers and excavators also can fit where big equipment can’t. Compact equipment usually doesn’t require a driver with a commercial drivers license to deliver it, it has a lower price point and a potentially quicker return on investment,” Zupancic says.
“If you have one machine with 10 things versus a machine dedicated to one thing, the versatile machine will have more chances to get out on rent,” he says.
Zupancic says it has become fairly common now for rental stores to buy a skid-steer and add a subset of common attachments if the store doesn’t already have them in inventory, including buckets, pallet forks, blades, a sifter with a clamshell opening, augers, hydraulic hammers and trenchers.
Wacker Neuson’s Auerbach says the ability to work with a number of different attachments is now a standard part of the product development process for wheel loaders and excavators.
“It creates value for the contractor and allows him to get more out of his fleet, increase the mechanization level on his jobs and also to turn around projects faster. We see a lot of interest in our wheeled excavators with a package of digging buckets, breakers, thumbs and finishing buckets. This combination allows an excavator operator to go way beyond digging. He can break, remove, sort material, remove and place items as well as clean up the job when he’s done,” Auerbach says.
“Not every machine can handle every attachment equally well — even if the couplers fit,” Auerbach says. “It is very important to have the right carrier to run the attachment efficiently. For example, a big snow blower needs a high-flow wheel loader or skid-steer and a breaker will be a lot more versatile on an excavator than on a loader.”
The following are some common types of attachments that can be used by tool carriers for different applications and projects:
- Asphalt cutter
- Brush cutter/rotary cutter/processing head
- General purpose, clamshell, grapple and screening buckets
- Compaction wheel
- Concrete pulverizer/nibblers
- Frost tooth/ripper tooth
- Pile driver
- Stump grinder
Katie Pullen, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment, Racine, Wis., says nearly 50 percent of Case’s loader/tool carriers are sold into the rental market and many of the companies that purchase them are located in the southwestern United States.
“The reason we sell a lot of loader/tool carriers in the rental market gets back to the need for rental companies to have highly versatile machines in their fleets. The reason for the popularity of the machines in the southwest has a lot to do with the applications in which they’re used,” she says.
“For instance, contractors in the southwest like to use them as a multipurpose machine that can handle everything from site prep and grading to site cleanup, especially given the wide range of attachments available to handle the diverse work. In addition, the region isn’t heavily forested with deeply rooted trees where it likely makes more sense to use a motor grader or crawler dozer to tackle that sort of heavier site preparation work versus a tool carrier,” Pullen says.
“Many oil companies in the southwest also like renting the loader/tool carrier for any number of tasks in the field, including backfilling after pipe installations or general site cleanup. The machine’s roadability is especially attractive since users can quickly
go from one project to the next in the field,” she says.
“Customer-specific needs continue to drive the growth of our loader/tool carrier rentals in many other parts of the country as well. We’re seeing more rentals of these machines by utility companies in Wisconsin, for example, while a growing number of end users in Canada are renting them to maintain hiking trails and bike paths,” Pullen says.