Movers and shakers: Selecting a wheel loader or skid steer is easy with a few basic considerations in mind

Movers and shakers: Selecting a wheel loader or skid steer is easy with a few basic considerations in mind – Concrete recycling equipment information

DeAnne Toto

Assessing a recycler’s need for an appropriately sized and accessorized wheel loader or skid steer doesn’t have to be difficult. When evaluating a business’s material handling needs, a few guidelines can help ensure selection of the right machine.

Production requirements and the size of the trucks or hoppers to be loaded are the primary considerations.


Dave Wolf, wheel loader marketing manager for Case Construction, Racine, Wis., says loader selection begins with an assessment of the machine’s expected operating parameters.

Wolf offers a number of questions to consider when shopping for a skid steer or wheel loader: “What type of material is going to be handled? What is the density of that material? How high does it have to be lifted? How many tons have to be moved per hour?”

George Mac Intyre, skid steer marketing manager for Case, says, “The only addition I would have for the skid steer product in particular concerns lift capacity and dump height required on the job site. You would definitely want to have a machine that could handle the materials that you’re going to be lifting.”

“They really need to know the general weight of material,” says Kelly Moore, skid loader product manager for Gehl Co., West Bend, Wis. “Generally, that translates into how much material they can get into that bucket and what the weight is going to be. Some real common sense judgment needs to be thought of up front when they are looking at a loader and the given bucket they are going to put on it.” Moore adds, “That helps a company establish its real needs for the sizing of the bucket, because the bucket size will naturally correspond with the skid loader size: the bigger the bucket, the bigger the skid loader.”

Xenya Mucha, John Deere, Moline, Ill., says machine selection should be based on “a combination of the cubic yards that need to be moved per hour, the weight of the material and the area in which the machines have to maneuver.” She asks, “Are there certain height restrictions? Are there width restrictions?”

Mucha says that time is also a consideration. “Does the material come in all at once? Does it need to be moved immediately? Or does the material come in a steady stream, and you have an equal amount of time to keep moving the same amount of material?”

Wolf adds that consideration should be given as to whether the loader will be multi-tasking, or handling repetitive load and carry applications.

Wheel loaders provide a smoother ride because of their articulated frames. They may be more suitable for carrying materials over a distance. “You don’t lose as much out of the bucket,” says Dan Rafferty of Takeuchi, Buford, Ga. Skid steers can have a “herky-jerky” motion in a power turn, he adds. “If you have that articulation in the middle, you can still have a fairly tight turning radius, but with a smoother approach,” Rafferty says of wheel loaders. Takeuchi makes rubber track loaders.

Keith Rohrbacker, construction equipment product manager for Kubota Tractor Corp., Torrance, Calif., says space confines are a major consideration for recyclers, and that customers often select compact loaders based on space limitations.


These various considerations also may help a company decide whether it wants to purchase a larger machine or two smaller ones.

“Most of the guys I talk to Want the biggest machine with the biggest bucket capacity for productivity,” Rohrbacker says. “With two machines, I don’t want to say that’s double trouble, but it is a double investment of resources.”

Generally, owning and operating costs for a single, larger loader are lower than the combined cost of two smaller loaders. In addition, larger loaders have the ability to lift heavier loads should the job require it.

Wolf also suggests reviewing owning and operating costs and production volumes when determining the number of machines required. “Let the machine justify the obsolescence of two smaller machines,” he says.

Mac Intyre cautions, “Going to a larger loader might not be appropriate, especially in recycling applications. The height and width of the machine is very important because of space restrictions.”

Moore says, “When you go to a larger loader, naturally, you’ve got more power and integrity in the sizing of the loader.”

“In many situations one larger loader will be more cost effective than two smaller loaders, even if the production rates are the same,” Doyle Long, senior work tool consultant for Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill., says. “Eliminating one operator is a significant cost saving in itself.”

Mucha says that additionally the availability and cost of skilled operators, maintenance and depreciation costs are also a consideration. “However,” she says, “if you need a backup piece of equipment, you’re better off with two loaders as opposed to relying on just one.”


Determining whether a recycler can best benefit from a skid steer or a wheel loader is related to space limitations as well as to application.

Wolf says he considers wheel loaders best suited to load and carry applications operating in more open spaces. “A skid steer would be for more of a tight job site, quick turns and shorter carries,” he says.

Mac Intyre stresses productivity. “Can the contractor achieve greater productivity by going to a larger loader? That’s the key.”

Moore also cites productivity as the reason for moving from a skid steer to a wheel loader. “If a customer has got quite a bit of open area, and he’s finding that he needs to get more productivity and handle more tons per hour, then there will be a point where he’ll possibly look at a larger loader,” he says. “Naturally, he’s going to look at considerably more expense.”

George Chaney, compact equipment product marketing manager for JCB North America, Pooler, Ga., stresses that a larger machine may not guarantee higher production. “Sometimes, because of the overall layout of the job…a skid steer is much more efficient overall.” Chaney says that the incoming and outgoing material flow and the parameters of the jobsite may make a larger machine less efficient because of maneuverability issues. While the skid steer may be smaller and “may not be able to lift or carry as much material,” Chaney says, “because of the overall speed, it can accomplish more work.”

He adds, “More end users are seeing the value of smaller machines. I think that a lot of people grasp the fact that big machines definitely have their place, but in a lot of jobs, the small machines actually provide more productivity. The end result equates back to bottom line profits.”

Rohrbacker says that there’s something of a learning curve with the operation of a skid steer, but that a wheel loader is similar to driving a car. “They are two different machines with two different applications,” he says. “They can cross over, but they are not the same.”

Among the wheel loader’s advantages, Rohrbacker says, are low operating noise, longer tire life because of the articulation, excellent stability and the availability of attachments for both the front and back ends. Skid steers, however, are lower in cost, can be used in narrow sites and can be fitted with a variety of attachments for the front end, he says.


“What you’re really looking at,” Mucha says of bucket selection, “is material weight and the volume of the material that you’re moving to achieve the weight capacity of the bucket.” She adds, “The other thing you have to look at is the abrasiveness of the material, and that will determine the hardness of the steel in the bucket that you’re using. You want to make sure that the bucket will last and that it’s appropriately matched up with your material.”

Chaney says that grapple attachments are most popular within recycling applications because of their effectiveness. “The benefit of a grapple is that you’ve got two independent grapple sections up on top, and they will hydraulically clamp down, but they are independent of each other.” Chaney says this enables a grapple to apply varying pressure to a load, ensuring a more secure grip, particularly when loading mixed C&D materials.

“A wide range of buckets are available for skid steers,” Mac Intyre says. “We have standard dirt buckets, light material buckets, scrap grapples, four-in-one buckets. In many cases, contractors will use general purpose buckets because they allow you to carry various types of material pretty efficiently,” he says.

Wolf cautions, “The biggest thing is to make sure that you have the bucket sized for the heaviest material density if you plan on using one bucket for multiple things.”

Moore says that recyclers of concrete and rubble, for instance, will generally want to have the most heavy-duty recycling/demolition bucket available. “It’s very important that they keep bucket size in perspective, that they use the high-capacity bucket for lighter weight materials such as mulch or wood chips.” Moore says if such buckets are used for denser materials, “they are going to consequently do damage to the bucket and will overload the loader itself.”

Concerning changing attachments, Caterpillar’s Long says, “Quick couplers are often used to allow operators to switch from a multi-purpose bucket to handle irregular-shaped materials, to hammers, to material handling arms, to rams to knock things down, to forks and to dozer blades.”

Along with these primary considerations, past experience also serves as a guide in the selection of new equipment.

Long says, “There is no one answer to choosing a loader and loader attachments. The applications vary too much for cookie cutter solutions. The best answers come from experience that answers the question: What works and what doesn’t work with the customer’s current approach?”

“The bottom line to the question of using a wheel loader or skid steer in your specific application is to see your dealer,” Mac Intyre says. “With a full line of skid steers and wheel loaders, it takes a professional, experienced with your business and a full line of products, to design the solution that best fits your needs.”


In order to handle the rigors of C&D debris recycling, manufacturers of wheel loaders and skid steers offer a variety of options.

“Equipping the machine properly is more important in demolition work than in most other applications,” Ken Nebergall, senior track loader consultant, Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill., says. “A properly equipped machine can make the difference between profit and loss on a job by reducing or eliminating downtime.”

“The loaders themselves should be equipped with a solid tire,” Kelly Moore, skid loader product manager for GehI Co., West Bend, Wis., says. However, George Chaney, compact equipment product marketing manager for JCB North America, Pooler, Ga., says solid tires can lead to operator discomfort.

“There’s also different types of industrial grade tires that have a pneumatic feel, but still have steel belts so they are almost impenetrable. We also have available foam-fill tires that provide you with a pneumatic feel with more cushion than a solid tire, but will not go flat,” Chaney says.

Dave Wolf, wheel loader marketing manager for Case Construction, Racine, Wis., recommends hydraulic couplers, which increase the flexibility of the loader, guarding packages and solid tires.

Chaney agrees that hydraulics have gone a long way in increasing the flexibility of loaders. “Because of the hydraulic services that you have available, and the amount of attachments that you can use and the way that the industry has increased the level of sophistication with the attachments, it’s really exciting,” he says.

“Demolition can be a pretty dynamic job site where you have material falling and everything else. I would definitely recommend machine guarding for wheel loaders, first and foremost for operator protection and secondly for machine protection overall,” Wolf says.

George Mac Intyre, skid steer marketing manager for Case, recommends cab enclosure kits and Lexan doors for machines in C&D recycling applications. “It’s extra protection for the operator. We’d also recommend either solid tires or tires filled with Galaxy polysoft superfill, which are puncture resistant,” Mac Intyre says.

Moore says Gehl also recommends an impact-resistant Lexan door, Moore says, particularly when a loader is going to be used with a hydraulic breaker.

Xenya Mucha with John Deere, Moline, Ill., says, “We have, in fact, configured loaders to survive environments that have airborne debris by modifying the air screen to make sure the tractors don’t get to the point of plugging.”

Descirbing the design innnovation, Mucha says air flows in from the top of the machine, rather than being vacuumed in from beneath. “The fin sizes are larger so that anything coming in will pass through instead of plug up.”

She says Deere is also using extensive guarding packages, including articulating joint guards, boom cylinder guards and hose guards. “The whole key in putting all this guarding on there is that so it prevents all the grief that happens. A down machine is not productive,” Mucha notes.

Keith Rohrbacker, construction equipment product manager for Kubota Tractor Corp., Torrance, Calif., says, “You don’t want lightweight plastic fenders or exposed hoses. That’s important. Mainly, the concern is, if I break a pipe or hose, I’m down,” he says. “Down time is expensive.

The author is assistant editor of C&D Recycler and can be contacted via e-mail at

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