Skid steer loaders: Packing a punch on Gulf construction sites

The small and compact skid steer loader is a common sight at job sites across the region. Exponents tell CMME how they provide value to owners and what makes it one of the most popular equipment categories in the GCC

Most market watchers in the construction and equipment industry in the Middle East will tell you that the sector could be in better health than it is now. As we at CMME towers seldom fail not to note these days, the sector seems to be in the throes of a prolonged slump. But ask the appropriate people and they will say: “slump, what slump?” To add a twist to the age-old adage, there are some who are making hay while the clouds block the sunshine.

One such entity is Bobcat, the compact equipment specialist. Mention the word Bobcat to the general lay person in the Middle East, especially the GCC, and the instant image that is conjured up is of a skid steer loader. In fact, so ubiquitous is the Bobcat skid steer in the region, that the brand has become the generic name for the sector.

In the words of Gaby Rhayem, regional director Middle East and Africa for Bobcat at Doosan Infracore Construction Equipment: “We often have people bringing in their skid steers of other brands to our workshops, saying ‘can you repair my Bobcat?’ That is our brand recall and it has come through years of providing great skid steer loaders and market-leading service.”

Rhayem says that so far as Bobcat’s loaders are concerned, the downturn has been a boon of sorts. “When the market is tough, people flock to quality. Bobcat is a benchmark in the market and we are seeing our sales being driven by the fact that our quality products enjoy excellent resale value and therefore return on investment, which is something a buyer is more concerned about when conditions are tight.”

In fact, Bobcat has now cornered around 52% of market share in the skid-steer segment, Rhayem says, quoting figures provided by the Association of European Manufacturers (AEM), up from 46% at around the same time last year.

The skid-steer loader is a multipurpose machine, which is always an asset, and it brings important versatility to job-sites, whether being used to move construction materials or waste, or engaged in the build by placing construction elements onto a building. New launches and innovations from many of the major manufacturers are boosting customer options, increasing productivity with new features as well as concentrating on safety.

Bobcat has a track record of selling more than a million skid steers and last year celebrated the production of its 20,000th skid steer loader at its factory outside Prague. Given the wide range of functions that a skid steer loader can perform, there’s a natural fit with Bobcat’s compact loader range, described as the Swiss Army knife of a construction site. Its skid steer loader offering was bolstered with the recent release of new models and the new versions of Bobcat’s immensely popular S130 – the S410.

Rhayem says the new models have been well received by the market, with high sales volumes. “Our dealers are more than ever very committed to the skid steer loader business, and the machines sold and delivered to their customers have provided high performance and satisfaction for end users. It was a tough act to follow to replace the ever popular S130, but our new S410 has pushed the bar even higher,” he adds.

Customers are mainly working in construction, building and rental, says Rhayem, with skid steer loaders used for building houses, villas, flats and offices. The landscaping and industrial sectors are also heavy users. “Landscaping is considered as the main growth sector after construction in the GCC. Rental follows closely after landscaping. The industrial segment is also a growing sector where skid steer loaders are used.”

Over at Caterpillar, the skid steer loader is one of the most important pieces of equipment, despite the American giant being known for its large machines. Speaking about its significance, Mamoun Mutair, product manager, Building Construction & Paving, at Mohamed Abdulrahman Al-Bahar, Cat’s dealer for the GCC region, says: “Skid steer loaders are considered to be among the top five popular equipment categories in the GCC, where it is favoured and has attracted many different type of contractors.

“Based on the type of projects and applications, there exists high demand for skid steer loaders, in the GCC region. The most general application for which skid steers are used is building construction. These projects and related jobs, drive the need for a small machine on the site that can do many different jobs and fit a wide variety of applications.

“The skid steer loader segment is considered as one of the most imperative products for both Al-Bahar and Caterpillar. This product family is crucial for customers with businesses of all sizes – large, medium, and small.”

Versatile favourites
At Case Construction Equipment, it’s the SR130 and SR150 that are the market favourites, says Zane Barnard, construction product specialist at CNH Industrial, the parent company of the Case brand.

“These two machines are our generalists,” explains Barnard. “The other machines in our nine-model line-up are bigger and meant for specialised jobs. These two, however, are popular for their versatility. Skid steers are tool carriers and can do a lot of jobs with a variety of attachments. So when a customer wants a cold planer or some other special application, he will opt for a bigger skid steer from us, which will have higher hydraulic flows, for example. We provide a solution for a wide array of uses that he may have with 3,000 different attachments.”

Case’s skid steer attachments are also universal, and can be coupled to loaders of other brands, Barnard adds. But the brand’s own loaders are among the most popular in the market and are easily among the top three machine categories for Case in the Middle East market.

Meanwhile, for Caterpillar, the models that are most popular are the 216B3 and 226B3. In the words of Mutair: “Our champion models are the Cat 216B3 and Cat 226B3. At Al-Bahar, we offer a wide range of skid steer loaders with different operating weights, starting from 216B3 with 2.58t up to the 289D with 4.77t. The need for these machines differs based on the application and customer requirements. Most of these models have engine and tier differences, when compared to the same models offered by Caterpillar in other global regions, like Europe or the US. For example, in-order to meet the emission regulations of some regions, the product offers differing features. Such changes are labelled as product adaptation.”

However, regardless of the region, the same Caterpillar DNA is present in every machine Al-Bahar offers and Cat’s advanced features are another draw for customers. According to Mutair: “The unique and very competitive features of Cat skid steer loaders, such as the hydraulic joystick and single foot throttle, alongside customer benefits like comfort, ease of operation and versatility, give this product range all the competitive advantages, elevating it to an altogether different level.”

Busy year
Volvo CE had a busy year with its skid steer loaders, starting with the compact MC 115C – it has a load capacity of 2.5t and a maximum lift height of 5.6m, powered by a hydrostatic drive – followed by two larger machines, the MC 60C and MC 70C. With maximum lift heights of 13.85m and 17m respectively, the MC machines were designed to meet the requirements of rental fleets, with low operating costs, simple maintenance, reliability, durability and ease of operation.

Both models use a 3.6-litre engine with output of 74kW, coupled with a 3F/3R power-shift transmission. They feature permanent four-wheel drive and use a limited-slip differential in the front axle to ensure traction over rough terrain. Dual-axle braking via large oil-immersed disc brakes provides the stopping power, and the front brakes also serve as the parking brake, ensuring reliability compared with an external parking brake exposed to the elements.

The hydraulic system in the GC models uses a robust gear pump, and the system’s flow-sharing main valve provides smooth control of three simultaneous operations. The hydraulic functions are fully proportional and controlled with a single joystick.

Not to be outdone, Caterpillar has also brought in new machines to the GCC region, led by the 239D track loader model.

“We have introduced a new model, namely the track loader 239D. This model is considered under the skid steer product family and has already achieved good market figures owing to the trust our customers have in all our Cat products and machines. The confidence that Cat product users exude on the quality and reliability of Cat products contributes highly towards the success of any new Cat product,” says Al-Bahar’s Mutair.

“Cat skid steer loaders are among the market leaders in this industry. Talking about 2016, we have had a noticeable market penetration by gaining customer trust and managing to build a ‘repeat buyers’ culture. We are expecting to maintain and excel our aggressive success for 2017 and the future with our continuous efforts to build business relationships with our customers,” he adds.

Cat’s 216B3 and 226B3 models are also sitting at the top of the best-sellers’ list in the region – and for more than one reason, according to Al-Bahar. Starting from unique features of the machine, which differentiates it from other brands in its range, this versatile machine is widely used in different job site applications and contracting projects, including construction, utility, cleaning, landscaping and many others. The growing demand of such jobs has increased the need of this product family among most of the contractors in this region, says Mutair.

Safety in operation
Safety is a major concern for skid-steer loader operation, as is always the case when using machinery to work at height or lift loads. But the issue of safety shouldn’t be seen in isolation, or taken out of the productivity equation, since workers using an unproductive machine may push it to the edge of its safe working parameters in order to get the job done faster, increasing the risk of accident.

One scenario is when a machine is not correctly aligned with an opening, which may only become evident once the boom is extended. Volvo CE has a solution for this in its skid-steer range, with many of its machines equipped with an integral side-shift mechanism that allows the boom to move laterally.

On its MC skid-steer range, this allows for side movement of plus or minus 435mm. This allows precise positioning of loads, useful when stacking objects or lowering construction elements such as frames into place, as well as for loading material into a narrow space, such as an opening on a higher floor during the construction of a building. The system functions with or without stabilisers.

Other features on the MC range include frame levelling hydraulically operated from the cab, and front stabilisers independently controlled with automatic lock when the boom exceeds the preset safety angle. Transmission is hydrostatic, with an electronically controlled variable displacement pump. The machine has four drive/steer wheels, with automatic wheel synchronisation in the event of any misalignment, and selection of three steering modes from the cab.

Another important feature in the success of any machine, not only the skid steers, is the level of service back up and support that is provided by the manufacturer and local dealer combine. For a machine that works as hard and as regularly as the skid steer, proper and timely maintenance is vital for maximizing uptime. And this is where an established outfit like Al-Bahar scores, using its long presence in the market to good effect in providing realiable support to its customers.

“The high and quick availability of parts along with comprehensive support offered to the customers differentiates Cat products from others. The strong after sales support, including product servicing and training given to our customers on how to optimally operate the machine, along with the unique features of Cat skid steer loaders, sets us apart from competition,” says Mutair.

In combination with Caterpillar’s well-known quality, Al-Bahar’s back-up is a combination that has put Cat skid steers at the forefront of the market, ensuring that customers continually sing its praises.

“Al-Bahar has skid steer customers across the GCC, and the voice of customers, particularly the operators, has been very positive. The most common feedback has been – ‘Cat skid steer loaders are the most comfortable and easy to operate machines’,” signs off Mutair.

Case SR130 & SR150: Popular runabouts
For Case Construction Equipment, the SR150 is the staple of its skid steer loader line-up in the region. Along with the SR130 it makes up the two most popular models in Case’s line-up.

“These are general purpose machines that score on versatility,” says Case’s Zane Barnard. “With the SR150 and SR130, users get machines that can perform various tasks on the job site and give a great return on investment.”
Both machines are able to support a plethora of attachments, from hammers and cement mixers to dozer blades and broom buckets, apart from a collection of loader buckets of various sizes.

While the SR130 is the smaller of the duo, offering a tipping load of 1.1t, the larger SR150 has a tipping load capacity of 1.3t. The SR150 also has a more powerful engine, providing 60hp of maximum power at a low 2800rpm, while the SR130 offers 49hp of peak power at the same revolutions. Peak torque is 143Nm and 171Nm respectively at an even lower 1800rpm. A low range travel speed of 12.7kmh is standard on both models, while a high range option offers increased ground velocity.

“These two models are our best sellers in the Middle East. They are a common sight at many construction sites in the region,” says Barnard.

Both machines come with all the other hallmark features of Case skid steers. A convenient cab tilt feature provides access to the hydraulic and transmission components and easy serviceability is assured by Case’s design of grouping the daily service points together, along with remote mounted filters.

Bobcat S450: The new champion
Bobcat’s S450 skid steer is less than five feet wide and designed to work on tight jobsites. There is a 20% increase in auxiliary hydraulic pressure when compared to its predecessor, the S130, as well as a non-diesel particulate filter engine. The 49hp machine replaces the K-Series S130 skid steer.

Featuring a radius-lift path, the S450 has an optional two-speed drive with a top speed of 6.5mph in low range and 9.2mph in high range.

The 1.8l engine in the S450 features a non-DPF engine solution. The new engine has increased torque, which is produced over a wide range of engine rpm.

Air conditioning is now an option for the S450, as well as the optional deluxe instrumentation panel, which monitors loader functions, including fuel consumption and keyless start.

S450 owners may choose between standard foot pedal and hand lever hydraulic controls, the Advanced Control System or the Selectable Joystick Controls. The hydraulic performance is 3,300psi, which provides a 22% increase in attachment performance.

The S450 also features a long-life hydraulic filter that lasts up to 1,000 hours — 500 hours longer than the S130. A specifically designed rear bumper on the S450 extends past the tailgate to protect it from obstacles.

According to Bobcat’s Gaby Rhayem: “The S450 is the best-selling skid steer loader by far in the entire Middle East. In this it follows the footsteps of the model it replaces, the S130, which was also the runaway best seller in the region. In fact, such was the S130’s popularity that when we introduced the S450 as its replacement, our customers complained that they wanted their favourite machine back.

“Now, though, they have understood that the S450 is an even better machine and it has shot right to the top of the best-sellers list, where it belongs.”

Caterpillar 216B3 & 226B3: A cat among the steers
Upgraded from the B-Series 2, Caterpillar’s 216B3 and 226B3 radial-lift skid steers are at the smaller end of its compact loader model range. Their utility at job sites, however, is anything but small.

The models start from a 2.58t capacity and each boasts a redesigned dead-engine lower valve providing what Cat calls an easier-to-move, more-positive means of lowering the lift arms. A lever-action handle working directly on the hydraulic relief valve replaces the long cable and pull-type knob used on predecessor models to activate the safety system. Other B-Series 3 enhancements include a new single electronic control module – relocated to the back of the cab – enabling automatic glow-plug activation, expanded diagnostics and use of an optional on-demand cooling fan.

The versatile 216B3 and 226B3 are widely used in jobs and projects ranging from construction and utility to cleaning and landscaping.

The 47hp 216B3 has a 680kg operating load and a 2.5t operating weight. A 16gpm of hydraulic flow aids in providing fast and accurate responses. The 226B3, meanwhile, is a 56hp machine, providing a rated operating load of 725kg and an operating weight of 2.6t. It has an even more enhanced hydraulic flow over its smaller stablemate, with 27gpm. The operating weights of both models increase by around 45kg with the optional counterweights added.

By matching engine torque with the needs of the hydrostatic drive and implement systems, a load-sensing feature keeps the engines from stalling even during part-throttle operation, says Caterpillar. The single electronic control module for the two skid steers includes, for the 226B3 model, automatic activation of the optional high-flow auxiliary hydraulic system when a high-flow tool is connected.

Bobcat T590: On the right track
Bobcat calls the T590 tracked loader a machine for every application. The company recently demonstrated the machine at a job site in Dubai’s Business Bay area, where it proved its utility. According to Gaby Rhayem, the T590 won instant fans at the job site.

“No one is proposing an equivalent in the market today to the T590,” says Rhayem. “This is our best-seller in the UAE and it is not just a machine but a complete solution, because today we at Bobcat are providing solutions to our customers, not just a machine.”

That solution includes a range of attachments that is second to none in the market and enables each T590 to be a loader, digger, carrier, breaker, mixer, cleaner, cutter, grader, planer and road layer – among other jobs.

The machine has a high lifting force and large pushing capabilities, along with a high-torque motor to power it.
“Serviceability is a key factor for all contractors, and the T590’s transverse engine is very easy to access and all the features and access points are just in front of you. The machine is absolutely designed to be quickly serviced and go back to the job site to make money. That’s what contractors want,” Rhayem adds.

“It’s perfect because of its compact size and the fact that its soft underfoot. So once a project is well-underway, you can still bring this machine on the site and it will not damage the ground or built-up areas, unlike larger machines. So it’s first in and last out.”

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