A Cheshire contractor reckons it has found a flexible replacement for the backhoe as the jack-of-all-trades site machine. Dan Gilkes reports on Cat's new skid steers
CONSTRUCTION sites often benefit from having a handy machine around that is capable of carrying out many of the smaller jobs on site.
Traditionally that task fell to the jack-of-all-trades backhoe loader, though more recently telehandlers have for many become the lifter and shifter of choice. But for Cheshire firm Lentrol Construction there is a new star on site, a machine that can lift, carry, dig and sweep up after you.And, in contrast to the backhoe at least, it is a machine that doesn't plough up wet ground.
The machines in question are the first two Caterpillar 277B tracked skid steers, or multi-terrain loaders in Cat-speak, to arrive in the UK.
'They are just so universal, ' says Lentrol's managing director Paul Hardaker.'They can go across trenches and you can lift with them and they don't tip forward.They are the new backhoe loader.'
That ability to cross rough ground, and footings in particular, has impressed Mr Hardaker.The firm had run conventional skid steers before, he says, but they were far more restricted in the areas that they could work.
The 277B is the second largest in Cat's five-model range. It has an easily accessed 82 hp diesel engine in the back, with the cooling pack mounted on top of the engine compartment to aid that access.
The machines have two hydrostatic pumps, driven directly off the engine.These in turn provide power for the fixed displacement motors that drive each rubber track.That means that there are no chain drives or gearboxes like on some wheeled skid steer machines.
The 277B has both a foot throttle and a hand throttle, allowing the operator to choose instant power with the foot, or a consistent rev level for powered attachments such as trenchers or a cold planer with the hand throttle.
Cat has developed an anti-stall system that enables maximum hydraulic power to be delivered to the tracks when required. Cat maintains that this function will increase productivity for an experienced operator and make life easier for someone who is new to the driving seat.
Talking of which, the cab is reasonably easy to access over the loader arms and the operator is faced with just twin servo levers to drive the machine.The left lever takes care of forward and reverse along with steering, while the right hand lever controls the arms and bucket tilt cylinders.Hydraulic attachments are controlled through push buttons in the servo lever head.
Lentrol's 277Bs tip the scales at 4,269 kg, yet exert just 21.7 kPa (3.1psi) of ground pressure.The rated capacity, with a 50 per cent tipping load is 1,338 kg, giving a maximum tipping load of 2,676 kg.The bucket tilt cylinder can manage 2,487 kg of breakout force, while the lift arms can handle 2,112 kg of breakout.
This is a powerful machine, capable of carrying out numerous digging, loading and levelling jobs. It is very manoeuvrable, able to turn in little more than its own length, yet doesn't rip up the ground like a wheeled machine does.
The 277B comes with a quick-hitch that allows the operator to change attachments easily. Lentrol has already equipped both of its 277Bs with buckets, pallet forks and a road sweeper attachment to add to their versatility.
'It's a forklift, a backhoe loader and a road brush all in one, ' says Mr Hardaker.'We're hoping to buy more, we really could do with one on every site.'
When buying the machine Mr Hardaker didn't even bother looking at other products.'We just went straight to Cat, ' he says. Finning carries out all of the regular work on Lentrol's fleet, with the 277Bs under a full contract servicing deal.
'The back-up from Finning is second to none. I could phone up this afternoon and they'd have somebody out today, ' says Mr Hardaker.
The firm is a strong believer in one man to a machine, and the MTLs are no exception.All of the operators are CPCS accredited.
The first 277B is working on a Pochin site called The Reach in Leeds Street, Liverpool. Lentrol is carrying out all of the groundworks, external building works and eventual landscaping for the block of luxury apartments.
The firm will be on site for 18 months, and Mr Hardaker claims the 277B will stay on site up to the final handover.'This machine will be here right through from enabling to landscaping, ' he says.
He has plans to up his fleet of MTLs as time goes on.
'Eventually every one of our sites will have one, ' he says.