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Mon 20 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Skid steers

There is at least one on every construction site, and as these machines have now been on the market for some fifty years, practically every accessory you can think of is available.

Skid steers
DIGGER: Practically any tool you can think of is made for skid steers.
Skid steers
DOZING: A tracked Bobcat with a usual blade seen in a field.

There is at least one on every construction site, and as these machines have now been on the market for some fifty years, practically every accessory you can think of is available.There's hardly a worksite in the world that doesn't have a skid-steer loader somewhere on it. The diminutive tool, in its various forms has become about as common a sight as shovels and sand.

However, this class of equipment almost never existed. In fact, if you believe most sources, if it hadn't been for a pair of brothers looking for an easier way of clearing up a chicken shed back in 1958, the uses of a skid steer would have never have been proved to anyone.

Simply put, the Keller brothers designed a three wheeled shovel, with braking on each driven front wheel and a single rear caster enabling it to ‘skid' around in circles. The machine made light work of the barn, and in due course was put into production under the name ‘Bobcat' which of course has been the dominant brand in compact equipment through a succession of owners ever since.

Interestingly, several others have a similar claim for having built similar machines at around the same time. In Europe, a three-wheeled tool carrier bas of similar design made by Poclain. This machine, the TY45, was significantly larger than the Bobcat, but was the market leader in its own various territories.

Before long, though the three-wheeled concept was dropped in favour of the four wheeled machines, similar to those seen today. Currently there are around a dozen brands for sale in the GCC, each with unique selling points. For example, the JCB Robot has a single arm design which is said to make getting in and out much safer, as the operator doesn't need to clamber over live moving pieces of equipment.

However, what sets modern equipment apart it the sheer number of accessories available for it. Most skid-steer vendors now prefer not to describe their range of machines as ‘tool carriers' rather than as loaders. Many different attachments are offered by the original manufacturers, but there is also a wide range available from the aftermarket.

One of the most popular out in the desert has to be the sweeper attachment that can be bought from a variety of suppliers and manufacturers.

Generally a bi-directional broom will sweep forward to pick up dirt, and reverses to collect asphalt millings, rock and construction debris.

The advantage of using a skid steer for brushing up debris is that it is about a hundred times faster than a guy with a broom, can brush right up to walls and ledges and when the sweeping is done, the machine can return to work with a loader bucket, ‘dozer blade or another attachment.Another interesting idea is the cement mixer. Again there are several types available, all of which use engine power from the machine to turn the blades in the concrete mix. Using a skid-steer to mix concrete is quite a reasonable idea, as small amounts can be batched for minor jobs, while there is no need for an electricity supply, as would be the case with a small pedestal mounted mixer.

For those that need something different to a regular loader bucket, a side-dump attachment could prove useful. These buckets couple to the machine's hydraulic system and are useful for filling curb machines, blast holes, berms and more.

The utility scrap metal magnet attachment for the skid steer is yet another development for the recycler, scrap yard owner, railroad maintenance and much more.  The one we saw advertised had a 500 lb+ rating, meaning you can pick up ferrous metals in a flash.  Engine blocks, truck axles, nails, railroad spikes, box beds...the list is just endless.

The entire unit is self contained:  It is complete with attachment plate, hydraulic motor and ac generator with housing, gauges, extendable boom and more.

Trenching is another useful application for these machines. As skid steers have a compact frame, they can squeeze in to tight spaces where a utility trench might need to go but a backhoe loader, for example, might not fit. A logical extention of this is excavation as well, a task at which the skid steer can perform just as well as a BHL, though it should be noted that either of these machines inability to slew means that mini and micro excavators are becoming steadily more popular.

In fact, a Skid Steer loader can sometimes be used in place of a large excavator by digging a hole from the inside. The skid loader first digs a ramp leading to the edge of the desired excavation. It then uses the ramp to carry material out of the hole.

The skid loader reshapes the ramp making it steeper and longer as the excavation deepens. This method is particularly useful for digging under a structure where overhead clearance does not allow for the boom of a large excavator.

It is no wonder that such versitile tools are so common.

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