Select the wheel loader that will provide the most productivity and longevity for your operations.

As we enter the heaviest part of the work season, construction contracts nationwide are generally holding steady, and the industry continues to have a positive outlook. A report from the Associated General Contractors of America indicates that many metro areas are adding jobs as construction spending has increased nearly 5 percent from March 2012 to March 2013. AGC officials are also projecting that sectors including multifamily housing, power and energy, manufacturing, warehouses and private transportation will be top performers this year.

As a result, you may be generating cash flow that could allow you to enhance your fleets in 2014 and beyond. Wheel loaders remain the workhorses of most construction contractor fleets for their ability to generate revenue by lifting and moving large amounts of materials and performing a wide variety of site preparation activities.

If you’ve never owned a wheel loader or if economic conditions limited your plans to add a new one for the past several years, the timing may be right. However, it’s important to do your homework. Recent advancements in wheel loader technologies have increased their efficiencies, but several factors must be analyzed to ensure the best outcomes on your jobsites before acquiring such equipment. Before taking ownership of a new wheel loader, make sure the machine has the features and power for maximum productivity and longevity.

Calculate Machine Capacity
If you already own a wheel loader, you may be tempted to buy what you’ve always bought. However, this could contribute to long-term productivity disadvantages based on outdated sizing methods. For instance, the prevailing wisdom for contractors has been to purchase the size of machine that is needed to achieve production targets for a particular project and then equip it with a standard bucket, but productivity rates can be negatively impacted with this approach.

A wheel loader’s biggest revenue generator is its bucket. Since construction and site preparation projects traditionally require handling a variety of material densities, such as rock, sand and dirt, you should also spec your bucket for the heaviest material you anticipate handling.

Once you’ve matched a bucket to material density, you will want to calculate the number of dump passes it will take to fill a particular truck or hopper. With adequate lift capacity and dump height and a quick coupler system to accommodate different sizes of buckets, you could reduce the number of passes your operator will need to make.

Power and efficiency are also key factors. Machines engineered with optimum breakout force can more efficiently fill a bucket, thereby increasing productivity. Three other critical indicators of productivity include lifting capacity, horsepower and hydraulic performance. These metrics can all contribute to improved cycle times and greater outputs.

As diesel prices continue to fluctuate, business owners should look for wheel loaders that balance power, performance and productivity with the best possible fuel efficiencies. One of the most costly operational inputs, fuel is a growing concern for the industry. Machines that offer low fuel consumption and can run 10- to 12-hour shifts before refueling can save construction business owners money and provide them with the flexibility to schedule refills for an entire fleet as opposed to individual machines.

Evaluate Versatility and Reliability
Heavy-duty wheel loaders are valuable fleet assets for a number of reasons, but one of the most prominent is their ability to be fitted with loader-specific attachments through the use of quick couplers. Optional on most manufacturers’ machines, these systems can convert wheel loaders into versatile construction and site prep tools. This can be accomplished with a wide range of buckets, from those designed to handle all-purpose materials to heavy rock buckets capable of handling abrasive aggregates.

To realize a wheel loader’s greatest potential, operators should use quality quick-change mechanisms. These increase productivity, as they enable the operators to change attachments quickly and easily without leaving the seat of the cab. For example, wheel loaders equipped with quick couplers are compatible with pallet forks for moving stacked materials and with grapples for grabbing everything from vegetation to chunks of concrete. Further trimming an owner’s operational costs, some quick coupler systems have been designed to reduce greasing, requiring less maintenance and fewer replacement parts.

Decreased maintenance and downtime and increased productivity are the benefits of durable equipment. The durability of a wheel loader may be most apparent on site-clearing projects. Initial site preparation tasks in woodlands or forests can quickly compromise hydraulic hoses and undercarriage components. Some machines can be outfitted with protective items like shields for front glass and lights and under guards to help preserve your investment. Owners should also be aware of specialty applications, such as fertilizer handling, which may require corrosive-proof materials on key components and systems.

Quantify Dealer Support
Finally, it can be hard to put a price tag on dealer support, but developing a responsive and trustworthy relationship with a dealer should be one of the biggest selling factors in this heavy equipment purchase. The dealer should also be supported by a manufacturer that can quickly provide parts that the dealer does not have on hand. A good dealership will provide trained service technicians who are qualified to repair engine exhaust systems that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions standards.

Whether your operation specializes in stabilizing base material for future utility and pavement installations, performing demolition or removing debris and vegetation, it’s good business to evaluate how a wheel loader can perform in the applications and conditions you work in. With a thorough evaluation of these factors, you can ensure that the wheel loader you choose will generate years of productivity, lower your cost of ownership and add value to your portfolio.