Compact track loaders (CTLs) are having a moment. In fact, barring any major changes, the CTL industry will surpass the skid steer industry, with manufacturers increasing their lineups to keep up.
Not only do these machines provide greater stability, lower ground pressure and a better tractive effort, but they also offer excellent versatility with the same attachment capabilities as a skid steer.
CTLs are capable of tackling a wide range of projects and applications ranging from agriculture to construction. It's important for business owners to know the demands of their application and how to best avoid cost and downtime that are occasionally associated with a tracked machine.
The greatest factor for those considering a CTL is ground conditions. CTLs are more efficient in muddy, soft conditions. They distribute their weight evenly over the length and width of the tracks, which allows them to traverse uneven terrain more efficiently. For example, they're perfect for maintenance around riverbanks or lakes. Because of their flotation, they're able to maneuver on softer ground easier, while a skid steer might bottom itself out and get stuck.
CTLs are also a great fit for landscaping. Because of the increased flotation, they don't disturb finished lawns and landscapes. This is because the tracks provide less overall ground pressure while still maintaining traction.
CTLs are also efficient when it comes to agricultural work. CTLs are ideal for working on grass, dirt or loose gravel due to the decreased amount of wear to the tracks. Also, they're great for ag applications because of their increased stability for loading and unloading trucks and trailers.
Another application where CTLs are used is residential and commercial construction. This is because these projects primarily consist of machines operating on dirt, and CTLs provide more stability with the width of their tracks.
CTLs are often used on the initial prep work of road and bridge projects, as they perform well with pushing, excavating and digging dirt. Then, they can be used to handle straight-line operations on concrete and pavement once the road is finished.
CTLs are also great for trenching as they provide minimal rutting, a smooth movement and low ground pressure. And, as with grading applications, CTLs provide a more consistent path with a trencher due to their great stability and lower tendency to bounce.
CTLs are also popular in rental applications - a lot of independent rental yards carry CTLs. This is because smaller business owners are going to lean towards skid steers initially because they're cheaper; however, in certain applications, they'll want a CTL so they'll rent one for a certain time period.
There are a number of attachments that are particularly well suited for CTLs and will perform better due to the stability and weight distribution that the machines provide.
Lifting attachments, such as forks, are a great fit. Many skid steer operators might have experience working on rough terrain and lifting a load on to a truck when suddenly the machine pivots and the wheels leave the ground. The main advantage to CTLs and lifting loads is the fact that there's no compression of the front tires, so the operator can lift and operate with greater confidence.
Trencher attachments are also well suited for CTLs as they provide minimal rutting and are able to maintain a uniform depth. Operators don't have to constantly adjust the trencher up and down because the tracks "engulf" the bumps and are not as prone to spinning and twisting motions that cause tires to rip up grass.
Ground-engaging attachments that require tractive effort, such as six-way dozer blades, are also ideal for CTLs.
Another strong attachment use for CTLs is for final grading. Due to their lighter footprint and higher flotation, they're able to excel at finish grading with minimal effect on finished terrain. Also, CTLs typically have a higher ground clearance, so attachments like brush mowers and mulchers are more efficient.
The greatest benefit of CTLs is their increased flotation, which allows CTLs to work in poor underfoot conditions and on sensitive surfaces. To get the most of your machine and its flotation, you should look at two factors.
For starters, analyze the track design or pattern. The more continuous a pattern is, the more flotation the machine has to offer. If you have a track pattern that is continuously interrupted and not making as much ground contact, you're not going to have as much as flotation as a track pattern that is less disturbed.
You should also look at the size of the tracks. Tracks come in a variety of widths. The wider the tracks, the more stability, floatation and tractive effort you get due to the increased ground contact. Narrow tracks are preferred when space is an issue - for example, landscapers that need to work between fences and houses, or farmers needing to get into barns or feed lanes. Narrow tracks are also less costly to replace.
The biggest mistake CTL owners make is buying one and having it in the wrong application. As mentioned earlier, CTLs are perfect for soft ground conditions; they shouldn't be used regularly on hard surfaces (asphalt and concrete).
CTLs have unique considerations when it comes to operating behaviors. Because of this, changes must be made in order to minimize wear. This includes gradual turning on hard surfaces when counter-rotating isn't necessary, which can reduce track life, and carrying loads lower to maximize stability.
When it comes to proper maintenance of the machine, one of the biggest mistakes business owners can make is not ensuring that there is proper tension on the tracks. The looser they get, the higher the chance of de-tracking. If they're too tight, it can accelerate wear or lead to the stretching and eventual breaking of the tracks.
Another mistake is operators failing to properly clean out the tracks. In the winter, it's important to get all the snow, ice and debris that may have frozen in and around the tracks and sprocket cleaned out. In the summer, muddy conditions and hot temperatures can lead to dried debris that turns into cement. This concoction will cause wear on the tracks and sprocket if it's not cleaned out.
With their versatility and lower ground pressure, these machines have a lot to offer business owners. When deciding if a CTL is a good fit for you, the choice comes down to matching the machine to the correct application as well as diligent operation and maintenance.
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