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Credit: Photo: Caterpillar

Caterpillar's new E-Series, introduced at the 2006 World of Concrete, features a new cab with curved glass and contoured fenders.

As Richard Brookins will tell you, a backhoe-loader is one of the most versatile tools in a fleet manager's tool-box. Brookins is the manager of fleet and facilities for the city of Ogden, Utah, which owns four Case backhoe-loaders that are split evenly between the parks and water departments.

“They've done a great job for us,” said Brookins. “They're used in many different facets of parks maintenance, grounds maintenance, water line maintenance—the works.”

Most of the backhoe-loader manufacturers, including Case, have been busy lately improving their new product offerings. One of the most significant developments in the marketplace is the introduction at this year's World of Concrete show of Caterpillar's E-Series, a three-machine lineup of backhoes.

The E-Series features factory-installed hydraulic thumbs on the backhoe and—in a high-tech move—the option of a Caterpillar AccuGrade system. AccuGrade is an integrated grade monitor that tells the operator the exact bucket location through a computer screen. An onboard processor allows the operator to set elevation and slope targets, and the bucket position is shown onscreen relative to the target line. Major system components include in-cylinder position sensors for all backhoe cylinders, a swing position sensor, machine position inclinometer, and the computer screen.

“Customer feedback indicates that they foresee savings through improved trench depth accuracy, reduced cost in surveying and checking grade, and cost avoidance through better control of expenses for materials such as bedding stone and concrete,” said Kevin Hershberger of Caterpillar's Building Construction Products Division, Peoria, Ill.

Caterpillar featured pilot controls on its older D-Series backhoes and offers them on the E-Series as well. Pilot controls, like those in most excavators, offer low effort and short lever travel for improved ergonomics and reduced operator fatigue. On Cat's new E-Series, the 420E IT model and the 430E IT have pilot-operated backhoe and loader controls, while the 420E and 430E with standard single-tilt loaders have pilot-operated backhoe controls with mechanical loader controls. The new 416E, a budget-conscious model, has mechanical controls all around.

Case recently introduced its M Series 2 backhoe-loaders, available with pilot controls for five models on the backhoe only. in Racine, Wis. “One of the key features of our pilot controls is that they can be infinitely positioned fore and aft, as well as side to side, to readily adapt to the comfort of individual operators,” said Jim Hughes, Case's marketing manager in Racine, Wis.

According to Case, an exclusive thumb-proportional control for the Extendahoe provides easy and relaxed fingertip operation of the stick extension. Also, an operator can change between backhoe and excavator controls using the in-cab pattern change switch.

The entire M Series 2 line now features new Case Family 3 engines. The series includes the 580M, 580M Turbo, 580 Super M, 590 Super M, and 580 Super M+ models. They range in horsepower from 76 to 98 hp. Case said the Tier 2-certified engines are quieter than their predecessors and have larger displacement for greater lugging capacity and increased torque rise, which means faster cycle times on the loader and backhoe.

Last year, Terex introduced its TX970B backhoe-loader to the North American market. The unit features all-wheel steering and pilot controls. “Piloted controls make this machine operate like an excavator,” said Lowell Stout, product manager for Redmond, Wash.-based Terex. “Its closed-center, fluid-sharing control valve gives operators a smooth, multi-function performance while ensuring fine control for accurate trenching and grading operations.” Controls are set to either side of the seat to give the operator an unobstructed view of the work area.

Other backhoe-loader manufacturers include John Deere, JCB, Komatsu, Kubota Tractor, New Holland Construction, and Volvo Construction Equipment, which introduced its Poland-made models just a few years ago.

— Daniel C. Brown is a freelance writer in Des Plaines, Ill.