The year 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of Caterpillar’s first backhoe loader and coincides with the worldwide release of the latest generation F2 series – the next advance in on-site performance, where lowest cost of ownership is a deciding key factor.
Who would have guessed that back in the 1980s Caterpillar had yet to field its first backhoe loader, when today these Cat® units are an integral part of the earthmoving landscape, with more than 300 000 units now sold worldwide?
It all began with the roll-out of the A-Series in 1985. The B Series followed in 1989 and built on the solid foundation established by the first generation models to firmly entrench the Cat backhoe as a class leader. The year 1996 saw the launch of the C Series, followed subsequently by the D, E, F and now F2, in 2001, 2006, 2012 and 2015 respectively.
Historically, the first exploratory engineering drawings for the A Series were put to paper in 1982, and in 1983 Caterpillar’s Desford manufacturing plant, situated near Leicester, England (at the time responsible for the assembly of forklifts trucks), was chosen as the fabrication centre for the first Cat backhoe. History has shown that their pioneering efforts have been a major success.
Caterpillar’s introductory unit, the Cat 416A (in centre pivot configuration) was immediately recognisable by its distinctive boom tilt cylinder design, narrow loader tower and divergent loader arms. Launched with an operating weigh of approximately 6 087kg and a lift capacity (at full height) of 2 381kg, the engine delivered a net flywheel power of 46 kW at 2 400 rpm.
Technological advancements over time have included the development of the industry’s first true excavator style boom (enabling excellent clearance over objects), which remains a signature trademark of the Cat backhoe. Coupled with this, production capabilities have been further enhanced by the development of a 205 degree rotation bucket linkage: the high degree of rotation enables deeper vertical wall excavation, which simplifies trenching tasks, thus in turn increasing productivity. Meanwhile, overall durability has been further enhanced by industry leading hydraulic and electrical components, plus heavy duty linkages and structures.
Key focus areas for Caterpillar’s research and development engineers include safety, ergonomics, operator functionality, fuel efficiency and enhanced power delivery, all of which feature prominently on the F2 model line-up, comprising the Cat 416F2 centre pivot model, and the Cat 422F2, 428F2, 432F2, 434F2 and 444F2 side-shift units. All are powered by fuel efficient Tier II Cat 3054C mechanically turbo charged engines.
Machines sold into southern Africa come equipped with a new generation four speed manual transmission (in forward and reverse). Top speed remains at around 40 km/h.
The F2’s upgraded hydraulics system provides improvements in oil flow for optimum delivery: the 422F2 from 125 litres per minute (L/m) to 132 l/min; the 428F2 and 434F2 from 125 l/min to 160 l/min; and the 432F2 and 444F2 from 156 l/min to 163 l/min. (The Cat 416F2’s pump capacity remains unchanged at 132 L/min.) All machines feature Caterpillar’s proprietary load sensing hydraulics (where the variable flow system senses the work demand and adjusts the flow and pressure to match it).
A hydraulic quick coupler for the hoe is available direct from the factory, whilst ‘twist to disconnect’ couplings are fitted for all work tools. The previous F Series features ‘push to connect’ quick disconnect couplings.
F2 models feature a restyled cab for a more modern look, which has been designed throughout with the operator in mind, including enhanced visibility to the loader attachment when at full height. Except for the curved front window, all other glass areas are flat, enabling quick, low-cost replacement. Sound levels in the cab are now best in class at 74 dB.
As an option, F2-Series units can be fitted with a radio featuring blue-tooth connectivity, facilitating communication with job-site personnel. A new keypad security system (with up to 25 unique codes) provides added protection for the machine, and a choice of cellular or satellite technology is available for use with the ProductLink™ telematics system. ProductLink enables machine owners to view near real-time machine positioning, utilisation and mechanical health data via the VisonLink™ online portal. This capability forms part of Barloworld’s Equipment Management Solutions (EMS) suite.
Today, Cat backhoe loaders command a global footprint, with 11 models manufactured across three plants, namely Desford; Thiruvallur, India; and Campo Largo, Brazil. F2 machines destined for the southern African regional will continue to be sourced from the UK.