Small is beautiful
Skid steer, a cute little machine, is steadily carving a niche amid the Goliaths of construction equipment space. Agith G Antony takes a peek at this unique machine and its myriad of application areas.

Despite its sheer utility value and high adaptability with a wide variety of tools and attachments for applications such as recycling, paving, excavation, earthmoving, demolition, mining, landscaping and farming, skid steer, a compact and highly versatile machine is still somewhat in a concept selling stage in India. However, in the last couple of years, customers have started appreciating the versatility of skid steers and the demand curve is gradually getting on track. The number of players in the market have also increased, and two of them-Terex Equipment and Case-have already set up their manufacturing facility and started production.

Application benefits
The skid steer loaders are classified on various parameters such as the load it can lift, size [sometimes in an existing process industry, the distance between the columns could be the deciding factor as the machine chosen should be able to squeeze through these narrow spaces], horse power, hydraulic flow, and pressure [depending on the specific attachment needs], to name a few.

Elaborating the advantages of skid steers, Dr P B Ahamed Mohideen, Deputy Vice President-Plant and Equipment, Lodha Group, says ?Skid steers have a major advantage of entering into space-constrained areas where other earthmoving machines cannot even enter. We call it as a crab machine, as this machine can skid, steer and move like a crab. It has all the major applications of an earthmoving machine - from levelling of earth surface to demolition of jobs with the help of hydraulic applications. There are many good applications making this machine versatile.?

Baburao C Bodke (Rajkumar), a building materials and demolition contractor from Pune, who has recently purchased a Terex skid steer says, ?Skid steer is a comparatively a smaller and user-friendly machine, which can be used in space-constrained areas where bigger machines like backhoe loaders cannot reach. One can easily take it anywhere. It is also economical in use.? Baburao adds, ?In terms of upgrading the machine, as a contractor, we expect the suppliers to come with more advanced technologies.?

Dr Mohideen says, ?Skid steers [generally] do the job like any other bigger earthmoving equipment. If the work volumes are less, it is preferable and economical to use a skid steer instead of a bigger wheel loader or excavator. Fuel consumption and lubricant requirements will be less as compared to other bigger earthmoving equipment. Thus, the overall operational expenses become less. In skid steers, since it has smaller engines and does the same job of earthmoving machines, the emission levels are comparatively low, making it more environment-friendly.

Is the lack of awareness a hurdle? Or is it the initial cost that blunts the growth of sale of this little cute machine? Sunil Tiku, Senior Director-Sales, Terex Equipment, had this to say. ?These cute little machines need more awareness in the Indian context. Many areas where skid steer can find application are still being dominated by manual labour or a mix of machines and manual labour. As the market grows and localisation of the machine with its attachment picks up, the attention of major players as well as the entry cost for the user will come down. As construction and infrastructure development picks up pace in urban India, the requirement for compact machines like skid steers for space-constrained project site maintenance activities will increase. For example: flyover or metro construction activity in a city where maneuverability to carry out loose material handling or site maintenance activities and even small scale excavation can be a challenge for larger excavators or backhoe loaders, a skid steer can effectively be used in such situations.?

Industry trends
Such a versatile piece of machine-when clubbed with a variety of attachments-still has not got its due yet. What limits the growth of skid steer is the over-dependence on run-on-the mill concept. Here, innovative thinking is the key. S Manjunath, General Manager?Sales, Doosan Infracore India, brings it parallel with backhoes. According to him, even backhoe sale was concept selling for almost 10 years. The spurt in demand has come by the ingenuity of the customers who have made a business proposition by entering into hiring market but not by any special efforts by any manufacturer. He adds, ?The customers, who have bought these machines, have expanded their scope of application by finding new ways of using these machines. This has led to the expansion of market. Since return on investment (RoI) was good, others followed suit, increasing the sale volume over the years. While the cost of manual labour is increasing, the availability is reducing. This gives way to mechanisation, which improves the sale. When the hirers enter the market [like backhoes], they could trigger the spurt in demand for skid steer.?

According to Manjunath, the major buyers for these machines are civic bodies, construction companies (housing), and processing industries, among others. There is a lot of scope for expansion of equipment utilisation by using the right kind of attachments along with the machines. He says, ?Predominantly, the machines are being sold with standard loader bucket, thus limiting its application. By understanding the customer?s application and suggesting the right attachment to fulfill his need would certainly increase the sales volumes.?

Growth drivers
According to Amit Gossain, EVP-Marketing, Business Development and Corporate Affairs, JCB India, the skid steer market is still in its nascent stage in India. But given its versatility, the machine population has increased rapidly over the last few years. The small, compact structure of the machine is designed to operate in restricted areas and hence, can be used for wide range of applications such as agriculture, industry, construction, demolition, material handling and maintenance.?

Says Tiku of Terex, ?The skid steer segment is growing at an estimated CAGR of 18.5 per cent, and based on our calculations, the estimated market size for skid steer loaders is expected to exceed 800 units by 2017. The market for skid steers will grow along with the construction and infrastructure activities, especially in metro and urban areas. We are doing our bit through educating our target segments on the benefits and advantages of using this product via roadshows and key account management activities. It is not surprising that all potential users see great benefits by deploying such a machine at their sites. We are quite optimistic about the market. As the market jumps back to buoyancy, enquiries will jump and volumes will see respectable growth.?

Opportunities
According to Dr Mohideen, use of various equipment in construction and infrastructure projects in India is increasing day-by-day. Since a lot of basements and car parking facilities are being built, skid steers will have major applications in these areas. A lot of new projects are coming up; this will certainly provide a great opportunity for the manufacturers of skid steers. The requirement will definitely get improved from the current level. Only thing is that the companies need to focus more on attachments. More than selling the machine, if more applications are done with one machine, then buyers will have better interest.

Tiku says, ?A buzzing real estate development segment in metros and other cities provide an ideal backdrop for growth in this segment. Terex skid steer loader has carved a niche with all major players in this market. Large institutional buyers are also working very closely with Terex to study the applicability/usage of skid steer loaders for a host of standard as well as highly demanding and specialised applications.?

Manjunath sums up with a positive note. He says, ?The population of skid steer loaders is increasing, and once these machines are procured by plant hirers, the sales volume is bound to increase across the country.?

?Demand for skid steers will grow.?
In future, for all the basement-oriented projects, with multi-level car parking facilities, there will be a good requirement for skid steers, says Dr P B Ahamed Mohideen, Deputy Vice President-Plant and Equipment, Lodha Group, Mumbai. Speaking with Sudheer Vathiyath, Dr Mohideen elaborates on the advantages of using skid steers in construction projects.

Why does Lodha Group prefer Bobcat skid steers?
Bobcat is a leader in the skid steer loader segment. Their trade name is implied for the machine itself as Bobcat instead of skid steer. Because of their long presence and pioneering effect, Bobcat has got a good name in the world market, and it has its presence globally. Also, Bobcat brings out various kinds of newer and versatile attachments along with its machines that makes user more attached with using a Bobcat machine. For example, when we were in need of tree spade attachments no other manufacturer other than Bobcat could give us a solution. Generally the service backups of Bobcat machines are satisfactory.

What are the application areas and advantages of skid steers?
At Lodha, we are using skid steers like any other earthmoving machine. Recently we have procured a Bobcat skid steer-which we have proposed to use-comes with a special attachment called, Tree Spade. This is a special type of attachment for tree plantation applications. For example, you can plug out a tree from its root and replant the same in some other location with the exact surface dimensions. This makes the tree fitment exactly in the pit without damaging its core and other roots. The skid steers commonly have broom attachments that are much useful for cleaning jobs on the roads and pavements and other construction areas that are in large quantities. Their leveling, tilling and other requirements of soil in construction areas are easily managed with skid steers, special attachments. With the help of skid steer one can do demolition jobs with the help of hydraulic attachments that uses combination of hydraulic hammers, pipe cutting attachments that find usage in concrete demolition, cutting and other and pipe cutting requirements. Skid steers are also useful for removal of voluminous debris from space-constraint areas like basements. With its typical uses that are useful to construction teams these are considered as one of the versatile machines in the construction industry.

What is the return on investment (RoI) for a skid steer?
RoI depends on the effective working hours of the machine. If we have continuous working hours for the machine, then we can expect RoI in 2-4 years.

What is the current market trend for skid steers in India?
In future projects that are basement-oriented, with multi-level car parking utilities and other utility rooms in basements, there might be good requirement for skid steers machines that will have easier mobility in these areas. I think more applications of these machines will be utilised by infrastructure developers in future.

?A buzzing real estate development segment in metros and other cities provide an ideal backdrop for growth in the skid steer segment.?

Skid steer advantages
Can squeeze through narrow spaces
Can perform majority of application of an earthmoving machine
User-friendly and economical
Less fuel consumption
Less requirement of spare-parts
Less operation cost
Low emission levels and
eco-friendly

Applications
With a myriad of tools and attachments a skid steer is highly versatile
Small scale excavation
Earthmoving
Paving
Material handling
Maintenance activities
Recycling
Minor demolition activities
Landscaping