The new or used front end loader is also known as a bucket loader, front loader, pay loader, scoop loader, shovel, skip loader, or wheel loader.
A front end loader is a motor powered machine (either on wheels or crawlers). It is a type of tractor. It is usually found in the construction industry, but can be used in other areas, such as snow removal, light demolition, grounds maintenance and landscaping, and tunneling. When used in construction, the front end loader may also be used to move building materials such as tools, pipe, bricks, etc. for short distances at the construction site.
It has a bucket mounted in the front which is raised and lowered by an arm on either side of the bucket. The bucket is filled with material such as dirt and rubble, gravel, sand, stone, snow, asphalt, wood chips and shavings, etc. The bucket is dropped into a downward position to dump the material out. The bucket can be of the ‘clam shell’ style, opening and shutting by the use of hydraulics.
The bucket can be removable. Attachments are available so that the front end loader is able to do other types of work, such as scraping, digging, forks for lifting pallets or containers, backhoes, augers, snow blowers, stump grinders, tillers, snow blades, and even cement mixers and other attachments.
The all-wheel loaders and compact track loaders of today create less ground disturbances, with better traction and control for conditions where there is mud, sand, snow, or otherwise less than perfect ground conditions.
A large loader uses a hydraulically operated pivot point for steering, set between its front and rear axles (articulated steering). Maneuverability is improved by this method and greater weight can be carried. But care must be taken not to tip the machine over if the load is lifted to the side when lifted high.
The tractor front loader was developed specifically for use on farms, and can be fitted with many different attachments for farm requirements and activities.
A small loader known as a skid loader uses four wheels with a hydraulic drive mechanism that sends power to either side, or both sides of the machine. It is like the track loader in looks, but the track loader has a continuous track on each side instead of wheels. The skid loader has the ability of zero-radius turning, so it is extremely versatile and maneuverable in small areas. Because of this, it is sometimes used to dig a hole from the inside, where a larger excavator cannot fit or maneuver. Simply, the loader digs a ramp, and then uses the ramp to remove material from a hole. The loader remakes the ramp as the excavation progresses. Digging under existing structures is much easier if there is no overhead clearance for an excavator machine.
The swing loader has a rigid frame with a swinging boom, capable of swinging 180° or more. They are mainly used for laying rail in the railroad industry, and can have attachments added to the boom (forks, buckets, magnets). A smaller swing loader is used in farming operations. The swinging boom works well in limited spaces because the loader can lift and dump on all sides.
Small agricultural tractors of the 1920s were equipped with loader buckets for light materials. This was the early prototype of the modern loader. The bucket was operated by use of wire ropes and a clutch operated winch; gravity assisted with the dumping procedure when a trip release mechanism was operated.
By the early 1930s some manufacturers were making small wheel loaders by putting buckets onto tractors. In 1939 a Chicago engineer developed a model that was self-contained, was two-wheel drive, and had rubber tires; the bucket on it was still dumped by using a latch mechanism and gravity. Four-wheel drive units were developed, but with rigid frames the early models had a large turning radius which limited mobility. The development of the articulated frame in 1953 was a milestone for loaders. An articulated frame has two or more sections connected by a flexible joint. 1944 saw the introduction of a hydraulically operated bucket tilting mechanism, for more controlled dumping. 1947 was the year that the first four wheel drive hydraulic wheel loader was developed. These loaders paved the way for the first front end loaders as we know them today.
1957 saw the invention of the first three wheeled front end loader, in Minnesota. Two machinist brothers, Cyril and Louis Keller, built it to help a farmer clean the turkey manure from a barn. It was light and compact, with two wheels in the front and the third in the back. This gave it a very small turning radius. In 1958 a manufacturing company in North Dakota bought the rights to the machine and hired the Keller brothers to continue inventing loaders, resulting in a self-propelled loader, introduced at the end of 1958. It had two independent front wheels and a rear wheel. By 1960 the rear wheel was replaced with an axle, introducing the first four wheeled loader to the world.
Front end loaders continued to develop. Engines got better, and features were improved and changed. The machine remained easy to operate, quick, and agile. Eventually drive systems changed, cabs became enforced, arm configurations changed, instrumentation was added, and cabs got heating and air conditioning for operator comfort. The position of the arm pivots was changed from the rear of the machine to the front of it – this made operator visibility better because it was not blocked when the arms were in a raised position (as was the case when the arms mounted at the back of the loader), and was an improved safety feature for the operator, who was now out of the way of the moving arms, less vulnerable to injury or accident.
In the 1960s the loader machines became larger, with larger payload capacities. A record breaking payload capacity was recorded in 1968, with the development of a wheel loader that could contain 25 cubic yards of material.
The largest front end loader in the world is manufactured today in Texas. It has a diesel electric propulsion system like a locomotive engine. Each wheel is rubber tired, and has its own independent electric motor. The bucket on this machine is the size of a studio apartment, and it can lift up to 160,000 pounds. The operator’s station is two stories off the ground and the height of the bucket can reach a maximum height of almost 44 feet.
Some innovative uses of the loader include the Rio de Janeiro police using a one wheeled loader for opening routes in slum areas blocked by drug dealers. The Israeli Combat Engineering Corps uses an armed wheel loader for construction and combat engineering missions in hostile territories, to remove road blocks, building bases and fortifications, and for demolishing small houses. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) added armor plating to the loaders for protection against thrown rocks, stones, light gunfire, and molotov cocktails.