The Cat versus the Robot

12 October 2001

The Cat versus the Robot

In spite of their small size,

skid steer loaders have a

formidable appetite for work.

In America, where they were

invented, farmers and

contractors are among their

biggest customers.

Geoff Ashcroft and

Mike Williams put two of

the latest models

through their paces

THE world market for skid steers is an estimated 92,000 machines a year – a market which is well supported by plenty of makes and models. The two chosen for our head-to-head test at Carole and Paul Jeffreys livery yard at Hill Farm, Witney, Oxon were the Caterpillar 216, and the 160 model in the JCB Robot series.

Caterpillar is one of the new players in the skid steer market with the companys four-model range only given its UK launch at last years Royal Show. It was clearly a bid by Caterpillar to be recognised as a manufacturer of more than just large earthmoving machines.

The 216 is the smallest model in Caterpillars US built range, it could appeal to those who require a compact loader with a good all round capability. Working capacity is 612kg to 2.8m maximum height, and power is provided by a 49hp Perkins 700 series turbo engine built to a Caterpillar specification. The 216 weighs 2534kg.

A brief look around the machine reveals a traditional design with a twin-arm boom and the engine at the rear, with the cab accessed from the front.

But a closer look reveals detailed touches that could appeal to many. These include tapered axle flanges designed to prevent string and wire from becoming tangled around the hubs and destroying the seals, and all grease points have nipples that are recessed for protection.

Opening the side-hinged engine compartment door at the rear of the machine provides access to the engine oil dipstick, all filters, the battery and the alternator, making it easy to carry out the routine checks – plus engine oil and filter changes at the required 500-hour intervals.

Accessibility inside the engine bay is good, and this is helped by locating the oil cooler and the radiator pack above the engine. The pack is hinged, allowing it to be raised for increased access to the engine.

Cooling air is drawn into the engine compartment from behind the cab – the air sucked up over the engine before being drawn out through the radiator. It is an arrangement which should help when working in chaff or dust-laden environments, and it also keeps heat away from the cab.

A heavy-duty rear bumper bar protrudes rearwards beyond the engine compartment door to protect the rear of the skid steer from impact damage.

Before the engine can be started the safety bar must be lowered, and the electronic parking brake must be released before the controls can be activated.

The control layout for the Cat are based on the firms excavator experience, with no awkward combination of hand and foot controls. Two joystick control levers – one for each hand – operate all the main functions, needing only light pressure to provide progressive operation.

The left-hand joystick looks after the forward/reverse selection and steering, and the boom and attachment operation are controlled by the right hand. Engine speed is set by a hand throttle, but a foot control can be used when more performance is required. It is a simple, straightforward arrangement which quickly becomes familiar.

The JCB Robot 160 is a direct competitor for the Cat machine. The British built machine is slightly smaller all round and at 2410kg it is also lighter than its rival.

Engine oil change interval on the Robot is only 250 hours, and the American model has 10% more power than the Robots 47hp, but the rated capacity of the Cat 216 is only 12kg more than the Robot.

It is not hard to spot the big difference between the two machines – the boom design.

JCB re-wrote the rules on skid steer loader design when it developed the Robot range. Instead of the standard twin boom design, the Robot has just one boom to lift and lower the work attachments.

This arrangement can be a big advantage. Drivers of twin-boom skid steers climb aboard through the front of the cab, using the front window as a doorway – and most of the time this also means climbing over the work attachment on the boom.

Another difference is the engine compartment. Both machines are powered by Perkins built engines, but for the JCB version the radiators for the oil supply and the engine coolant are positioned vertically at the rear of the engine, protected by a sturdy steel mesh panel that opens downwards. There is also an engine compartment cover with an upward hinging action.

General accessibility for routine checks and refills is good on both machines, but the top-mounted radiator position means working space on the Cat is more generous and the dipstick on the Cat engine is extended to the rear to leave no excuse for failing to check it.

Radiators on the Robot also appear to be more vulnerable to rear impact damage than those on the Cat machine.

Another important difference is the layout of the most frequently used controls. Getting the best out of a skid steer loader requires slick use of the controls to operate the boom and attachment controls quickly and make fast forward/reverse changes.

JCB uses a combination of hand and foot controls. With the left foot operating all boom movements, the work attachment is controlled by the right foot, while the hand levers select the direction and operate the steering.

At the end of the day there was no outright winner. In the engine compartment is was the Cat that came out on top for accessibility, and we also preferred its controls layout – but for ease of cab entry and exit the one-armed Robot is the clear choice. &#42

Caterpillar v JCB Robot

Caterpillar JCB Robot

216 160

Operating 2534 2410

weight (kg):

Rated 612 600

Capacity (kg):

Engine hp 52 47


Lift height 2854 2800

to pin (mm)

Width with 1576 1400

bucket (mm)

Length with 3233 3210

bucket (mm)

Overall 1950 1930

height (mm)

Head to head…JCBs Robot 160 and Caterpillars 216.

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