Evarn Covich jumps into the cab of a new Takeuchi TB280FR 8.6-tonne excavator and finds one of the most well-thought-out machines that he has operated.
In 1970 Takeuchi was asked to find a way to mechanise the way that house foundations were dug. A year later, Takeuchi had developed and produced the TB1000, the world’s first 360-degree compact excavator, weighing in at 2 tonnes. Since then the company has been forming a reputation for listening to its customers’ needs and turning some of their ideas into reality.
So when you get given the opportunity to test drive a brand new machine developed and produced by a company with those sort of credentials, you take that opportunity with a little higher expectation than usual.
The machine we tested at distributor Semco Group’s Brisbane branch was one of Takeuchi’s new zero-tail-swing excavators, the TB280FR. It weighs in at around 8.6 tonnes and hit the market late last year, replacing the older TB180FR excavators.
On my initial walk-around inspection, the first thing that caught my attention was the position of the fuel filler point located in a small compartment just behind the cab. This makes for easy refuelling at ground level, or you could use the fuel transfer pump located at the rear of the machine. The fuel tank also doubles as the step to the operator’s cabin, which I felt was a good use of space. I also noticed that the outer most panels on the machine are made of thicker gauge steel in order to help protect the inner workings of the machine.
On raising the engine cover at the rear to expose the heart of the machine, it was good to see that the daily checkable items are within easy reach from the ground with good vision to most components. The operator’s cab is also able to be tilted forward in order to allow better access to the motor. The 3.3-litre, 4-cylinder Yanmar 4TNV98CT engine produces 69.2 horsepower (51.6kW) — which is 9 percent more than its predecessor — and has a Tier 4 final rating.
When I opened the offside door on the machine to check out the radiator, oil cooler and air filter area, I was happy to see that there is also an attachment provided for grease gun storage.
I don’t know about you, but a pet hate of mine for years is not having somewhere on a digger to store your grease gun without getting the stuff all over the place. No matter how many rags you wrap around those things, grease still seems to get through everything in your toolbox.
Triple flange rollers are used to inhibit the potential of dropping tracks due to multiple points of contact, and we all know that they always come off in the worst spots at the worst time.
A big plus for me is the fact that the tracks have a self-adjusting tensioning system. This comes back to the grease gun thing. For one reason or another, it’s usually awkward trying to pump up digger tracks by hand due to the small space you have to place your hand inside. It’s also usually full of dirt, so you spend time cleaning it out only to find the grease nipple is also blocked by dirt.
So you usually end up removing and cleaning or replacing it, which costs more time that should be getting charged to the customer and not spent idle … even though there would be a few crooks out there who would still charge downtime to the client. You can usually spot them quite easily: they are the ones running around on banged-up machines with loose tracks!
The boom has a reach of 7045mm at ground level with a maximum dig depth of 4545mm and a maximum dump height of 4480mm — all without a quick hitch fitted.
But for me the best part of the boom is Takeuchi’s patented side-to-side (STS) boom system. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, it’s basically a system where the boom is mounted onto the machine via a sliding system attached under the cab.
This enables the boom to be moved from one side of the machine to the other, creating the same versatility as a machine with a pivot boom but without having the disadvantage of having to look out the side of the cab to see what your bucket is doing. With the STS the bucket is always in clear view through the front window of the cab.
If the boom is moved fully to the off-side of the machine, with the flick of a switch the FR boom system enables the operator to fully retract the boom. With the stick in, the bucket is able to be positioned over the body of the machine next to the cab, effectively making it a full zero-swing machine able to pretty much turn within its own track width of 2300mm.
This feature is unique to Takeuchi and a pretty good accomplishment for a machine this size. On the negative side, I can envisage some operators covering the machine with dirt in places that were not intended to be covered in dirt if they aren’t careful. Takeuchi, however, seems to have counteracted the problem to a degree with the use of a cushioned main boom and hydraulic ram cylinders.
The TB280FR comes standard with dual auxiliary hydraulics. The first one is a 148Lpm programmable circuit with proportional control and detent function. This large amount of flow is intended for the running of drills, mulchers, rock breakers and so on. The secondary auxiliary circuit runs at a rate of 58 lpm, making it ideal for running attachments such as tilt hitches and hydraulic thumbs.
Because both circuits are proportional and programmable, you are able to adjust the flow rate to suit the attachment. For example, if you are running a drill you could have it turning at one speed when you are drilling down and turning at a different speed when you reverse it.
It is also worth noting that these machines also come standard with boom & arm holding valves with overload alarm as an added safety feature for the use of craning or to stop the boom from dropping in the event of a burst hydraulic hose or failed cylinder etc.
In the cab
The TB280FR comes fitted as standard with a ROPS1 and FOPS2 rated cabin, which we all know is becoming an ever-increasing necessity on job sites these days due to ever-expanding safety regulations.
I was glad to see that the cab roof had two work lights facing forward and two facing the rear — as well as the light on the boom. In my opinion you can never have too many work lights on your machine. Night-shift operators will understand what I mean! The climb into the cab was effortless courtesy of the large, well-positioned step mounted to the track frame as well as the step/fuel tank mounted beneath the entry door.
Once inside I was able to try the different seat adjustments in order to find my happy medium. Although I was able to get myself into a comfortable position to operate the machine using the levers, I found there wasn’t much leg room for my six-foot-tall frame.
Even with the seat in its highest position and pushed back as far as it would go I found it rather cramped to operate the track pedals with my feet. This is, however, a frequent occurrence with zero-swing excavators due to their limited amounts of room.
The control levers are of a shape that feels comfortable to hold, and the buttons and auxiliary switches are positioned within easy reach of the operator’s thumbs.
I particularly enjoyed the ease of operating the tilt hitch with the auxiliary proportional slide switch, which allows the operator to tilt the bucket slowly, fast or anywhere in between. For some operators this will definitely help to alleviate some of the frustration often encountered during the final trim process.
The windows on the Takeuchi provide for excellent vision around the entire machine while sitting in the driver’s seat. The front window is able to be easily lifted out of the way, and the bottom portion can be taken out altogether and stored behind the operator’s seat.
This would allow some extra leg room for the operator who feels the need to stretch out a bit (see above).
With the limited size and the amount of glass on the cabins of these types of machines you can sometimes feel like you’re sitting in a greenhouse. On the day that I tested this excavator it was fine with cloudy periods and sitting at around 30 degrees Celsius. I had the air conditioner set at 1 and, even though we were in and out of the machine, opening and closing the cab door, the inside of the cabin remained at a consistently cool temperature and I felt no need to turn the climate control system up at all.
The LCD dash provides data about almost everything in use on the machine, from the usual coolant temperature, revs, fuel, etc, through to attachments, auxiliaries in use, work modes etc. It’s pretty easy to read and understand at a glance.
On the job
For this review I was fortunate that Semco had organised a rather large area covered with a couple of different types of fill in order to test the machine’s capabilities.
After starting up I found the enclosed cabin made for a nice, quiet work environment with the excellent air conditioning unit and good AM/FM stereo helping to make the day behind the controls less stressful.
I cranked her up to full revs and proceeded to walk the machine up onto a small bench of compacted clay fill in high gear in order to try out the automatic kick down, which I only encountered near the top of the climb as the machine seemed to go up the mound with relative ease.
In fact, even when I was trying to push a full dozer blade of dirt I had trouble trying to get the machine to kick down into low gear as it seemed to be able to push it without too much effort at all.
I started to dig a trench through the compacted fill, and this seemed rather effortless. Even when I broke through to the virgin ground underneath the machine still seemed to cut through without a lot of effort and strain.
Actually, it wasn’t until I struck an old tree root fairly deep down in the virgin ground that I was able to make the machine work hard and exert a bit of energy and force in order to loosen and break it out while all the time remaining pretty stable throughout.
The control levers are positioned well and are comfortable to hold. The hydraulic system seems responsive to the levers, which in turn helps to make it rather effortless to cut a level grade while digging.
Also, as I touched on earlier, the auxiliary proportional slide switch used to operate the tilt hitch, once I got used to it, has to be one of the best tilt hitch/bucket type operating systems that I have ever encountered. Together, all of that could make even the roughest of operators look like a bit of a seasoned pro.
The dozer blade is also equipped with a float in order to help those of you who have trouble getting a decent finish when you are trying to push dirt around. I wouldn’t recommend using it on soft fill as the blade will tend to dig in, but it works a treat on hard ground when you’re trying to push around that excess dirt.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As I said at the beginning, when I came to do this review I probably approached it with a higher expectation than I would have for most machines. I am happy to say that I did not feel disappointed — this has to be one of the most well-thought-out machines that I have ever operated.
Many of the Takeuchi TB280FR’s features can be found on different excavators on the market these days but it is pretty rare that this many of them can be found on one machine. There are not many machines that you could buy straight off the showroom floor boasting credentials like ROPS and FOPS cab, boom and arm holding valves, self-adjusting tracks, and twin auxiliary piping with auxiliary proportional slide switches, to name a few, as well as Takeuchi’s own patented STS and FR boom systems.
The only downside for me was that, even though the seat is able to be lifted quite high, it is not able to be moved back far enough in order for me to be able to operate the track controls freely with my feet. The other controls, however, seemed to be well placed in the cab to allow for operator comfort and easy access to the dials and switches.
Takeuchi has taken most of the hard work and intricacies of operation out and created an operator-friendly machine that is smooth and easy to use.
In a nutshell, I feel that anyone who operates a machine of this calibre and cannot make a half-decent job has no business being in the earthmoving industry.