Winter Maintenance Equipment Technologies
To a winter equipment operator, their equipment is like a second home. Fifteen-hour workdays are not uncommon, so having a comfortable, reliable vehicle is crucial. Equally as important is having equipment that allows the operator to spend the bulk of their time inside the warmth and safety of that vehicle.
Just as trucks, phones and computers have improved over the years, so too has snow and ice management equipment. Spreader and snowplow manufacturers have continually developed their product offerings to improve efficiency and reliability. Here is a look at some of those developments and how they are positively impacting contractor’s day-to-day operations.
Perhaps the biggest advancement has been fabricating equipment that is lighter, yet more durable to reduce weight concerns. These significant weight reductions have been achieved through computer aided design and the use of non-traditional materials. Less weight from equipment equals reduced vehicle loading, improved performance and longevity.
Many manufacturers have employed polyethylene, a lightweight, yet durable material for major and minor components. A typical non-highway class salt spreader, made with polyethylene construction can reduce its empty weight by as much as 40% when compared with a similar carbon steel version. These reductions in equipment weight, when combined with the right truck configuration will improve weight distribution and GVWR capabilities, resulting in less trips to the yard to refill with salt, sand or brine.
Further innovations have been applied to mounting systems – including Ro-Ro’s (Roll On-Roll Off), hook lifts and more – to make them more easily handled by fewer personnel. Not only have these materials been used in the construction of the spreaders, they have also been applied to the construction of plows. The “Poly” blade has even begun to be seen on highway class equipment.
Available in many places for more than 20 years, “trip edge” blades lower the impact force to the plow and eliminate potential damage to it and the truck when a hazard (such as a surface utility or pothole) is encountered. The design essentially comprises of spring-mounted cutting edges and sections with dampeners. The structural stress caused by striking a rigid object is transferred to motion within the plow, rather than shock transfer through the coupler and into the vehicle’s frame. How many used 4x4s have you avoided buying, knowing they had been used for snow plowing?
Harness attachments have also been part of these developments and in many cases use a “skid-steer like” quick attach plate to speed up coupling/decoupling and enhance the vehicle road performance and looks.
For the typical owner/operator, the cab is the “command and control” hub for operations. That can make it a pretty hectic and cluttered place to spend 10+ hours in a day. This is only moderately less true for the typical operator. The equipment manufacturers have thought about that too.
The answer is both eloquent and simple: integrate an easy-to-use spreader and plow control system into the design of new equipment. This should improve reliability and will keep the operator in the cab, warm, dry and most importantly safe.
Integrated speed sensing, GPS and data collection are all standard features on most top of the line spreaders. Managers can review application rates and plow operations, which improves billing and customer reporting. The operator is provided a simple display and as few controls as possible to permit them to function with less stress, more efficiently in an ergonomically enhanced environment.
For as much time as snow and ice maintenance contractors spend with their trucks, improvements to the equipment – no matter how small – should not go unnoticed. As the marketplace embraces these developments more efficient operations, improved equipment life cycles and happier more effective operators will result in better customer service and enhanced profitability. And not a moment too soon, because when a work environment includes sub-zero temperatures, wind chills and fatigued drivers, every advantage is extremely valuable.
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