Snow and ice equipment extends beyond plows and spreaders

With the weather starting to cool down, and the landscape season coming to a close in many parts of the country, this could be a good time to begin thinking of how you can generate additional revenue for your company. There are a number of options available to you, but if you haven’t thought about adding snow removal, this could be as good a time as any to begin.

When you think of it, you already have the main piece of equipment—the truck. The same truck that you use in the spring and summer for your landscape work can now be retrofitted to handle snow and ice. Many landscape contractors have benefited from fitting plows and spreaders onto their trucks.

Now there are new trends in snow and ice equipment that can help, but to take advantage you need to think beyond the basics. The winter-based equipment industry has evolved with time. Plows have undergone design changes and are now constructed with higher quality materials. Spreaders are also available with more options than ever, with different styles to choose from. While V-boxes are still favored by contractors, tailgate and under-tailgate spreaders, which fit onto dump bodies, are also gaining in popularity.

However, the next big thing in the industry isn’t a new type of plow or spreader, but rather a variety of peripheral products that will complement existing equipment. These new technologies include sprayers, broom attachments and job-tracking devices.

Profitable solutions

Sprayers have been used by municipalities for years, but have just recently gained interest among private contractors. The trend began during the salt shortages of the last few years, when contractors were forced to more carefully ration their resources. As demand for sprayers becomes greater, so does the quality and technology behind the products themselves.

Sprayers fall into three categories: pre-wetting, anti-icing and de-icing. They handle the same brine solutions, but differ in how they apply the liquid. Pre-wetting involves spraying salt before it is spread, speeding the melting process and reducing the amount of salt necessary to treat an area. Anti-icing sprayers are used just before a storm strikes; they drizzle liquid onto the ground to prevent bonds between ice and pavement. Finally, de-icing is the practice of spraying brine on the ground to melt ice after it has formed.

While the demand grows for pre-wetting sprayers, so do the equipment designs. The newest pre-wetting sprayers, also referred to as “saddle tanks,” are designed to fit comfortably beside V-box spreaders in truck beds. They are now engineered to apply brine just before the salt hits the spinner—which is regarded in the industry as the most effective pre-wetting technique. Some of the most advanced sprayer controls will even plug directly into the spreader’s controller to electronically calibrate the ideal amount of solution.

While pre-wetting sprayers are a supplemental product to spreaders, de-icing sprayers, on the other hand, are stand-alone pieces of equipment. Both types of sprayers, however, can sometimes be used to also perform anti-icing applications.

For example, pre-wetting equipment often contains multiple nozzles—one sprays material before it hits the spinner, and the remaining nozzles are pointed at the ground for anti-icing. These setups allow the operator to pre-wet, anti-ice or perform both tasks at the same time. Additionally, de-icing sprayers can naturally be used for anti-icing treatments, as this equipment is already designed to spray directly to the ground.

Clean sweep

Another trend that’s sweeping the nation—literally—is the snow broom. Manufacturers have developed snow brooms which are capable of pushing light snow and slush without damaging sensitive surfaces. These products have grown in popularity as contractors explore new ways to prevent damage to decorative concretes, permeable pavement, and sprinkler heads.

Generally, snow brooms replace the moldboard of a standard snowplow and use the existing mount and hydraulics. Fabrication is usually required to install this equipment, but any outfitter can provide quick turnaround for this type of work.

Because of their simple design, snow brooms typically carry a much lower price tag than a plow; not to mention, they’re a lot cheaper than paying for damage to a customer’s property. Therefore, many contractors are starting to purchase this attachment to extend their capabilities.

Keeping track of time

The third type of product actually sits inside the cab, rather than being mounted outside the truck. Nonetheless, job tracking devices have become an equally important part of operations, as contractors start investing in this new technology.

Traditionally, contractors documented their plowing and spreading applications by simply writing it all by hand at the jobsite. This information was used for billing clients and reducing a contractor’s liability in slip-and-fall lawsuits. However, the process of transcribing the information was terribly inefficient. And when you think about it, a scribbled scrap of paper lacks professionalism and doesn’t exactly hold high credibility when challenged with a slip-and-call claim in a court of law.

Now, an electronic job-tracking device can be mounted in the cab, and the operator simply pushes buttons at the beginning and end of every task at the jobsite. The device documents how time was spent and can then be uploaded as a spreadsheet onto a computer at the end of the day.

Some manufacturers now offer a product that plugs into a data port on the spreader’s controller. This technology can calculate the exact amount of salt that was spread on a jobsite during a designated time frame. Prior to this technology, contractors had no way to accurately determine such statistics.

Mounted camera systems can be used to aid in backing up a truck, monitoring an application or even providing documentation of the work that was done on an account. Again, this practice has been used by snow and ice professionals for years, but manufacturers are now starting to develop more specialized systems that distributors can install, rather than contractors jury-rigging their own setups.

By using job-tracking devices, contractors now have a more sophisticated way to bill clients and can provide documentation for exactly what kind of work was done. Also, by monitoring the trends in salt usage, preseason material purchases can be made more accurately. In short, these devices allow for a really effective all around business evaluation.

A perfect fit

Peripheral equipment available for sprayers, snow brooms and job-tracking devices are just a few of the newest trends in the snow and ice management industry. Manufacturers have developed these products in recent years because they understand the needs of contractors—especially in the current economy.

Likewise, snow and ice professionals have been finding this equipment to be a perfect fit for their operations as they look for new ways to reduce costs, offer more services and improve their businesses overall. For a relatively small investment, they’re getting a big bang.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Hall is the director of marketing & sales, TrynEx International.