Industry professionals and manufacturers gathered together in Louisville, Kentucky, for GIE+Expo in October. More than 26,500 came to see new products across the indoor and outdoor exhibits and network with other experts. This year marked the sixth consecutive record-breaking year for the event.
From the expansion of battery-powered products to the debut of more autonomous mowers, here are some of the biggest product trends that made their mark on the show floor.
In a marked contrast from last year, there was an abundance of robotic, remote-controlled and autonomous battery-powered mowers on display. Cordless professional hand tools with interchangeable rechargeable battery packs were in abundance, with many new entries from several manufacturers.
Mean Green Mowers, Hamilton, Ohio, revealed its brand-new Atom, a large-area autonomous mower that uses artificial intelligence to navigate.
A product of a collaboration with robotics manufacturer Kobi, New York, the Atom uses the KobiVision system, which continuously calculates the position of the mower within half an inch and does not require a base station, good satellite reception or buried wires to keep it within bounds. The unit’s artificial intelligence does all that, while also recognizing humans, pets, trees and other obstacles, and going around them. The Atom is still being tested, but you should be able to buy one by 2021.
Husqvarna’s new Autonomous Operation system uses Exact Positioning Operating System technology, a high-precision satellite navigation system developed by the Stockholm-based power equipment company that provides enhanced real-time positioning accuracy; boundaries are set via Wi-Fi from a smartphone app. Input from sensors, cameras, radar and ultrasonic technology provides collision avoidance. Husqvarna Automowers using the Autonomous Operation system should be available in selected markets by 2021.
Autonomous mowers from Husqvarna, Stihl and Toro, along with several companies from Europe and Asia, were in just about every corner of the show floor. Remote-controlled slope mowers from companies such as Spider and Ambrogio were shown indoors and put through their paces in the outdoor demonstration area.
Contractors looking to automate their mowing operations to account for labor or safety were presented with robotic mower franchise opportunities from Robin Autopilot, Plano, Texas, and Mowbot, Durham, North Carolina.
Several battery-powered conventional mowers were on the floor this year. Greenworks Commercial, Mooresville, North Carolina, introduced its new Lithium Z GS RZ48R 82-volt lithium-ion battery-
powered zero-turn with a 48-inch deck and 16 different cutting heights ranging from 1.5 to 4.5 inches. Three 1.5-kilowatt brushless motors deliver blade speeds of up to 15,000 feet per minute and a forward maximum speed of 7 mph.
Stihl Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia, revealed the RMA 510 V, the company’s first self-propelled battery-powered push mower within the Stihl AP Series. Its 21-inch deck, adjustable to seven different cutting heights, makes it useful when a professional requires a compact, easy-to-maneuver machine for narrow turf areas and smaller yards. The company stressed the mower’s ergonomics, with its squeeze-the-lever starter aimed at reducing user fatigue. Variable speed control lets a user choose mowing speeds between 0.6 mph and 2.8 mph. It can mow up to 2,583 square feet on a single charge of its 36-volt Stihl AP 300 battery.
The pro hand-tool arena is where battery power really shines, and there were plenty of new and improved examples of them at this year’s show.
Stihl introduced several new battery-powered landscape tools, including the GTA 26, a brand-new battery-powered pruner with a 4-inch guide bar and high-quality Stihl saw chain. It runs off the 10.8-volt rechargeable Stihl AS 2 battery.
Also making its first impression was Stihl’s professional-grade MSA 220 C-B chainsaw. Powered by the Stihl AP 300 S 36-volt battery, which the company says is the most powerful chainsaw in its entire battery-powered lineup, it has 15% greater cutting performance than the MSA 200 C-B. It comes standard with a 14-inch or 16-inch guide bar and an exclusive 3/8-inch Stihl Picco saw chain. Other features include a rubberized handle, a toolless oil filler cap and toolless chain tensioner.
Briggs and Stratton, Milwaukee, introduced its new Vanguard commercial lithium-ion battery pack, a product of a collaboration with Argo XTV, Wilmington, Delaware, a manufacturer of extreme terrain vehicles. The lithium-ion battery, battery management system and battery charger are intended to work seamlessly together.
Briggs and Stratton aims to build on its background in power application with a complete commercial battery solution for the turf market, according to a company spokesperson. An Argo XTR powered by Vanguard commercial battery packs was available for inspection at the Briggs and Stratton outdoor booth. Plans are to use the new packs in Ferris Z1 mowers and in other products from Briggs and Stratton-owned brands such as Billy Goat.
Greenworks Commercial debuted its newest addition to its family of 82-volt hand tools, the new GS 181 chainsaw. Also unveiled was the new GS 82W1 battery-powered portable capstan winch, which the company says is the only such product sold in the United States.
Makita U.S.A., La Mirada, California, took to the show floor to debut 10 new battery-powered tools. Among them were a new brushless string trimmer, the 36-volt XRU18, with a 17-inch cutting capacity and power equivalent to a 30-cc gas-powered string trimmer; a 36-volt brushless 14-inch top handle chainsaw, the XCU08; and a 36-volt brushless blower, the XBU04, a 3-in-1 solution with blowing, vacuuming and mulching settings that delivers up to 473 cubic feet per minute and 120 mph air velocity.
Powering some of those tools will be Makita’s new PDC01 LXT and LXT X2 portable backpack power supply that can use up to four 18V LXT batteries. The batteries can be easily removed for charging and replaced with freshly charged LXT batteries, distinguishing it from some other backpack power supplies that do not have removable batteries.
Information is power
The world is full of data and information, but it’s only valuable if there’s an easy solution to help landscapers apply it to their daily operations. Manufacturers and software companies continue to create solutions intended to help green industry companies improve productivity and better manage their employees and equipment.
In addition to giving a rundown of equipment specs, product managers from many companies exhibiting at GIE+Expo highlighted equipment management solutions that offer landscapers a way to monitor their machines.
These companies include Stihl who debuted its new technology Stihl Connected at the show. To use it, landscapers attach a Smart Connector device to their tools which records operational details that are sent to the user’s smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. Through the Stihl app or Connect Pro portal online, landscape professionals can access tool usage data to help plan maintenance schedules and improve daily work processes. The technology will be available in spring 2020.
Other companies rolling out similar solutions include Husqvarna, who previewed its own GPS tracking and asset management system that has yet to be released. The system is similar in that a Husqvarna Fleet Services sensor is placed on any piece of equipment, providing landscapers with information such as its location, how much it’s being used and when it’s time for service.
Toro, Bloomington, Minnesota, also recently announced the launch of its new business management software, Horizon. The software that stores and translates customer, job, employee and equipment data will be commercially available after it is beta tested by contractors in 2020.
Another market within the green industry continuing to advance technology is the landscape business management software field. One of these companies is LMN, based in Markham, Ontario. At GIE+Expo, the company released its latest version, LMN 19.10, which includes a new customer relationship management app that allows landscapers to review communication history (including job files and photos), create new leads, assign to-do’s and access driving directions to a job.
The company also released an updated version of the LMN Time app, giving users information faster. Punch-in times have been reduced by half, crews can look ahead at their schedules to better prep for upcoming work and admins will be alerted to errors with payroll warnings. The app is also now available in Spanish and French.
Jobber, Edmonton, Alberta, also displayed new features at the show. The home service management software provider demonstrated recent updates, including online booking, automated customer quote follow-ups, and integrations with marketing automation platform Mailchimp and online task automation tool Zapier.
As the telematics and technological solutions continue to advance, landscapers will be able to grow their businesses with valuable information that helps them make smarter business decisions.
Companies across the show floor also boasted more powerful equipment with a focus on ease of use for contractors, finding new ways to boost productivity.
Exmark, Beatrice, Nebraska, showed off its new Lazer Z X-Series zero-turn mower with a 96-inch deck, making it the company’s largest, most powerful gasoline-powered commercial rider so far. The mower is capable of covering nine acres per hour, Exmark says.
Hustler Turf, Hesston, Kansas, unveiled its Super 88 zero-turn stand-on mower, providing the cut quality of a 54-inch deck and the productivity of an 88-inch cut, allowing operators to mow faster and with a smaller crew. The Super 88 features two engine options, including a Vanguard 36-horsepower carbureted gas engine or a Vanguard 37-horsepower EFI engine with an oil guard system.
The company also showed its newly refreshed Hustler Turf Super 104, a wide-area zero-turn rider with a 104-inch width of cut. It now has a new Vanguard EFI engine with oil guard.
In the outdoor display area, Caterpillar, Deerfield, Illinois, showed its new Cat 306 CR Mini Hydraulic Excavator, its first 6-ton-class excavator. Contractors told Caterpillar they wanted something larger than a 5-ton but smaller than an 8-ton entry, according to a company spokesperson. A long stick option gives the 306 a maximum dig depth of 162 inches and the ability to lift up to 7,839 pounds at a 9.8-foot radius.
Bobcat Company, West Fargo, North Dakota, debuted the newest member of its R-Series excavator lineup, the new E26 compact excavator. It features a 19% increase in glass surface area, providing operators with a panoramic view of the job site and a larger front panel for improved view of the attachment. Bobcat also redesigned the cab to be more spacious and provide extra comfort in response to contractor requests, says a company spokesperson.
Operator comfort and ease of use made up another major theme for new products at the Expo, as manufacturers improved ergonomics to boost efficiency and deal with labor shortages.
Attendees could demo the new Pro Z 972 SDL from Cub Cadet, Cleveland, on a platform that tilted back and forth to show off its new self-leveling air ride seat. It can automatically level 15 degrees either direction, keeping the operator in a more comfortable position while mowing slopes up to 25 degrees. The model includes a fully integrated lighting system for low-light operation and use by government department teams. It is planned to be available for purchase by February 2020.
Companies also updated controls and interfaces to be more user-friendly alongside changes in engines and other features, including manufacturers such as Toro, Husqvarna, John Deere and New Holland. Some additions included a phone holder or port for a charger, as cell phones become a more necessary tool for managing jobs.
Improved visibility of the workspace, such as with the new SK3000 stand-on skid steer by Ditch Witch, Perry, Oklahoma, makes the work site more efficient and increases safety. It has a lift capacity of 3,100 pounds, provides up to 51 horsepower to attachments and weighs in at 7,600 pounds. It has an optional dual self-leveling kit and its 332-square-inch operator platform allows 360-degree visibility.
Contractors also look for more maneuverability to get the right equipment to the job site without causing damage to customers’ spaces, such as the new CTX160 mini skid steer by Vermeer, Pella, Iowa. The machine, equipped with a stand-on operator platform, has a lifting capacity of 1,600 pounds with a width of 42 inches, which allows it to pass through a standard gate.