September 2001

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Clearing the way with new technology

 Think high-tech is just a concept used to spice up a boring movie plot? Think again. Easier snow-removal technology is out there, and it’s coming to a city near you.

  By Harvey J. Williams, Illinois Department of Transportation

Will the snow and ice industry ever unite with advanced technology? The marriage is inevitable. If you don’t think so, just take a look around: Designers, engineers and scientists are making use of technology that will impact everything from agriculture to space. This is not so farfetched. Remember, at the turn of the 20th century, horses and sleighs were a sufficient mode of transportation after a snowstorm. Within 30 years though, trucks were hauling and spreading salt or sand and pushing snowplows. The need to remove snow to enhance transportation has not changed, but the equipment and products sure have.

Progress in plows

Snowplows mounted on the front of trucks, and scrapers mounted under them, have been available for many years. If the concept of safely clearing snow at 60 MPH whets your appetite, take a look at what you may have in store in the future. A computer-assisted, fuzzy-logic control system tweaking the sections of a multi-segment moldboard will provide efficiency and safety. Feedback from the plow will be evaluated by on-board computers. These computers will use load-sensing hydraulic systems to automatically make adjustments and advise the operator of maximum achievable efficiency.

By uniting on-board computers with the vehicle’s hydraulics system, the spreading of deicing products after a snow event will allow the truck to operate at high speeds while keeping the spread of products on the highway surface. The process works effectively by accelerating the product being spread to the same speed in the opposite direction that the vehicle is traveling.

This is not a new concept. However, combining multiple systems to regulate the spreading of various products in the proper quantity at the appropriate point during the storm is revolutionary. These control systems are being developed to evaluate pavement temperature, determine the amount of deicing agent needed on pavement, calculate what proportion to blend products to maintain safe driving conditions, as well as estimate how materials address infrastructure. Improved computers and new-generation pavement sensors will enhance systems to operate faster, as well as more effectively and safely.

Weather watching

Improvements in weather-prediction and monitoring software, such as Virtual Weather, have resulted in systems that have the ability to observe weather conditions at various locations and project what conditions will be in another. This technology will participate in the spreading system logic. Combining GPS (Global Positioning System) technology into this process will advise you of a storm’s current location and will assist in developing databases of where you should place products and the level of service you can expect to achieve from such placement. Crews can then enter precise records regarding product placement and result, enter them into their on-board computers, and transmit them back to a base station. This information not only will be instrumental in helping you develop storm scenarios for use in the future, it will also add precision to your maintenance practices.

Tracking technology

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) can help you determine where your units are working and what activities are taking place. Operation of, or communication with, on-board systems will not be limited to levers or knobs because voice commands by the driver will assist in guiding smart systems. Voice-actuated controls will allow the operator to have both hands available to drive the truck.

Methods of driver identification also are being developed. Identification cards similar to credit cards with magnetic strips will provide voice patterns for the truck computer as well as determine if the person identified as driving the truck is actually an authorized driver.

Added technology allows the computer systems in your trucks to send a message to the base station advising of needed maintenance or parts about to fail. The base station system can even automatically order a replacement part and notify your mechanical staff when the part will arrive and on which truck to make the repair.

Enhanced ergonomics

As other improvements are phased in, controls that address ergonomics are a necessity. Currently, engineers are working on the development of operator modules that combine driver seat and joystick controls, relieve stress and improve accessibility. These modules also will feature the electronic capability to assist in decision making. They will display current Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS, a network of weather and pavement conditions stations) with a looping radar that shows the movement of the storm.

Modern melting

In the future, using liquid anti-icer before a storm event and deicer during and after the storm will require you to know more about product performance and how it relates to the quantities you should use. Currently, chloride-based products are popular. In the future, anti-icing and deicing products may be inhibited with agricultural, grain-based products. Chemical inhibitors provide a method of reducing or eliminating concrete and steel deterioration. Inhibitors are receiving a great amount of attention in the research community.

When developing a deicing plan, you will evaluate the pounds of ice melted versus the quantity of product placed. Most inhibitors are biodegradable, but may have significant impacts on fish and plant life. Each manufacturer must provide product composition information as well as material safety data sheets (MSDS) to assist you in making product decisions.

Even today, the melting performance of granular products already greatly improves when you pre-wet them prior to spreading. However, no one pre-wet product provides a complete spectrum of service. Eventually, types and amounts of liquids for pre-wetting will increase to as much as 1,000 gallons per truck. Fabricators and designers are developing liquid storage space that can accommodate four different products and use on-board blending to provide the most efficient strategy. Chemical synergy will offer greater effectiveness and reduce costs.

Truck technology

Trucks of the future, equipped with body roll-off systems, will reduce the number of chassis needed. If you properly maintain the roll-off bodies, their service life may double or triple. Light-weight, combination poly bodies will offer reduced weight and alleviate rusting problems.

First-generation portable anti-icer units were limited in their capacity (1,000 gallons or less). Their primary use was on bridge decks. Later generations carried from 2,500 to 3,000 gallons of multiple products. Now, 5,000-gallon anti-icer trucks are available; however, they are limited to multi-lane operations due to their size.

With the invention of larger-capacity holding tanks for chemicals comes the need for more responsibility on your part. You will need to institute effective quality-control methods as well as good record keeping for all chemical mixing and storing that you do on site. Systems are being developed that automatically adjust salinity, remove debris from the product and add biodegradable dyes that help you to identify product by color. This way, you could designate different colors for different chemicals. For example, you would know that the medium blue pre-mixed solution is always liquid calcium chloride as opposed to the medium green mix, which is always sodium chloride. Many liquid deicing products are not compatible, and operators need a simple method to identify the product.

As high-tech equipment is incorporated into fleets, Smart Trucks will be common. The trucks will offer virtual displays of the highway so that crews can safely and effectively operate in challenging weather conditions. They will have Doppler radar that will monitor all four sides of the truck and display a symbol on the windshield to alert the driver when there is danger of a collision. If an oncoming vehicle remains in the truck’s path, it will sound alarms and display larger symbols on the windshield. If the truck operator does not initiate action to avoid the collision, a combination of systems will steer the truck away.

The constant improvements to equipment, in addition to ever-emerging new inventions, results in a promising future for the snow-and-ice-removal industry. Although the technology is complex, the results will help you simplify your business.

Harvey J. Williams is an operations technician for primary and interstate highway systems for the Illinois Department of Transportation (Dixon, Ill.). He has co-authored a manual on the use of liquids for winter maintenance and served as guest lecturer for organizations around the country and in Canada on the subject of current and future maintenance practices.  He has also partnered with manufacturers to develop equipment that is in use throughout the snow and ice industry.


Plows overcome mounting challenges

  With new mounting systems, putting a plow on your pickup has never been easier

  By John Berlowski, Hiniker Company

  Quick Hitch, Minute Mount, Rapid Tach, Ultra Mount, EZ-Mount … These are just a few of the names of mounting systems currently offered by snowplow manufacturers. Their names imply simple and fast hook ups, but do they deliver? In a word: yes. Never before has it been this easy.

Mounting modifications

Quite simply, a mounting system provides you with a method of connecting the plow hardware, which is permanently attached to your truck, to the snowplow assembly. Putting a plow on a pickup hasn’t always been an easy task, and these new systems are the evolutionary product of the self-contained snowplows. It used to be that the plow’s hydraulic power was supplied by a clutch pump. It was designed to be installed on the truck’s engine, or as an electric/hydraulic unit under the hood or out on the front of the grill. The plow’s lights, lift chain and hydraulic disconnects were also out in front of the truck. This was permanent hardware that was unsightly and heavy.

When the new generation of pickups began to emerge, plows had to change. Today’s computer-monitored engines and space restrictions have all but eliminated under-hood installations. By removing the lights, pump and the chain lift from the front of the truck, airflow restrictions to the engine are eliminated, and a substantial amount of permanent weight is reduced. Because trucks are much more than just a utilitarian work platform, the appearance is also a major consideration and the clean look has been well received by contractors.

Design developments

Each manufacturer of plows offers its own version of a quick-mounting system. Some use simple, mechanical, self-aligning hook-ups while others use hydraulically assisted systems.

While the systems are not interchangeable, they do have a common design element. For all manufacturers, the snowplow is now a single, self-contained unit with the moldboard, push frame, lights, power unit and lift all as one assembly that can be taken off the truck as a single piece. Then, the removed plow assembly is simply left in position to allow you to hook it back up in seconds when needed.

Because these new mounting systems are simple to use, you can remove the plow after each snow event. This makes for a safer vehicle to drive in the meantime, and also reduces the extra weight on the truck’s suspension.

Truck tests

Currently, all nationally recognized snowplow manufacturers are members of the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA). The NTEA, based out of Farmington Hills, Mich., facilitates the flow of ideas and the information between truck-equipment distributors, equipment distributors, equipment manufacturers and truck manufacturers.

The NTEA has established committees that focus on specific industries. One such committee is the Snow Control Committee, which brings together representatives from the membership’s plow manufacturers and pickup truck manufacturers. This group schedules meetings twice a year to discuss current issues, future design changes and needs as they relate to the industry.

It is through the NTEA and this committee that snowplow manufacturers are made aware of truck chassis changes and new chassis models. Because of this cooperative effort, there are mounting systems available for new model trucks when they begin to show up on dealers’ lots.

The relationship between manufacturers provides more than just timely product introduction. The mounting hardware attached to the truck not only has to support the snowplow in normal operation, it must do so without preventing the truck from reacting as designed during a head-on crash. When asked, the committee supplies mounting kits to be used in barrier crash tests. The information gathered from these tests is then shared with participating members.

Daimler Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are members of the Snow Control Committee. No import truck manufacturers are represented, nor are there any import pickups currently recommended for snowplow use.

Matching mounts

Each major brand of snowplow now has a fast-hitch type of mounting system available, so you will not lack for choices. When you are reviewing your options, there are a few questions to keep in mind. For example, if you have different types of plows of the same brand in your fleet, are the plows and mounts compatible? Will your straight-blade plow and your “V” plow both use the same mounting system?

Keep in mind that the new mounting systems do not adapt to the older generation of plows, so if you already have plows in your fleet, there will be some incompatibility. In order for the mounting system to work properly, it may be necessary to modify or remove the trim below the bumper of some model pickups. If this is a concern, you should consult with a snowplow dealer prior to purchasing a new truck. If ground clearance or appearance is a major consideration, ask your dealer if any of the mounting hardware is designed so that it can be easily removed in the off-season.

Another advantage to the new mounting systems is that the main cost is in the plow assembly. This can make it cost effective for you to set up an additional truck to support a compatible fleet. When a truck is in for service, this can be a valuable asset.

These new mounting systems do not require any special maintenance or service. Follow the recommended procedures in your snowplow operator’s manual. It is always good practice to check all hardware periodically during the plowing season and keep it tightened to the manufacturer’s specified torques.

The mounting system is only one part of the complete plow assembly. When you are ready to purchase your next snowplow, take the time to explore your options. Most people buy out of habit: “It’s what I have always had.” Look around. With new mounting systems, new models of plows and new brands to choose from, you may find new ways to increase productivity and product.

John Berlowski is sales manager for Hiniker Company (Mankato, Minn.).


Ice Breakers

The first annual Ice Breakers sessions brought expert advice about the snow-removal industry to attendees at the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo.

By Cindy Ratcliff, editor

The  weather outside may have been hot and sticky, but inside, everyone was talking about the upcoming snowstorm. It’s never too early to prepare for it, and that was the prevailing message brought to attendees at this year’s International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo in Louisville, Ky.

For the first time, the Expo included a Snow & Ice Pavilion, where manufacturers displayed equipment for snow and ice removal. As a special feature to the new Snow & Ice Pavilion, Expo coordinators teamed up with Snow & Ice Manager magazine to host a series of educational sessions focusing on topics that are important to the snow and ice industry.

Two of the featured speakers were Sean Kilcarr and Mike Eby. Kilcarr is senior editor for Fleet Owner magazine. He shared information about new technology and how it will relate to the snow and ice business, and offered some practical business advice as well. Eby, a snowplow distributor  representing The BOSS Snowplows, told attendees how they could make more money plowing snow. Here is a synopsis of what each speaker had to say.

Sean Kilcarr: Business and technology

First, I’d encourage every one of you to check out the Association of Public Works Administrators (APWA). They have a special Winter Maintenance Subcommittee that deals with tons of snow-related issues, and a lot of the information I am presenting to you today comes from the chairman of that committee, Larry Frevert.

You can visit the organization online at

Operating training is something else that you should consider. Are your drivers trained to handle plowing in snow conditions? Public works agencies hold snowplow rodeos every year to train drivers and boost morale, yet contractors have never been included. You may want to think about looking at some training options through your local public works agency, if available.

Working as a contractor to a local government is a hot topic today. Many residents are demanding bare pavement snow clearance equal to the job performed on main artery streets. This has been a growing demand over the last three years, according to the APWA. Public works agencies can’t perform that level of work themselves without extra equipment, workers and resources. That’s why they are looking to hire more contractors in the near future.

However, you should talk with your local municipality to see what the requirements are. Will they require you to salt as well as plow? Will you have to be out 24 hours a day during a three-day blizzard?

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), or vehicle “tracking” is a huge issue. municipalities and states are looking to AVL as a way to check on whether their contractors are doing they job. The state of Virginia is requiring all contractors to install AVL, which will provide the state with the vehicle’s location as well as whether or not the plow is up or down. Though Virginia is helping with the cost of these installations, other states may not.

There are also things you should consider before deciding whether to put a plow on your truck or select a truck for snow and ice removal. Will the vehicle specifications you have hold up under the weight of a plow or spreader or full load of salt? For example, a 400-pound plow that sticks three feet out in front of a vehicle changes that vehicle’s dimensions. The weight from the rear axle is transferred to the front axle. So that 400-pound plow may actually weigh 600 pounds on the front axle.

Also consider the truck’s engine. A diesel engine is a better bet for you. It offers more torque and horsepower at lower speeds, and better low-speed performance is what you need for pushing piles of snow. You may want to look at fuel pre-heaters and engine pre-heaters if you will be operating in very cold temperatures. You may also want to switch from standard No. 2 diesel to a low No. 2 or No. 1 diesel fuel in winter. These have a lower cloud point and don’t “gel” up as much.

Keep in mind that diesel engines weigh a lot more than gasoline ones, so a diesel-equipped standard cab or crew cab pickup is not your best option for a snowplow. A standard cab is the best.

Changes to diesel engines are coming in 2002, 2004 and 2007. These changes apply to new diesel engines that power trucks with 8,500 pounds or more vehicle weight. It is predicted that these engines will reduce emissions by 90 percent compared to existing diesel engines. How will they handle the cold? We don’t know. They may be great, yet may sacrifice fuel economy and performace. It’s too early to tell.

Though this new technology does not apply to engines now in use (there are no retrofit requirements), remember this: In 2006, low-sulfur diesel becomes the only diesel fuel choice. This is a drop from 500 to 15 parts per million sulfur content. How will this affect the performance of your current engines? We don’t know yet.

Mike Eby: Snowplows

Are we ready for the snowstorm? Heavy snow, high winds, blizzard conditions. It’s coming. It’s going to hit us all. Are you ready? I’ll bet you’re not. I’ll be most of you are going to go to the grocery store and load up; you’re going to get the gasoline; then you’re going to go home, curl up around the fireplace and park it. Then there are the people who like a little challenge. The chosen ones. The ones who like the snowplows. The ones who go out and hit it. We look forward to it. It’s a challenge and it’s a huge opportunity to make money.

Now, I’ve got a question for everybody here: What color is snow? White is the most logical answer, but it’s not the one I’m looking for. Snow is green! It’s an opportunity to make a lot of money. That’s why I like it so much. I sell snowplows; I make money. You push snow; you make money. Those are the opportunities and challenges that we are after.

Landscape companies, you’ve got customers that you’re working for all spring, summer and fall. You’re making money. But you could be making more. Remember, the easiest customer to get is the one that you can offer another service to—an additional service that they want to pay you for. So in the winter time, the most logical thing to do is to plow some lots. And you can do that in both commercial and residential. It’s really fairly easy money to make. Commerial clearing will make you a lot of money, but the same holds true for residential. You get into these big cities where they’re building houses hand over fist. Somebody’s got to clear snow for them. The housing incomes have raised and residents are paying to get these drives plowed. We have to take advantage of this to make money.

There are things that you need to address with these customers, especially commercial customers, ahead of time. Determine where they want you to put it; how far you’ve got to push it; and whether they expect you to get it off the lot. If you’re plowing 12 inches one day and in five more days your getting get 6 more inches of snow, where are you going to put that snow? You have to plow accordingly. If you don’t do it, you’re going to get caught and you’re going to get in trouble.

Another thing to do ahead of time is think about obstructions. Some of my customers will go look at the lot in the summer. But you go in the winter and it’s a little different picture, isn’t it? When you get 8 inches of snow on the ground, it doesn’t look anything like it does in the summer. I have customers who draw maps. I have customers who carry cones. I have customers who mark things and take pictures before they go plow those lots. Find what works best for you and use it, because there are liability issues involved. If you are doing residential plowing and you hit a house, do you have a problem? Yes, you have a problem. If you’re plowing a lot that has speed bumps and you take a plow and shave them off, you’ve got to take care of it. That’s why I would demand, if I had people leasing on to me to plow snow, that they carry insurance. And you can’t afford not to. The cost of everything has gone up…If you’re doing residential plowing, you’re plowing around houses that cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million, and if you tear something up, it’s going to cost you some bucks. And they will come after you, too. It’s easier to say “Yes, I have insurance. I’ll take care of that,” than it is to say, “I don’t have insurance, come and get me.” That’s no fun.

And snowplows are expensive, especially when you stick them on a $35,000 pickup truck. You’ve got a lot of money invested. But you have to average it out. It’s a three- to five-year investment when you get into snowplows. If you think you’re going to go out and pay for it one year, you’re fooling yourself. It’s going to take you two or three years; it may take you five. You might pay for it in one year. But who knows when the snow comes? Who knows what you’re going to get and when you’re going to get it?










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