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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
of plows offers its own version of a quick-mounting system. Some use simple,
mechanical, self-aligning hook-ups while others use hydraulically assisted
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.).
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
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.
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.
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.
visit the organization online at www.apwa.net.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?