Turf Magazine - October, 2012

FEATURES

Riding to Bigger Profits

Spreader/sprayer technology allows contractors to boost lawn care efficiency
By James Truan

Throughout the years, manufacturers have tried to develop many new types of equipment for turf contractors, hoping to improve the way jobs get done. Some of these efforts have succeeded; many have failed.


Intuitive fingertip controls help make spreader/sprayers more user-friendly than ever.

Of all the new contraptions the turf industry has seen, many might not have expected the idea of a dedicated ride-on spreader/sprayer (also known as a Spread-N-Spray) to take off. However, the popularity of these machines has grown tremendously in recent years, and manufacturers have responded by introducing new products or enhancing existing models. Thanks to the latest advancements, it seems today's spreader/sprayers have the right combination to help contractors boost efficiency.

In the beginning

Ride-on spreader/sprayers are not at all new to the industry. In fact, some of today's contractors probably don't remember the earliest models. What is new with this equipment, however, is the wave of attention it has recently attracted.

The increased interest in spreader/sprayers stems from a new school of thought in the industry. Today's contractors have grown smarter and understand that maximizing profitability comes from boosting productivity and becoming more efficient. And though it seems contradictory to purchase new equipment when cutting costs, some of the latest innovations could actually help improve the bottom line. If, for instance, one machine can drastically reduce the amount of time and manpower it takes to service a contractor's accounts, the decision is a no-brainer. Hence the rise of spreader/sprayers. These machines began proving their worth on the jobsite through the ability to do a lot of work in a small amount of time.

The evolution of equipment

As more people gained an interest in spreader/sprayers, suppliers reacted. More manufacturers entered this product category looking to top the existing equipment on the market or develop their own unique differentiation. As a result, contractors now have a wider selection of new, innovative products with increased capabilities over the original models.

Although the basic functionality of spreader/sprayers has remained the same since their invention, there have been multiple incremental improvements to the equipment. The machines have always been able to broadcast-spread granular material and spray liquid treatments - either separately or simultaneously - but now, they do it with enhanced efficiency, helping to maximize profit for contractors.


Landscape contractors understand that when they become more efficient and boost productivity they correspondingly grow revenues and increase their profits.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF TURFEX.

One of the factors leading to the product enhancements is the increase in purpose-built machines. This means manufacturers are devoting more time and money toward research and development of the products. They're focusing their engineering efforts on spreader/sprayers and investing in specialized tooling and molding, rather than piecing machines together from components originally designed for other equipment.

As a result, one of the more noticeable improvements manufacturers have incorporated in recent years is the look of spreader/sprayers. Of course, this doesn't have much influence on performance, but what professional wants to operate a piece of equipment that doesn't look professional itself? A sleek, nice-looking machine reflects well on a company and, not to mention, boosts a contractor's pride.

Next, spreader/sprayers have become easier to operate overall, thanks to ergonomic designs and thoughtfully placed controls. Manufacturers have actually begun to rethink the entire operator's stance, and they're engineering the equipment accordingly. For instance, some of the newest products on the market have intuitive fingertip controls, which keep the operator focused on driving, rather than fumbling around trying to find an on/off switch. Plus, controls are often clearly labeled, so there's no confusion over which button does what.

Furthermore, a lot of attention has been placed on the handling of spreader/sprayers. Now, many units boast effortless steering, allowing operators to stay within their comfortable stance. Additionally, the front and rear brakes are often conveniently located to help operators control their speed more confidently.

Along with improved steering, some units feature a low center of gravity for optimum handling. Just as sports cars are designed with a low center of gravity to hug curves, the same basic principle applies to spreader/sprayers. These products need it to maximize stability on hillsides and in tight turns to prevent tipping.

Low center of gravity is achieved on spreader/sprayers largely through engine positioning. This is one of the heaviest components of the machines, so it's important that the engine is located as low to the ground as possible. As simple as this concept may sound, it's not offered on every unit on the market.

To further enhance stability, some manufacturers have paid a lot of attention toward achieving a balanced design. One of the best ways to achieve this balance is through the liquid tanks. A machine can easily become lopsided if there is only one tank located on one side of the unit. But by including a split-tank design, the weight evens out much better from the left of the machine to the right.

In addition to enhanced stability, many other safety features are offered on today's spreader/sprayers. These include new and improved bearing pivots that connect the main unit to the sulky where the operator stands, helping provide a safe, smooth ride over uneven terrain.

Another safety feature is a kill switch. In the event an operator does fall off the machine, the kill switch will automatically shut off the engine, stopping all of the unit's functions immediately.


The spreading feature on these riding units saves lots of walking. Operator fatigue results in lower productivity and application mistakes.

Next, one of the final (and perhaps one of the best) improvements on spreader/sprayers is the reduced maintenance offered on some of the latest products. This stems from a common complaint against some of the early spreader/sprayer models, which had a tendency to rust after handling corrosive materials. It was fairly common to see severe rust damage on a unit after going through just one season of use.

To fix this issue, manufacturers began adding more protective shrouds to shield the engine, transmission and all other main components. Plus, they've increased their usage of corrosion-resistant materials, like polyethylene and stainless steel.

Furthermore, the overall design of spreader/sprayers has been simplified based on the idea that having fewer moving parts reduces the chance of breakdowns. For example, some products have a lot fewer cables than other units, so contractors can worry less about breakage or the need for routine adjustment.

When routine maintenance or other service work is needed, today's machines also make this process easier. That's because the engine and other important components are positioned for easy access. Getting to the various service areas is no longer a job in itself.

Extra support

No matter what new exciting features are offered on a spreader/sprayer, the machine is only as good as the manufacturer that supports it. What value does a product hold if a person can't quickly find replacement parts or if there is no servicing dealer to perform warranty work and other repairs?

Fortunately, manufacturers are starting to step up their warranty programs - up to two years in some cases. And they offer an extensive dealer network to manage warranty claims and perform service work. These factors provide added value and offer peace of mind to the end user. It also shows that the manufacturer isn't just trying to sell more stuff - the company actually believes in its products and stands behind its customers to ensure success.

Spreader/sprayers have understandably become a popular piece of equipment, due to their ability to maximize efficiency. But one must also imagine the latest product improvements have contributed in part to the success. Now that the equipment is easier to operate, safer and less hassle to maintain, it's much more attractive to buyers. And that interest continues to fuel the development of new features to make the products better than ever. Keep an eye out for the next advancements in this product category to spread across the industry.

James Truan is the vice president of sales and marketing, Turfex (www.turfexproducts.com), which manufactures landscape and turf care equipment for professionals.