I walked the trade show floor at the most recent GIE+EXPO and discovered new and improved equipment offering great work-saving improvements. That was encouraging to me. I appreciate manufacturers that invest their intellectual capital in developing equipment that increases productivity, is less costly to operate and that operators find more comfortable and easier to use.

While some manufacturers are closer to and more knowledgeable about their assembly lines, their warehouses and their distribution than they are to the end users, most suppliers now make it a point to reach out to and to partner with contractors in coming up with new equipment or significantly upgrading existing models. They know that only you, the end users, can tell them how equipment can be improved and be made more efficient, more user-friendly or more productive. OK, let’s zero in on you, the buyers and equipment end users.

Start by determining what equipment that you need to improve your crews’ on-the-job performance this coming season. Start by reviewing the equipment you already are using in terms of its expected performance. How old are your units? What kind of condition are they in? How much time and money are you spending keeping your equipment fleet reliable and safe?

Don’t make the mistake of deciding that you can get another year out of some of your equipment. You know that newer, more productive machinery accomplishes more work than older models. More work done means more revenue and more profit. Isn’t that what you’re in business to do, to create profit?

Trying to extend the useful life of older equipment is risky and too often results in unit failures and repair costs. These failures don’t happen when the equipment is in your yard; they happen when you’re in the field doing production. Repair costs come off your bottom line; meaning less profit, but on-the-job downtime is a bigger profit killer.

Advances in engineering, design

Advances in engineering, equipment design and better manufacturing processes are making equipment better year by year. Let’s look at what’s available in new equipment technology to help increase crew productivity.

Take equipment design first, specifically stand-on mowers. They are replacing dual hydro-drive walk-behind units and mid-size riding mowers in many mowing fleets. If your fleet is comprised of older walk-behinds and aging mid-size riders, you may want to check out stand-on mowers to see if they can reduce your labor expenses, reduce equipment downtime costs and give you an advantage over your competition.

Another improvement we saw is the design of mulching decks. They are getting better and are starting to replace bagging attachments in some fleets. Here’s a mulching tip: raise your mowing height slightly (when possible) to do a better job of mulching. Mowing a bit higher creates healthier grass plants, which is another client benefit. Tell clients about the advanced mulching technology you are using on their properties. Let them know that it results in better looking turf.

As I’m sure you are aware, fuel costs won’t be going down anytime soon. That’s why you want to check out mowers powered by engines with electronic ignition (EFI) and computerized fuel delivery systems. This technology, which signaled the end of carburetors in passenger cars and trucks a generation ago, can reduce mowing fuel costs as much as 25 percent. Calculated over a full mowing season, that represents an incredible cost savings. For example, a 60-inch, 30 hp commercial riding mower can use $5,000 in fuel in a single season. If you use that mower over three years (the time that many companies replace their mowers), you can expect to save at least $3,000 in fuel costs. Imagine the fuel savings you can rack up by equipping you’re entire mower fleet with EFI-equipped engines.

Mowers equipped with engines that use propane fuel, given that it is less expensive than gasoline, are becoming increasingly popular also.

“We have been using propane-powered zero-turn mowers in our operations since 2008,” says Dave Vekasy, chief of facility management at San Antonio (Texas) Missions National Park. “With 100 percent of our fleet of grooming mowers using propane, the park has benefited with improvements in both operational efficiency and sustainability.”

Vekasy says his grounds staff can continue mowing during ozone action days because, when combusted, it releases fewer harmful emissions than gasoline. By switching to propane his department is saving as much as $12 per every four hours of mowing per unit, or as much as 40 percent overall savings in annual fuel costs, says Vekasy.

Adds Jim Kelly, president of Cambridge Landscape Co., “The reason we are using propane-powered riding mowers is that they are more environmentally safe and our clientele really appreciates our effort to reduce pollution.” He adds that there is less preventive maintenance on propane machines because they run cleaner and propane is cheaper than gas.

Kelly’s company, based in Cambridge, Mass., has a tree care division that has two large bucket trucks that are hybrid diesel-electric power. So, look at new emerging hybrid electric and fuel powered options becoming available.

Zack Kline of A.I.R. Lawn Care in Maryland uses battery-powered mowers and hand-held equipment. “My clients tell me my equipment is so quiet they don’t even know my crew is working on their property,” he relates. Kline is committed to growing his business with electric power and sees client acceptance of his green business platform and is one of a growing number of contractors using electric equipment.

Now that I’ve told you about some of the hot trends with big-ticket items, let’s look at the lowly mower blade. When you get down to it, it’s one of the most important pieces of equipment most of you use.

Did you know that Marbain steel blades hold their sharp edge 50 percent longer than regular blades. Buying cheaper blades and saving a couple of dollars is actually costing you money with more sharpening and replacement expense.

Continue to upgrade the quality of your equipment fleet because competition in the industry is going to become even fiercer. You can reasonably expect to achieve at least a 5 percent increase in crew productivity by replacing older unreliable equipment with newer, more efficient units. Calculated over the course of a season, that will give your bottom line a healthy boost.