Brooms and blowers, pushers and plows. Snow and ice contractors often rely on numerous snow attachments to get their essential work done.
The attachment needed typically depends on three things: the type of property, the contract agreement, and the weather conditions. With the variety of situations in these categories, it becomes easy to see why attachments are the key to a successful snow and ice operation – and why being able to swap them out, quickly, is crucial.
Before even heading out to blow, plow, or sweep away the snow, companies need to think about attachments when making an equipment purchase. Attachment flexibility is especially important for smaller, growing companies that may need one piece of equipment to accomplish several tasks and accommodate a variety of attachments. Compact equipment like skid steers and tractors have several options for attachments and commonly used by contractors who demand flexibility.
Conversely, established companies with many similar accounts can usually justify job-specific equipment, often larger equipment like wheel loaders. These large machines typically don’t ever swap out attachments during a weather event or in response to varying conditions (they’re used for one task: service large areas with a snow pusher).
Those who are brand loyal to a certain type of equipment manufacturer will find that the machines’ hitches or connecting elements (such as electrical plug-ins, connecting pin sizes, and hydraulic fittings) are designed only to work with attachments from that same manufacturer. However, standard aftermarket hitches are sometimes available and can be designed to work with various manufacturer attachments.
Take, for example, a Zuidberg Brand Front Hitch system built for most brands and models of compact tractors. This solution allows an end-user to run any number of standard Category 1 implements. Before making an equipment purchase, consider both current and future attachments needs, and choose a hitch solution that will adapt to your snow management business.
While equipment, type of hitch, and brands of attachments chosen will be different for every contractor, one tip is advised for all to ensure an easy attachment swap on the job: practice.
Practice Makes Perfect
Most hitches and mounting systems are designed to make changing out snow attachments relatively easy, but it tends to take a few tries and practice to understand and get comfortable with the process. Don’t skip any part of the swap-over procedure – the act of physically removing and mounting attachments may be straightforward, but it’s often the hydraulic, PTO, or electrical elements specific to each attachment that are hardest to get right.
Imagine it’s 2 a.m. Heavy snow is coming down and fingertips and metal are both at freezing temperatures. The crew is working on a crucial, zero-tolerance account. This is probably the worst scenario to try changing out an attachment for the first time. Be sure the entire crew has had ample time to practice in a controlled, stress-free environment.
And speaking of those on-the-job scenarios, here are four of the most common types of weather conditions, with a few examples of suitable attachments and tips to swap them out.
1. Light Snow
For compact equipment users, investing in flexible solutions to handle light snow – around three inches or fewer – can make or break expenses for the season. Light snow attachments are the most frequently changed, so make sure the crews understand the hitch systems, PTO and electric connectors, and help they may need to swap solutions. Smaller units can bring expected challenges to due limited hitch visibility, and some swap-overs may require two people.
Oftentimes an inexpensive straight-blade attachment is both the most effective solution for light snow and the most affordable. The thicker moldboard and cutting edge are designed for down pressure and scraping. For zero-tolerance accounts, brooms are a staple for handling light snow up to three inches and leave an extremely clean finished product. Progressive contractors are now also using turbine blower attachments on light snow events.
Tackling light snow with a variety of attachments is critical to profitability and efficiency of a snow removal operation, so make sure these options are available before a purchase is made. Once in the fleet and before the season’s first dusting, these should be the first that the crew takes thorough time with to practice and get comfortable with swapping.
2. Heavy Snow
s contractors realize the value of being “light-snow ready” as the default, they’ll need to adjust when a big system comes through dropping three inches of snow or more. Heavy snow conditions are best served by snowblowers, particularly for those operating compact equipment.
Watch to see the John Deere X700 tractor with a snowblower attachment in action:
Attachment practice is especially important with snowblowers prior to the first major storm of the year. If the blowers have been on the pallet racking since the summer, it’s important the crew both understand what’s needed to get them ready for use and the safety measures to attach, such as exercising extra caution when connecting PTO shafts. Keep in mind, blowers are much heavier than brooms, blades, and turbines so the added weight brings unique challenges when swapping in.
Oftentimes, the first major event comes after it’s well into the snow season. Don’t neglect to continue practicing with the crew frequently, as initial training from September may be long forgotten by the first heavy snow of the season – which may not be until closer to Christmas.
3. Snow Drifts
Drifting snow is extremely challenging to predict. Winds can pick up, often with very little notice, causing drift conditions of varying snow and size. This means contractors perhaps need to be even more poised and ready to swap attachments with drifting snow than with any other weather conditions.
Depending on the snow, drifts may be tackled any numbers of attachments including blades, brooms, and snowblowers so, similar to light snow, the key is to be ready to go from one to the next to the next, quickly – don’t forget, practice makes perfect. Additionally, choosing an attachment system that is swap-friendly is particularly critical in the Northern Plains of the U.S. or other high-wind areas.
4. Wet Snow
Every spring, an amazing phenomenon occurs in the snow removal industry. Just as crews are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, a late-season storm drops inches of extra-dense, wet, thick snow. Even though it happens year after year, it always seems to throw contractors for a loop.
Wet snow is nearly impossible to broom, completely impossible to move with air, and incredibly difficult to clear snowblower augers and impellers (think mowing wet grass – the same principles apply). The straight blade, an often-overlooked attachment, is the best choice for wet snow.
Because it’s likely an attachment most contractors have, have been using, and have been swapping in and out all season long, switching it back in for this late-season snow should be a quick and comfortable process.
As someone who works with snow and ice contractors of all sizes, I’ll leave one last tip that applies to all, regardless of weather conditions.
Snow attachments live a tough life. I find most equipment damage that leads to stressful and costly downtime happens to the hardest-working attachments. While an investment in an extra or back-up attachment may seem hard to justify on the front end, contractors with ready-to-go attachments benefit greatly in the long run. Those interested in having a spare of the most commonly-used attachment(s) can look to used attachments as good, economical options for backups.
The bottom line for snow and ice contractors is the safety of the communities they serve depends on their ability to effectively service clients – which ties directly back to how quickly they can swap out the right attachment for the current weather scenario. Growing contractors especially need to invest in solutions and training that allow them flexibility to meet varying contract obligations and utilize a multi-attachment approach to snow management.
About The Author
Nick Arndt is an Account Manager for RDO Equipment Co. in Moorhead, MN. Connect with him on Instagram @rdonicka.