Every organization is stretched to do more with less. While "less" seems to be the operative word, it's the "more" that really counts. More efficiency. More productivity.
Take snowplows, for example. The right plow will move more snow, increase operator ease and safety, and reduce repair expenses, not to mention costly downtime. In addition, the right plow positively impacts the life of the machine powering it, whether it's a small skidsteer or a larger loader.
With so many options, from different moldboard and hitch designs to cutting blades and side panels, the decision can be overwhelming. By simply taking the time to evaluate how each feature can contribute to an improved bottom line, you can ensure the best plow choice is made.
Equipment-mounted plows are commonly referred to as containment plows or box plows. They typically range in size from 6 feet for smaller machines such as skidsteers to up to 30 feet for larger equipment like wheel loaders.
Plow size primarily affects how much snow is removed and with what precision. Longer, one-piece containment plows move larger quantities of snow the first time, but also leave behind a significant amount as they ride on the highest ground.
No pavement is completely flat and level. Roads tend to be higher in the center and gradually slope downward on each side, while parking lots have both raised and depressed areas scattered throughout. A longer plow will always rest at the highest point on a surface and float over lower areas — leaving behind inches of snow and resulting in the need for follow-up plowing, usually from a pickup truck operator with a smaller plow. You'll have to choose whether to add an in-house pickup operator — increasing labor, equipment, and fuel costs — or to subcontract that work. Either way, it's going to cost more. There's also a high likelihood that salting will be needed, another time—consuming process and added expense.
On the contrary, a shorter plow is more concentrated and precise. Operators can better target an area and clear more snow with less follow up. They're also ideally suited for common, smaller pieces of equipment, like skidsteers and compact loaders.
The downside of smaller plows is more total passes are required to remove the same amount of snow. Outsourcing or adding a pickup plow to handle follow-ups may be required, as shorter plows will still miss small areas like dips in roads or parking lots. In addition, some degree of salting will be required.
You'll have to decide what's more important: sheer volume of snow cleared or precision. But there's an option for those not willing to compromise: sectional moldboard configurations.
Sectional moldboard plows
Sectional moldboard designs consist of several pieces that, together, form one large surface area, allowing large amounts of snow to be removed in a single pass. What's unique about these styles is the way the sections operate to also provide precise, efficient removal.
Just about every plow on the market offers a trip edge feature. As an obstacle is encountered, the plow "trips" or lifts slightly to clear the object without damaging the plow. But when the plow lifts up, it misses a whole pile of snow — making re-plowing imminent. Sectional moldboard plows offer the same concept, but on an individual basis. Rather than the whole plow width tripping, only the individual section encountering an obstacle trips, leaving virtually no snow behind and eliminating the need for follow-up plowing.
The independent movement of each "mini plow" provides further efficiency and plowing precision by essentially letting the entire plow contour to any given surface. On sloped roads, the outer pieces rest at lower points while those toward the center rise up as the pavement does. The same is true in parking lots. As the plow approaches a depressed or elevated area, the section will respond to the change in elevation and adjust itself accordingly.
The individual tripping action also helps prevent damage to the plow and machine if a small obstacle is encountered. But what about larger, rigid objects like curbs? To avoid significant damage, consider a plow with mechanical side panels.
Plows with wings
Most containment-style plows are built with side panels, or wings, attached to both ends of the moldboard. The panels keep snow contained, eliminating excess amounts of snow rolling off the sides. But fixed side panels pose major challenges.
Imagine a loader plowing full-speed on a city street using a model with fixed side panels. The snow is deep and blowing across both lanes, so the driver can't see that he's approaching a concrete median on his left side. When he eventually hits it, something has to give — either the plow, the machine, or the operator is going to absorb the impact. In the most extreme cases, operators have been ejected from machine cabs.
Mechanical side panels respond to impact from major obstructions like curbs, medians, and manhole covers. Rather than hit these objects head—on, the side panels lift up and go over, clearing even tall obstacles. The benefit is three—fold, as it reduces damage to the equipment, plow, and — most importantly — the operator.
Because mechanical side panels minimize the chance of equipment damage — saving on costly replacement and repairs, not to mention downtime — a well-maintained snowplow with mechanical side panels can last several years even with inexperienced operators, positively impacting return on investment (ROI).
Drop-and-go hitch designs
For many plowing professionals, the machine's cab is their "office." These individuals spend hours every night in the cab, making it imperative to look for features that enhance comfort along with performance.
Plows are picked up and dropped down hundreds of times each night. Typical hitch designs force the operator to manually adjust the plow each time it's dropped, making for a challenging, time-consuming, and often frustrating process, especially for inexperienced operators. Newer "drop-and-go" hitch designs do this automatically. The operator can just drop the plow and the hitch design ensures the plow will lie correctly, extending plow life and ensuring a cleanly plowed surface.
Beyond operator ease, these hitches let the plow and machine move independently of one another. As mentioned previously, rarely is pavement perfectly level. Because the plow leads the way, it's going to reach a raised point in the pavement before the machine does. Normally, the plow will rest itself on the higher ground and lean slightly forward. The action lifts the machine up off its front wheels, creating inefficient drag while putting weight on only two tires. Over time this results in uneven tire wear and more frequent replacement issues. It also puts the majority of weight and stress on the plow, making premature wear inevitable.
With newer hitches, the plow can lift up and adjust to the pavement while the machine stays balanced on all four tires — keeping even wear on the tires and the plow. Especially when combined with sectional moldboard styles, this movement further lets the plow continuously adjust to changes in the pavement for optimum plowing efficiency and reduces the need for follow-up plowing.
These types of hitch designs prevent premature wear on the plow's shoes as well. Side panels, whether fixed or mechanical, include smooth, flat pieces called shoes that ride along the surface. Commonly made of steel, the shoes are designed to last through several years of abuse. But their lifespan can be cut drastically short with premature wear, a common occurrence with hitch designs that require manual adjustment. Drop-and-go styles are designed to lay flat and ensure the shoes do as well, leading to even wear and less replacement, hassle, and headaches for the operator.
Working together, these features significantly enhance performance and minimize maintenance expense, but one more factor and wear item plays a significant role: the plow cutting edge.
Every plow has a cutting edge. Designed to scrape and clean away compacted snow and ice, cutting edges are like the final icing on the cake — they add the all-important finishing touch and further reduce the need for re-plowing and salting.
Ideal for cutting through and scraping snow and ice, steel cutting edges prove to be more effective and more durable than rubber options. On the downside, replacement of steel edges can be significantly more expensive, but that shouldn't necessarily be a deterrent. In combination with sectional moldboards, steel cutting edges can be replaced in only one section rather than across the entire length of the plow. This significantly reduces maintenance costs while providing all the benefits of the steel edge.
Clearly, it's not necessarily just one feature that will be the key to productive plowing, rather the combined efforts of several. In the grand scheme of things, each feature is just one piece of the total ROI puzzle. PW
— Randy Strait (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Arctic Snow & Ice Control Products, based in Bradley, Ill. He also developed the company's Sectional Sno Plow.