The value of keeping it clean

By Jeff Winke

Park the heavy-duty natural corn broom and dustpan just outside this article. They won’t be needed. Collect them after learning about commercial-grade sweeping and power sweeping equipment and services that paving and pavement maintenance contractors need to offer or employ regularly on the jobs being completed.

Sweeping is of value to the property manager, a municipality or a paving/construction manager.

Paving contractors use sweeping in the process of completing their work or as a separate profit-center business. Sweeping can be accomplished with a purpose-specific attachment to a piece of heavy equipment, such as a wheel loader or a skid steer loader, or as a stand-alone piece of equipment… a dedicated sweeper machine.

“I would think that a sweeping attachment would work well for spot jobs, like a ‘pre-pave,’ or lots that are too small for a sweeper,” stated David M. Dyck of Masco Sweepers, San Jose, Calif. “There is a shoe for every foot, but if you are interested in having a ‘sweeping route,’ a dedicated machine is the way to go. Consider that a sweeping business might run sweepers up to 40 hours of run time in a seven-day week. For instance, our sweeper was developed in 1976 just for parking lot sweeping. It features a light weight truck with a powerful sweeper that high dumps into a dumpster. These all factor in to the total amount of sweeping that can be done in one night or a week.”

In addressing the advantages of machine attachments vs. dedicated machine Matt Starnes, product marketing manager with Bucher Municipal North America, Inc., Mooresville, NC offered this: “Given the choice, I recommend a dedicated sweeping machine for sure. The problem we hear out in the wild is the sweeping attachments usually aren’t always made to fit the equipment contractors and users own. The downfall, in a lot of cases, is uneven sweeping. Or in worst-case scenarios… damage to equipment, damage to the roadway, and worst of all, lost time and money. Purpose-built dedicated street sweepers are the way to go.”

In an overview of different sweeper types, the industry resource, outlines the following:

Mechanical Broom Sweepers
For years, mechanical broom sweepers were the machine of choice for road sweeping. Typically, they have a ‘main broom’ that runs transversely from one side of the sweeper to the other such that the broom bristles contact the paved surface the full width of the sweeper unit. The broom rotates in a clockwise fashion when viewed from the left side of the vehicle, and collected debris is swept onto a conveyor belt for transfer to a hopper.

In recent times, the modern air sweepers appear to have many advantages over mechanical broom sweepers for general sweeping use. One reason is that most mechanical sweepers only give the illusion of leaving a clean pavement surface. Although large debris is removed by mechanical broom sweepers, they are virtually ineffective at removing particles 60 microns and smaller. Studies have even shown that from an environmental standpoint mechanical broom sweepers may actually have a negative effect on the amount of storm water runoff pollution. This is because the action of the broom tends to break larger particles down into smaller ones, creating more small-micron particles than there were to start with. And, whenever debris pickup is via an elevator, rather than involving any type of air/suction action, a large amount of these small particles are left on the pavement’s surface.

Vacuum Sweepers
Typically, there is a suction inlet on one side of the sweeping head, and then the ‘used’ air is constantly exhausted during the sweeping process. Most vacuum sweepers do not have an air blast that transfers to the vacuum opening. Instead, they employ some type of broom system to brush debris toward the vacuum opening in the head.

Part of the impetus for the advent of vacuum sweepers was that the majority of debris, especially the heavy debris, collected within 36 inches of the curb line. Vacuum sweepers are designed to do an effective job of cleaning within that area. They may well be the current top choice for ‘storm water runoff abatement sweeping,’ in areas where the majority of the debris is within 36” of the curbline.

Regenerative Air Sweepers
Generally, regenerative air systems are considered more environmentally friendly than are vacuum or mechanical broom sweepers. There are several reasons why.

Regenerative air sweepers employ a closed loop, ‘cyclonic effect’, to clean. They re-circulate (regenerate) their air supply internally. To accomplish this, the re-circulating air is blasted into the sweeping head on the side opposite the pickup, or inlet, tube.

Essentially, the air ‘blasts’ down onto the pavement on one side of the head, travels across the width of the head (gathering debris with it as it goes), and then travels up the pickup hose on the other side with the debris. It swirls the air, so it retains the collected debris within the airstream as it moves from the blast to the intake side of the head.

Like any other sweeper type, regenerative air machines can be equipped with gutter brooms to brush material accumulated against the curb into the path of the sweeper.

Because of the way they operate, regenerative air sweepers are recognized as providing a more thorough cleaning action because they ‘air-blast’ the pavement across the entire width of the sweeping surface. The amount of exhausted, pollutant-laden air is typically much less than with a vacuum sweeper. Because of this, and the fact that regenerative-based machines also tend to pick up the small micron particles across the entire sweeping head, regenerative air sweepers are usually a better choice where either air quality or storm water runoff pollution are concerns.

The blast-and-pickup cycle also makes these machines more capable at picking up heavy debris, since the blast is more able to dislodge heavier materials and get them into the airflow.

Today’s air machines, which include regenerative air and vacuum sweepers, are able to supplant mechanical broom sweepers for most applications.

Regenerative air sweepers are more suitable for most everyday sweeping needs, and also cost significantly less to maintain. Generally considered the best all around, multi-purpose sweeper because it can clean a wide range of debris in a large variety of situations. Its air system makes them better for leaves than mechanical broom sweepers, and larger intake hoses makes them better than vacuum sweepers for leaves. With fewer moving and wear parts than mechanical sweepers they can be used to clean catch basins by adding hand hose.

“I hear frequently that many contracts are only won if you take on the sweeping portion of the project,” Dyck said. “It seems like sweeping can sometimes function as a gatekeeper to winning new contracts. If you can develop a good parking lot sweeping arm to your business, then it seems like you can be good at something that your competition is not. That is a market advantage. Win the contract and make money with the sweeper.”
Dyck continued: “Parking lot sweeping is done at night, paving is done during the day. That leaves a sweeper available to be used for paving clean up during the day and route sweeping at night. Or the night crew can clean up the big stuff the night before a big pave job.”
The need for commercial sweeping is diverse and ever apparent.

Starnes stated: “Contractors, public sectors, leaf removal, catch basin cleaning, construction, airports, rental markets, parking lots, grain processing, power plants…really the uses are growing every day. As the government–federal, state, and local–create legislation on keeping the environment, as well as our highways and byways safe, more markets emerge for sweeper usage.”

Paving companies are well equipped to creating an adjunct sweeping service. They operate equipment for technical jobs with skilled labor that could easily adapt to operating sweepers, according to Starnes.

“Sweeping, as a service, requires a few different skills like scheduling, sales or hiring and training new drivers,” said Dyck. “However, at the end of the day, it is also a business of operating equipment. Sweepers are not too technical, but the more you know the more you win. If your sweeper stops working, there is not a lot of help out there, so it pays to do your own maintenance and repair work as well.”

Sand, dirt and other trash can be abrasive. When dirt is allowed to stay on asphalt pavement, it can start deteriorating the paving material. Replacement costs for pavement can far exceed the routine expense of sweeping. Removal of these elements is expected to save time and money down the road.

It’s the end of this article and time now to grab the corn broom and dustpan that was parked outside this article. There’s a kitchen, hallway, and back entrance that needs a thorough sweeping. Better get to it!

Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through