Time to upgrade to a better sweeper?

By Jeff Winke

Timing. The key consideration for everything in life. It governs choices, decisions, and luck–both good and bad. Timing is either in the realm of control–something planned for or it’s unanticipated, unexpected… a tornado knocking life off balance, bad timing!

Most try to use timing in governed planning. Businesses time their hiring, expansion, and major purchases to coincide with working capital and expected income. Successful contractors appear to be masters of exploiting the benefits of good timing. They jump on opportunity because the can. They have adequate staff and the correct equipment, which provides the agility to move when needed.

Sounds simple? In theory, it is. Unfortunately, reality is different. Contractors need to balance on the fulcrum pivoting between risk vs. reward, when looking at the components of their business. This is especially true when examining the health and adequacy of their equipment fleet–the life-blood of the business.

For asphalt paving contractors, timing is essential when deciding when to replace and upgrade equipment. The pavement maintenance segment has been especially hard hit in the past decade of economic frugality and most recently COVID-19 creating caution, slow-downs and deferral of major investments.

But pavement maintenance has value. Well maintained streets and parking lots fulfill a variety of needs for property managers and communities alike. Curb appeal, livability, safety, pollution control, storm water management, and pavement preservation are the critical reasons for regular, diligent pavement maintenance.

Think of the importance of pavement maintenance this way: there is sand or grit lingering on pavement and then a 3,000-lb. car drives over it, that’s like 50-grit sandpaper wearing down the parking lot or roadway, over and over again.
Central to any clean, safe pavement maintenance program is the role commercial sweeping machines and sweeping machine attachments play. And the newer sweeping equipment appears to be more productive than older pieces, which is one reason why contractors may be looking to upgrade.

There are a number of key indicators to consider when looking to replace and upgrade a sweeper.

“First off, did you keep up with servicing your street sweeper,” asked Matt Starnes, product marketing manager, Bucher Municipal North America, Inc., Mooresville, N.C? “Did you use OEM parts? Next, is your sweeper trailing more–not picking up as much material as it used to despite cleaning, lubricating, and performing routine maintenance? Can’t get rid of unusual noise, vibrations, or increased temperature?”

Starnes added: “Before you upgrade, ask the manufacturer’s service department to inspect your sweeper. After a thorough inspection, if it is time to upgrade, ask if they have a trade-in program. Also, always make sure to speak with a knowledgeable product specialist or sales professional to make sure you purchase the right street sweeper for your application needs.”

Purchasing a new piece of equipment is a big decision.

“When the timing is right and you’re looking to get a new sweeper, you’ll want to consider resale value, availability of parts, and how well it performs,” stated Tom Rokas, sales manager, TYMCO, Inc., Waco, Texas. “And certainly, new machines with Tier 4 diesel engines offer the advantages of running cleaner, are more efficient, and offer advanced electronic system with digital read outs of sweeper functions right in the cab with touch-screen, real-time diagnostics alerting the operator of mechanical issues and scheduled maintenance.”

A construction sweeper needs to be robust and durable, and easy to repair. Less down time, and more time sweeping is key.

“You’ll know it’s time for a change,” said Daniel Clemons, sales and marketing manager with Nescon, LLC, Mesa, Ariz., “when the cost of ownership has exceeded that piece of equipment’s income. Or when your current sweeper does not keep up with its workload.”

Simple to operate and simple to maintain is a goal many paving contractors have in mind when purchasing any new equipment including sweepers.

“Having parts commonality is a key to returning the sweeper back into service after a breakdown,” stated Matt Snyder, sales manager, with Stewart-Amos Equipment Co., Harrisburg, Pa. “Keeping all electrics and hydraulics as simple as possible for maintenance of the sweeper is essential. Dirt and dust is a consistent with all sweepers, so having electronics protected is very important.”

Broadly speaking, there are two types of commercial sweepers–mechanical and vacuum sweepers.

“Mechanical sweepers the best choice for sweeping larger, more abrasive material like asphalt millings and rocks,” Clemons stated. “Most mechanical sweepers are primarily made for heavy duty construction sweeping.”
Vacuum sweepers are designed for sweeping lighter material and fines. They are ideal for municipal and parking lot sweeping.

Barnes said: “Cleaning porous or uneven pavement? Need to super clean near curb lines? Have a storm water runoff concern? A vacuum street sweeper is a good choice for those problems.”

Both types of sweepers can reach their productive end.

When considering to replace a sweeper, consider how technology has improved newer models. Technology has played a big role in the evolution of today’s street sweepers.

“From components to design, technology has provided more efficiency and simplicity,” Clemons said. “For example, we are able to manufacture a street sweeper that starts all sweeping functions with a single touch. This is largely due to technology that was not available 50 years ago.”

Commercial sweeper design and functionality has benefited from rapid evolution of technology.

“Technology continues to drive street sweeper efficiency,” Barnes stated. “Most notably is the rise in fully electric vehicle technology for not only compact, but truck-mounted sweepers. Autonomous street sweeping technology is also developing at a rapid pace. It’s truly amazing to see artificial intelligence (AI) being developed to the point of suggesting the best sweep path or sweeping process for the terrain/job presented. Truly amazing.”

In the realm of new technology, is the demand for alternative fuels and reduced dust while sweeping.

“Alternative fuel sweepers powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG / propane) and compressed natural gas (CNG) have been available for some time but are experiencing greater interest as states and communities tighten regulations and press for greener solutions,” Rokas said. “Controlling dust, especially lead dust has always been an issue with sweeper machine customers.”

Ease of design and the ability to reach minute spaces is another feature to look for when choosing a sweeper. Vacuum sweepers and regenerative air sweepers feature a closed loop system in order to sweep up debris.

Regenerative air sweepers employ a blast and suction effect, which has proven effective in cleaning those hard to reach places where dust accumulates.

At the end of the day, when the timing is right, the best choice in selecting a new sweeper depends fully on assessing the type of applications it will be used on. The act of sweeping should be seen as part of a maintenance program that beautifies, ensures safety, and extends the life of pavement.

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