Which works best for the job

By Jeff Winke

Commercial sweepers are valuable to asphalt paving contractors. They perform necessary clean-up to ensure a project jobsite is safe and attractive. They perform a variety of tasks, but which type of commercial sweeper is best for each jobsite and task? Pros in the field were asked what contractors should know about the performance features and benefits of the available equipment options.

“There are a few styles of sweepers that are commercially available, and then there are a few technologies to do the actual sweeping,” stated Tim Letts, product manager at Elgin Sweeper, Elgin, Illinois. “When it comes to styles, the market could be broken down into three options: 1) compact 2) parking lot or 3) truck mounted.

“The compact sweeper style is common in Europe, where it performs well on narrow city streets and other urban areas, like bike paths and alleys. Due to the tight size restraints, the sweeping technology for this style sweeper is typically vacuum. Parking lot sweepers are a fairly broad style and these sweepers can range from sweepers that are pulled behind pickup trucks or small class 5 size trucks. There are mechanical sweepers, as well as vacuum and regenerative air technologies are also used. The truck mounted sweeper style encompasses the larger class 6 or 7 sweepers. These sweepers are mounted on commercially available truck chassis and are going to be used for street sweeping. Like parking lot sweepers, truck mounted sweepers can be found with all three technologies.”

Bill Bensink with Bensink Manufacturing, Salem, Oregon, offered their take: “There are basically two general types of commercial sweepers. The most commonly used sweepers are the horizontally mounted units. They vary in size from approximately 8-feet wide and 36-inches in diameter for large sweeping surfaces to as small as 24-inches wide and 12-inch diameter. The bristles on these units are generally a poly bristle assembly or a poly/steel configuration. The larger units are either truck- or tractor-mounted and the smaller ones are generally walk behind.”

Bensink continued, “The other type of commercial sweepers are usually for more specialized applications. These are the vertically-mounted broom types. For example, this could be the gutter-broom application on a municipal or private truck-mounted street sweeper. This configuration allows for edge cleaning, where horizontal sweepers don’t perform as well. The ability of a vertical sweeping head on a walk behind unit has been developed by Bensink Mfg. for the sealcoating, asphalt and striping contractor. The vertical sweeper with high tensile strength steel bristles performs well where previously the cleaning had to be done by hand. High labor costs and poor cleaning results have been eliminated.

“The large horizontal sweepers work well when large areas must be cleaned. Many of these units incorporate a water spray application to help reduce dust and dirt in the air. The vertical unit is designed to clean in tight places where horizontal sweepers, large or small, are not as effective. These areas include along curbs, gutters, drain areas, and parking bumpers. They also work well prepping crankcase oil spot areas for treating and sealing. They are compact, easy to maneuver, and load into small areas of the trailer or the pickup bed.

“All broom heads, horizontal and vertical, wear and periodically need to be replaced. The more the broom head wears, the less effectively it cleans. Poly bristles wear considerably faster than high tensile strength steel bristles. Cost and frequency of replacement are certainly a factor to consider.

“As to which sweeper to purchase,” Bensink concluded, “it’s not a real complex decision. If you must collect the dust and debris, the truck mounted sweeper may be the best choice. However, they lack a certain maneuverability in tighter spaces. For sweeping large areas where dust collection within the unit is not necessary, but maneuverability is paramount, the tractor-mounted units can provide that. The large- and small-horizontal units do not clean along curb edges where dirt and dust can seriously accumulate and where curb faces are dirty and peeling. The steel bristle vertical unit works best in this application.”

Mechanical sweepers have long been considered the go-to workhorse for the industrial market.

“We are seeing larger industrial sites and contractors using a combination of mechanical sweepers and a second (or more) unit that’s vacuum technology,” stated Matt Starnes, product marketing manager, Bucher Municipal North America Inc., Mooresville, North Carolina. “Even some mid-size vacuum sweepers are being used around industrial sites where you need agility in tight spaces.”

Starnes continued, “Mechanical sweepers are the choice for industrial, road work, and spring cleanup in the north to clean up salt, brine, and other snow mitigation leftovers. Vacuum street sweepers are best for municipal/city/town sweeping to pick up leaves, clean catch basins, and year-round sweeping, especially useful on roads with crowning. Vacuum sweepers are excellent on porous pavement. Regenerative air street sweepers can tackle removing FOD (Foreign Object Debris) on airport runways and sweeping up debris around the tarmac. Regens are best for flat surface sweeping. Compact sweepers’ biggest advantage is maneuverability. Mid- vacuum sweepers offer some of the flexibility of a compact but hopper capacity and power closer to the truck mounted sweepers.” Different sweeper styles work best for different needs.

“Air sweepers work best for fines and leaf/pine needles whereas the mechanicals work best on large and heavy materials,” stated Nick Bruhn, product manager at Schwarze Industries LLC, Huntsville, Alabama. “Regenerative air sweepers are great when the surface is relatively flat. Good general workhorse with great airflow and good dust suppression. Blast orifice helps clean out all the nooks and crannies

“Pure vacuum sweepers are great when there are significant variations in the roadway because the sealing surface is much narrower. High air velocity often with the ability to adjust pickup side (left, right, or both). Material moves mechanically from side to side, unlike a regen, so it can handle the transfer of heavier materials easier.”

Simplicity in both the operation of the sweeper and its on-going maintenance is a key determination for machine selection according to Matt Snyder, sales manager with Stewart-Amos Equipment Co., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “The best commercial sweeper for the job is one that’s easy to operate and isn’t over engineered,” Snyder said.

What are the key features to look for when selecting a commercial sweeper in terms of initial price, cost to operate and maintain?

“Generally speaking, and excluding the chassis which is a major contributor to the overall price,” stated Bruhn, “the regen sweepers are going to be the least expensive in initial price followed by mechanicals and then pure vacs. Each type of sweeper can have value/utilization. Adding options will increase the purchase price. From a features perspective, a contractor should weigh the ability to generate additional revenue with a feature/option, such as a hand hose, with the cost it adds to the purchase price of the unit. If the option can help secure more jobs or generate revenue frequently then there will be a positive ROI. From a municipal perspective, if an option will allow the unit to be more versatile and therefore reduce demand on other equipment or have a higher utilization then the option could be worth it.

“When considering operating and maintenance costs, much of the actual costs will be dependent on how and how often the equipment is operated. For example, all air machines should run water to reduce abrasion in the pickup hoses and fan system. If a unit is constantly run in an abrasive environment without water it will incur higher maintenance costs than if it were operated with adequate water. Task/operation variations aside, the regenerative air sweepers have the least amount of requirement maintenance whereas the mechanical sweepers have the most. The pure vac sweepers fit in between the regen and the mechanical.”

In looking at matching the demands of a job to the commercial sweeper, new technologies can offer advantages.

“In technology of the new sweepers, lots have to do with the cleaner burning fuel efficient engines that are available today,” stated Tom Rokas, director of sales at TYMCO, Waco, Texas. “Also, advanced electrical systems with multiplex wiring with digital readout in the cab of the sweeper, which can provide the machine operator with real-time functions as well as on-board diagnostics.”

Clearly, much goes into matching the commercial sweeper style with the demands of the project need. From dust to heavy debris that can include couch cushions, there are machines that will successfully complete the job.

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