A Flurry of Choices
How to select the right snow pusher for your equipment
By Randy Strait
These days, it seems every company is stretched to do more with less. To get “more” – efficiency, productivity, profit – companies are attempting to become increasingly streamlined and resourceful.
When it comes to facility maintenance, more are choosing to take on tasks themselves, rather than contract out – especially when it comes to snow and ice removal. But between government liability regulations and skyrocketing salt prices, it’s not enough to just plow the snow; it must be plowed thoroughly and effectively.
The most vital step to taking on or improving your facility’s snow removal operation is having the proper snow pusher. The right one will move more snow, increase operator ease and safety, and reduce repair expenses, not to mention costly downtime. The right pusher also positively impacts the life of the machine powering it, whether a small skid steer or larger loader.
Some facility managers think the biggest, most expensive snow pusher is the answer. Others look for the smallest, cheapest one they can possibly use. But it’s more than a matter of size: Snow pushers now offer numerous advancements and features designed to maximize efficiency.
With so many options, from different “moldboard” and “hitch” designs to cutting blades and side panels, the decision can be overwhelming. But simply taking the time to look at features and evaluating how each can contribute to an efficient snow-clearing strategy will ensure the best pusher choice is made.
Sizing It Up
Snow pushers come in a variety of styles and sizes. Equipment-mounted ones are commonly called containment plows or box plows. They typically range in size from 6 feet for smaller machines such as skid steers, up to 30 feet for larger equipment such as wheel loaders.
Pusher size primarily affects how much snow is removed and with what precision. Longer, one-piece containment plows will move larger quantities of snow the first time, but will leave behind a significant amount as they ride on the highest ground.
A longer snow pusher 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 operator with a smaller pusher. And it’s highly likely that salting will be needed.
A shorter snow pusher is more concentrated and precise. Operators are able to better target an area and clear more snow with less follow-up. They also are ideally suited for common, smaller pieces of equipment like skid steers and compact loaders.
The downside of shorter pushers is that more total passes are required to remove the same amount of snow. They will still miss small areas such as dips in roads or parking lots. And some degree of salting will be required.
However, some manufacturers, to offer the benefit of moving more snow yet with greater precision and less follow-up, have tweaked moldboard designs and offer sectional configurations.
Independent and Group Effort
Sectional moldboard designs consist of several pieces that, together, form one big surface area, allowing large amounts of snow to be removed in a single pass. What’s special about these is the way the sections operate to also provide precise, efficient removal.
Just about every pusher on the market offers a trip-edge feature. As an obstacle is encountered, the pusher “trips” or lifts slightly to clear the object without damaging the pusher. The drawback? When the pusher lifts, it misses a whole pile of snow, making re-plowing imminent.
Sectional moldboard pushers offer the same concept, but on an individual basis. Rather than the whole pusher width tripping, only the individual section encountering an obstacle trips, leaving virtually no snow behind and eliminating the need for follow-up plowing. Not only does this reduce fuel and labor costs, but plowing a clean lot the first time also will eliminate any liability issues and costs resulting from slip and fall claims.
In addition to providing better clearing performance, the individual tripping action helps prevent damage to the pusher and machine if a small obstacle is encountered. But what about larger, rigid objects like curbs? To avoid significant damage, consider a pusher with mechanical side panels.
Panel of Experts
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 from rolling off the sides. But fixed side panels pose major challenges.
Imagine a loader plowing full speed in a large parking lot using a model with fixed side panels. The snow is deep and blowing every which way, so the driver can’t see that he’s fast approaching a concrete median. When he eventually hits it, something has to give – either the pusher, the machine or the operator is going to absorb the impact.
To address this serious problem, some manufactures offer pushers with mechanical side panels, which respond to impact from major obstructions such as curbs and medians. Rather than hitting bigger objects head-on, mechanical side panels are designed to lift up and go over, clearing even tall obstacles. The benefit is three-fold, as it reduces damage to the machine and the pusher and limits injury to the operator.
Features designed to enhance safety are certainly a top priority. But other advancements have been made specifically with the operator in mind.
For facility managers that plow their own snow, the machine’s cab becomes like a second office. Depending on the lot size, or number of lots to be plowed, these individuals may spend hours in the cab, making it imperative to look for features that enhance comfort along with performance.
Snow pushers are picked up and dropped down multiple times during a job. Typical hitch designs force the operator to manually adjust the pusher each time it’s dropped, making for a time-consuming process.
Newer “drop-and-go” hitch designs do this automatically, hence the name. This hitch design ensures that the pusher will lie correctly each and every time, extending product life and ensuring a clean surface.
But one more factor plays a significant role. The pusher cutting edge affects not only performance of the machine, but also the total lifecycle cost of the snow pusher, and should be carefully considered.
Cutting Edge Counts
Every snow pusher has cutting edges. Designed to scrape and clean away compacted snow and ice, they add the all-important finishing touch and further reduce the need for re-plowing and salting.
Steel cutting edges prove to be more effective and more durable than rubber options. On the downside, replacing them can be significantly more expensive.
But in combination with sectional moldboards, steel cutting edges are very effective and can be replaced in only one section, rather than across the entire length of the pusher. This significantly reduces maintenance costs.
Clearly, it’s not 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 puzzle.
The key to snow removal is efficiency, both in terms of the pusher and the machine. And a snow pusher with the right features will lead to both.
Randy Strait, President of Arctic Snow and Ice Control, can be reached through www.arcticsnowandice.com.