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Choosing Sweeping Equipment

Choosing Sweeping Equipment

When You Consider a Sweeper, Look at the Big Picture

by Dan Federico, Sales Manager for Allianz Madvac Sweepers

Allianz Logo Industry veteran, Dan Federico, provides some excellent tips for anyone to review prior to purchase of sweeper.

There's no question that conducting tests to see how well a particular sweeper picks up has merit. However, that should just be a relatively small part of the total picture. The fact is, in many cases there will be only infinitesimal differences of sweeping performance, usually much too small a difference to actually determine what constitutes the "best" sweeper for a given customer.

Most all buyers will benefit from having additional criteria beyond the pickup testing process. And, it is important what these criteria are and how they are evaluated. Let's take, for example, the level of customer support likely to be received for a given make of sweeper. I have seen a number of cases where a municipality has issued a spec that requires a number of "yes or no" answers. After getting "yes" answers from a vendor to questions such as: "Do╩you offer 24-hour service response times?" or "Do you have ample replacement parts inventory for the model bid?" they later find out that the vendor can't or doesn't perform. However, seldom have they bothered to build in a recourse clause that covers in the event of non-performance.

Taking a line from the old Wendy's commercial "Where's the beef?" Unless you have something that's quantitative and measurable, testing or evaluating it has little-to-no merit as it becomes solely subjective and cause for disagreement.

Let's take the example of usable debris capacity, which all manufacturers list on their specifications along with total hopper capacity. These numbers are oftentimes not accurate reflections of reality, whether the hopper cannot actually hold that much or whether other systems, like the dumping hydraulics, can't handle the rated full load.

Hopper capacity, in my opinion, should be something that's actually measured during performance; i.e., keep each machine sweeping until it's full and then actually measure the capacity differences. Simply asking manufacturers for their payload capacity many times results in what might be called 'a liberal interpretation of reality.'

Sometimes, there will be overriding items of 'night and day' difference in the sweepers being considered. One of our models, for example, has front steering and its basic competitor is a rear-steer machine. I think this is an enormous difference to be factored in. A layperson with a driver's license can master driving, turning and backing up a front-steer machine very quickly since it's intuitive and very similar to driving a car. The same cannot be said of a rear-steer vehicle. If you take an existing city operator of a rear-steer sweeper, this isn't an issue.

But, as older operators retire and new hires take their place, the learning curve -- and thus productivity -- can be more quickly realized with a front steer sweeper. If there are other big differences between sweeper models you're evaluating -- high dumping vs. low dumping come to mind -- those are issues you would be well served to make your mind up about prior to going through any testing or final evaluation process.

Some other areas that lend themselves to quantitative comparison, especially when it comes to purpose-built chassis, include visibility. This is something that can usually be measured, for example forward/side/rear ground point visibility; i.e., how far away from the vehicle does someone or something have to be in order for the operator to be able to see it?). Another visibility issue is that of the gutter brooms themselves. Every time an operator has to look down at the gutter broom to ensure contact at or near the curb, the likelihood of an accident becomes more prevalent. The same is true for any controls that require the operator to take his/her eyes off the road.

Training is another topic where prospective purchasers often either ask yes or no questions or simply ask for a list of the training materials available, dvd, cd, etc. What most city officials don't realize is that they'd be better off specifying what they'd like in the way of training. This can include initial start-up operator training, mechanic training in the areas of preventive maintenance, adjustments, troubleshooting, etc.; refresher courses at particular intervals; DVD/PowerPoint materials for new operator training, and more. By approaching their sweeper training in this way, the city determines what they want and the vendor(s) must comply with the requirement. All suppliers are then on a level playing field and city officials get what they truly want in the bargain.

Another area that comes up often, especially with purpose-built machines, is transport speed. There's no question that faster travel speed to the job site, or when deadheading from one route to another, clearly translates to increased productivity. Once again, don't just take the vendor's word for it, especially since this is something that's so easy to test. Although a given sweeper may, indeed, be able to travel at the listed top speed, my suggestion is to determine if there are any issues of stability when driving at the manufacturer's listed transport speed.

Although transport might be a variable based on the "risk position" operator A is prepared to take as compared to operator B, I think most management teams would be well served to assess this on behalf of their organization prior to purchase.

Once you take delivery of your shiny new sweeper, cost of upkeep inevitably becomes the next issue. Over time, I've seen a number of examples where someone, whether city or contractor, had a sweeper just sitting because they hadn't realized that it would be so expensive to operate. When customers tell me they are spending too much on repair and maintenance costs, I tell them that I have a solution that will save them tens of thousands of dollars -- but they have to give me the key to the sweeper...

It's a light-hearted way I use sometimes to bring someone to a realization of the folly in what they're asking. However, some number of those people were sold a 'bill of goods' about what their sweeper would cost to keep running throughout its usable lifetime. What everyone needs and deserves is to have a good idea of total life cycle operating costs prior to purchase, as well as information designed to teach them how to decrease their operating costs per productive hour in every feasible way possible.

One good solution is, of course, to get better information up front. Better yet, much total cost risk can be removed if the purchaser issues a total cost of operation (TCO) specification. In that type of specification, the purchaser can require response time within X number of days and a complete repair consummated within X number of days or the vendor has to either provide a functionally similar machine as a loaner or pay financial penalties.

These types of arrangements can include a steady payment per month throughout the sweeper's life. In return, it can spell out exactly how repairs will be made, parts will be costed out -- the availability of loaner equipment in the event of downtime can even be mandated. Most also include punitive financial penalties that encourage the vendor to respond quickly and thoroughly in getting a "down" machine back operational quickly.

This type of spec is very popular throughout Europe since it allows municipal entities to absolutely budget their entire sweeper cost for, typically, five years. The spec will address parts replacement costs, parts availability, response times and more, all of which is of valuable benefit to the long-term budgeting process. To make this concept more understandable, I've included a pdf file of a generic specification that Allianz offers to customers who are contemplating a total cost bid. At the least, such a document provides a generic level playing field by which all vendors will be compared.

Also, when you compare the parts cost of consumables, be sure they are related to both the average life cycle and the time required for replacement. For example, if one dirt shoe is three (3) times more expensive than another, but lasts four (4) times as long and takes 1/2 the time to change, which one represents the better value?

Relating this all to the start of the article, what good does it do to have a sweeper that can pick up 5% more material in some type of controlled testing process, but is down 15% more of the time and/or costs twice as much to own over its life cycle? That's why I stress the importance of customers testing and measuring those things that are of true value to their particular organization.

So, if you think it would be helpful, by all means hold a "sweep off." However, in addition I suggest that you assign points, based on your own determination of priority and importance, to any and all points raised in this article and any others of importance to your organization. Ultimately, the real issue should be what presents the "best value" to the you, the customer. We all know the adage that it's not what it costs to buy but rather what it costs to own that determines the best value for the money expended.

Organizations that are serious in their endeavor to get the "best" sweeper are doing themselves a disservice if they don't consider the bigger picture as part of their purchase decision.

Dan Federico is Sales Manager for Allianz Madvac, Inc. You may reach him by calling 813-713-1455; his email address is

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