|At A Glance|
Advantages to utilizing a dedicated mower with year-round attachments are:
In a time of tight budgets and limited government spending, new vehicles and pieces of equipment can be difficult expenses to justify. But, in the case of grounds maintenance, there are purchasing solutions that can allow fleets to reduce the overall number of units it needs.
By incorporating different implements that attach to a dedicated mower — turning the vehicle into a part-time snow plow or debris blower — fleets can broaden the use of one unit, sparing thousands of dollars.
Many government entities with basic mowing needs are transitioning toward these compact multi-functioning vehicles that reduce maintenance costs as well as the need for expensive stand-alone equipment that would otherwise sit idle for months at a time.
Benefiting From Year-Round Use
Year-round implements, which can attach to a dedicated mower in place of its out-front mowing deck, provide flexibility for agencies during season transitions.
At any time throughout the year, units can be equipped to perform a number of tasks including: mowing and collecting grass in the summer; aerating and removing debris and leaves in the fall; clearing snow and ice in the winter; and dethatching and fertilizing in the spring.
Naturally, dedicated mowers are built with mowing needs in mind — but because implements attach to the front of the vehicle, visibility and ease are increased for other tasks as well.
“Tow-behind units are hard to see and maneuver compared to front-mounted attachments, which make it easier to get into tight spaces and greatly reduces the time it takes to get the job done,” said Bryan Holby, product manager for turf equipment manufacturer Jacobsen. “We know [agencies] have much more to do than just cut grass. Employing implements can make the machine as versatile as any site requires.”
Another advantage of using the same power unit perennially is that the engine is constantly ready for use. With attachments, the mower doesn’t sit idle for several months and requires significantly less maintenance and preparation time.
A weighty concern with using these vehicles year-round is their true functionality during colder months. Being smaller vehicles, mowers are generally exposed, or uncovered. However, some vehicle manufacturers now give agencies the option of integrating a detachable climate-controlled cab that protects the operator from harsher weather conditions for year-round use.[PAGEBREAK]
Maximizing Efficiency with Attachments
Many users have found ways to leverage a dedicated mower’s smaller size to complete more challenging general maintenance tasks, such as working in narrow areas.
“Maneuverability is increased,” said Holby. “Since you can fit into smaller spaces, these units are significantly more productive. For instance, the Jacobsen R-311T, which has 11 feet cutting capacity, can cut as narrow as 64 inches by lifting the two independent wing decks. This allows the user to not only cut the large open areas efficiently but also get into the tight areas without needing additional units or operators.”
As well, unit attachments help downsize an agency’s fleet while preserving — if not expanding — its standards for efficiency.
Grasshopper manufactures a FrontMount power unit. With this system, the user can attach and detach implements while retaining the vehicle’s zero-turn maneuverability. All attachments are powered with the same power take-off (PTO) shaft that powers the deck. This results in a direct, single-stage transfer of power from the mower’s engine to the attachment, eliminating the need for expensive auxiliary engines and fuel, according to Grasshopper.
“In about two minutes, you could go from mowing deck to snow blower,” said Robert Pace, parks supervisor for City of California Parks & Recreation in Missouri. “It’s just a matter of unhooking latches and sliding things over.”
Pace uses Grasshopper mowers to make sidewalks, city hall parks, and a mile of walking trail in the City usable.
Often times, changing implements can be done without tools. Grasshopper’s QuikConverter system features a two-point attachment system for easy removal and reconnection of decks or implements. Mike Simmon, marketing coordinator with Grasshopper, spoke about a maintenance manager of a major landscaping contractor who was able to downsize his mowing fleet and reduce labor by using Grasshopper mowers equipped with QuikConverter.
“The company’s maintenance manager discovered one employee could complete the same job in one-fourth of the time if he mounted a Grasshopper mower with a turbine blower rather than supplying four employees with backpack blower units,” said Simmon.
The City and County of Denver, which maintains 3,100 acres of turf area and 80 miles of trails, had a similar experience. It recently purchased Jacobsen dedicated mowers, which feature easy assembly through hydraulically driven units and attachment points, to replace an outdated fleet.
The agency was able to eliminate 10 smaller mowing units from its fleet, going from 73 to 63. After this successful trial, it’s now looking to do the same with its larger mowing vehicles.[PAGEBREAK]
During the colder months, the City and County of Denver must do more with less. Fewer staff members work winters, yet the agency must remove snow from all walkways, including ones too narrow for trucks.
Doug Woods, parks director for the City and County of Denver, would send out a two-person crew equipped with snow blowers for hard-to-reach areas. “A mile of trail can take several hours,” said Woods.
However, with Jacobsen’s smaller mowers that both fit into the narrow spaces and can function as a snow plow or broom, the City and County was able to get the job done in less time with a reduced staff.
“We reduced the number of workers, mowers, the annual maintenance costs for these mowers, and now we’re much more efficient,” said Woods. “They are out there taking on additional tasks and maintenance that we weren’t able to do in the past. They’re covering a lot more mileage of trail and are more versatile.”
According to Woods, from the perspective of a government entity facing hefty budget cuts, this business model is an important one to consider.
“In government, we must use taxpayer dollars wisely, so any time we can get more use in a season out of a piece of equipment, the more sense it makes,” said Woods. “It’s much more adaptable to take a piece of mowing equipment and just add an attachment.”
“Government agencies aren’t staffed the way they were in the past, and it’s going to continue, so you really have to utilize these tools to do a better job, cover more area, and save money,” said Woods.
With only one engine to maintain on a multi-functional mower, fleets can reduce labor and parts costs. Government agencies can cut down on in-shop training, and also, one grounds maintenance system means dealing with one vendor and one invoice for purchasing.
According to Jacobsen’s Holby, oftentimes the designs of these smaller specialized mowing units are focused on eliminating costs over time.
“The Jacobsen units use hydraulically powered PTO drives and individual hydraulic spindle motors on the decks instead of the mechanical PTO shafts, belts, and pulleys typically used on other tractor-mounted implements,” said Holby. “With the [Jacobsen units], there are no fittings to grease or belt adjustments that need to be made. This greatly reduces the time and cost it takes to maintain the unit and increases the amount of time it is available for use.”
Today there are also clean diesel options, which use half the fuel compared to gasoline or propane engines, according to Grasshopper’s Simmon.
Pace of the City of California said: “With clean diesel, my units can run a whole day and a quarter on one tank. It’s made a big difference with fuel consumption.”[PAGEBREAK]
What to Look For
When purchasing a dedicated mower for multi-purpose use, make sure it exhibits the following qualities:
- A design that places the implement in a close-coupled position to the power unit to optimize traction, handling, and control
- A system for quick attaching and detaching of implements
- Ease of maintenance to reduce downtime in the field and in the shop
- A system with a proven track record of performance in a variety of applications and settings
- The ability to drive on different types of landscape (this increases its ability to perform a multitude of tasks)
- Fully-welded, deep mower deck; commercial transmission; and powerful engine
- Clean diesel options.
When a Utility Vehicle Might Be Right
For government agencies maintaining mostly large open spaces and lawns — such as those at schools and parks — a larger utility vehicle with a mowing attachment might be a better fit for its mowing needs. As well, utility vehicles tend to be more ideal for heftier operations like moving cargo and other ground maintenance tasks.
“This type of equipment gives you the ability to use the cargo bed for storing other portable power equipment,” said Aaron Stegemann, business development manager for Polaris.
Like dedicated mowers, many utility vehicle options on the market also possess the ability to implement different attachments for various tasks. “Attachments provide a cost-effective solution for certain government fleets,” said Stegemann.
Polaris’ Brutus HDPTO unit offers six attachments: a finishing mower, angle broom, snow blower, materials bucket, pallet fork, and snow blade.
“The vehicle itself can transport its operator in addition to 1,250 pounds of cargo,” said Stegemann. “That just isn’t possible with a dedicated mower.”
However, since utility vehicles are larger than dedicated mowers, their maneuverability is much more limited. But if mowing open spaces is a component of an agency’s maintenance repertoire, the user can invest in adjustable mowing attachments.
For locations that experience high temperature and humidity, some utility vehicles feature fully enclosed cabs that also have air conditioning in addition to heating for winter.
Also meeting the lean budgets of the government sector, utility vehicles’ multi-task functionality can directly benefit an agency’s bottom line.
“It’s important for agencies to evaluate their entire fleet and determine which pieces of equipment are under-utilized,” said Stegemann. “A multi-functioning utility vehicle could potentially eliminate the need to maintain an entire fleet of machines.”
Demand Expected to Grow
If landscaping needs are on the top of the list year-round, then a powerful zero-turn mower would be a clear choice for government fleets, according to Christine Chapman, product manager of Kubota, which manufacturers the popular Z- and F-Series compact mower lines.
While utility vehicles might provide more versatility, Chapman said the benefits of a dedicated mower are really in its maneuverability. It’s easier and faster to get in and out of constricted spaces, which aids productivity. Government agencies can also reduce the amount of manual labor by utilizing vehicles that tackle diverse terrain.
According to The City and County of Denver’s Woods, who has watched the evolution of products in the ground maintenance market, demand for dedicated mowers with multi-functioning implements will only continue to grow.
“Public agencies are pretty good at adapting and learning from others and pushing manufacturers to do the same,” said Woods. “Given our budgets lately, buying versatile equipment is a pretty popular direction to go in. There are probably more implements we’ll see in the future and other uses this equipment will be able to perform.”
- Christine Chapman, product manager, Kubota
- Bryan Holby, product manager, Jacobsen
- Robert Pace, parks supervisor, City of California, Mo. Parks & Recreation
- Mike Simmon, marketing coordinator, Grasshopper
- Aaron Stegemann, business development manager, Polaris
- Doug Woods, parks director, City and County of Denver