Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stacie Zinn Roberts

Stacie Zinn Roberts


Eliminate operator errors

Snow and Ice

In-cab controls help improve accuracy and safety.

October 13, 2014

Red high heels click across a parking lot. Click. Click. Splash. She’s stepped in something nasty. A gooey brown liquid covers her shoe. She tries to wipe it off but recoils at the smell. It’s cold outside. She rushes to her car and gets in, only to see she’s stamped a pointy brown shoeprint into her car’s interior carpet. She grabs her cellphone and calls the building manager who then calls you, the manager of the snow removal company. It appears that your snow removal operator has applied too much de-icer to the parking lot surface and a tenant has sloshed through it. She’s not happy, the building manager’s not happy, and now you’re not happy.

Several years ago, long before his company switched over to in-cab control systems that reduce operator error, a scenario similar to this actually happened to Bruce Moore, Jr., vice president of operations for Eastern Land Management in Stamford, Conn. Over-application of a liquid de-icing material created an uproar when an operator made a mistake while using manual controls. Even though the material was non-toxic, the client was so upset that Moore, keeping the customer’s needs in mind, switched the liquid de-icer to a treated salt material to retain his business.

A repeat of such an unfortunate incident today is highly unlikely since Eastern Land Management began installing in-cab controls in their fleet of 30 snow removal and de-icing vehicles. These controls work for all kinds of de-icing systems, regardless of whether you’re applying a liquid de-icer, salt or sand. What the computerized in-cab controls do is take operator error out of the equation.

Computerized in-cab controls “allow us to put down the proper application rates for the de-icing materials so we can regulate the amount of material that gets applied to the surface,” Moore says.

By having better, more accurate control, Moore says he can improve customer service as well as his company’s bottom line. “If you make an over-application, it’s costing us money as well as it’s harmful to the environment and to the overall property in general. If you under-apply, it causes potential liability, potential slips and falls, and unsafe properties.”

New technology.

At the Colorado and Utah offices of Terracare Associates, snow removal and de-icing makes up about 40 percent of the company’s business. Over the past 12 years, Terracare has systematically converted its fleet of de-icers to include in-cab control systems. In all, 60 of Terracare’s 75 vehicles are now equipped with in-cab controls. The remaining 15 vehicles mainly do plowing, not de-icing. “

The newest type of technology for vehicles is ground speed controllers that apply material at the same rate when moving slow or faster,” says Justin Stewart, vice president of infrastructure for Terracare Associates.

“What the computers in trucks can do now is tell your sander to turn faster or slower depending upon your speed. So when you say you want to apply ‘x’ pounds per lane mile or per distance, it will be consistent in first gear or second gear.”

Stewart says that consistent application rates are important to make sure that you don’t have icy spots or over-application where you have a lot of excess material just sitting on the ground.

“If you stopped and you had a manual controller, and the person didn’t shut it off when he stopped, he could leave a pile of material where he stopped,” he says. “The new electronic controller will stop application when you stop, and start application when you go.”

Advancements in application control have come a long way. At one time, operators had to park a vehicle and trudge outside in freezing temperatures to manually adjust a gate or manual hand crank. Later advancements offered lever switches but little accuracy. Today, operators can adjust for speed and volume, applying heavier amounts in high traffic areas as needed. All of this occurs while he sits inside a warm cab making adjustments with the touch of a button, achieving efficiency and safety all at once.

Accurate estimates.

In the commercial marketplace, both Moore and Stewart say that using the in-cab control systems has helped their companies to price jobs more accurately, and be more efficient in materials ordering and actual use – all of which add to the bottom line. Although Moore could not say exactly how much the savings were for Eastern Land, his company’s investment of around $8,000 to outfit 10 de-icing vehicles was “absolutely worth it.”

“For the amount of money invested, the payback was within a few months into the first winter season they were in use,” he says.

Both Stewart and Moore say that learning the in-cab controls is fairly simple, requires little advanced training and happens on the job.

“I think it’s very important to stay up with technology and stay up with the times. We try to stay on the cutting edge on everything that we do from summer time to winter time operations,” Stewart says. “The world is changing so fast that if you don’t work at staying up with it, you’re kind of left behind.”


The author is a freelance writer based in Mount Vernon, Wash.

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