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Features - Equipment

Here’s what to look for in trenchers and vibratory plows.

May 25, 2012
Matt McClellan

Trenchers are useful tools to install landscape edging or irrigation lines. Vibratory plows can do the work without digging a trench. Whether you buy or rent a standalone machine or an attachment for your loader, this equipment can help you – if you know what to look for in a product.

Lawn & Landscape spoke with industry experts about how trenchers and vibratory plows have changed through the years, what features are must-haves, and what the future looks like.

What innovations has the market seen in the past few years?

Matt Collins, compact equipment product manager, Ditch Witch: Probably the biggest innovation has been the emergence of tracks. For years almost all trenchers and plows were sold with rubber tires but over the last three years the market has began to embrace the track concept. Tracked machines provide better traction and allow operators to work in a variety of soil and weather conditions.

Casey Berg, senior product engineer, Vermeer: We have also seen improvements in ergonomics and controls. Older machines needed a fairly sizable individual to operate them, because you had to wrestle them around to steer them.

We’ve created a simple system that any size person can run intuitively – the VZ steer system. You just lean the way you want to turn and the machine hydraulically turns that direction. This has been huge for DIYers, as well as contractors, because now you don’t need a big, burly person to run the machine.

What innovations can contractors expect in the next few years?

Collins: There’s been a tremendous amount of focus surrounding Tier IV emission standards which sets limits to the amount of pollutants that can be released into the environment. Moving forward, you will see a variety of solutions aimed at meeting these standards.

Berg: We’re focusing on engine upgrades to meet the EPA requirements. The engine and tank both have to be upgraded, depending on a machine’s horsepower and if it uses diesel or gas. We are looking into ways to capture evaporative gases and bring them back to the engine carburetion.

What should a contractor look for when buying a trencher or vibratory plow?

Berg: Ease of use and productivity. Look for a machine with multiple configurations, like trencher boom depth options, so you can improve your efficiency and production rates. Dealer support is important, too. When you’re buying a piece of equipment, you want to make sure you are buying it from a location that will be there with parts and service when you need it.

Wren: Contractors should look for machines that that have easy to use controls and are manufactured by companies that can provide great support after the sale.

Odegaard: The contractor needs to know what type of soil they will be working in, how deep and how wide the trench needs to be and the sales specialist can help direct them from there. Also, what will the utilization of the trencher be – a couple hundred feet per year going two feet deep or miles of trenching five feet deep?

This will help determine if a standard flow trencher or a dedicated high-flow trencher would be a better fit. High-flow trenchers have more power to go deeper and will go faster, providing maximum production.

Look for a trencher that is easy to operate and easy to maintain.

If a clean bottom trench is required make sure the manufacturer includes or offers a crumber on the trencher.

Also, how is the chain adjusted? Grease cylinder tensioning is quick and easy. Is side-shift available to get the trencher close to obstacles? How is visibility – how well can I see when starting a trench and how well can I see while trenching?

Collins: The three main items contractors should focus on are demonstrate the equipment to validate function and expected performance levels, find a reputable dealer that can provide support and service after the sale and get up to speed on maintenance requirements and service intervals. Maintaining your machine properly is vital to long life, reliability, and uptime. 

How have trenchers and vibratory plows changed in the past 10 to 20 years?

Bob Wren, sales specialist for trenchers, Toro: Just like any type of equipment, the changes to trenchers and vibratory plows have been extensive throughout the last 10-20 years. Today, almost all trenchers and vibratory plows are hydrostatic. As the quality of the hydrostatic components has improved, these units have become more reliable and versatile.

Justin Odegaard, attachments product specialist, Bobcat: Trencher attachments themselves have gotten more compact to help get into tight spaces. Available hydraulic horsepower has also improved so smaller machines have more power to do trenching jobs.

Walk-behind or ride-on machines were non-existent 10-20 years ago. Small, ride-on trenchers have been around, but haven’t had the attachment carrying capabilities of today’s machines.

Also, using direct-drive motors instead of chain drive or planetary reduction makes trenchers more efficient. Fewer moving parts means less maintenance required.

How can this equipment save a contractor time, labor, or money?

Wren: Because so many trenchers are on tracks today, these units cause less damage to the turf. That means there is less time invested in cleanup after a job is done.

Odegaard: Trencher attachments are fairly inexpensive to buy and are even easier to rent. If the customer has the power unit (loader), he or she can buy or rent a trencher rather than subbing out the job. Similarly, buying a trencher attachment is less expensive than buying a dedicated, ride-on trencher and the utilization rate of the machine can be increased.

The author is managing editor of Nursery Management magazine.

For more about what contractors should look for when buying trenchers and vibratory plows, and how the equipment can save you money, visit www.lawnandlandscape.com and search “trenchers.”