Technology evolution … or revolution?

Features - L&L Snow and Ice Report

Have recent equipment advances made the essential tasks any easier?

June 3, 2013
John Allin

Equipment needs for the plowing contractor can run the gambit of hand shovels to massive 24-foot-wide snow pushers, depending upon the need of the customer. Likewise, how you price your services has a direct impact on what kind of equipment is needed to complete a particular plowing project.

If a contractor is pricing services strictly “by the hour,” then finding the most productive equipment to do the job presents a classic Catch-22 scenario. If a piece of plowing equipment – a snow pusher or box plow, for example – makes a loader five times more efficient, then it is very difficult to upcharge the customer’s hourly rate by five-fold. Customers just won’t accept it. However, in “per-push,” “per-inch,” “per-storm” or “seasonal-pricing” situations, increasing productivity five-fold means higher margins for the contractor.

Unfortunately, managing snow and ice removal is done today much like it was 75 years ago. While the advances technology for moving snow have been minor and mostly limited to making the ease of operation more attractive – snow is, for the most part, still moved today much like it was decades ago. Way back then, horse drawn carriages pulled plows that pushed snow off to the side – much like the standard straight plow does today on the front of pickup trucks.

Motorized vehicles made the process faster, but the process is still the same. With the advent of motorized vehicles plows moved to the front of the “carriage” but, again the fundamental process remained the same. Even today, snowplowing operations are a reflection of the same philosophy in that we push the snow out of the way, usually to the left or right of the vehicle. We put a piece of steel on something with rubber tires, and push the snow to one side or the other.

Along with hydraulically operated plows came “ease of operation.” Hydraulics made it much easier to maneuver the plow set up, and allowed operators to stay inside the cab to move the plow from side to side.

The addition of electrically operated switch’s saved on cramped fingers, but again the mechanics of moving snow from pavement surfaces remained basically the same. Loaders made it easier to move large quantities of snow, but were very inefficient in that one was using a large piece of equipment to move a (relatively) light amount of product.

Skid-steers (small loaders) have made sidewalk snow clearing quicker as these units are considerably more productive than a human operating alone.

Recent advancements in mechanical, motorized equipment dedicated to sidewalk snow removal have allowed snow contractors to eliminate individual hand laborers on long stretches of sidewalk. Attachments for these units include brooms, plows and snowblowers.

Nothing has yet been developed to replace hand laborers for stairs and steps and unfortunately this work still requires human interaction with shovels or “stick plows.”

Probably the most effective means of increasing efficiency in snow operations that has come along in the past decade has been the snow pusher. Pioneered in the snow belts of the Rochester, N.Y., area, snow pushers are widely accepted in the snow marketplace as more and more units become available for more and more types of equipment.

These “box plows” have increased snow removal efficiency by as much as five times over that of the standard plow truck. The use of snow pushers on all sizes of loaders has drawn in more potential operators for moving snow.


The author is industry veteran, a Snow Magazine columnist and frequent contributor.


Watch for the August issue of Lawn & Landscape’s 2013 Snow and Ice report for part 2 of this story.