Measure up

Calibration is key to maintaining quality service and keeping dollars in your business.

The equipment for applying lawn care products can vary, but they have one thing in common: calibration. Otherwise, you’re just tossing dollars on the lawn with no guaranteed results or profit.

Calibration is the process of setting and checking lawn care equipment to apply the proper quantity. There are variables involved like pace and size – a tall operator needs to calibrate at a different speed than someone shorter.

The pace an LCO applies products is an important factor when calibrating lawn care equipment.
Photo courtesy of Deans Services

Ultimately, calibration is a science that demands careful analysis. You’ve got to read the labels, properly measure properties, maintain equipment and constantly check calibration for accuracy.

And yes, those regular settings checks are a must. Winging it is just throwing away materials. Not to mention, you’ll risk quality without proper calibration. Who can afford to lose a client?

“Calibration is a personal thing,” says Chuck LeBar, president of Magnolia Lawn in Suwanee, Georgia. “And we have to put down our products in exact amounts per 1,000 square feet.”

Exact is the operative word.

“If we calibrate all spreaders at only one setting, then it will not be accurate for someone who is 6 feet and walks at a different pace than someone who is 5 feet tall and walks slower,” LeBar says.

Here are some pointers for calibrating lawn care equipment to make the most of your product investment.

Find a comfort zone.

We’re talking about pace and identifying a consistent, comfortable walking speed technicians can maintain throughout the day. This is one strategy for ensuring that you get the most efficient application, says Tyron Jones, president of Deans Services in Fruitland Park, Florida.

You won’t nail this pace on the first day out on the route. Partner new technicians with senior employees who can provide some in-field training. After a week of walking through routes, technicians generally settle on a pace they can sustain.

That’s when you calibrate. “We set and calibrate equipment for our technicians based on their pace,” Jones says, referring to the trainer and manager. Then, the trainer will conduct a flow rate test (for liquid applications) to ensure accuracy.

At Green Acres Landscape in Salem, Oregon, vendors first calibrate the commercial spreaders and then a manager will test and calibrate the equipment again it is used in the field.

Monitor application use.

Keep record of how much product a technician uses daily and flag any blips. Those are potential signs that equipment needs recalibrating.

Deans can check chemical use by adding up the square footage serviced in a day (based on adding up all properties’ measurements on the route). At the end of the day, the company knows how much product is leftover (if any).

“We know based on the square footage and how many tanks of product were used if the technician was working within a comfortable ‘safe zone,’” Jones says.

Perform regular maintenance.

Spreaders take a beating in the field. A technician can put a lot of miles on equipment in a single day, so routine maintenance is critical. A well-greased, clean spreader that is properly calibrated will efficiently apply the product you put in it.

"If we calibrate all spreaders at only one setting, then it will not be accurate for someone who is 6 feet and walks at a different pace than someone who is 5-feet tall and walks slower."Chuck LeBar, president, Magnolia Lawn

“Granular fertilizer is corrosive and it will get into gears,” Jones says. “You have to lube parts and make sure if you see any (component) wearing down, you replace it before a break happens so you avoid downtime.”

With spray equipment, check filters daily. Jones requires that technicians make this a habit – and management gives filters a once-over on a weekly basis.

Every year, gaskets and seals are replaced on spray trucks. “We take a truck off the road once a year and we have a mechanic that goes over the whole thing,” Jones says. In all, Deans has 15 trucks on the road and more than 100 employees.

Never rest easy.

Calibration is a constant effort. Lawn care operators can’t afford to have a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. So train technicians to properly calibrate equipment. Stick with a routine maintenance schedule. And, regularly monitor product use vs. square footage covered in a day.

If you’re looking for some brush-up education regarding calibration, turn to vendors who supply the lawn care equipment.

They can serve as a resource and training support. “There are courses you can take to gain insight and general recommendations,” Jones says. “Our vendors have been a tremendous help to us.”

For tips on calibrating, click here.

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