Manufacturers report that the compact equipment attachments market is recovering from the doldrums it encountered in the mid-2000s, and that “simplicity” and “ease of use” are high on the list of customer-desired innovations.
“In 2006-2007 the market absolutely closed down,” recalls Gale Engelke of GE Attachments in Knoxville, Tenn. “Landscapers are the first to go in a downturn. People say, ‘I guess I’ll mow my own lawn.’ And in 2008 it was like someone closed the spigot.
“Our local Bobcat dealer saw his business drop 75 percent. It was highly regional. Florida dropped like a rock, while Texas hardly fell off at all. But now I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand out there – I expect to see sales rise considerably.”
Engelke says the most consequential engineering innovation in the industry recently has been the wide acceptance of universal hitches, which can considerably ease the job of the end-user. “All the new tractors are using universal hitches now,” he says. “That allows customers to attach the same implements they use for skid loaders. To me, that’s the biggest recent improvement.”
He says that attachments – buckets, augers, brooms, blowers – might not be the most high-profile tools in the landscaper’s inventory, and that much of the market in the past has been driven by replacement purchases. “Buckets, augers, there’s always the replacement situation for that kind of equipment,” he says. “Those are fundamental attachments, the basics you need to do the job.”
Ease of use.
Increased convenience is a recurrent theme in the attachment industry, which aims to reduce the downtime caused by the need to stop work in order to switch out attachments. Perhaps the most striking example of this approach is the BRUTUS, a side-by-side utility vehicle from Polaris introduced in April.
BRUTUS is built around a 24-HP diesel power plant that supports various attachments with an integrated front-end PTO, and features a “treadle-pedal” that permits the operator to switch from forward to reverse without changing gears.
The BRUTUS system currently supports six different attachments, including a broom, a mower and a snowblower, and permits the operator to change attachments without leaving the cab. “The attachment is not an afterthought,” says Polaris Business Development Manager, Aaron Stegemann. “BRUTUS’s treadle-pedal permits operators to focus on important attachment work without removing their hand from the wheel and the joystick. The multi-functionality provides new levels of versatility for the operator.”
Stegemann says Polaris felt the effect of the downturn in the 2000s, and notes that the company’s revenues fell from $1.9 billion in 2008 to $1.5 billion in 2009 – which was the year the company launched the BRUTUS development effort. Polaris, too, has seen indications of a turnaround in the market. Revenues in 2012 exceeded $3 billion.
left: © Wayne Davis 2013; Photos courtesy of ce attachments and terex
Ted McSherry and his partner launched their company, IAM Manufacturing, in Wheat Ridge, Colo. in September 2008, which was perhaps the market low point. “We didn’t realize that at the time,” McSherry says today. “But we’ve increased sales in every quarter since we’ve launched.”
The company is devoted to new product development, with a particular emphasis on compact equipment attachments, and they’ve found a market by creating improvements to the standard tools of the trade.
One of their most successful products is a clamp-on tooth bar that adds substantial digging power to a conventional bucket. “If you’re working with rough, hard, clay-type soil, you need teeth on the bucket to dig,” he says.
“In the past, when an operator wanted to add teeth to a conventional bucket, he had to precisely measure the bucket, call the original manufacturer and have the tooth bar custom-built.
“It was expensive, and attaching and removing the tooth bar was a tedious, labor-intensive process that used a lot of time. Our clamp-on tooth bar can be switched from bucket to bucket in minutes.”
McSherry’s clamp-on tooth bar is available in nine standard sizes. He and his partner started the company after owning a tractor dealership, and innovation was the point of the undertaking. “We sold the dealership and started making things we needed but couldn’t find in the market.” The company anticipates introducing four additional new technologies later this year, which are now in the process of being patented.
Polaris, too, plans an expanded line of attachments for BRUTUS. “We have a robust plan to add capabilities,” Stegemann says. Engelke says McSherry’s experience and Polaris’s positive experience will be duplicated elsewhere in the industry as the economy improves.
“If the market’s not there, people aren’t inspired to make investments,” he says. “But people are going to work. That’s the American Way – go out there and make something happen.” L&L
photos courtesy of general equipment and bradco
The author is a freelance writer based in Lawrence, Kan.