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An (imaginary) GIE+EXPO to remember

October 21, 2020 -  By , , and

Visits with Hilltip, Ogura ClutCh, Mulch Mate and more

By Sarah Webb, LM Associate Editor

Indoor spray unit (Photo: Hilltip Corp.)

Roll with the times One of Hilltop’s snow and ice units became repurposed for disinfecting. (Photo: Hilltip Corp.)

It’s obvious that 2020 has changed the outlook for many companies. My first visit for “What if?” GIE+EXPO 2020 was with a company that has looked at what it had that could help businesses keep customers safe in a pandemic.

For Hilltip Corp., a European manufacturer of snow and ice control equipment, the coronavirus pandemic inspired a tweak to its traditional fare.

At the beginning of the pandemic, one of the company’s distributors dismantled one of the company’s vehicle-mounted snow and ice treatment units and mounted it on a chassis that can be pulled around the inside of a building. A few additional tweaks later, and voila: the 30-inch-wide, 4-foot-tall indoor/outdoor spray 30M machine was born.

“It can fit through basically any common door opening and has spray bars that people can run disinfectants and preventives through to treat public areas against COVID-19,” Craig Sandmann, North American sales manager at Hilltip Corp., told me. “If they are treating, for instance, a Walmart as a contract, they can also take that machine inside if they chose and bid on sanitizing the inside of the store if they wanted. These machines can also be used for snow and ice control, but they’re primarily built to be used indoors.”

The machine is currently being marketed and sold in the U.S. and Canada. Born from a pandemic, the disinfecting qualities of the machine may prove to be useful — at trade shows and the like — long after coronavirus has been controlled.

“The machine (innovation) goes back to March when fear and apprehension was at its highest, the economy came to a halt, people were staying home and this distributor had a customer that had a need. Our spray technology has been proven in Europe for a number of years,” Sandmann said. “Why rethink the wheel? We just tried to get this into a much smaller package that someone can use indoors, and that’s how it evolved.”

Wheelbarrow (Photo: Scenic Road Manufacturing)

Divots be gone The wider wheels on Scenic Road’s flat-free tires allow for fewer indents in a yard. (Photo: Scenic Road Manufacturing)

Additionally, at what was the company’s inaugural year at the show, Hilltip showcased large poly salt spreaders for pickup trucks and larger vehicles that have tracking technology that allows pros to see their equipment and how much material they’re spreading.

Road trip

I ran into Tom McDermott, national sales manager for Scenic Road Manufacturing, as I walked the show floor. Scenic Road Manufacturing rolled out a flat-free turf tire this year, to complement its line of wheelbarrows for the professionals.

The turf tires are a wider version of a wheelbarrow tire, typically 6 inches wide.

“Our pneumatic tire is popular, and we recently sourced a flat-free version of that,” he told me. McDermott added the tire is being marketed to both residential and commercial landscapers.

“We started marketing it this year, and it’s exceeding our expectations so far with the response,” McDermott said. “This tire is something that’s specifically designed for landscapers because the wider tires tend to plow less in soft surfaces like sand or gravel, so you don’t have as much resistance when you’re pushing it, and it also doesn’t mar the surface, which is a benefit when landscapers are mulching. It won’t leave the marks that a narrower tire would leave in a lawn. It’s something that’s very popular with landscapers.”

Easy does it

Clutch product (Photo: Ogura Clutch)

Smooth start Ogura’s Soft Start feature allows for smoother startup on machines, reducing operator strain. (Photo: Ogura Clutch)

The bread and butter of Ogura Clutch’s offering is its power takeoff electric clutch brake products.

“It essentially engages the deck blades with the flip of a switch, so instead of pulling that big lever on a residential ride-on mower to engage the deck blades, this has got an electric switch,” said Michael Vasko, regional sales manager at Ogura. “As residential and commercial ride-on mowers got larger and deck sizes got large, it was an additional convenience to the operator.”

The product has been tried and true in a variety of industries. Vasko said it was originally an offshoot of the original air-conditioning compressor clutch from an automobile and that the PTO electric clutch brake was designed in the 1970s.

He added that the product has safety benefits as well because of the inclusion of the brake.

“There are industry standards that we need to meet in order to sell the product,” he said. “For residential machines, (that) dictates that the blades stop in five seconds; for a commercial machine, that’s seven seconds.”

An additional feature for the operator when using the electric clutch is the new Soft Start feature.

The Soft Start controller is designed to extend the time of engagement of the friction surfaces to allow for a smoother startup. The physical size of the control is small — fewer than 3 inches long, 1.5 inches wide and 7/8-inch deep. It meets or exceeds industry standards for vibration, shock, humidity, salt spray and dust and immersion, making it suitable for outdoor use.

Reduced shock loads to the equipment operator, improved life of mechanical components and longer belt life are just a few of the benefits of using the Soft Start technology, Vasko said. It can be used on zero-turn mowers, lawn and garden tractors, stump cutters, portable sawmills, blowers and fans.

Lunch with Mulch Mate

Truck mate (Photo: Mulch Mate)

Recruitment tool Mulch Mate said its products can help entice workers as they reduce strain and make tough jobs easier to perform. (Photo: Mulch Mate)

I took a much-needed lunch break with Nick Carlson, CEO and founder of Mulch Mate.

Mulch Mate had a big debut of the Kart Mate at the 2019 GIE+EXPO. Carlson said the company is ready to take the product one step further — and lighter and cheaper — with the innovation of Kart Mate Residential.

Kart Mate is a heavy-duty articulating cart that mounts to a zero-turn or stand-on mower. The tub can be dumped forward, and the entire cart can be lifted vertically on the mower to take up as little space as possible on the trailer.

“We think this is going to have a major impact on the industry. There are a lot more smaller guys than bigger guys,” Carlson said. “One of the pushbacks on the Kart Mate is that it’s a commercial-built piece of equipment. It’s not small, it’s heavy duty and is meant to take a beating. So, it’s going to be on the higher end as far as price.”

Kart Mate Residential is a one-wheel apparatus that goes on the front of the mower. It has the same connection point as Kart Mate Commercial, and it comes in at under $1,000, where the other unit is at $1,899. Users can get the articulation out of it like Kart Mate commercial, and the unit can stand straight up in the air in transport mode so that it doesn’t eat up any extra space in the trailer.

While Kart Mate weighs in at 135 pounds and is shipped by freight, Kart Mart Residential is 58 pounds and is shipped via UPS.

An additional feature of Kart Mate Residential is users can pull a simple hitch pin that unfolds handles and legs, transforming it into a wheelbarrow.

“You can drive 500 feet with your mower so you’re not wearing yourself out, stop, unfold these handles and legs, which is simply pulling a pin and it comes off, and you can walk off with the wheelbarrow,” Carlson said. “In Maryland, 9 million yards of mulch are laid every year, in just this state alone. A yard of mulch is roughly 600 or 700 pounds. That’s a lot of liability, back strain and potential soft tissue injuries. The work can be made easier with this product.”

In addition to making crews more efficient, Carlson said Mulch Mate products may help landscape companies with retention issues as well.

“I have customers tell me stories that they have people coming out of the woodwork wanting to work for them (because) they have a Mulch Mate or Kart Mate,” Carlson said.

Going out in style

Safety gear (Photo: Arborwear)

Safety first Visible colors and reflective tape ensure workers can be seen when wearing Arborwear gear. (Photo: Arborwear)

Before my “What if?” GIE+EXPO concluded, I checked out the new gear at Arborwear’s booth. The company is introducing two new high-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) Class 3 Outerwear styles: the Kenston Jacket (a cold weather bomber style coat) and the Juniper Soft-shell Jacket.

These two items complete a line of HVSA Class 3 offerings from the apparel manufacturer, based in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Options include mesh vests, short and long sleeve shirts or polos, single- and double-thick sweatshirts, the Acacia Rain Jacket, the Juniper Softshell Jacket and the Kenston Jacket.

All of the products feature Arborwear’s signature reflective tape designs and are HVSA Class 3 compliant.

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at

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