Benefits of compact equipment attachments

September 16, 2016 -  By
Photos: Bobcat

Landscapers boil down the benefit of attachments to one word: versatility.

Compact equipment attachments expand a contractor’s toolbox and create the opportunity for creative solutions when on-the-job problems arise.

Attachments are like a third arm for The Bruce Co. in Middleton, Wis. In fact, Operations Manager Barry Paar struggles to think of a time the company was “saved” by attachments—most jobs are centered around them in the first place.

“Oh boy, let me think about that,” Paar says. “Once you’re all familiar with the attachments and the capabilities, it becomes part of the thought process. Knowing you have that stuff in your back pocket changes how you plan to do a job.”

Attachments are most frequently paired with skid-steers, compact excavators and compact track loaders, which are among the fastest growing product segments in landscaping, JCB Sales Manager George Chaney says. Today’s machines, which offer high performance and power while maintaining transportability, are essential for design/build firms. Equipping these power units with attachments augments their capabilities.

“A well-paired attachment can improve versatility, delay the purchase of a dedicated piece of equipment and—more importantly—open new revenue sources,” says Bobcat Marketing Manager Chris Girodat. “Attachments maximize existing machine assets for more than one purpose.”
Though they’ve been around for decades, attachments are benefiting from an increased focus by manufacturers. Recent models are bigger, more durable and more powerful. Options are also more abundant. JCB has 31 attachment products designed for landscape contractors. Bobcat and other manufacturers offer dozen more. The ability to mix and match all these options is an X-factor for design/build firms.

“People used to have to get a separate dedicated machine,” says Chaney. “They would buy dedicated trenchers. It just trenches; that’s all it does. Now, attachments provide the landscape contractor with a Swiss Army knife.”

Also, integrated technology makes the tools more sophisticated. Bobcat recently developed a depth check system, which pairs with a bucket. The operator can measure depth and grade without exiting the power unit. Sensors detect the exact position of the bucket’s teeth, and the depth check system allows operators to set a desired digging depth and work toward that benchmark.

Now, let’s take a look at how two landscape companies use these tools and why they’re raving about them.

The Bruce Co.

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Photo: JCB

Attachments have been an integral part of The Bruce Co.’s operation for years, but increased technology, power and performance have propelled the tools’ influence on the company.

“As long as I can remember, 35-plus years, the availability and diversity of the attachments have been increasing every day,” Paar says. “People are coming up with new tools every day and performance is increasing.”

The $28 million company, which performs about 50 percent landscape construction for a commercial and high-end residential clientele, operates Bobcat attachments on a Bobcat skid-steer about 95 percent of the time.

The Bruce Co. has an attachment for just about everything, even snow blowing. Augers help the company dig holes, and sweepers let its workers easily transport and collect dirt. Soil conditioner attachments, of which Bobcat offers eight, are key to soil preparation efforts. If a crew has a skid-steer but needs the capabilities of a mini excavator, the backhoe attachment transforms the machine. Tree grabbers and pinchers make material handling manageable, and trail mowing is made easy by rough mowers. These only scratch the surface of the company’s inventory.

The machines have become second nature for management, and crew members also have become comfortable with the tools. Consistency in control from attachment to attachment makes training easy, Paar says.

Once crew members have a general understanding of the power unit, they can easily adapt to different attachments. In fact, a crew member becoming too comfortable is a bigger concern than an inadequately trained employee.

“If you get too comfortable, you might forget that you don’t have a bucket attached. So, safety is the primary concern,” he says. “We go through safety issues with them with a lot of hands-on learning, pointing out ins and outs of a new piece.”

Even as vital as attachments are to the company, Paar acknowledges some pitfalls. For one, skid-steers can have accessibility issues and are sometimes unable to fit in tight spaces.

Also, attachments often don’t afford the ability to multitask. A crew might have three or four attachments available on-site, but if it only has one power unit available, it can only use one attachment at a time. This limitation might be a problem if a company needs the tool for 10 hours a day. The Bruce Co. typically only uses an attachment for less than an hour at a time, so the power units are not tied up for too long. Standalone machines would not add any efficiency, Paar says.

The tasks also have an element of unpredictability, which creates the perfect environment for attachments.

“You don’t know what lies below the surface of the soil when you get to the site,” he says. “Having additional attachments available that can cut through more difficult media is critical to being efficient and moving forward. We may even choose to do some stuff by hand, but you want to have (the attachments) available because you just don’t know.”

Heaviland Landscape Management

Heaviland Landscape Management uses attachments to increase efficiency, but along the way, they have been helpful in managing cash flow, too.

“You’re not only reducing labor costs but also the overhead that goes along with labor,” says Rajan Brown, vice president of design, construction and sustainability for the company based in Vista, Calif. “We’re definitely seeing a benefit to having equipment and a few qualified equipment operators over a lot of labor because labor is a problem all across the U.S.”

The $10 million company performs about 70 percent landscape maintenance and 30 percent construction/enhancements for a primarily commercial clientele. It owns grapple bucket and rototiller attachments. Quick Attach manufactures both, which hook to Bobcat T180 skid-steers and E32 excavators.

The grapple bucket is the company’s most valuable piece, says Brown. It’s typically used for moving materials. For example, when performing fire brush abatement or demolishing an existing landscape, the company uses the grapple bucket to load debris into a dump truck. These jobs took multiple workers and many hours when the company leaned on manpower. The attachment reduces trips and cuts labor to just one person, while also reducing safety risks and fatigue. On average, Brown says attachments make the company 80 percent more efficient.

The rototiller attachment provides similar benefits to the company’s turf removal renovations and water savings projects. The attachment is used to prepare the soil. Once the turfgrass is removed, this attachment provides deep rototilling. The job is completed faster and the finished product is of a higher quality with only one laborer performing the task.

“The rototill it produces is very uniform and thorough, no dirt clogs, no debris,” Brown says. “Plus, if we bought a large (standalone) tiller, it would cost $12,000 to $14,000. The rototiller attachment cost $5,000.”

Using attachments helps the company control its costs in other ways, too. The company often rents attachments, like a mower attachment, an auger attachment and a breaker attachment (similar to a jack hammer). The latter two are used with the company’s excavator. Renting lets the company plan its purchases and better manipulate its budget.

“You don’t have the capital expense right up front,” Brown says. “You can come up with a long-term budgeting plan and prioritize what you want to buy next by budgeting a little bit of capital each year and in the meantime continue to rent them.”

Renting an attachment for a day costs under $100, Brown says. The rental company picks it up and drops it off, and Heaviland calls to log the time on the attachment. Often, if Heaviland plans to use it later in the week, the rental company leaves it on-site and Heaviland clocks in when it needs it again.

This approach lets the company test the attachments it’s considering purchasing. Its next purchase will likely be the auger attachment, which is used for digging holes for planting, soil preparation, digging holes for fence posts and many less traditional uses.

“When you own the equipment, you use it for things you wouldn’t have thought of renting it for,” Brown says. “You start realizing all the different uses there are for these pieces of equipment.”

Photos: Bobcat, JCB

About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

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