With the right plow, you can put your construction crews to work in slow winter months.

Less time. Less labor. Less overhead costs. These days, it seems every company is stretched to do more with less. While “less” seems to be the operative word, it is “more” that matters. More efficiency. More productivity. And especially more profit.

To get “more,” companies are becoming increasingly streamlined and resourceful. In fact, many contractors are choosing to grow their businesses by offering ongoing service and maintenance work. To be successful, most contractors must be willing to explore niche markets and open new divisions. This winter, why not put idle crews to work plowing snow?

But whether you are a construction or landscape contractor just entering the business or a seasoned plowing veteran who has been in the game for 10 years, there have never been more reasons than now to reexamine efficiencies in your operation.

One of the most important, if not most vital, steps to starting or improving a current snow and ice management operation is having the proper snowplow. The right plow will move more snow, increase operator ease and safety and reduce repair expenses and downtime. In addition, the right plow positively impacts the life of the machine powering it, whether it is a small skid steer or larger loader. Use this guide to help you select the right snowplow for your equipment.

Size Considerations

Snowplows come in a variety of styles and sizes. Equipment-mounted plows are commonly referred to as containment plows or box plows. They typically range in size from six feet for smaller machines such as skid steers and up to 30 feet for larger equipment like wheel loaders.

Plow size primarily affects how much snow is removed and with what precision. Longer, one-piece containment plows will move larger quantities of snow the first time but will also leave behind a significant amount as they ride on the highest ground.

No pavement, whether a road or parking lot, is completely flat and level. Roads tend to be higher in the center and gradually slope downward on each side, while parking lots have both raised and depressed areas. A longer plow will always rest at the highest point on a surface and float over lower areas—leaving behind inches of snow and resulting in the need for follow-up plowing. It is also likely that salting will be needed, which is another time-consuming process and added expense.

Shorter plows are more concentrated and precise. They enable operators to better target an area and clear more snow with less follow-up. They are also ideally suited for common, smaller pieces of equipment in a fleet such as skid steers and compact loaders.

The downside to smaller plows is that more total passes are required to remove the same amount of snow. Outsourcing or adding a pick-up plow to handle follow-ups may be required since shorter plows still miss small areas like dips in roads or parking lots. Some degree of salting will also be required.

When choosing the snow plow’s size, decide what is more important to you: sheer volume of snow cleared or precision. There is also an option for those unwilling to compromise. Some plow manufacturers have tweaked moldboard designs and offer sectional configurations that provide the benefit of moving more snow with greater precision and less follow-up.

The Precision of Sectional Moldboards

Sectional moldboard designs consist of several pieces that form one large surface area, allowing large amounts of snow to be removed in a single pass. The sections operate to provide precise, efficient removal.

Most plows on the market offer a trip-edge feature. As an obstacle is encountered, the plow “trips” or lifts slightly to clear the object without damaging the plow. The drawback? When the plow lifts up, it misses a pile of snow making re-plowing necessary. Sectional moldboard plows offer the same concept but on an individual basis. Rather than the whole plow width tripping, only the individual section encountering an obstacle trips, leaving virtually no snow behind and eliminating the need for follow-up plowing. Not only does this reduce fuel and labor costs, but it also eliminates any liability issues and costs resulting from slip and fall claims.

The independent movement of each “mini plow” provides further efficiency and plowing precision by essentially letting the entire plow contour to any given surface. On sloped roads, the outer pieces rest at lower points, while those toward the center rise up with the pavement. The same is true in parking lots. As the plow approaches a depressed or elevated area, the section will respond to the change in elevation and adjust itself accordingly. This ensures no snow is left behind and eliminates the need for a pick-up mounted plow or salting.

In addition to providing better clearing performance, the individual tripping action helps prevent damage to the plow and machine if a small obstacle is encountered. But to avoid significant damage from larger, rigid objects like curbs, consider a plow with mechanical side panels.

Benefits of Mechanical Side Panels

Most containment-style plows are built with side panels, or wings, attached to both ends of the moldboard. The panels keep snow contained, eliminating excess amounts of snow rolling off the sides. But fixed side panels pose major challenges.

Imagine a loader plowing full speed on a city street using a model with fixed side panels. The snow is deep and blowing across both lanes, so the driver cannot see that he is approaching a concrete median on his left side. When he eventually hits it, something has to give—either the plow, the machine or the operator will absorb the impact. And the last thing any business owner wants is serious injury to an employee—not to mention the workers’ compensation costs that go along with those injuries. In the most extreme cases, an operator has been ejected from the machine’s cab upon the harsh impact. To address this serious problem, some manufacturers offer plows with mechanical side panels.

Mechanical side panels respond to impact from major obstructions like curbs, medians and manhole covers. Rather than hit these objects head-on, the side panels lift up and clear tall obstacles. The benefit is three-fold: It reduces damage to the equipment, plow and most importantly, the operator.

Beyond operator safety, equipment damage is also a concern. The impact must be absorbed and thus the machine may be damaged, resulting in significant expense. Any large piece of equipment—skid steers, loaders, backhoes—costs several thousands of dollars. It could take months of extra work for a contractor to recoup the cost of replacing an entire machine or even undergoing significant repairs. Mechanical side panels minimize the chance of equipment damage, saving on costly replacement and repairs and downtime. On that same note, a well-maintained snowplow with mechanical side panels can last several years even with inexperienced operators, positively impacting ROI.

Comfort and Durability of Newer Hitch Designs

Think of a typical office workspace. Ergonomic chairs, keyboards and monitor stands are no longer a luxury, they are an expectation, designed to make workers more comfortable, productive and efficient. For many plowing professionals, the machine’s cab is their “office.” These individuals spend hours every night in the cab, making it imperative to look for features that enhance comfort.

Newer hitch designs take stress off the operator, while also enhancing the life of plow components—and reducing the added worry of maintenance and repair tasks. Plows are picked up and dropped down hundreds of times each night. Typical hitch designs force the operator to manually adjust the plow each time it is dropped, making for a very challenging, time-consuming and often frustrating process, especially for inexperienced operators. Newer “drop-and-go” hitch designs do this automatically. The hitch design ensures the plow will lie correctly each time, extending plow life and ensuring a clean surface even in the case of inexperienced operators.

Beyond operator ease, these hitches let the plow and machine move independently of one another. As mentioned previously, rarely is pavement perfectly level. For instance, when plowing a parking lot, the plow leads the way, and it is going to reach a raised point in the pavement before the machine does. Normally in this situation, the plow will rest itself on the higher ground and lean slightly forward. This action lifts the machine off its front wheels, creating inefficient drag, while putting weight on only two tires. Over time, this will result in uneven tire wear and more frequent replacement issues. This action also puts most of the weight and stress on the plow, making premature wear—along with expensive replacement and downtime—inevitable.

With newer hitches, the plow can lift up and adjust to the pavement, while the machine stays balanced on all four tires—keeping even wear on the tires and plow. Especially when combined with sectional moldboard styles, this movement lets the plow continuously adjust to pavement changes for optimum plowing efficiency and reduces the need for follow-up plowing.

These types of hitch designs prevent premature wear on the plow’s shoes as well. Side panels, whether fixed or mechanical, include smooth, flat pieces called shoes that ride along the surface. Commonly made of steel, the shoes are designed to last through several years of abuse. But their life-span can be reduced drastically with premature wear, which is a common occurrence with typical hitch designs that require manual adjustment. “Drop-and-go” styles are designed to lie flat and ensure the shoes do well, leading to even wear and less replacement, hassle and headaches for the operator.

The Cutting Edge

Every plow has a cutting edge. Designed to scrape and clean away compacted snow and ice, cutting edges add the all-important finishing touch and further reduce the need for re-plowing and salting. Cutting edges are available in a few different options.

Ideal for cutting through and scraping snow and ice, steel cutting edges prove to be more effective and durable than rubber options. On the downside, replacement of steel edges can be significantly more expensive, but that should not necessarily be a deterrent. In combination with sectional moldboards, steel cutting edges are very effective and can be replaced in only one section rather than across the plow’s entire length. This significantly reduces maintenance costs while providing all the benefits of the steel edge.

Return on Investment

Clearly, it is not necessarily just one feature that will be the key to productive plowing, but rather, it is the combined efforts of several. Each feature is just one piece of the total ROI puzzle.

Plowing snow can be a great business opportunity or ideal way to use idle equipment and workers during the winter months. The key for anyone performing this task is efficiency for the plow and machine—a plow with the right features will lead to efficiency. As the snowflakes fly this February, be ready to handle every snowfall with the right plow for your equipment.


Construction Business Owner, February 2011