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Many factors can influence the productivity of tree care equipment, although none likely more important than effective management of equipment fleets. Although many different types of equipment are likely to comprise most fleets, the staple of any successful professional tree care service company is its brush chippers.

Effective Management of Tree Care Equipment

By Randy R. Happel


Many factors can influence the productivity of tree care equipment, although none likely more important than effective management of equipment fleets. Although many different types of equipment are likely to comprise most fleets, the staple of any successful professional tree care service company is its brush chippers.


 


Model selection


According to Glenn Patterson, general manager of Vermeer Southeast Sales and Service, located in Marietta, Ga., managing tree care equipment fleets most effectively begins with proper chipper model selection. “Identifying and matching chipper infeed capacity with specific tasks and crew experience is among the first,” said Patterson. “The brush chipper models in the industry typically range in capacity from a smaller 6-inch infeed to 21-inch diameter capacity. Understanding which infeed size works best for processing different waste wood material size and mass is an important component in achieving operational efficiency.”


Brush chippers are typically classified by the infeed throat capacity necessary to most efficiently process the wide variation in diameter and mass configurations of the raw material. Hence, an important factor to consider when adding a new brush chipper to an equipment fleet is the specific task or type of service most often performed. Given that different size tree care companies are likely to specialize in performing specific service functions — most often either trimming or takedown — understanding chipper capacity is helpful in making prudent model selections that will be most efficient for a specific function.


For example, smaller diameter chippers — 9- to 12-inch-diameter capacity — are ideal for tree-trimming activities where the task involves processing smaller branches, limbs, slash and brush. Crews involved with residential takedowns and commercial land-clearing applications should consider a chipper model with infeed capacity capable of processing 15- to 19-inch (38.1 to 48.3 cm) diameter material at one time. Brush chippers capable of processing material of larger diameter reduce the number of logs that would otherwise need to be hauled away from a site; thus reducing hauling and operational costs.


 


Determining chipper replacement intervals


Another important tool for effectively managing the efficiency and productivity of equipment fleets involves recognizing the point in a chipper’s life cycle when it is no longer operating at peak efficiency. Like all equipment, the primary components of brush chippers — including drum, cutter drive, discharge and hydraulic systems — will eventually age and wear to the extent that operational efficiency becomes compromised. Although there is really no specific formula for identifying the point within the life cycle of a chipper at which it should be replaced with a new model, there are several indicators that, when considered collectively, can be beneficial.


“The success of any equipment fleet management process is dependent on establishing a realistic equipment replacement plan,” said Patterson. “It’s important for tree care service providers to avoid a situation where the cost of certain repairs reaches the point that, in conjunction with the age of the chipper, may actually cost them more in the long run. Delaying the retirement of a well-used model in lieu of investing in new equipment purchases as a cost-savings measure can often have the opposite result. Machines will reach the point where repair costs will outweigh the payments associated with a new equipment purchase.”


Jonathan McNeil, director of operations for Arborguard, based in Atlanta, Ga., echoed that theme. “Obviously, as a machine gets older, repairing and maintaining the main operational components of a machine will become more costly than the value of the equipment,” he said. “There comes a point when the cost for repairs will compromise operational efficiency to the extent that keeping older chippers in operation becomes more expensive than what it would cost in payments for a new model. There’s really no formula or time frame or specific age of the chipper. It has more to do with how many hours the machine has been in operation, and how hard the chipper has been worked along the way.”


Founded in 1981, Arborguard provides a wide variety of traditional and innovative services for a wide range of commercial and residential tree care applications including trimming, pruning, tree removal, emergency storm services, tree preservation programs and tree risk assessment. Matching chipper model capacity with the type of services identified in the company’s long-range business plan objectives is also an important component of Arborguard’s equipment fleet management process.


“Pairing the right chipper with the capacity engineered to process different size and mass of raw material most efficiently is one of the most effective equipment fleet management tools,” said Patterson. “If a chipper is subjected to material that is beyond its capacity, the machine won’t operate efficiently — a situation that is likely to accelerate aging and wear, requiring tree care service providers to replace equipment more often.


“On the other hand, a chipper with capacity greater than is necessary to process material of smaller size will result in increasing operational costs — most notably, in the form of additional fuel consumption.”


 


The role of staff


McNeil is continuously evaluating ways to manage equipment fleet utilization most effectively, a process that also involves staffing allocation and expertise.


“We’ve found that assigning the same crew members to the same tasks and functions results in enhancing productivity,” said McNeil. “I group the guys with specific skill levels, abilities, likes/dislikes if you will, and match them to certain functions. Then I match equipment with specific tasks to maximize efficiency. Every member of our staff has acquired the knowledge and experience that qualify them to perform more than 90 percent of the jobs we complete. Most crew members are assigned to the same task using the same equipment every day; an approach that also contributes to optimizing equipment fleet management and utilization.


“Matching the same guys with the same equipment performing the same functions has worked very well for us,” McNeil says. “For instance, the guys that work primarily in commercial tree care applications are assigned smaller trucks and chippers, since these models are more efficient in processing material derived from commercial applications.”


 


Extending chipper life


Adherence to a diligent service and maintenance schedule is an often overlooked component of helping maximize equipment fleet management and operational efficiency. To that end, McNeil is adamant about completing daily and periodic maintenance work as recommended by equipment manufacturers.


“We have a maintenance agreement that ensures we follow a strict service rotation schedule. Reminders are automatically triggered, letting us know when various service functions should be performed,” said McNeil. “As a result, we’re experiencing longer productive equipment lifespans, as well as more efficient and productive chipper operation. All these factors help contribute to our overall company bottom line.”


 


Randy R. Happel is a features writer with Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.


 


[ital> Article provided by Vermeer, Pella, Iowa.<ITAL]

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