Been to HHGregg lately? If so, you’ve probably noticed that flat-screen TVs are selling for a lot less money than they were 10 years ago. Credit increased technology and a less-expensive manufacturing process for helping to bring down the cost.
A similar occurrence is happening with some turf equipment products, specifically with vacuums and blowers, says Jason Sentell, director of sales and marketing for STEC Equipment, a nationwide distributor of specialized turf equipment.
“The technology is getting better, and in some cases the manufacturing processes have been streamlined, ultimately resulting in less-expensive products,” Sentell says.
A quiet blast of air
With blowers, improved technology also means a quieter product.
ECHO Inc. and other companies are on to it. ECHO, a Chicago-based developer and manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, is fairly new to the golf course maintenance industry. One of ECHO’s distributors, Jerry Pate Turf & Irrigation, “is big into golf and has helped us get into that market,” says Brad Mace, ECHO’s product manager.
ECHO’s most popular blower for golf courses is the PB-760LN, a low-noise backpack blower that debuted earlier this year. The PB-760LN features a larger muffler, sound-deadening insulation and a mid-pipe baffle, which help lower the machine’s sound output to 65 dB(A), which is measured per the industry standard for testing leaf blowers. The baffle works on the same principle as a silencer does on a gun, Mace explains, noting the PB-760LN is the most powerful low-noise blower on the market.
“We added a lot of insulating material around the engine,” he adds. “Generally, we don’t insulate an engine because we want to keep as much air going through it as possible. We added noise insulation to take the noise out of this as much as possible, but still keep the power that our users are demanding.”
Superintendents, of course, are constantly on the lookout for low-noise products, especially if their courses are located in residential areas.
Blowers with a 65 dB(A) rating are quieter than blowers of older design. The whine common to outdated leaf blowers, generated by the main impeller fan, is essentially gone on blowers like the PB-760LN, which provides 535 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air volume at 214 miles per hour, according to ECHO.
“Superintendents don’t want to be out there at 5 or 6 a.m. with a loud blower,” Mace says. “This is a way for superintendents and maintenance crews to use a powerful blower and still meet the need for the requirement of 65 dB(A), which is the low-noise threshold.” Incidentally, normal speaking voices are around 65 dB(A).
More communities are implementing low-noise ordinances, which provide manufacturers like ECHO a huge opportunity to provide low-noise backpack blowers, Mace says. But it’s a continual challenge to provide low noise because engineers are doing two things that compete against each other – they need to make sure the engine stays cool, but they also want to cover it up to reduce noise
“It took us three years to get it down to the point where it was below 65 dB(A),” he says. “It’s definitely challenging. You have to balance enough airflow and cooling going on, and keep sound from getting out of the engine.”
Superintendents and their crews have been using three-point hitch and turbine blowers for years. And they use them for many things, such as blowing clippings, debris, aeration cores and leaves, says Pascal Houle, sales manager for Wickham, Quebec-based AgriMetal, which supplies three-point hitch and turbine blowers and other turf equipment to the industry.
Blowers are affordable, but cost is always an issue in today’s business environment, Houle says. AgriMetal makes blowers that cost from $2,500 to about $10,500. The average cost is about $5,000 for a three-point-hitch unit and $7,000 for a turbine model, Houle says.
Superintendents want blowers that are light, which means they need flotation. AgriMetal redesigned its three-point hitch blower in 2007 to feature a full-width machine roller instead of caster wheels.
“This allows you to go anywhere on the course without making marks,” Houle says.
Also in 2007, AgriMetal rolled out its low-decibel series. The impellers on the blowers are constructed of aluminum, which requires less energy at full throttle, enabling the blowers to develop superior wind velocity.
Turbine blowers have grown popular because it’s easy to haul them with utility vehicles or golf carts. Turbine mowers don’t need a PTO (power take-off).
“But now it seems like the three-point hitch blower has been coming back the past few years because of the struggling economy,” Houle says. “In the long run, it’s less expensive to run a three-point hitch machine than it is a turbine machine. The three-point is also more powerful and efficient.”
Superintendents also want blowers that work fast and are built to last.
“That’s why we came out with a new turbine blower two years ago,” Houle says of the TB-380 I.C., which is promoted as being able “to get the performance of a three-point hitch without the need of a tractor.”
“It’s the most efficient turbine we make,” he adds.
Sentell agrees that superintendents want several qualities out of blowers, with durability at the top. They would prefer to purchase new blowers every 10 years rather than every three years, he says, freeing up budget for other items.
Sentell says blowers are must-have items on golf courses. STEC offers blowers from the Dutch manufacturer TRILO. Blower performance is about durability, noise level, and most importantly air volume, not air speed, Sentell explains.
Trilo manufactures some of the most powerful and durable blowers on the market, Sentell says. The company aims to reduce noise levels by providing round internal components, not square edges.
“Round internal components are much quieter because noise is created from air breaking over an edge,” Sentell says. “The more smoothly air transitions through the machine, the less noise.”
The blower market has become more saturated since the introduction of the turbine blower, he adds. The three-point hitch blower isn’t a thing of the past, but such blowers are no longer the only options.
The turbine blowers are popular because of their versatility and ease of operation, but they are no match for the power of a PTO-driven unit, Sentell contends.
Sentell says vacuums tend to be more of a luxury item for many golf courses. Many superintendents will put a vacuum in the budget, but it’s one of the first things to get bumped if the budget gets squeezed, typically because it’s used in a seasonal capacity, which can lower it on the priority scale.
That said, STEC has seen several manufacturers go back to the drawing board with existing products to make them more affordable. Consider the S4 Vacuum Sweeper from Trilo, which Sentell says is one of STEC’s go-to products for vacuums.
“It has a hydraulically driven brush inside the suction hood,” Sentell says. “It’s what is called a vacuum sweeper. Vacuums rely on wind generation. And you have sweepers that have a mechanical motion to throw something into a hopper. The S4 has both.”
It’s one of the strongest vacuums on the market in terms of wind movement, Sentell adds. The S4 features a large fan turbine that generates upward of 14,000 cubic feet of airflow per minute. It picks up aeration cores, material left behind from verticutting, leaves and other substances.
The S4’s suction hood, which is more than 6 feet long, has a hydraulic brush that picks up heavier and denser material, adding to the machine’s versatility, Sentell explains. The S4 features a 5.5-cubic-yard capacity. And because it generates so much wind velocity, it’s able to pack material more densely.
The S4 has been out for about two years. Its predecessor was the SG400, a vacuum that features an independent verticutter for simultaneous verticutting and collecting. Because many users didn’t need all the bells and whistles that went with the SG400, the S4 was created by streamlining the building process and using less-expensive components, such as hydraulic transmissions.
“It’s certainly not an economy model, because quality is never compromised,” Sentell says. “But it is a more cost-sensitive product.”