The first step in most site development projects is to clear unwanted vegetation. Depending on how often you perform this type of work and the project size, you may want to compare the benefits of mulching attachments vs. dedicated mulching machines.
Both "converted" and dedicated machines come in a variety of sizes. "For the most part, the same mulching attachment can be fitted to either," notes Tom Becker, president, Barko Hydraulics, LLC. "Mulching attachments are available from a dedicated mulching head supplier, and are sized based on the width of cut desired and the minimum hydraulic flow available to the head."
When deciding between an attachment or dedicated mulcher, you need to determine whether versatility or production is more important.
"The biggest advantage of using a skid steer or wheel loader with a cutter head attachment is the obvious benefit of versatility," says John Tucker, GyroTrac. "You can change out the cutter head for the project based on the application. If you have tasks that require multiple tools, the cutter head attachment is the way to go."
"Attachments are generally a much less expensive alternative to dedicated machines and afford you the ability to utilize your existing carrier for multiple purposes," adds Wes Hall, FAE. "Mulching attachments are an excellent way to help keep your existing fleet on the jobsite. Generally speaking, you will be looking at five to six times the cost for a dedicated prime mover vs. an attachment."
For contractors interested in expanding into land clearing, this means a much lower cost of entry. "Often, contractors in other businesses expand their business with little investment by adding a brush cutting attachment vs. buying an entirely new machine," notes Tom Hover, FTX track carrier product manager, Fecon Inc. "This helps them use equipment they already have and gives them time to develop and grow a new division of their business without purchasing an entire machine."
Dedicated to the task
Dedicated machines, on the other hand, are built from the ground up to be placed in the harshest environments, Hall points out. "The performance levels put them in a separate category when compared to typical construction or 'dirt' machines. It enables them to clear land and vegetation faster with less maintenance," he asserts.
"When working with attachments, you are forced to deal with the power supplied by the carrier," he adds. "On a dedicated application, the power plant and drive system mate together more efficiently for the size of the carrier."
You also get a carrier specifically built around the cutter head technology. "You don't just get a cutter head that comes pre-attached to a carrier," Tucker states. "You get a machine that is designed to increase the capabilities of the cutter head.
"For instance, some dedicated mulching machines have a closed-loop hydraulic system that allows for continuous pressure to the cutter head at all times," he notes. "When you cut up to a 30° slope, the cutter head doesn't lose power to the track system. On the other hand, if you use a skid steer with an attachment, you may lose cutter head pressure and, consequently, productivity."
This makes it hard to beat the performance of a dedicated machine. "In the case of the converted machines, they were designed for a different intended purpose," says Becker. The engine horsepower and pump pressures and flows are designed to efficiently manage tasks such as material handling or excavating. "Since their primary purpose was not to do land clearing, they generally do not have the installed horsepower, pressures and flows to maximize the effectiveness of the mulching head."
Production rates for a dedicated mulcher can vary with the type of material being cleared, the size, terrain and operator experience "However, given the variables, purpose-built machines can offer as much as a 100% production advantage over conventional equipment with an attachment in comparable sized machinery," says Hover.