Contractors look for machines that are safe for their employees to use, productive on the job and able to withstand the demands encountered day to day on a construction site.
Power trowel manufacturers are in tune with the needs of contractors, and recent improvements and features on their machines are designed to help workers get their jobs done safely and quickly.
“Safety is a big focus for EDCO, as well as many of the other trowel manufacturers,” says Michael Orzechowski, engineering manager with EDCO, Inc. “In the past few years, several of the trowel manufacturers met regularly at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers/Trowel Machine Manufacturers Bureau (AEM/TMMB) to discuss technical and safety issues impacting our market so we as an industry can provide safer machines.”
The result has been improved ergonomics and safety features that reduce a worker’s risk for fatigue and injury on the jobsite.
Denny Bartz, regional sales manager with Allen Engineering, says one trend he’s seen in the walk-behind trowel industry is the introduction of units with larger engines for improved productivity. Allen Engineering recently introduced the 446 SHD, with a 13-hp engine and higher rotor speed.
Getting on a floor too early can make a floor less flat than it originally was during placement. “The larger engines allow the contractors to wait longer before getting on the floor, which increases the flatness of the floor,” he explains.
Across the industry, Bartz also sees improvements on walk-behind trowels that increase operator comfort.
“There are now isolators on the handles for less vibration from the engine, and increased handle lengths for more leverage on the bigger trowels. Most manufacturers also have height-adjustable handles for the convenience of contractors,” he says. “In addition, the guard ring protectors are a lot closer together.”
Another feature seen on units across the industry allows the operator to easily change the pitch of the blade.
“We have what’s called a ‘Quick-Pitch’ handle, which allows the operator to adjust the pitch of the blades to get the final finish on the slab,” says Jonathan Cuppett, product manager at Multiquip Inc. “There is a standard handle where you operate the machine with one hand and twist a knob with the other on the center of the post of the handle. With our Quick-Pitch handle, you can do it much more quickly — just pull a lever back and adjust the pitch of the blade in 1/8-in. increments.”
In the spring of 2005, Wacker introduced its new CT Series of walk-behind trowels with a new design and several new features such as an improved handle design and a gyrotech sensing system that prevents handle runaways and stops the handle rotation within 270 degrees to prevent any impact of the operator. The gyrotech sensor also has an engine revolution limiter that prevents an engine start when the throttle is set too high. The CT Series also has enhancements for operator handling ease.
“We’ve changed the position of the engine on the machine to achieve what we call ‘dynamic balancing.’ What that means is the machine is balanced while the machine is spinning, so it’s balanced under load,” says Fred Paul of Wacker Group. “Compared to past machines that we’ve offered and competitors’ machines, the machines are balanced very well when they’re static, but dynamically balancing it takes away about 50 percent of the force from the operator, so the input force to control and steer the machine is drastically reduced.”
For ease of maneuverability, manufacturers have come up with a couple of ideas.
“We have a lifting handle, which is attached to the trowel handle. You take that handle, slide it to the front end of the gearbox, and one person can carry one side of the trowel machine and another person can carry the other end with the regular handle to move it from place to place or put it in the back of a truck,” Cuppett says.
EDCO offers an easy-to-install wheel kit that makes it simple for a single operator to move his unit around.
“We recently modified our Tote-a-Trowel to be truly universal in that a single cart can fit on all our walk-behind trowels from 24- to 46-in. diameters,” Orzechowski says.
Automatic blade pitch, comfortable seating, “helicopter joysticks,” and dead-man switches that cut the machine’s engine when the operator takes his foot off the pedal or lets go of the handle are standard features found on most ride-on trowels. Recent trends in the ride-on trowel industry include a move toward bigger engines and steering systems that make operators feel like they’re playing a video game.
“We came out with an electric steer model last year, and it uses electronic fly-by-wire steering electronics, in lieu of mechanical steering, which is what the industry started with in the early 1990s,” says Tim Lickel, product manager with Wacker Group. “It reduces operator fatigue and increases productivity.”
Bartz says another type of steering that’s been gaining popularity in the industry over the last five years is hydraulic joystick steering.
“The hydraulically powered drive system eliminates the clutch on a riding trowel, which is a big wear item, and the hydraulic joystick steering keeps operator fatigue down,” Bartz explains. “Allen Engineering offers a large range of ride-on units with hydraulically powered drives and joystick steering, from units as low as 34 hp all the way up to our biggest unit, and the biggest one in the industry with a hydraulically powered drive system and joystick steering, the 87-hp diesel turbo-charged HD550 Razorback, which has a 12-ft. troweling pass.”Becky Wasieleski is the associate editor of Pavement and Equipment Today, sister publications of Concrete Concepts.