0 Cutting capital and running costs, without compromising quality

IMG 7682When the cuts start to bite into budgets of groundcare contractors and local authorities, it's time to turn to equipment that's up to the task of cutting economically without compromising performance.

Councils and private companies are experiencing deep, drastic cuts as the government seeks to repair the country's financial injuries, and the detail of these fixes comes right down to seemingly minor areas such as regularity of grass-cutting. Many councils operate a fortnightly or three-weekly cutting rota, but that could all be about to change, according to Steve James, of Broadwood International. "We're in regular contact with local authority heads of groundcare, and one thing that comes across loud and clear is that cutting frequencies have got to come down," says Steve. "Longer swards will become a regular sight on areas of amenity grass and pitches this spring and summer, as councils tighten their belts to fit decreased budgets."

Unfortunately for many councils this longer grass will present an issue for their current machinery line-ups. Community playing fields and areas of grass usually mown by cylinder mowers will now be too long and dense for a machine that's used for merely clipping fine turf. So unless a change in machinery is effected, grass-cutting won't be part of cost-cutting.

Alongside the ability to mow longer swards than a cylinder mower, the roller mower presents two hugely attractive cost-saving factors that will make even the most hardened cylinder fanatic wince; capital costs and running costs. Comparing the costs of a roller mower with a cylinder mower is an enlightening exercise, and one which every council, local authority and contractor should do, according to Steve. "Do the maths for yourself - it's a real eye-opener to see the difference in both initial purchase and the cost of maintaining the two, and really does hammer home the final nail in the coffin of the cylinder mower," he says.

Cylinder mower initial cost (RRP)

Roller mower initial cost (RRP)

% difference

7 gang trailed cylinder mower (4.69 - 4.78m cutting width)

£30 795.00 to £35 950.00

Wessex ProLine RMX480 roller mower (4.8m cutting width)

£15795.00

Up to 44%

Maintenance costs

Spin grinding of cylinder and bottom blade

Up to £250/unit x 7 units = £1750

Replacement of GoldCut blade tips

£5.69ea x 16 = £91.04 plus 20 minutes labour

Up to 95%

These sorts of figures would hugely impress the accountants and financial controllers, and a groundsman with any degree of cost responsibility would be foolish to ignore these savings. Suddenly the traditionalist approach to grass-cutting seems to be an expensive, labour intensive and budget-busting affair. And we haven't discussed fuel savings yet.

But what of the cut finish? Highly impressive though the cost figures might stack up to be, are we comparing like-for-like in terms of mown finish?

Whilst greenkeepers and professional groundsmen want to provide a cut result that you could roll a marble on, most councils and contractors are being asked to maintain grass on amenity fields and pitches, where cut quality is secondary to speed and costs. Purists will argue that cylinder mowing produces the best cut finish on fine turfs, which is a point that might have born some weight 5 or 6 years ago, in the days when roller mowers were a relatively new concept and were largely reconstituted agricultural machines.

But that's all changed now. Today's professional roller mower is a fast, lean, economical and highly efficient processor of grass and sports turf. Able to scythe through grass up to 4 or 5 inches high, roller mowers leave a smooth, evenly-spread sward at high forward speeds, far faster than the laborious cylinder mower is able to travel at. Admittedly some roller mowers in today's market are still crude reconstitutions of the farmer's roller topper of the 1970's and '80's, but specialist manufacturers have taken the concept and evolved it to standards worthy of mowing any fine grass surface.

So how does the modern professional roller mower work? It's simple; drive is transmitted to the rotors via a single heavy-duty gearbox and twin belt drive. "Running the power through drive belts is another area that is proven to reduce costs, in comparison to multiple gearbox drives," states Steve. "Drive belts are more reliable and much easier to service than a gear-driven or a hydraulic system, which means critical maintenance is easily carried out by the operator himself." Additionally, drive belts are smoother, quieter and consume far less power - and subsequently fuel - than an agricultural gear-driven roller mower.

Durable full-width rollers at both the front and rear of the cutting deck help to create a seal and maintain up-draught for effective cutting, while swinging blade tips ensure stone damage is minimal. "If the blade encounters a flint or stone it's able to recoil from the impact without excessive damage, "says Steve. "A cylinder mower operator's nightmare is hearing the unmistakeable clang of a knife hitting a stone, and winces at the extensive regrinding necessary to replace the edge, or worse - cylinder replacement."

Many contractors and local authorities are waking up to the realisation that cost-cutting exercises in groundcare will necessitate a new approach in order to create and maximise these savings, and as a result, sales of professional roller mowers are on a steady rise. Steve James reports that demonstrations of the Wessex ProLine RMX roller mower range are nearly three times as popular as this time last year, with the sales chart mirroring the demo book. "Between now and July we're demonstrating the RMX range right across the country, and across the range, including our ProGlider trailed transport system."

So in summary, regardless of cut finish the cost implications of continuing to run a cylinder mower really don't make economic sense, even for the most blinkered operator. Add in the fuel savings, ease of maintenance and - wait for it - the equally fine finish that a roller mower can produce, and the roller mower emerges as a clear winner - by a country mile.

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