The main benefit of multifunction equipment is versatility. You can invest in the engine unit - the powerhouse of the system - and then use it to drive any of a range of attachments for tasks from cultivation and sweeping to mowing or hedgecutting.
There are two classes of equipment that meet the criteria of multifunction equipment - powered handheld systems such as the Stihl Combi and the larger systems on wheels or tracks such as two-wheel tractors, skidsteers and some new loader equipment.
Conventional four-wheel tractors, of course, can help power implements to tackle jobs as diverse as turf aeration and shredding vegetation. However, I do not consider them in the same class as multifunction equipment because they rarely form a "branded" system.
In the UK, handheld equipment is often still deemed as high-end domestic products. They are popular with owners of large gardens and the engine unit and attachments can be stored in a small space. Easy storage and transport have also seen growth of handheld systems into the contractor market.
The main players in the UK market are Stihl (www.stihl.co.uk), Husqvarna (www.husqvarna.co.uk), Echo Power Tools (www.echo-tools.co.uk), Makita (www.makitauk.com), Solo (www.lely.com) and Mantis UK (www.mantis-uk.co.uk). Just joining the market is Emak UK (www.emak.co.uk) with an Efco branded machine.
By far the largest focus is on cutting - trimming grass, trimming hedges or pruning trees. For most users the Stihl Combi (with 27.2cc, 28.4cc, 31.4cc or 36.3cc engine) begins life as a nylon-line grass trimmer or bladed brushcutter. The next purchase tends to be one of the hedgecutter attachments, followed by a pole pruner. Other options include edger, pick tines, bristle or paddle brushes and a blower.
Another Stihl system is the MultiEngine MM55 (27.2cc). This favours cultivation, lawn aeration and raking, plus sweeping operations - as does the system from Mantis.
Like Stihl's Combi system, Husqvarna's LD system also tends to start as the Combi-trimmer, with hedgecutter, pruner, tines, brush and edger bought as and when required. Similarly, Echo and Makita offer loop-handled linetrimmers that can be fitted with accessories. The System from Solo includes all the trimming, cutting, pruning and cultivation tools plus a blower.
Emak supplies the Efco Multimate. Nylon-line grass trimmer and bladed brushcutter are two of the attachments available. Others include hedgecutter, leaf/debris blower and general-purpose pruner.
Split-shaft technology lies behind the success of multifunction handheld products. It ensures that coupling attachments is simply a case of lining-up and securing - click and go, as Solo says.
Wheeled and tracked machines, such as two-wheeled or walking tractor systems, skidsteers and loaders, are often the basis of branded systems and find considerable use in commercial applications, being used by municipal authorities, conservation bodies, landscapers, contractors, professional gardeners and foresters. I'll look at these next week.
- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 27 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.