What is the main benefit of multi-function equipment?
In a word: versatility. When you buy multifunction equipment, you are basically investing in an engine — a powerhouse — that can be used to drive a range of attachments in order to undertake a number of tasks that might be as varied as cultivation or hedgecutting.
Of course, tractors — both conventional four-wheel models and two-wheel or walking tractors — match this description, but in this instance we are looking at powered units and attachments that form a branded “system”.
Multifunction equipment means that, as a buyer, you can choose the drive unit and than collect the attachments as and when you need them, so spreading the finance required. It saves you having to buy half a dozen different machines, some of which will spend most of the year in the shed, and all requiring what is often valuable storage space or room in the van or on the trailer. Multifunction systems provide you with one engine that can be used for some purpose or other all year round.
What types of multifunction kit are available?
There are two basic types of multifunction equipment. There are those systems that centre on wheeled or tracked units and there are also handheld systems comprising interchangeable tools.
Wheeled and tracked equipment includes the skid-steer loaders and may be ride-on, such as the kit supplied by Bobcat, or stand-on like the Kanga Loaders. Both ride-on and stand-on units provide a wide choice of horsepowers and comprehensive range of attachments for materials handling and tasks encountered in landscaping and grounds maintenance schedules. There are solutions for soil preparation, trenching, grading, mowing, sweeping and more.
It is interesting to note that we are now also seeing a number of mower manufacturers provide additional attachments for their machines. Etesia provides a lawn care system that includes scarifiers, sweepers, blowers, dragmats and brushes for its 124 ride-on rotaries. Grasshopper zero-turning ride-on mowers can now be fitted with brushes for sweeping hard surfaces.
Handheld multifunction equipment works in the same way and includes systems from the leading powered-products manufacturers. Stihl, Husqvarna, Makita, Echo and Efco all offer systems whereby a small engine unit — usually between 25cc and 35cc — can be fitted with different heads to permit grass trimming, hedgecutting, pruning, sweeping and in some cases cultivation and scarification.
What factors should be considered when looking to buy wheeled or tracked machines?
You need to consider the type of work you undertake now, and that you are likely to be involved with in the future. A decision must be taken as to whether tracks or wheels are more suitable. Generally the guideline is that tracks are best where traction is likely to be an issue, but where there is likely to be a good deal of on-site travel to do, the advantage will usually lie with the wheeled kit.
The type of jobs you need to do and the conditions on the site will all point to the right horsepower and the attachments required. Never underestimate the horsepower needed for landscape and construction tasks. Trenching may take more power than you expect if the ground conditions are hard.
What are the main factors for choosing handheld equipment?
Again it is important to think about the tasks you need to do. Most people start off with nylon-line trimming heads and hedgecutter attachments before deciding a long-reach pruner or sweeping brush would speed-up autumn work rates. Make sure you invest in a system that has a hedgecutter blade that suits your needs and that the pruning attachment is long enough.
What about warranties and insurance?
I cannot stress enough how important these are. Investing in multifunction equipment has many advantages, including spending money on just one power unit to do a variety of jobs instead of spending on several individual machines. But there lies the potential pitfall. If the power unit fails, you will not be able to do any of the work. Spares and repairs need to be readily available — back-up must be second to none. Maintenance and servicing should be as simple as possible.
For the same reason it is essential to keep the machine safe and secure. Thieves and vandals can bring your work to a complete standstill by targeting the power unit, so make sure it is kept secure at night and covered by insurance for speedy replacement if necessary.