Bahler Brothers has regular toolbox meetings, and topics include correctly operating attachments.
Photo courtesy of Bahler Brothers

Hand-dig or cut through the earth with a trencher? There’s really no question when you consider labor cost, production time and morale of a crew.

“Trenching an electrical or gas line with an attachment can literally save us 30 hours of labor in a single day,” says Willie Dorniden, production manager at Southview Design in St. Paul, Minnesota.

What if a client’s project requires 20 trees to be installed on site? Dorniden says he can cut an entire laborer out of the job cost by using a U-blade to dig deep holes, which takes only five to 10 minutes with this attachment versus 30 minutes by hand.

“Attachments not only save labor; they keep our guys sharp,” Dorniden says, relating that the hard labor of digging, hauling, pushing soil and moving materials will completely sap a crew’s energy and spirit if the right tools aren’t available. “We would wear a guy down by 1 to 2 p.m. Machines help keep everyone fresh.”

Given that the company’s crews are in the field five days a week, and monthly on Saturdays when necessary, the oomph that compact equipment attachments provide is a pure necessity. “When we’ve had employees who have come in from the field after not having ready access to a skid-steer loader, it confirms the amount of speed and pace we can gain by having the machinery and attachments available,” Dorniden says.

Josh Bahler, operations manager at Bahler Brothers in South Windsor, Connecticut, agrees that satisfied employees – especially given today’s rough labor market – are vital to his organization. And beyond pay and benefits, providing resources to complete jobs successfully helps retain good people.

“Just having the right equipment and tools on the job and making sure they know how to use them is key to happy employees,” Bahler says. “And, it’s key to making money and being profitable on projects.”

“...Instead of having two different machines in the field for the same application, we can use the same one with different attachments.” Matt Cooper, Outdoor Illumination

Rent or Own?

Outdoor Illumination and Irrigation in the Baltimore and Washington D.C., area previously rented compact equipment and attachments because they had good relationships with the dealer and arranged good deals on pricing. “However, we rented all the time and I realized it would be easier to buy equipment with multiple attachments,” says Matt Cooper, irrigation division manager.

The company budgeted for $35,000 toward the machine and attachments, including a vibratory plow and trencher. When writing up proposals to clients, Outdoor Illumination builds in a small fee to help pay for the equipment, and now Cooper knows that the price is right. “With renting, if a job went longer, we would get stuck with a rental over-run cost,” he says, adding how that quickly eats away at profit.

Before purchasing, Outdoor Illumination priced out the equipment and attachments at several dealerships. The cost was comparable, so he went with the one he trusted. Ultimately, the company decided on a vibratory plow for jobsites with more land and space and a trencher for compact properties, which is the norm in their market.

“We bought a covered trailer that we tow around and the equipment stays in there,” Cooper says. “All of it is quick-connect with hydraulic lines so we can change from a vibratory plow to a trencher in about 30 seconds. It’s very easy to use, and instead of having two different machines in the field for the same application, we can use the same one with different attachments.”

This saves labor and Cooper says it helps with a company’s profit and loss.

At Southview Design, equipment is fixed with bucket and fork attachments 99% of the time, Dorniden says. The firm also has a U-blade in its arsenal, along with various auger sizes and snowblower attachments for winter. Occasionally, the company will rent jackhammer or compacting roller attachments for specific jobs. “Since those are not used on a day-to-day basis, it makes more sense for us to rent those,” he says.

When figuring out whether to rent or buy, Dorniden knows that rental for a job could cost half the cost of buying an attachment in some cases. “If we will use the equipment in the next year or several times, financially it just makes sense for us to purchase,” he says.

“If we will use the equipment in the next year or several times, financially it just makes sense for us to purchase.” Willie Dorniden, Southview Design

Equipped for Success.

Equipment and attachments are an investment and asset, so training crews to properly use and care for them is key. Bahler Brothers holds regular toolbox meetings, and topics include correctly operating attachments. “We have them take ownership,” Bahler says, adding this is accomplished by emphasizing that the equipment makes their jobs easier, and when it’s down there’s more difficult manual labor to do.

As for care, every two years, Bahler’s maintenance team spends time in winter welding or putting new cutting edges on attachments. “We do our due diligence, so when the season begins, we can hit the ground running,” he says.

Southview Design’s crews learn standard operating procedures and practice maneuvering attachments in the yard at its headquarters. “We keep them in a controlled environment, and every day for a week, they will push piles and get familiar with the controls,” Dorniden says. “Because this happens in an area between two concrete barriers and a materials bin, they will not hurt themselves or anyone else if they have a slip.”

Typically, the foreman of a three-man crew controls attachments like augers and trenchers. “Just because, from a safety standpoint, we want to make sure with those moving parts that they are doing everything correctly,” Dorniden says.

Some of the more experienced crew members run attachments such as buckets or forks to move material on a site. “It’s more efficient than using wheelbarrows,” Dorniden says. “They might move a pallet from one side to the other, but they are generally spending a lot less time on machinery when it comes to the more technical applications.”

Also, Southview Design provides checklists. “A lot of the training is not only operational but understanding how the machine works like where grease points are,” Dorniden says. “They need to know what tasks should be done daily, and understand hydraulic vs. gas fills. Things that might seem basic are not always so basic.”

Basically, the training philosophy is, never assume. This assures safety and efficiency on the job, which is ultimately what attachments are designed to deliver. “There’s an attachment for almost every application,” Cooper says. “With one good machine and attachments, the options are endless.”