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Operational Tips for Sweeping Professionals

Sweeper Longevity:
Do Your Sweepers Have It?

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

For this article, we asked Schwarze Industries' service guru, Bill Manning, to nominate two sweeping companies he's been in contact with across the U.S. that keep their rolling stock in great condition. Then, we asked those companies to share their secrets with the rest of the industry.

My first priority is keeping equipment in good shape

Daniel Dodson of Great Western Sweeping is a 2nd generation sweeping company owner based in Sherwood, Oregon. Great Western has a fleet of 5 Schwarze regenerative air street sweepers, 3 Mobile broom machines, 3 Tymcos and a Tennant Centurion.


"My first priority for keeping equipment in good shape," Dodson said, "is operator training. When I interview sweeper operators who have been with other area companies, I'm always amazed to find out they were only given between 2 hours and one full shift of training before being sent out on their own with a sweeper. People simply don't spend enough time training the operators who run this expensive equipment. Owners need to realize that an untrained operator can tear up sweepers in very short order.

"We insist on 2 to 4 weeks of training, one-on-one, every day. Then we'll start putting operators on their own in specific spots where they can get their time built up and we can still coach them. Many organizations seem to think that anyone can operate a sweeper, so they put their low man on the totem pole in the sweeper. Over the long haul, that's an expensive mistake.

"For example, if a person hasn't been trained to get out of their truck to pick up items like banding, cellophane, nylon twine and similar items, it creates needless expense. These may seem like innocent items, but they're directly connected to knocking out the seals on gutter broom and main broom motors. They wrap around the motors, collecting a bunch of dirt and grime, and that takes out the seals on the motors and, ultimately, your hydraulics.

"It's also important to have a good understanding of sweeper component adjustment. I've seen a lot of people raise the skids up too far on an air sweeper, because this drops the head down and they think it makes the sweeper pick up better. However, when the head is down so far, it causes unnecessary damage and excessive wear, shortening the life of the pickup head. By having your sweeping head adjusted too low, you also wear out flaps prematurely. Proper head adjustment is a key.

"Although a minor point, flaps are something we try to wear down to their shortest usable point going into leaf season, which makes leaf pickup easier. Then, we change out our flaps at the end of leaf season. Although we can't always do that, it's a good schedule to aim for.

"At Great Western, we do a lot of curb sweeping. Gutter broom angle and pressure are both important to adjust correctly because, if you don't, it can really affect your costs and the quality of your sweep. If the pressure is too light, you have to make two passes where you should only need one. If you have too much down pressure or the gutter broom angle is wrong, it again affects the quality of your sweep and causes wasteful and unproductive wear on your brooms and other components.

"When you consider the cost of brooms and the time it takes to change them out, it makes good sense to work with someone until they're trained to adjust the brooms correctly. In an industrial/construction setting, we expect 80-90 hours out of a gutter broom, and about 40-50 hours for straight municipal curbside sweeping. For the main broom on our mechanical sweepers we try to get 120 hours, and more if we're operating after road grinders.

"Another priority is preventive maintenance. We lube all sweeping components every 8 hours, but only replace or blow out air filters when it's really needed, because each time you take that filter off you're letting a little dust into the engine. Besides, an air filter is about 89% efficient when new and about 99.5% efficient once it's been in use for a while. Don't let a mechanic who's unfamiliar with sweeping get you concerned about how dirty your air filters look and convince you to change them more often than specified. That's a big mistake.

Dan is looking for old horse-drawn sweepers or horse-drawn road flushers (water wagons) to restore. If you have photos, drawings, plans, memorabilia or any other information on this topic, just send an email to and we'll pass the information along.

"Part of an operator's job is washing down and cleaning up the equipment. It is absolutely essential that this is done, and done well, every day. You must get into all the nooks and crannies. For our guys, it takes a good 1/2-hour to do the job. Our operators are also responsible for changing out standard wear items, like brooms, as well as for broom adjustments, oil changes and lubrication. I have a couple of mechanics who take care of the major sweeping components. We don't do any engine or transmission overhauls in-house. We also don't handle our own brake work because brakes are such a safety issue.

"One thing we've found that really works well for us is spraying Rhino Lining inside some of the fan housings and on other wear items. My dad was one of the first people I've known who rubberized sweeper fans. He first started rubberizing Tymco fans back in the early '70s. We also put gum rubber around hydraulic hoses near wear points, inside the hopper scrolls and other hot spots where wear shows up. That works very well to extend hopper lifetime.

"Today, we spray Rhino lining in the fan housings of some of our sweepers, as well as on the transition areas of the hopper intake. As a caution, it is extremely important to prep the parts really well, with acetone or other solvents, prior to spraying on the liner material. Otherwise, it just won't stick well in this application. We have also learned that the way to get a good, uniform coating is to tack on 1/4-inch thick strips of metal prior to having a surface sprayed.

That way, both we and the installers know how thick the coating is getting sprayed on. Without the tabs, the installers tended to get the lining too thick in some places and too thin in others. In the fan housing, it interferes with the airflow, and in other places it affects the longevity of the lining material. Putting the tabs on first allows us to get a good, even coat. One application lasts for the life of most of our sweepers.

"If a second coating is needed in the later years of a sweeper's life, another advantage to the Rhino product is that the old coating can be cleaned down with solvent and then you can put a new liner coat right over the top. Rhino lining works well because, if prepared properly, it stays put and is resilient."

"We clean them inside and out after every shift"

Aardvark logo

Carl Barton is a relative newcomer to the industry, having started Memphis-based Aardvark Sweeping Services in 1996. His fleet consists of 15 sweepers, including 8 Schwarze S-series, 4 Tymcos, 3 Tennants and 4 Tennant scrubbers. Barton credits his growth to doing an outstanding job for every customer, as well as having his equipment look great and be in excellent operating condition at all times.

"We put extreme emphasis on taking care of our sweepers," Barton said. "We clean them inside and out after every shift, 7-days-a-week. We have a full-time and a part-time employee who does nothing but take care of our equipment. There's only one day a year that we don't wash, and that's Christmas.

"We have a step-by-step procedure they're trained to follow, and it is a process that covers from the beginning of the wash to the end of the wash. We have them clean everything, from the hopper to the toolboxes to the cab. They're responsible for making sure the machines look new all the time.

Carlos Mannery, our full time equipment washer.

"The main reason we emphasize this part of our business is that we want to be certain our sweepers have the maximum suction and performance for our customers. By keeping them uniformly clean and performing at their top level, we also get a head start on any kinds of preventive maintenance needs they develop. Cleanliness allows us to see oil leaks and other maintenance issues immediately, so we can minimize the cost of what might otherwise be unforeseen repairs. The other part is marketing: We're known in our market area as 'the guys with the clean trucks.'

"We make our drivers responsible for pre- and post-trip written inspections. They're supposed to tell us anything that changes with their sweeper. We have a write-up board where they post this information for our three mechanics, one full-time and two part-time. The washers are an integral part of our maintenance process, too, because they are responsible for reporting any scratches, dents, leaks or anything else that wasn't there the day before.

"By keeping the wash guys separate from the drivers, we have another set of eyes on each machine, and there's no way for damage to occur without management finding out about it. You might say that they're our whistle-blowers. The sweeper cleaning position is an important one at Aardvark, and we pay them the same as we do our operators.

"Another procedure we follow is to park all of our equipment in same spot every time, so we know which machine to associate with any oil leak. If there's a spot of fluid on the ground in an empty truck spot, you know exactly which machine came out of it. None of this is rocket science stuff, but the key is being consistent every day.

"For us, this system has worked well to position us at the head of our market area. Other than that, we stay on top of our preventive maintenance at all times. We follow the recommendations of both the chassis and sweeper manufacturers in keeping everything maintained. It's very important that none of that be allowed to slide. We still have the first truck we started with, a 1996 Schwarze 343, and I'll put Aardy1 up against any of my competitors' equipment any day of the week."

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, Volume 9 Number 1, 2003.

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