Sweeping Industry Supplier Profiles
Well Made Manufacturing: Making a New Kind of Parking Area Sweeper
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Ranger Kidwell Ross, Editor of Worldsweeper.com and Executive Director of the World Sweeping Association, conducted this interview with Wells Ledger, president of Well Made Manufacturing. Based in Arizona, Well Made Manufacturing has introduced a new sweeper model for the parking area sweeping industry called "Twister Alley F1."
WorldSweeper: Let's start with what it was that made you get into this business of sweeper manufacturing. I know our readers will be interested in hearing about your prior experience as a contractor and why that led you to make your own sweeper.
Well Made: It all began for us almost 17 years ago. I was in outside sales, working for a Fortune 500 company. I thought I was in charge of my destiny but, in reality, I was held hostage by whether or not I was going to get my bonus. So, I told myself that I needed to do something else. Since I couldn't afford to quit my day job I looked for something I could do at night. I started out power washing. My thought was that I could continue to work my day job and could also work at night. That way, I thought, I could "kill two birds with one stone."
Fast-forward to six years of working days and nights: I finally got rid of my day job, my wife became pregnant and we began our family. So I said, wow, I've really got to step this up and started getting into other services. That's where sweeping came along. Once we got into parking area sweeping with our first couple of trucks, we started doing the stuff that all of the people reading this have had to do; you know, buying sweepers from TYMCO, NiteHawk and Victory Sweepers.
I quickly learned a lot about the industry. One of my biggest issues became dealing with the manufacturers. There appeared to be huge markups with them. What would look like a $60 switch was basically the same type of item I could get for $6 somewhere else. Yet, I would have to pay the $60 to a dealer, perhaps even then could only get the one they had in stock and, often, it had to be overnighted to me! Those – what I call "reindeer games" – just drove me nuts because it was taking time out of my day and margin out of my pocket. After awhile I'd had enough and decided that it was time to build a new mousetrap.
We started playing around with manufacturing everything that we consumed. Soon after, we didn't call anybody for sweeping heads, then blower housings and fans. After that, when a couple of manufacturers didn't do what they said they were going to do, I decided it was time to build the entire sweeper.
My intent [with the sweepers we will be making at Well Made Manufacturing] is to give other contractors what they deserve, which is a great sweeper at an affordable price, one that can be maintained in the field with products as close to off-the-shelf and available in their market as I can find. So, welcome the "Twister Alley F1!"
WorldSweeper: It sounds to me like you believe you've built the machine that you felt the parking lot industry didn't have. Is it fair to say that you've used these machines yourselves in prototyping and testing and so forth?
Well Made: I've had these trucks running on the ground in some variable configurations, on this platform and on another platform, for almost three years now. The Twister Alley F1 platform has over 100,000 miles on it.
WorldSweeper: Let's talk about the platform. Although a very unusual one, some people whose opinion I trust seem to think it's one that the industry will embrace. I'm talking about the Dodge ProMaster chassis. Tell us about the chassis this platform utilizes.
Well Made: You know it's a very interesting chassis. At first I saw it as ugly. I thought it looked like a cabover truck that had spent a little too much time with a Rubbermaid trashcan. However, beauty's in the eye of the beholder, and let me tell you what this beholds: It fundamentally changes – in good ways – everything that we've dealt with in this industry. And what I mean by that, specifically, are the things that (A) hold us hostage; and (B) take money out of our pocket.
Let's start with the Isuzu platform, specifically. The diesel engine that they put in those gets horrible fuel economy and the injectors are a frequent nightmare, especially post Tier-3 to half Tier-4. Turbos are a constant issue; the $1,000-dollar injectors, the particulate filter; rocks hitting the Def tank are a constant issue. Tires are expensive, brake jobs are expensive, in-cabin air filters get clogged and the AC becomes a challenge to maintain. Not to mention – and this is something that nobody wants to talk about, but I have to – the majority of these trucks that are built are pretty top-heavy.
That becomes especially a factor if you are sweeping things like big box stores that do not have trashcans on the backside of them. I know many contractors out there are hauling trash, which nobody in our business should be doing but plenty of them are. (As an aside, Wells later said he thought one of the fundamental rules of parking area sweeping should be "The debris should stay wherever you picked it up.")
I know with us [when we transported debris to a remote location] the possibility of rollover became an issue. So, when I built this platform I knew I wanted to have the lowest center of gravity that we could possibly have in a truck/sweeper combination. Our team feels like we've got it right: I feel like our fuel economy is phenomenal and I think it's a big plus today that we have a gas engine instead of a diesel.
The engine is mounted horizontally and down low. These Dodge chassis don't have turbos; they don't have transmission issues; they can be scanned with an OBD-2 scanner that you can buy at AutoZone for $59, as opposed to the $12,000 Isuzu scanner. If you have a chassis issue they can be repaired at any Chrysler facility nationwide, yet they are a 1-ton chassis. So, owners are not dependent upon the one Isuzu truck dealer that may be in their marketplace. For those reasons we believe the chassis to fundamentally be a game-changer!
WorldSweeper: My understanding is that many of that model's chassis parts are now becoming widely available from the aftermarket, not just OEM. If so, that gives an owner the flexibility to buy parts elsewhere, in terms of the chassis. How about your Twister Alley F1 sweeper? Please talk about the configuration of the sweeper itself.
Well Made: The biggest item is the auxiliary engine, which is the direction I chose for the sweeper. I know there is a lot of public opinion that's positive toward single-engine sweepers. However, I'd like to walk readers into a little exercise here that they may or may not remember from science class, which is [the relationship between] thermal energy and work.
There's only so much thermal energy in a gallon of gas, a gallon of diesel fuel, a gallon of CNG, a gallon of LPG – right? And, if we're going to do the same amount of work, it's safe to say that we are going to consume the same amount of fuel [to generate the thermal energy]. That's unless we're not doing the same amount of work. If that's the case we will consume less thermal energy in liquid form; i.e., gas or whatever fuel we're using.
When we did our research on a single-engine sweeper we figured out that there are about 19-to 21-horsepower available [for sweeping] via the chassis engine. After that, the chassis computer says: "Oh, dear, I'm experiencing a loaded idle! I need to pump more fuel to keep myself spinning."
In our opinion we didn't save anything, we just consumed more resources. We just did so via one engine, with a 45-or-50 gallon hydraulic tank, as opposed to two engines with a 12-or-14 gallon hydraulic oil tank. The reason I mention this is because there is an environmental side to everything we do, right?
There's always an impact. There is a reaction to everything that we do in an equal and opposite way. And so, that kind-of weighed on me, as to whether I should put another engine on this sweeper. What it came down to is this: We just could not get the quality of sweep that we were looking for via stealing power from the main engine. We decided it would be more efficient— and I think our results to date have proven this — that on our particular configuration it's more efficient running a secondary engine. That's what gives us a quality of sweep where we pick everything up in one pass.
[Readers will also see] we put a completely unconventional curb broom on this truck. I call it "the suicide broom." It runs backwards of any other broom that you see on most any other sweeper. The reason for that is something that we all remember in our dad's garage when he handed us a push broom and told us to sweep up the dirt. When you drag the broom backward, what happens is the broom climbs over the dirt.
Every sweeper in the industry seems to drag the broom backwards. As a result, it climbs over heavy dirt when you have a bunch of dirt in the curb line, or are grappling with some asphalt. You can't get all the debris if you're climbing over the top of it. At which point your only choice is to circle back and drive through it again. That all causes more wear on the truck and sweeper including more tires and more fuel. When spinning the broom in the other direction and pushing the broom at the pile, guess what: It sticks in and wants more! And that's the difference in our curb brooms.
Everything we've done on this truck is about efficiency. It's about doing it right the first time, so you don't have to do it a second, third and fourth time. 'Cause every extra time you turn that truck around, there's a bollard in the parking lot [waiting to get hit] or there's a drunk driver coming into the parking lot. That all costs you money and is an additional risk no one needs!
That's where we've taken the thinking on this. It's the sweeper truck for the people, by the people. It's operator-centric and maintenance-centric. Minimizing the cost to replace, repair and ultimately keep this truck in an uptime situation is what we're looking for.
WorldSweeper: As a new entrant into the manufacturing part of the industry, I think it's beholden on you to talk about the back-story of why you're doing all of this. I'm reminded of the roots of Schwarze Industries, which, of course, has become a behemoth in the industry.
As I recall, Bob Schwarze was sweeping parking lots with the wrong type of sweeper in Birmingham and Huntsville, AL, and thought: "Gee, I could build a better sweeper for this type of sweeping than this one!" That's when he made his own sweeper. Others liked what they saw and wanted to order one and the company took off from there.
Now, nearly 50 years later, you and your team at Well Made Manufacturing have the benefit of having much advanced sweeping machines to model your decisions after and to improve upon. However, there's now a pretty good crop of sweepers out there now. The largest reported problems I've heard across the board are the Tier-4 engine trouble that Isuzu has had and, strictly speaking, that's not a sweeper manufacturer issue. Unfortunately, it appears that Isuzu's environmental engine updates were not ready for prime time. Please talk about this Dodge chassis and why you chose it.
Well Made: It's a chassis that is made by a Chrysler group. Its lineage is from a Fiat and it's been proven in Europe for quite some time. The engine is a Vanguard model that Chrysler developed years ago, and I hear a lot of people call it "bullet-proof."
However, I think that story is yet to be told. In our world [of sweeping contractors], we have all learned many things about the different engines – their quirks, nuances and other things they don't like. We've discovered that clutch fans are an issue in transmissions that get used in the sweeping world. A lot of the single-engine guys have to power brake when they get into heavy debris in order to spin the fan up so they can pick up heavier debris.
We have found Dodge's ProMaster chassis to be damn reliable. It saves on fuel and we find it refreshing that if you need to go to the dealership for something they are happy to help. The field of vision out of the truck is great. It also has a low center of gravity, which is nice. The tires are cheap and the brakes are cheap. I think you will see that Well Made Manufacturing, though we are first, won't be the last manufacturer to adopt this chassis as a mounting platform for a sweeper.
WorldSweeper: I believe that you are correct that the ProMaster chassis has a good reputation. As far as I could see by looking around a bit prior to our interview, the reviews look positive. Visibility is great and it's a front-wheel drive.
Well Made: And the air conditioning will freeze you out of the truck! Another interesting thing we've discovered along the way is that, with the windshield being somewhat sloped, a lot more rocks bounce off the windshield without breaking it. I buy a lot less glass than I did on the Isuzu platforms. That's a big win, too.
At the end of the day, it's all about keeping those greenbacks in our pocket. Whatever we can do to spend less on maintenance makes a big difference. In my sweeping operation we've discovered that, basically – and this isn't an earning claim for other people, but for us – these trucks save us enough monthly to make their own payment via savings in consumables and in maintenance and repair. That's really big stuff to us.
WorldSweeper: That's a very strong statement.
Well Made: We're not chasing dollars in our business. Rather, we're chasing pennies. That's perhaps what separates us from the competition. I know contractors who say: "I'll go ahead and sweep this property for cheap or cheaper because it's on an existing route; i.e., I'm here already." That's the wrong decision! You just brought the market down for everybody. So, as long as competitors are going to do work for nothing, we have to chase pennies, not dollars. This truck gets us to the pennies we need.
That's a big piece of why we are using the Dodge ProMaster chassis for. I think Chrysler does have some challenges, just as any manufacturer does, when you first bring a product into the industry. That said, I think [because the chassis is becoming so popular] they are going to have a huge challenge keeping up with demand. I've already got concerns with that just based on the number of phone calls we've had from guys that are saying "I want to try these trucks and I want to do it now!"
You mentioned there are a lot of good sweepers out there now; I agree. I think building a sweeper in the wake of all these other guys who've built some quality stuff is a big responsibility and I don't take that lightly. I really want to provide a sweeper product that stands up to the test of time, one that will hold up as good as a chassis. Most importantly, we want to provide a serviceable unit that can be handled by the end user.
That's why we went with the Vanguard engine on the back of this. I personally have had great success with this engine. That said we've done a couple of things to it that we feel help with longevity. As a result, when we see 120 degrees in Phoenix these motors are cool as a cucumber and happy to be working. We're seeing a greater life expectancy out of them.
I previously mentioned to you the importance of uptime – keeping trucks in the field. [Something that made the decision easier to make on this truck is] being able to unbolt 4 bolts, bear hug the engine to the ground and slap another one on for $2,200. That is, if you ever had to do it.
When the engine on this sweeper goes out you don't have to find a grey-market Caterpillar-Perkins engine. We don't want to be looking for an engine that isn't built anymore or having to try to find a $22,000 turbo-cruise Kubota from the one dealer that we have to choose from. We're taking a different approach. Our goal is to provide a "service-your own" sweeper, one that anyone can work on and where there's parts availability. That's really what [motivated us.]
WorldSweeper: Well, I think you've hit the nail on the head. You want them to not break down much and to have quick access to parts and service when they do. I think those are items that may be a real key to Well Made's ultimate success as a sweeper manufacturer. How big is the Twister Alley F1's hopper and what are some of its other stats? I'm sure readers would also like to know about your "curb brooms for life" policy, so we would be remiss not to speak about that, too. Let's start with horsepower is the Vanguard model you use?
Well Made: Our Vanguard model has a 35hp engine. By the way, we are not typically using that entire horsepower. The system is not worked very hard, because of the pulleys and the way the hydraulics are set up on it. The sweeper can run very, very happy at a low RPM setting, keeping noise low and keeping the engine cool. This platform really works well at a low rpm setting.
As far as the hopper goes, we're looking at a 2.9 cubic yard hopper. I just fundamentally don't think that we ought to be north of three yards with a hopper. This is where, as a contractor, I probably part company with some people.
If I'm hired to pick up somebody's trash, I'm going to pick it up and then deposit it in their trash dumpster. That's the way it should be. I think there is going to come a day when we're going to be responsible for our trash debris. [Editor's Note: That day has already come. Liabilities definitely exist via collecting and then taking ownership of someone else's trash.] I don't want to be stuck hauling somebody's trash that as far as I know might have something in it that I could be liable for.
I just simply, fundamentally, don't think that's a great way to do business. And so, that's why I think a three-yard hopper is the right-size hopper. It gives you enough capacity to take on the dirtiest big-box store and still have plenty of capacity to settle out the dust, the fines, regenerate your air and continue to get the job done.
Our hopper is an American steel hopper that is powder-coated in our in-house powder coating facility. It then gets lined with a very tough bed liner product before being installed. The bottom is smooth, so when our hopper comes up to dump, it empties. There is no shoveling, digging and picking to get it clean.
WorldSweeper: Tell our readers about your 'bleed air shoot."
Well Made: Well, I was talking earlier about not having to pick up stuff a second or third time, right? That's what this "bleed air shoot" is about. Any leaves that climb the curb get blown down and return back to the curb broom and landscaping. This bleed air shoot uses air dynamically set up to clear the curb both pushing it back into the landscaping and flipping that stuff back up to the broom to get sucked up. It keeps the operator from: (A) circling back; (B) having to hop out with no leaf blower; and, (C) do any touch ups! It's just one – and done!
WorldSweeper: Well, anytime you can take one pass instead of two or keep the driver in the truck, that's very important to do. So, all of those "pennies," as you call them, add up, I think, to dollars. If the machine performs as we've discussed, I could see why your phone will be ringing off the hook and you'll certainly get takers on purchasing a first Twister Alley F1 sweeper.
I'd like to weigh in from a liability standpoint on something that you said – and this is from a perspective of working with contractors for 29 years in the sweeping industry. In my opinion, you cannot afford to take anybody else's debris anywhere. When you pick it up at their location then you should leave it at their location. Otherwise it can come back to bite you years and years from now.
There was a gentleman from the solid waste industry who spoke at the APWA conference years ago. He cited an example about a group of people that were sued in their retirement and, basically, lost all of their retirement money through the lawsuits, because of debris that they had picked up that turned out to have something toxic in it. When the dust settled, he told us, the sweeping operation was held accountable for it all. So, you really need to get those dumpsters onsite and leave the debris there because you don't have a way of knowing what's in it these days, that's for sure!
Well Made: There are a lot of things, like needles, that end up in parking lots. We've all swept them up, and let me tell you first hand you do not want those riding around in your hopper! You are now responsible for it. It is in your chain of custody. It is so important to leave sweeping debris on the property where it's picked up. You can get stuck hauling it from one location to another.
WorldSweeper: I agree completely. Do you want to talk about the control panel? Do you use a standard type of sweeper-control panel?
Well Made: It would have been so fun to put an awesome iPad-driven control panel in, or a really neat touchscreen or joystick that we would all be wowed with! I would have loved to have done that, but it wouldn't be true to who I am as a person. I love to keep things both simple and serviceable. I grew up on a farm and that's just how it was. We did what was needed to fix things in the field.
The best way to describe our control panel is this: If you were to take your right hand and spread out your fingers, on the panel there is a rocker switch that falls under each one of your fingers. That's all there is to it. You never have to look at the panel because you know where your hand is and you know what it needs to do. Operators quickly learn their finger positions. If you have a rocker switch go bad, you're welcome to go on Amazon and grab another rocker switch and drop it right into the hole. It's field-serviceable: everything is soldered; shrink-wrapped on the back properly with no electrical tape; professionally loomed; and, it can be hot-swapped in the field.
WorldSweeper: What is the 'curb brooms for life' part that you're advertising?
Well Made: Well, you know, everybody's got to do something to make it their own, right? And, you know, every once in a while, it's fun to do something to see if people are paying attention. I firmly believe that we have to have fun while we're working. I also like to stay in contact with the people that have brought me this far, and I feel that the people that are going to take me to the next level are the people that are going to buy this sweeper. So, I want to hear from them somewhat regularly. What I'm willing to do in order for that to occur is give them a curb broom every time their curb broom wears out.
Of course, there's some fine print on our offer that, when they buy their sweeper, they'll have to agree to. However, it's all standard-type stuff. That said, for a total of five years every time you need a curb broom you just call us and we'll send you a curb broom. All you pay is shipping and handling.
At the same time, we'll be asking you how your sweeper is doing. Maybe you need a part; maybe you need some advice about something. Part of our company's mission is to help each other out. WorldSweeper: Well, what an interesting twist to put on this, especially as you are entering a market that's already pretty innovative. It appears, by the photos, that you have been innovative in developing this sweeper.
One of the things that I know you were talking about, before we did the recording, is how your company gives back to others as well. Tell me about that. I think people will like what you have to say on it.
Well Made: I appreciate your bringing that up! We're a little bit shy on telling that story but it needs to be told, 'cause people need to know our company's commitment in that regard.
First thing is, we're partnering with a company called "Soldier On Battery." All of our trucks will go out with "Soldier On" batteries in them. Soldier On's give back is getting soldiers off the streets and into houses. I think it's a good cause.
Secondly, our scrap steel is cut it into motorcycle trinkets and things like that. These we powder-coat and ship out to VFW locations where they are auctioned off to support VFW's all throughout the country.
Finally, one of the things I know you do is a scholarship program that's given out to maybe underprivileged kids that are sons and daughters of sweeping company employees each year. What we would like – and you didn't know that we're going to do this – but to kind-of celebrate this interview, we're going to give $200 from every truck that we sell this year toward your World Sweeping Foundation.
WorldSweeper: Wow, that's fabulous! Thank you so much. We, too, are trying to give back to the industry that we serve. We very much appreciate your donation pledge. What else should we talk about? Are you ready to be selling these right now?
Well Made: We're currently in production. We have a couple of new options that are going to be coming out, including a stainless steel hopper. There are a lot of people that would really like to have a stainless hopper, I've learned, especially in the Rust Belt. Stainless steel is a challenge to work with, though, and so we're working toward that. We'll probably have our first stainless hopper roll off the line within the next two or three months.
One thing we didn't talk about is the water system on the sweeper. It is front-mounted, right behind the cab – again, as low as possible. We're now in the process of building an in-frame water system because we are obsessed with center of gravity in order to make a sweeper that doesn't roll over! That's such a big thing that has been largely ignored in many current models. Our operators have rolled three trucks in the last 10 years and I don't want to roll even one more in the next 10! Fortunately, there have not been injuries. However, I don't want to lose everything that I've worked 16 years to create, due to somebody rolling over a sweeper.
Our ultimate goal is to get our water system down lower than any others in the industry. That's one of the things we're working on right now. Other than that, we're off to the races and I'm honored to be part of such a great industry! It's not lost on me that we will be kind of the underdog, in the sense that we're coming to the party thirty-some years into it. However, billion-dollar companies are out there buying up a lot of the sweeper manufacturers and I think that's going to affect sweeper prices greatly for all of us.
I'm trying to build a product that is going to be in its own niche. I'm trying to keep the price as fair as I can possibly keep it and we have no intentions of being bought out. We hope to be right here in 10 years still providing a great product, at a great price, with awesome service!
WorldSweeper: Well, I can't think of a better place to leave our interview. We have touched on, certainly, all the high points of your new Twister Alley F1. If interested in knowing more, people can take it from here. From what you've told me, my thought is that your machine is a very interesting new addition to the parking lot side of the industry.
Time will tell, as it always does, but I congratulate you on how well your product appears to be thought out, in so many ways, from the Dodge chassis to the curb broom for life concept. And, thank you once again for choosing to donate $200 from each of your sweepers sold in 2017 to the World Sweeping Association's Memorial Scholarship Fund!
Well Made: You are welcome and thank you kindly for your time and interest in our new sweeper.
Our interviewee, Wells Ledger, is the President of Well Made Manufacturing, which is located in Arizona. You can find them online at www.wellmademfg.com. The phone number is (602) 357-6837.
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