Us­ing tech­nol­ogy to stay a cut above

Elmira’s Con­estoga Con­tract­ing Group one of the early adopters of re­mote-con­trolled Flail­bot Slope Mower

The Woolwich Observer - - VENTURE - VERON­ICA REINER

IF YOU THINK MOW­ING your lawn is a has­sle, you should try tend­ing to kilo­me­tre af­ter kilo­me­tre of the worst kind over­growth, some of it ex­tend­ing up steep banks or along treach­er­ous wa­ter­courses. That’s where a new spe­cial­ized mower comes into play, with the po­ten­tial to keep work­ers safe while rack­ing up big sav­ings.

For Elmira’s Con­estoga Con­tract­ing Group, a re­mote con­trolled slope mower ca­pa­ble of work­ing on an­gles of up to 60 de­grees is just the thing to add into their ser­vice mix. It is pri­mar­ily used to clear steep em­bank­ments of ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing sewage la­goons, high­way ditches, and so­lar farms.

The equip­ment is very rare in On­tario, with the only other own­ers in On­tario be­ing in Ot­tawa and the High­way 407 con­sor­tium.

“Safety is a big thing in ev­ery in­dus­try right now,” said Chaise Ire­land, pres­i­dent of the Elmira land­scape con­tract­ing firm. “In­stead of putting peo­ple in harm’s way, and hav­ing costly crews of peo­ple out in smash trucks and all these other dif­fer­ent pieces of equip­ment, we de­cided to pur­chase that; we found there was a need for it in the in­dus­try. We’re one of the only peo­ple in On­tario with these de­vices.”

Ire­land says the re­mote­con­trolled equip­ment can take out the com­pli­ca­tions of us­ing sev­eral con­ven­tional trac­tors/mow­ers to clear em­bank­ments at the side of the high­ways. In­stead, the new ap­proach saves all the trou­ble by us­ing a sin­gle ma­chine. An op­er­a­tor uses a re­mote con­trol to steer it from up to 600 feet away.

“It’s a beast of a ma­chine; it cuts bet­ter and works more ef­fi­ciently,” said Corey McAvoy of Con­estoga Con­tract­ing. “It’s like an all-in-one ma­chine.”

Known as a Flail­bot, the unit costs ap­prox­i­mately $110,000 for the slope mower. At­tach­ments such as a forestry head, flail mow­ers or a trencher can cost up to $30,000. Con­estoga Con­tract­ing had their model shipped from Italy.

“We’re in a high-tech city, so we need to in­no­vate and use the lat­est and great­est tech­nol­ogy to make sure we’re on top of the game,” said Ire­land.

While it may ini­tially be rem­i­nis­cent of a lawn­mower, there are few sim­i­lar­i­ties. It can’t work on the same ter­rain as a lawn­mower.

“If you take it to say, for ex­am­ple, a golf course, it will ac­tu­ally do dam­age,” ex­plained Ire­land. “Be­cause we have what’s called a high grip track on it, and that high grip track ac­tu­ally em­beds it­self in the turf. If you put that on nice grass, you’re go­ing to make the nice grass very lumpy, so this has a spe­cial­ized pur­pose.”

More­over, it’s pow­er­ful enough to take down trees.

That’s why those who op­er­ate the ma­chin­ery need to go through a train­ing pro­gram.

“You can­not be care­less with it,” said Ire­land. “You have to go slow enough when you’ve en­coun­tered a very thick bush to en­sure that you’re mulching it all up. Oth­er­wise, you can do some dam­age to your equip­ment and just not do a good qual­ity job.”

Con­estoga Con­tract­ing is look­ing to in­clude an­other at­tach­ment once it be­comes avail­able – a GPS con­trol valve. This would give the ma­chine some­what of a mem­ory, al­low­ing it to do jobs on its own.

“That is some­thing we are work­ing to­wards,” said Ire­land. “We want to be able to cut some­thing once or twice and have the ma­chine learn it. And have it re­peat the same ma­chine that we’ve done. So if we en­counter a haz­ard the

first time we cut, like let’s say a piece of con­crete in the long grass. Then it’s go­ing to learn that next time be­cause we would have backed up the ma­chine, moved around it, and marked a haz­ard.”

The crew has had a de­cent amount of ex­pe­ri­ence with the ma­chine, us­ing it about 25 times at this point. It takes the dan­ger out of par­tic­u­lar jobs, such as that of a waste­water pond em­bank­ment.

“They have sewage la- goons, where our sewage would go into and sit,” said Ire­land. “That would tra­di­tion­ally be done by a per­son that would go and trim the em­bank­ment, go­ing into the sewage la­goon, and if that per­son tripped and fell they would fall into a very haz­ardous sit­u­a­tion. So this ma­chine takes the per­son right out of the mix.”

Those look­ing to avoid an­other facet of lawn main­te­nance can chalk an­other one up for the age of au­to­ma­tion.

[VERON­ICA REINER / THE OB­SERVER]

Corey McAvoy of Con­estoga Con­tract­ing op­er­ated the re­mote-con­trolled slope mower to cre­ate a ser­vice trail at the Water­loo waste­water treat­ment plant.

The Flail­bot Slope Mower at work.

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