Remote-Controlled Mowers for Maintaining Steep Slopes in Safety

Mowing steep banks and slopes or around the edges of lakes and ponds across municipalities has always been labor intensive and not particularly pleasant for the guys (or gals) doing the work. With health and safety becoming more important in the management of green spaces, the managers and supervisors are under more pressure to look after the welfare of their teams.

So what can be done to help alleviate these issues? The answer might be the use of remote-controlled mowers, where the operator controls the machine from a safe distance.

Introduced in Europe in 2004, the Spider, a remotely operated dedicated mower for maintaining steep slopes, created a new sector in the turf maintenance industry, almost overnight. Its primary role was to mow slopes and banks in safety, following a toughening of Health and Safety regulations across the industry.

The story of how this unique mower came into being is quite fascinating. It was designed and developed by Lubomír Dvořák, the owner of a road and utilities construction company in the Czech Republic. Following the “Velvet Revolution”, which brought an end to communism in Czechoslovakia in November 1989, Mr. Dvořák built up a successful business constructing roads and utility infrastructure for the new government.

One of the clauses in the road building contract stipulated that his company maintain the banks and verges for a year after the road was handed over to the government. Having unsuccessfully scoured the planet looking for a suitable machine, he concluded that the only way to overcome this dilemma was to design and build one himself. In 2002, the development of the Spider 1 began in an outbuilding in his backyard and by 2003 it was launched into the market.

By 2004, the Machinery division of Dvorak was established and mass construction of the Spider 1, started. The larger and more productive ILD02, Spider 2, was introduced in 2006 and just 2 years later the Spider range was being distributed in over 30 countries. In 2010, the Spider Mini, a smaller version aimed at the high-end home owner and small landscape contractor, was launched. Recognizing the huge opportunity in the U.S. and Canada, a joint USA/Czech partnership distributor, Slope Care, was established in 2012, based in Florida.

In 2014, after outgrowing their existing premises in the Czech Republic, a new purpose-built, ultra-modern head office and manufacturing plant was opened on the outskirts of Pohled, some 120 km southeast of Prague.

The first commercial sale of a Spider 1 in the UK was to Swan Plant Services Ltd, late in 2004. The mower was leased on a 30-week contract to Leeds City Council Parks & Countryside to work in dedicated areas around the city. Chris Simpson, Transport and Fleet manager at the time, saw the machine at an outdoor expo in September 2004. While watching a demonstration, he immediately recognized its potential and began discussions with Swan to organize a demonstration for the Council.

“As a responsible employer we have a duty to pursue all avenues with regard to the health and safety of our operators,” said Mr. Simpson. “Hand and arm vibration is a particularly important issue and this machine, being remotely operated, alleviates this at a stroke. Also, it removes any issues of operators sitting on ride-on machines at acute angles and removes the stress on hips, knees, ankles and spine associated with brush cutter operations.”

In 2008, soon after its introduction, a Spider 2 was purchased by the Parks and Countryside Department at Sheffield City Council. Larger and more productive than the Spider 1, it has a wider cutting width of 1.23 m and gives productivity of up to 7,500 m2/h. With a 16 l fuel tank it can work for 5 hours on slopes of up to 55° with assistance from an integrated winch.

“Historically we had a particular issue with Stocksbridge Clock Tower Gardens, which we maintain in partnership with Stocksbridge Town Council,” said Melvyn Riley, a District Parks officer with the Council’s Parks and Countryside Department at the time. “In years gone by gardeners were employed to cut the steep bank on which the clock tower stands with pedestrian mowers. Recently, health and safety issues have meant that we could not continue with the maintenance of this space. It is important we get the grass maintenance of this site right as the gardens were overlooked by the town council’s offices and is a prominent feature of the town center.”

“The Council is committed to the health and well-being of its employees and the purchase of these specialist mowers further demonstrates this commitment, said Peter Barton-Price, Open Spaces Area manager at Conwy County Borough Council in North Wales. “Unlike other bank mowers, the Spiders have an integral winch, which allows the operators to anchor the mowers and prevent them from sliding down the inclines. There are no hand/arm vibration issues either as the machines are remotely operated.”

The drive system of any Spider mower allows mowing in any direction without complicated maneuvering. The 4-wheel drive and 4-wheel steering provide unlimited continuous 360° mowing.

Furthermore the ability to control the mower remotely allows for safe mowing on steep hillsides and in dangerous areas.
For added safety, in case of any disruption in the radio frequency such as loss of signal or interference from another rf device, the entire system shuts down and the mower stops. The aim is not to control the mower at a great distance, but to give the user an opportunity to choose a convenient and safe place where there is no risk when mowing.

Looking at the attributes of the Spider range, Canadian municipalities could now have a cost-effective solution to mowing difficult areas.

Spider remote-controlled slope mowers, are available through 2 new distributors in Canada – J & S Performance and Distribution, in Ontario, and UniForce Distribution Inc., in Quebec.

Source: Dvorak - svahove sekacky Ltd.

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