Municipal & Utility Equipment
By Marek Krasuski
Unless directly involved in the biz, few understand the multidimensional process involved in the manufacture and supply of utility equipment for municipalities. Each has its set of criteria and budget allocations depending on the breadth of services offered and the size of the municipality.
As an example of the complexities involved, municipalities and the equipment makers who supply them need to be on guard for noise and vibration intrusions during demolition, excavation and construction. In some cases, especially with larger cities, more bylaws are being introduced in order to deflect responsibility when something goes wrong from the municipality and onto the builders and their clients. In Toronto particularly there are bylaws requiring builders to monitor vibration levels to detect possible risk. The standards call for engineers to measure vibration with specific equipment such as accelerometers and geophones. In the event of vibration numbers that exceed prescribed limits, additional, smaller equipment may be required to mitigate impact, especially when building next to a heritage structure, according to Nicholas Sylvestre-Williams, an engineer at Aercoustics Engineering Ltd. writing in Construction Canada.
In the interest of the public good, and to minimize risk of liability, the chain of accountability works its way to all stakeholders from equipment manufacturers to providers, builders, consultants, contractors and municipalities.
Paul Milne is Sales Coordinator for Viking Cives Ltd., builder of snow plow lines, spreader bodies, dump & platform bodies, and assorted truck equipment. He draws attention to the meticulous process involved in meeting requirements before equipment is marketable. “In order to affix our NSM (National Safety Mark) mark to each chassis the regulations require that each vehicle installed with our snow & ice control equipment must be documented with a chassis layout diagram and a weight distribution calculation. In order to be issued the NSM number our design department goes through a very detailed application process to meet the NSM standards,” Milne explained.
Achieving NSM status is no mean feat. The NSM is a benchmark set out by Transport Canada confirming that a vehicle is compliant with all applicable regulations under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This says Jeremy Harrower, Technical Programs Manager for the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association (CTEA), is the Achilles Heel, not only for suppliers/builders trying to secure a market foothold, but also for those calling for a tender who may not understand the necessity of an NSM designation from its bidders. Furthermore, not all NSM designations are the same. “There are also different levels of National Safety Mark designations that, in the vocational vehicle industry, are split primarily between truck and trailer. Then on the truck side, where the level of manufacture is referred to the “manufacture of vehicle in multiple stages,” they are segmented into three categories, namely ‘final stage’, ‘intermediate stage,’ and ‘altered stage,’” Harrower explained. Each category is divided further according to wheelbase modification, gross axle weight and gross vehicle weight.
That being said, municipalities generally know what they are looking for in the design and functionality of their equipment, so equipment suppliers offering their products go into the bidding process with eyes wide open. Confirms Paul Milne of Viking Cives, “Municipalities tender for the equipment with a set of detail specifications that they must comply with in order to be awarded the equipment and install. This type of work is very customized to each municipality’s needs and wants, so there are a lot of one-off builds and customization. As we bid on these tenders we go into the builds knowing full well what kind of labour, hours and equipment is required.”
To be sure, though common to municipalities who are responsible for a wide range of services, the list of customization options is extensive. One line of sewer cleaners, for example, can have hundreds of potential configurations on the books and thousands more by special request. Degree of complexity, of course, is all relative to the amount of modification necessary. And degree of customization also establishes who is responsible for compliance. Explains Jeremy Harrower: “Vehicles may be ordered direct from factory with all the necessary controls in place where the original equipment manufacturer of the chassis would be responsible for the compliance. But in some cases the level of customization that a municipality requires would fall on the final, intermediate or altered stage manufacturer.”
Patrick McGee, Industrial Sales Manager for Joe Johnson Equipment, Subsidiary of Federal Signal Corporation, underscores the importance, and difficulties, of getting it right the first time when filling orders for municipalities. “The challenges faced in building specialty vocational vehicles and equipment is significant and varied depending on the application. In most cases it’s the equipment that drives the specification of the truck rather than the other way around, and in virtually every case the equipment exceeds the value of the truck chassis that it is mounted on,” he says. He also agrees that spec’ing equipment for specialized applications can be daunting. Determining the horsepower required to drive hydraulics or vacuum equipment, and weight distributions are some of the concerns. “Each jurisdiction where the equipment is going to operate across North America has specific requirements that need to be taken into consideration. For example, Ontario whilst it has some of the most liberal weight allowances, insists on highly specific configurations, known as SPIF configurations, which lay out dimensions, distances between axles, and percentages of overall gross weight distributed to each axle grouping,” McGee said. While other Canadian provinces are not as detailed, they do have their own configurations determined by local geography and commonality in a given marketplace.
To be sure, stumbling blocks are never far removed from the tender-acceptance-building and delivery process. To begin with the timeline between purchase and final delivery can be quite long and input costs such as steel and components may change during this period. Consequently, equipment builders are under constant pressure to mitigate against such risks while maintaining a competitive price point.
When something goes wrong municipalities generally look to the installer of the equipment as the first point of contact as different components on vehicles are usually provided by different manufacturers and suppliers. (Viking Cives, as an example, warranties Viking-manufactured equipment and labour for a one year period from service date.) The CTEA’s Jeremy Harrower adds that in some cases a maintenance contract may be part of the tender to ensure that specialized vehicles, perhaps more difficult to repair as quickly as standard vocational equipment, are protected against prolong periods of downtime. “In some cases the repair and downtime can be mitigated by using larger companies that have many locations and an established distribution network with their suppliers,” he said.
Patrick McGee of Joe Johnson Equipment confirms that minimal operational downtime is everything when it comes to specialized equipment. “The continuous operation of specialized equipment such as Hydrovacs, refuse trucks, and sewer cleaners is imperative as often this equipment may be the only one of its kind in a municipal fleet. When that equipment is down it is a crisis which demands immediate attention.” McGee’s firm often works with customers to develop preventative maintenance programs, delivered either in-house or under contract, to address breakdowns in short order.
Suffice it to say that customization is common in the industry, but it is not for the faint of heart. Compliance requirements are detailed and demanding, but given that virtually every municipality, large or small, across the country requires utility equipment of all kinds, it is a rich market to tap in to.☚