Investment in Big Machinery – Is it worth it? By John Shutler

Why is it that things tend to escalate when it comes to trees and machinery? We all know that once you buy one piece of machinery it doesn’t stop there. But where does it stop and is it worth it? Should not knowing the answers to those questions stop us making the investment?

Five years ago I found myself challenged by these questions – if I’d known then what I know now I would have spent considerably less time grappling with the self-justification required to take the first step towards investing in the business. It was a small business at the time and it felt like a pretty big step!

I bit the bullet and bought a GRCS. The upshot of this purchase was that it allowed us to rig larger pieces of tree in a more efficient, controlled and safe manner. But now we had a new problem. The escalation had begun.  We now had larger sections of timber to deal with on the ground, so everything was duly cut to a liftable size and handballed onto the truck. It quickly became apparent that some sort of machinery would be required to regain the efficiency we had created whilst rigging manually.

So not long after getting the GRCS I purchased a Boxer 427 mini skid steer loader. Five years later and after a selection of Diggers, Chippers, Trolleys, Stump grinders, Unimogs and Tractors we’ve settled on a Tractor and crane combination that works really well for us (for the moment!) whilst allowing us to be versatile and importantly, far more competitive than we were before.

The investment in machinery has allowed the expansion of the company whilst keeping wage costs down. It allows us to tender for larger contracts that the average Transit and 6 inch chipper could cope with. It makes us cheaper than our competitors even though our hourly rate is much higher because we can complete the work in a third of the time.

So having big kit definitely makes us more efficient and is undoubtedly cool to have – but it also has other benefits – it reduces our exposure to HAVS (Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome), Manual handling and Noise. I’m sure many can sympathise with the aches and pains and the faint ringing in your ears when you go to bed at night that we suffer as a result of the work we enjoy.

Five years on from my first purchase and I’m a convert. I’ve invested a lot of cash now on big kit, and every big purchase gets less painful as my certainty increases about the benefits. The escalation of cost is inevitable but, my experience has shown me that so has the escalation of benefits – not necessarily all financial.

So the question is, should we as an industry be looking towards as much mechanisation as possible to prolong our careers and quality of life?  Should we take a leaf out of our American counterparts’ books and use bigger more specialised kit? There seems to be a perception that the industry within the UK is so undervalued that the relatively low rates we are able to command don’t allow the investment in machinery for most people. Is that really real? Or are we just held back by the unknown answer to the escalation question? I, for one, am glad I wasn’t held back for long.

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