The Future of Truckmounts

August 12, 2010
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Truckmounts have come a long way from the days when it was assumed that “bigger” always equaled “better,” and it seemed everybody and his uncle were piecing together a unit in their garage. Today, the focus is on advancing technology to engineer more effective equipment that helps cleaners do their jobs better and faster and takes up less space in their vehicles.

The work of perfecting truckmount technology is far from finished, and many of us in the industry spend a lot of time thinking about what the future might hold for truckmounts. Here are some trends I’ve observed.

Smaller, Quieter, More Environmental

As motor vehicles continue to get smaller and more fuel efficient, truckmounts will follow the trend. This development is driven chiefly by EPA fleet MPG and carbon emissions requirements. Compact light-duty commercial vans like the Ford Transit Connect – already a big success in Europe – will become increasingly popular. Manufacturers will see an increase in demand for equipment offering competitive performance that will fit inside these smaller vehicles. Larger vehicles will still be available, but they will become more expensive to purchase and operate.

It will become increasingly important to decrease truckmount noise levels. Human services facilities, such as schools and hospitals, struggle to accommodate cleaning operations – especially noisy truckmounts. And in recent years, many residential neighborhoods have become more sensitive to noise and disruption.

Advances in sound abatement technologies – particularly the types incorporated into heat capture systems – will continue to be important. Quieter machines will also open up the range of nighttime and off-hours work when cleaning and restoration activities are less disruptive, giving operators a distinct competitive advantage.

We’re going to see more environmentally friendly truckmounts. Until recently, the engines typically used in truckmounts have been relatively free of EPA and C.A.R.B. requirements, but those loopholes are now set to close.

This has profound implications for truckmount power plants. Specifically, we’re going to see the introduction of catalytic (oxidation) converters on gasoline engines. For diesel engines, we’ll see the introduction of exhaust gas recirculation systems and selective catalytic reduction systems, plus diesel particulate filtration (a carbon-sequestering system). Lower fuel costs and higher efficiencies for diesel units will likely drive increased use of diesel power plants.

Other Changes

Other aspects of truckmount technology are relatively mature. High-pressure pumps, perhaps the strongest component of truckmounts, are very reliable. I don’t expect to see major pump improvements in the near future.

Vacuum blower manufacturers have made great strides in tackling noise issues. Gardner Denver’s helical tri-lobe blower, for example, has been a great success. In my tests, this design has reduced noise levels by 7db compared to straight lobe designs –a huge reduction and a welcome improvement for cleaning techs and customers alike.

Current thermal well technology has made significant advances. There are systems in use now that capture close to 60% of the total potential BTUs of the fuel. This is heat that used to be wasted and is now helping provide hotter, more stable heat production than ever before.

Manufacturers will continue to fine tune these cogeneration systems for even greater efficiencies. For years, belt failures have been the number one complaint from truckmount users. The introduction of drive belts made from EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) has greatly reduced downtime for maintenance and replacement. Used quite successfully for automobile timing belts since the 1970s, EPDM offers 100°F higher heat tolerance, longer life, and produces less noise compared to traditional drive belt materials. Paint and powder coating manufacturers are continually improving their materials and processes. I expect to see new products that last longer, resist chipping, and adhere better. We’ll also see more corrosion-proof aluminum frame construction and auto-pumpout systems that operate at higher pressures will translate to smaller tank sizes – perfect for smaller vans.

As much as truckmount operators won’t like it, more electronic controls are inevitable. Truckmounts function in very difficult environments with lots of heat and vibration, and work under very demanding loads. The industry’s early experiments with electronic system controls did not prove to be very reliable. But as emission regulations tighten and performance expectations grow, electronic controls will continue to improve, and I expect that reliable devices will become more prevalent.

Perhaps the most important developments we’ll see are improvements of the tools and chemicals that can fully utilize the heat and vacuum provided by truckmounts. Lighter, more effective cleaning wands and hand tools that can deliver maximum heat and vacuum to the carpets will win out. In addition, chemicals that offer simplified application, effectively address stains and odors, and rinse thoroughly will give operators the competitive advantage they need.

New Directions

Truckmounts will need to be more reliable and more effective. Most importantly, they will need to be more versatile. Truckmounts that deliver excellent carpet and upholstery cleaning and thorough tile, grout and other hard surface cleaning will present valuable revenue generating opportunities for operators.

I believe we’re in the midst of a critical shift in thinking. Operators will remain competitive when they transition from merely cleaning to restoring: returning materials to like-new condition will differentiate the truckmount operator from every other type of cleaning service.

Truckmounts aren’t the answer to every cleaning job. Dry or encapsulant cleaning will continue to have a role, and the market for ride-on units will continue to grow, especially in commercial settings where sheer volume is the challenge. But for the foreseeable future, truckmounts will have a critical role in any serious cleaner’s arsenal of tools.

There is simply no other system that can get materials truly clean, especially when heavy soiling and staining is involved. This is because truckmounts excel at the fundamental task of cleaning; that is, transferring energy to the cleaning surface, dissolving soils, and removing them.

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