Plowing snow and melting ice doesn’t have the beauty of adding landscaping and planting trees on a property, but that doesn’t mean technology trends are not changing how business is conducted. The industry continues to evolve and become more professional, and leaders are pushing the envelope in ways we couldn’t have imagined 5-10 years ago. Here are a few trends that we should all keep an eye on.
Robotics and drones
You’ve seen robotic lawn mowers, which continue to improve as the manufacturers make them more useful for commercial grounds management. Robotic-controlled snow removal/clearing machines have also arrived as contractors are starting to use them on sidewalks and they are becoming more common at airports. Open lawns and airport runways are much different than using a remote-controlled machine to safely plow complex parking lots, so give this technology some time to develop and refine itself.
The adoption of robotic technology doesn’t mean the need for plow operators will go away; but it could mean snow companies re-envision their workforce and shift them into different roles while also opening the possibilities for a new type of worker, someone more adept at software and remote technology controls.
Drones are also becoming more common. They are currently used to highlight what quality snow management services look like in a full overview scale. As this technology becomes more accessible, drones may play a larger role in tasks such as preseason site engineering and pre-and post-event site inspections.
From the simple (shared documents and collaboration) to a complex network that integrates a customer management system with field operations software, estimating, billing, inspection, verification and more, software has been an evolving trend in snow for years. Newer to the industry is the adoption of ground temperature sensors that feed live video footage on properties to better inform contractors and customers to site conditions. Innovative snow companies are utilizing these types of systems in sophisticated ways. As with any software decision, the key is to analyze which is the best fit for your company moving forward.
This space will continue to evolve. As cloud-based services invest and advance with artificial intelligence, snow professionals will see major opportunities to leverage software for better work efficiency.
One of the growing sectors is the use of liquids for snow and ice melt. This ranges from tanks that mix and store brine (some being portable and can come to you). to sprayers and nozzles with improved accuracy, and sensor technology that can control how much to apply, when and where with tracking.
Using liquids as a Direct Liquid Application, pre-wetting salt piles for greater efficiency or with treated salt at the point of application continues to emerge as a must-have in your snow and ice toolbelt. The true innovation will come in the shape of new methods to train employees, as well as contractual and sales concepts tied to bond prevention that make it clear to buyers in the market that professional, skilled snow management is essential to their long-term interests.
Using liquids as an anti-icing strategy to prevent the bond between pavement and snow and ice is a best practice for our industry. But there are instances where snow contractors face tough conditions, especially recurring ice events that make it difficult to use liquids or it comes fast and furious and the bond is established. This includes using equipment that breaks up ice mechanically. It flips the script of scraping and breaking the ice to breaking the ice before plowing. Keep an eye on this area for future innovations — and more products related to heating sidewalks and key walking spaces — to avoid such dramatic icing from happening.
These are just a few examples contractors are being exposed to as they seek to stay ahead of the storm and be more efficient and effective. Innovations for snow and ice management are continually being brought to market. Companies that strive for continual improvement are taking notice and opening their minds to a better way.