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Keys to Choosing Sealcoat Machinery

Whether you’re starting a new business or looking to replace an older machine, the equipment you use can make a big difference to your bottom line.

Wed November 25, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Maury Bagwell

Whether you’re starting a new business or looking to replace an older machine, the equipment you use can make a big difference to your bottom line. Choosing the right sealcoating equipment can increase your productivity, reduce maintenance time and give you a faster ROI.

So how do you know which sealcoating equipment is right for your operation? Start by taking a good look at your business and identifying your needs — considering the types and sizes of jobs you typically perform. This will help you sort through the wide range of machines that are on the market today and choose which kinds are most applicable to your unique business.

Then, start researching. There are three key factors to consider when choosing the best sealcoating equipment for your needs: the pump system, application method and tank size. These features vary from machine to machine and influence capabilities, overall performance and maintenance requirements. Develop an understanding of these three factors and, before long, you’ll be on your way to better productivity and profits.

Pump Systems

The pump system is a good place to start your research. It’s the main feature of a sealcoating machine and will influence both its operation and capabilities.

Professional sealcoating equipment uses one of three kinds of pump systems: Bowie pumps, air-powered diaphragm pumps or hydraulic-powered piston pumps. Each pump functions differently and will directly affect your machine’s productivity, pumping capacity and maintenance needs.

Bowie pumps feature a gear that spins inside of a cylinder. The gear creates suction that pulls liquid into the intake side of the pump, and then pushes it out the discharge side. Typically, these pumps can create enough pressure to move sealcoating mix with as much as five or six pounds of sand per gallon, which covers most mixes, but not all. Although Bowie pumps have been around for a long time, they are not commonly used in modern sealcoating operations.

Another more common option in the industry is a rubber diaphragm pump, which pulls liquid in as the diaphragm contracts and then pushes it out as it expands. Each pump requires an air compressor for power.

Diaphragm pumps handle many types of materials, including water and non-abrasive oils. Most produce enough pressure to pump mixes with as much as two pounds of sand per gallon, which is ideal for smaller jobs. For example, residential driveways don’t receive constant traffic, so mixes with two pounds of sand per gallon should be strong enough to provide adequate protection. However, if you’re in the market for larger commercial jobs, you’ll need the more powerful hydraulic pump.

A hydraulic-powered piston pump uses pistons to continuously pull liquid in and push it out. Because hydraulics produce more power than an air compressor, piston pumps are needed to pump thicker materials, such as asphalt emulsions and newer modified sealers. That piston power can take on mixes with 10 or more pounds of sand per gallon — mixes that give contractors the ability to take on a wider range of projects. For instance, state and federal projects, as well as larger commercial jobs, typically require these high-sand mixes since there’s more traffic in those areas than a residential driveway. Only thicker mixes can accommodate the more frequent use.

Beyond pumping thicker materials, the higher pressure of hydraulic-powered piston pumps allows contractors to move materials 40 percent faster compared to diaphragm pumps, meaning that larger jobs get done faster.

While the productivity and versatility of the pump are certainly the key factors to consider, contractors would be remiss in not also considering the maintenance of the different styles of pumps. Piston pumps tend to offer the lowest overall maintenance. The piston design uses leather seals that require no daily upkeep. This translates to consistently high productivity because you’ll only have to rinse out a piston pump before long-term storage, such as for winterization. Plus, you should be able to pump at least 150,000 gallons of sealcoat before the leather seals need to be replaced. Still, it’s a good idea to check the pump once a week to ensure the seals stay lubricated.

Like piston pumps, Bowie pumps don’t require daily maintenance. However, abrasive high-sand mixes and asphalt emulsions can quickly wear down the rotary gear and cause a gap in the seal, which causes the pump to lose pressure. A contractor must disassemble the pump and replace the gaskets and steel wear plates around the seal. These are rather expensive components, which can cost as much as $1,200 to repair or more than $2,000 to replace. Also, it should be noted that the service interval is much shorter than with a piston pump, resulting in greater cost and downtime.

The lighter diaphragm pumps also require more frequent maintenance. Since diaphragm pumps use rubber seals rather than leather seals or steel plates, those components, while cheaper than a Bowie pump’s steel pieces, must be regularly replaced.

Application Method

Once you’ve chosen the right pump for your operation, consider your application method: squeegee, spray or both. Each has its advantages, depending on the job and type of surface.

Spraying sealcoat can be completed faster than applying it by squeegee, which makes it a more common method. Spraying works better on smooth surfaces because it leaves a more uniform finish.

Alternatively, the squeegee method continues to gain more popularity since it applies more material for a seal that lasts longer. It is harder to spread sealer evenly and achieve a smooth finish, so the squeegee method tends to work better for rough or porous surfaces because it can pack the material into the crevices, creating a stronger bond with the pavement.

Of course, an experienced contractor can achieve great results on any type of surface using the squeegee or spray method. But, if you want options and even greater durability for your customers, a sealcoating system with a dual applicator can give you the best of both worlds. These machines apply sealcoat via squeegee or spray, giving contractors the freedom to select the method that will yield the best result for each particular job. Contractors also can use a dual applicator machine to apply one coat with a squeegee to form a strong bond, and then spray on a second coat for a uniform finish.

Although this method is more expensive and takes more time, the results last 40 percent longer than a job done with a squeegee alone or a double-spray application — saving the contractor time and money while earning more referral and repeat business due to a quality job. In addition, few contractors own a dual applicator; therefore, owning one provides a competitive advantage for contractors when bidding on jobs.

Machine Sizes and Weights

Just as understanding pump systems and application methods affects your bottom line, so does finding a machine with a tank suited to fit your operation. If you work primarily on smaller jobs, such as residential driveways or small parking lots, a tank that holds 750 gallons should be enough to complete each project without refilling. However, if your bread-and-butter jobs are larger, such as airport runways and mall parking lots, you may need a larger tank.

In conjunction with tank size, consider how you plan to transport the equipment. Being able to easily move it without placing too much strain on your vehicle or trailer is crucial to running an efficient sealcoating business.

Before you buy a machine, make sure your truck or trailer has the axle capacity to support the system’s weight. Keep in mind you’ll have to calculate the weight of the equipment plus the material that will be inside of it. Sealcoat generally weighs around 10 pounds per gallon, sometimes more depending on the amount of sand in the mix. That means a 750-gallon tank that weighs about 4,000 pounds empty will have another 7,500 pounds of pressure on the axle when filled.

If it’s a trailer-mounted unit, check your vehicle’s towing capabilities. For a skid-mounted unit, you’ll need to determine the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR. For example, a skid-mounted unit with a 750-gallon tank will need a vehicle with at least a 15,000 gvwr. For a system with a 1,500-gallon tank, you’ll likely need 30,000 GVWR.

The Best Machine Is the Right Machine

As with any business, profits are the measure of success. You already know time is money. Choosing equipment that best fits your business and the types of jobs you perform will keep your downtime low and your productivity high. Most importantly, it will keep you profitable in not just the short-term, but for years to come.

Maury Bagwell is the lead engineer at Neal Manufacturing, a division of Blastcrete, which is based in Anniston, Ala. He has nearly 25 years of experience in manufacturing, sales, product design and engineering. His primary responsibilities include product development, engineering and quality control.

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