Mower innovation driven by lifestyle
The average Australian house block has decreased in size over the last 25 years. The average size block in 1994 was 802m², and is now down to 350m². Today, 85 per cent of the Australian population live in urban areas with 70 per cent of those living in the cities.
Due to the increased population and reduced living space, pollution has become front of mind in how we occupy our space; and with house blocks becoming significantly smaller and city areas becoming crowded, noise pollution and air quality are important, and frequently discussed topics.
The requirements for noise levels in domestic areas will vary from state to state but a good example is the South Australian EPA noise regulation for non-fixed domestic machine noise. Machinery must only be used between 9am and 8pm on a Sunday, or 8am and 8pm on any other day.
The Australian Government is working towards emission standards for non-road spark ignition engines and equipment, which includes outdoor power equipment. This will significantly lower emissions and improve air quality in urban and city areas. The world we live in is moving at a cracking pace due to leaps and bounds made in communication technology. Reports claim that the overall pace of life has increased ten per cent globally
since the mid 1990’s. The increased pace has also created a ‘money mindset’, whereby every hour in the day comes at a cost and we question how to use our time effectively. This important fact drives how we manage our working and non-working life.
So how does all of the above drive the innovation of product in the Outdoor Power Equipment Industry?
Basically, the market is demanding efficient product to maintain green space, with minimal effect on the environment and surroundings, with an emphasis on time.
Cordless product is experiencing huge growth due to efficiencies found in increased run time, improved charge time, Lithium-Ion batteries, improved motor design and zero emissions. Cordless product was once all about the battery but innovation in motor design has dramatically improved the product. Such benefits have been found in brushless motor technology with fewer moving parts, and more recently in multilayered printed circuit board motors. The circuit board forms a stator that works in conjunction with permanent magnets, which eliminates the need for wire windings. The result is a motor that generates the highest energy factor per weight and does it at one-third to one-fifth the size.
With increased power levels, less weight and quick charge times, cordless product should begin to venture into the commercial world. Increasingly, contractors are demanding commercial grade, high-powered but low noise product to maintain facilities such as schools, hospitals and aged care facilities. Cordless product will allow the contractor to maintain these spaces outside of suggested hours.
The power tool industry is a great success story for cordless product with approximately 55 per cent of the market now being cordless. One battery and multi tools are a contributing feature to this success story. They are not new, but innovative attachments such as blower and hedge trimmers offer improved performance that will now match the standalone product. These types of attachments are now being developed for both the power tool and OPE industry.
PRODUCT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Electronic fuel injection is certainly not new innovation either and it has been used on commercial OPE for a number of years. However, this technology is starting to feed down to domestic product for many reasons, including requirements related to emissions laws, reduced fuel consumption and ease of starting.
Fuel injection systems require a management system to ensure all processes line up for the engine to run. Adding another level to existing systems to assist in managing the entire product creates a list of features and benefits.
Firstly, for the commercial operator, a product management system enables an owner/operator to track equipment; automatically schedule preventive maintenance activities; set up diagnostic alerts notifying the operator of potential problems; as well as receive run time data for both engine and attachments, fuel consumption, transmission temperature and transmission oil level. The ability to receive this information in advance will eliminate the endless cycle of emergency maintenance and putting out fires, therefore reducing maintenance costs and down time.
Let’s take this a step further: what if you could upload the address of a property to be maintained through Google maps and the management system allocated the travel time required to reach the job and time required to complete the job? Include the weather forecast and the management system could determine the frequency of maintenance required for that particular job. All of this could be managed through your smart device.
For the domestic operator, apps are currently being developed so you can ‘connect’ with a product. Information at hand about a particular product may include the owner’s manual, consumable parts list, service reminders as well as basic engine information including oil level, engine temperature and quick links to the manufactures web page. ‘Connecting’ an owner/operator to the product will improve time management, reduce costs and improve customer experience.
In the last couple of years the autonomous lawn mower has gained some traction. Once again, this relates back to the cracking pace that we all live our lives at. Most of today’s autonomous lawn mowers use a perimeter wire for location and mow in a random direction; there are a limited few that offer directional mowing. Current day product is designed for well-manicured lawns with limits on lawn size.
The sky is the limit when it comes to autonomous robotic mowers. GPS technology has a history of not being terribly accurate and an accuracy level of within ten meters has been accepted for some time.
Recent technology can improve accuracy levels to within centimeters using inertial movement sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes. In the past, the computer required to make these calculations was expensive to manufacture and run due to insufficient battery life; however, new methods of calculating the data with the same level of accuracy has been developed to achieve an affordable result.
With new technology I believe the autonomous mower will grow in size to cover large areas and directional mowing. In the future this may include use in sporting facilities and parklands. The obvious benefits would be a reduction in labor costs and 24 hour mowing ability.
When we think of hybrid product the first thing that comes to mind is a small family car. Is it possible that in the not too distant future, hybrid riders and zero-turns will be a reality? The ‘common’ view is that hybrid vehicles are economic to run on a daily basis but could be expensive to maintain if the batteries need replacing; however, batteries related to hybrid vehicles are Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium-Ion. With a growing need for Lithium-Ion, production has increased and the economies of scale play a role in reducing its cost. Lithium-Ion offers a quicker charge rate and does not suffer from the memory effect like NiMH. NiMH batteries are larger and heavier than Li-Ion ones, and weight and size is an important factor when trying to move something around.
Hybrid lawn tractors and zero-turns is certainly a possibility with the cost of manufacturing and maintenance decreasing. Being less dependent on fossil fuels will result in lowered emissions and less fuel consumption. Another advantage is electric motors are able to reach peak torque instantaneously and torque is what is required when powering product that maintains green space – ‘Hybrid-Mow’, maybe!
The challenge will be for the consumer in trying to decide on which technology best fits their needs. Imagine cordless products maintaining your gardens, hedges and edges. The autonomous mower is keeping the lawn at home beautiful while you review your product management system, which is linked to your fleet of commercial hybrid zero-turns.
With so many opportunities, the Outdoor Power Equipment industry is certainly in for some exciting times. There is no limit to innovation and the industry has never been in a better position to shine. Not only are we catching up to other industries in regards to technology, but I believe we have an opportunity to become a leader.
Director Customer Service, Technical & Training Asia Pacific
MTD Products Australia Pty Ltd