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issue: March 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Outdoor Power Equipment
Going Green(er)

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by Jill Russell, Contributing Editor

Outdoor power equipment in 2008 will not only help keep consumers’ backyards looking trim and tidy, but will also help keep the environment green.

Kubota (Osaka, Japan) engineered new ZD-series zero-turn commercial mowers to produce higher torque, to aggressively take on heavy mowing jobs for extended periods, but the mowers use as much as 30% less fuel than gasoline engines. A unique two-pin, tilt-up lift feature allows the front of the mower to be raised without removing the mid-mount mower, and includes locks for the front tires to ensure safety. Flat-free front caster tires are standard on the ZD326 and ZD331 models, reducing downtime to change flat tires.

When it comes to being green, the outdoor power equipment industry often finds its products placed almost as high as automobiles on the legislative priority list.

In the United States, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) has worked extensively with industry OEMs to help promote safe use of biofuels like ethanol. The association helped form the Alliance for a Safe Alternative Fuels Environment (AllSAFE), a coalition of consumer and user groups and manufacturing associations that aim to improve understanding of biofuel use and its influence on the environment and product use.

The coalition, along with OPEI, worked with the U.S. Congress in 2007 on energy bill amendments to ensure that mandated increased ethanol blends would not negatively impact the environment, consumers, manufacturers, and retailers.

“Green lawns, parks, golf courses, and forests depend on outdoor power equipment for proper maintenance and care,” said John Shiely, OPEI board member and chairman, and president and CEO of Briggs & Stratton Corp., at the association’s annual meeting. “Proper maintenance of green spaces increases their ability to serve as carbon sinks. As an industry, our environmental mission is to keep the green greener.”

Bill Harley, OPEI’s president and CEO, said at the meeting, “Outdoor power equipment is cleaner, quieter, and more efficient than ever before. Today’s equipment is 70% cleaner than 1990’s equipment. With the industry’s continued investment in the latest technologies, our equipment will be 85% cleaner.”

Besides a focus on sustainability, outdoor power equipment makers are also paying more attention to a specific customer demographic—women. According to an independent consumer survey by OEM Troy-Bilt, women’s buying power is increasing in the home-improvement sector. In fact, the survey found that women influence 44% of all outdoor power equipment purchases, while women alone purchase 21% of all outdoor power equipment. Additionally, men and women make 23% of all purchases jointly.

Manufacturers are focusing product development research on key areas of concern to the woman homeowner. Areas include ease of use, particularly when it comes to starting the equipment. Manufacturers are working to decrease start difficulty by integrating push buttons for one-time starts and spring-starting assistance for pull mechanisms. Weight is also a major concern, and OEMs are bringing out smaller and portable product versions. Consumers are also looking for versatility, and outdoor equipment makers are introducing products with interchangeable parts for maximum efficiency.

Toro (Bloomington, MN, U.S.) is making 2008 diesel-powered commercial mowers biodiesel–ready. Included in this lineup are the Z Master Z580-D series (25 hp) and Z590-D series (27 hp) zero-turn riding mowers. Toro has also created upgrade kits for Z Master mowers produced before 2008. The kits will convert diesel models for biodiesel fuels.

Engineering Noise/Emission Reductions

Jeff Nesom, a U.S. product manager for Stockholm-based Husqvarna, says new regulations, as well as noise and emissions concerns, are pushing product designs. In response, the company introduced its 356BT backpack blower with proprietary noise-reduction technology and says the blower lowers noise levels to 64 dBa—four times quieter than previous models.

A new Husqvarna engine technology is offered in consumer and professional landscaper equipment to cut emissions 60% and increase fuel efficiency 20%. “The X-Torq engines deliver high torque even at low rpm, offering more usable power on demand. More productivity means more money in the pockets of professionals and jobs done faster for the consumer,” Nesom says.

Blowers work much like other two-stroke engines, except that when the air-fuel mix enters the crankcase, there is a second stream of unmixed air that moves through the piston and into the transfer ports at the upper end of the chamber, reaching the cylinder first and then escaping into the atmosphere with the exhaust. The unmixed air replaces the unburned fuel that would typically escape at this point.

“Unlike four-stroke engines with numerous moving parts and constant valve adjustments, this X-Torq technology does not require special oils to reduce coking or carbon buildup,” Nesom says.

Husqvarna is also engineering ease of use into new products, such as its Model 455 chainsaw, which includes a Smart Start fuel pump to ensure easy start-up, a visible fuel level, ergonomic design, and an oversized starter handle with a spring-assist to reduce resistance during start-up.

Outdoor power equipment giant Toro took the bold, green step of announcing that all model year 2008 diesel-powered commercial mowers will be biodiesel-ready when they roll off the assembly line. The units will be able to operate on all blends of biofuel up to B20, which is a mixture of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel fuel. Toro has tested pure biodiesel and biodiesel blends for the past five years and says landscape contractors that tested the biodiesel-powered, zero-turn mowers noticed little or no change in mowing performance.

Where Will Efficiency Come from Next?

Technical services manager Randy Haslam of Nikko Tanaka Engineering U.S.A. (Auburn, WA) sees nothing new in the drive in the United States to make outdoor power equipment more efficient. “The EPA as well as California’s Air Resources Board are legally compelled to reduce pollution whenever possible and practical. However, exhaust emission limits for small engines have been in place for over a decade now in the United States,” he explains. “As these engines become further optimized, it becomes less practical to further target their exhaust emissions. Regulators are already looking at other aspects of these products’ contribution to pollution. EPA will follow closely behind, and both will continue to look for additional emission sources to control.”

Tanaka recently introduced its first two “inspire” products, a line of outdoor power equipment based on parent company Hitachi Power Tools’ industrial design. The TBC-240PF is the industry’s longest grass trimmer—14 in. longer than the industry standard—and features a 1.2-hp, two-stroke engine, an antivibration system, and a solid-steel drive shaft.

Dolmar, an Alpharetta, GA, U.S.–based power equipment maker, is focusing on fuel tank evaporation and permeation to reduce the emissions from its products. The company uses what it calls a GEM (Gas Exchange Management) system to develop its engine technologies. Trey Brown, product manager for the company, says technologies such as airscavenging and catalytic mufflers (to help with air intake and cleaning exhaust gases) on two-cycle engines have stemmed from the company. Engineers have used a smaller catalytic converter to cut fuel consumption 10% while maintaining a low power-to-weight ratio. Additionally, the program helped the company develop a mini four-stroke engine with variable valve timing to help limit emissions.

Dolmar’s latest four-stroke backpack blower, the PB-7600.4, is engineered for powerful 763-cfm airflow and 195-mph velocity while reducing emissions 50%. A 243-sq-in. air filter is designed into the unit for cleaner intake air.

With new technologies on the horizon, Brown is optimistic about the power equipment’s future. “Industry will continue to grow as products become more regulated. Professional equipment will continue to evolve as technologies become available for integration into handheld equipment,” he says. After all, “As long as grass grows, leaves and debris need cleaning, construction projects with concrete and steel exist, and hedges and trees require cutting, the demand for outdoor power equipment will remain.”

Application Spotlight: PM Gears Improve Snowblower Drive Torque

As in other industries, the makers of outdoor power equipment designers and engineers often benefit greatly from the expertise of their suppliers. Ariens Co. (Brillion, WI, U.S.), a lawn mower and snowblower manufacturer, specified a powder metallurgy differential carrier gear from NetShape Technologies for use in the transmissions on its line of professional Snothro snowblowers 8.5 hp and up.

The powder metallurgy gear improved the drive torque output of the unit by increasing pinion speed and ratio after the friction disc in the transmission. The part has a minimum tensile strength of 75,000 psi, yield strength of 90,000 psi, and a fatigue limit of 34,000 psi. The gear also enables remote locking and unlocking of the differential. Powder metallurgy is an automated metalworking process that forms metal powders into precision components that are often used in engines and transmissions, garden tractors, chain saws, and biomedical products. This gear’s capabilities earned an Award of Distinction for NetShape in the Lawn & Garden/Off Highway category of the Metal Powder Industries Federation Powder Metallurgy Design competition.


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