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Top 10 Spray-Equipment Problems

Are you looking for a way to reduce equipment problems and maintenance costs while increasing technician productivity? Who isn’t?

When it comes to spray-equipment problems, repair shops see the same issues over and over. Fortunately, most of them are completely avoidable.

Here are 10 ways to avoid repeated problems with spray equipment. (Note: spray equipment includes power-spray equipment, backpack sprayers, and compressed-air hand sprayers):

1. Start with the right components.

Without them, you will have problems. This means components with available replacement parts, as well as the appropriate equipment for the job. Failing to adhere to these conditions will result in equipment failure and downtime. For example, if you buy a homeowner-grade backpack sprayer, it will probably last six months before it fails and is thrown away because replacement parts are not available.

Also, be sure to purchase complete specifications for power sprayers. Purchasing departments will often specify the key components--engine, pump, tank, reel, etc. However, the little parts--hoses, fittings, and clamps--also matter.

Although these parts do not contribute significantly to repair and maintenance costs, there are significant variations in the quality of these parts. Using a low-quality plumbing fitting in a critical location also can result in chemical spills, employee injuries, downtime, cleanup, and repair expenses.

2. Look for a good design.

Buying top-quality components isn’t enough though. If they are not well-configured, problems may occur. Three factors are critical in power-sprayer design:

A. Technician safety. Poor design can unnecessarily expose technicians to safety hazards. This can be an expensive and unnecessary risk. Some questions to consider include:

• Are hot parts shielded?

• Are sharp corners protected?

• Can technicians reach key components without straining their backs, scraping their knuckles, etc.?

• Can the sprayer be cleaned easily?

B. Technician access and productivity. Poor design can impact the technicians’ ability to complete work in a timely fashion. Consider the following:

• Can technicians reach all components easily?

• Can technicians easily access checkpoints to ensure effective operation (i.e., filter, engine oil, diaphragm-pump oil sight gauge)?

C. Maintenance and repair. All spray equipment requires service. If components are not easily accessible for maintenance or repairs, equipment will be down longer. Consider the following questions:

• Can engine oil be easily changed?

• Can the pump be easily removed for service?

• Can key components be easily serviced?

3. Aim for good filtration.

This is critical to all manual and power sprayers, as more problems are related to filtration than to any other component.

A clogged filter starves a pump of water, eventually destroying the pump. Missing, damaged, or insufficient filtration allows debris into the system, damaging the pump and clogging lines, fittings, hoses, guns, and tips.

A cracked filter creates an air leak, preventing sprayer use. These are expensive problems. As a rule of thumb, filtration can be separated into three categories: sound design, careful operation, and sufficient maintenance.

A. Design. All good hand-sprayers and backpack sprayers are designed with a filter. Avoid cheaper sprayers that do not have a filter. For a power sprayer, filtration design is another issue because all vendors design them differently. Here are some important design issues:

• Filters must be easily accessible by technicians. If the filters are not, the technicians will not check and clean them. If that happens, problems will occur.

• Filtration must be designed appropriately for your application, products applied, pump, water source, etc. For example, a roller pump is more sensitive to debris than a diaphragm pump and should have more filtration. Poor water quality (i.e., a golf course that draws water from a pond) requires better filtration than a municipal water source.

B. Operation. Technicians must check filters regularly and clean them if needed. We advise our clients to start checking filters daily. If the filters are always clean, the frequency can be reduced. It is better (cheaper) to check filters too often than not enough.

C. Maintenance. Eventually filters age to the point where merely checking it is not enough. When filters become really worn, or the screen can no longer be washed out, replace them. It is much cheaper to replace filters than wait for them to fail.

4. Clean it out.

All sprayers must be periodically cleaned to remove debris (i.e., dirt, pebbles, rocks, chemical buildup). Whatever is not removed will eventually clog and damage the sprayer.

5. Don’t over-pressurize.

In order to finish a job more quickly, technicians often operate sprayers at higher-than-required pressure. Just as with running your car in the red, continually spraying at high pressure reduces equipment life. Components that are especially sensitive are pumps, hoses, gaskets, and O-rings.

Backpack sprayers seem to be particularly sensitive to over-pressurization. Train technicians to look, listen, and know the equipment. If the backpack doesn’t operate properly at normal pressure, over-pressurizing it will often worsen the situation and result in higher repair costs. Additional risks to operating under high pressure include larger chemical spills if a hose or fitting fails, as well as reduced droplet size and increased spray drift, possibly causing contamination, lawsuits, etc.

6. Always release the pressure.

Never store a sprayer under pressure. Doing so will reduce the life of hoses, fittings, gaskets, O-rings, etc., and put more stress on the pump and motor when starting. It also increases the risk of freeze damage since the water in the sprayer has no room to expand.

Releasing the pressure after each stop is recommended so technicians develop the habit of releasing the pressure at the end of the day, which is the minimum frequency at which the pressure should be released.

7. Perform preventative maintenance.

Equipment fails at busy times. Instead of waiting for that to happen, perform preventative maintenance when convenient. Remember, even the best spray equipment requires service. Spending $1 now will save $5 later.

8. Compile a preflight checklist.

Every pilot checks his or her plane’s equipment before taking off. The theory is it’s easier to fix a problem on the ground than in the air. Spray professionals should adopt a similar approach. A few minutes checking equipment at the start of the day will do two things:

• Identify problems where they can be most easily addressed.

• Find problems early when they are smaller, cheaper, and faster to fix.

The inspection is a three-step process:

• Visual inspection. Does anything look amiss? Are there fluids where they are not supposed to be? Does anything appear worn or ready to fail? Is all the equipment and product needed for the day present on the truck? Is everything secured?

• Pressure test. Pressurize the equipment. Does it build the proper pressure? Are there any leaks? Does the equipment sound and look right?

• Spray test. Does the gun deliver a good stream with the right pressure and volume?

9. Carry emergency repair kits.

Many spray-equipment problems involve small, simple repairs. If technicians have a few key parts available, they can fix the problem, saving time and money. Filters, O-rings, gaskets, and belts are easy to replace. Assess equipment to determine what to carry on the truck, as well as the technicians to determine those capable of making repairs in the field.

10. Require employee training and retraining.

Many spray-equipment problems are caused by, or at least aggravated by, employees who should know better. Showing an employee how to do something on the first day of work doesn’t mean he or she is still doing that in the field. Continuously reinforce good practices, explain how equipment works, and train employees to identify problems.

Train employees to look, listen, and understand the equipment. Ensure they are comfortable reporting problems. Problems become larger and more expensive if not addressed promptly. Employees are the front line in detecting and preventing equipment problems. Use their expertise to save time and money.

Andrew Greess is the President of Quality Equipment & Spray, which designs and builds custom landscape, golf- and pest-control spray-equipment solutions. He can be reached at andrew@qspray.com.

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