RentSmart: Ride-on compactors

Ride-on compactors have become a rental staple. These machines are used on everything from bike paths to interstates, and compact soil, aggregate subbases and asphalt. Because there’s such a vast array of sizes and types of these machines (see chart on page 50), everybody offers them for rent: independent rental dealers, regional and national chains and manufacturer-affiliated dealerships.

Ingersoll-Rand, for example, has two points of distribution for ride-on compactors: national rental chains and its own dealer network, explains Larry Silber, president of global rental and remarketing for Ingersoll-Rand Infrastructure. “Our smaller asphalt and soil compactors go to national rental company fleets and are aimed at commercial contractors,” he says, “while our dealers primarily rent our large asphalt and soil compactors to highway-heavy contractors.”

For commercial contractors, rental machines in the 48- to 54-inch-drum-width range are popular, says Steve Wilson, manager of marketing services/product manager, Bomag America. “Usually they can use a pickup truck and a tag-along trailer to transport it,” he says. Most of United Rental’s ride-on compactor fleet, for example, is made up of single-drum soil compactors, with the 66-inch width being the most popular, reports Pat Hunt, director of strategic resourcing.

Smaller compactors are usually gas powered and come in basic models while larger units tend to be diesel powered with added features such as automatic vibration, automatic water spray and more creature comforts.

Of course there is a price for the additional size and features. Wilson estimates moving from a 2- to 3-metric-ton machine up to the 4- to 5-metric-ton range may involve a 20 to 30 percent increase in rental rates.

“Usually, if a guy can do the job using smaller equipment he will because of the difference in rental rates,” says Jim Ballard, president of a Volvo Rents operation in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“Rental rates for an 84-inch-drum-width machine are about 25 percent more than for a 66-inch-drum-width machine,” says Greg Moore, secretary/treasurer of the Chattanooga Volvo Rents operation.

Rental periods usually depend on the size of the compactor being rented, with smaller units typically rented both weekly and monthly and larger machines rented primarily on a monthly basis. “The heavier compactors almost always rent by the month,” says Keith Farmer, rental manager, Ring Power, Jacksonville, Florida.

“Larger and heavier machines usually rent to contractors who put a large amount of hours on them,” says Mickey Benedict, product manager for soil compaction products, Ingersoll-Rand. “With the smaller machines, the duty cycle is not as severe.” And by insisting on a new rental machine every year, some heavy-highway renters can use rental to stay ahead of the technological curve.

Since utilization is the name of the game for rental fleets, most rental operations opt to use a shell kit on smooth-drum rollers to convert them into padfoot compactors instead of buying a separate padfoot machine.

Make sure your rental unit is in working order before putting it on the job.

But does it look good?
Rental fleets remain young, with most machines fewer than three years old. “The average fleet age will vary from rental company to rental company,” says Ballard, whose rollers are in the 2-year-old range.

And contractors like to use rental purchase options to convert ride-on compactors to purchased machines. “This gives you the opportunity to learn what the machine can and can’t do,” Wilson says. “Usually about 60 percent of our rented compactors are converted to purchases by the end of the rental,” Farmer adds.

It does pay to inspect any rental machine upon pickup or delivery. “A down machine can still slow your work down even if you get a replacement right away,” says Bob Ringwelski, product manager, Caterpillar Paving Products.

So what should contractors look for in a rented compactor?

“We believe cleanliness is next to godliness, so we wash the machine between rentals without fail,” Ballard says. “We check it when it comes off rental, when it comes off the wash bay and again when it goes to a job.”

Look at the general appearance of the machine, advises Dave Wolf, marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment. “This includes the platform, the sheet metal and the mattings in the operator’s compartment,” he says. “Look at the grease fittings to make sure they are accepting grease.”

Mostly check the machine’s overall condition, says Mark Conrardy, sales engineering manager, Wacker. “Make sure it’s not rusted out, there are no leaky hydraulic lines and check the condition of the drums and tires, depending on the type of roller,” he says.

Also look at the pivot joint, says Frank Wenzel, vice president of engineering, Stone Construction Equipment. “If it’s not been well maintained, you can feel the looseness when you put the machine in forward and reverse,” he comments. And make sure the machine’s water system and vibration works. “Know the fundamental things are in order,” he says.

The rental conversation
Our sources agree: Most contractors know what they need with these machines and so conversations can be short. There are, however, intermittent compactor renters or contractors facing unfamiliar job specs who should be ready with answers to some key questions. “There are several things we should know,” Hunt says.

  • How big is the site?
  • What type of material is being compacted? “With soils, if you’re working in cohesive clays,” Conrardy says, “you might need a sheepsfoot or padfoot roller, while granular soils call for smooth drums with rubber tires.” Also, what type of material is going over the soil?
  • What are the sizes of each compaction lift? “Achieving the required density spec in the fewest number of passes is the main consideration,” says Thomas Meyer, manager, marketing and sales support, Vibromax America.

Job requirements can vary greatly based on the size of jobs, especially when comparing a driveway job with compacting a highway shoulder. Are you working on hilly terrain? If so, you may need a compactor with a gradability rating. Do you plan to transport your rental unit? “Then make sure your truck/trailer combination is up to hauling the size of compactor you need,” Wilson says.

“And let your rental dealer know how many hours a day you expect to be running the machine, and if it’s doing any night shifts, so they can give you the service you need,” Silber comments.

The typical questions from renters are about weight, vibrations per minute and drum width. “We get asked what kind of compaction they can expect with a couple of passes,” Ballard says, “and that’s tough to answer because soil moisture plays such a huge part of the equation.”

And you need to make sure your rental dealer is talking your language, Wenzel warns. “I’ve found a 3,000-pound roller can have different meanings in different parts of the country,” he says. While some look at just static weight, and call a 3,000-pound roller a 11/2-ton machine, others will say if it weighs 3,000 pounds and it hits with 3,000 pounds of force, that’s 6,000 pounds, so it’s a 3-ton roller.

Renting a compactor gives you a chance to find out exactly what a machine can and can’t do.

Have a safe ride
The Volvo Rents Chattanooga branch considers safety part of its rental contract. “We send out a safety tip sheet with every rental and the customer has to sign for it, saying he’s gotten it,” Ballard says. “You try to go over the safety sheet, but sometimes a guy doesn’t take us seriously.”

Even though there’s no standard requiring the use of ROPS, most ride-on machines now have a ROPS and some combine that with a FOPS structure. Also insist your operators use the provided seat belts, Ringwelski says. “I’m not aware of any accident where an operator wearing his seat belt hasn’t stayed within the protection of the ROPS,” he comments.

“Make sure all the safety equipment is in place, the machine has a working seatbelt, the backup alarms work properly and any lights and beacons are functioning,” Conrardy says.

“It’s critical they use seat belts, especially on single-drum units since it will go a long way to protect an operator in an accident,” Benedict says. Some compactors have switches that will stop the machine if the operator leaves the seat.

“Knowing how to properly operate a compactor and the placement of all controls are key safety considerations,” says Meyer. “Control placement varies among manufacturers – including where the emergency shut-off switch is located – and should be reviewed with every new operator.”

And be aware these machines are not the easiest to load and unload from trailers, Wolf says, “so if you’re doing your own transport make sure your operators know how to do this.”

Those pesky mistakes
“You have to size the machine to the jobsite,” Hunt says. “While you may save rental costs on a smaller unit, you may not get the production you need.”

“The biggest mistake is asking for the wrong size or type of roller for the application,” Wilson says. Then there’s the other extreme: renting a machine that’s either too big or more sophisticated than what your operators usually use.

Whatever problem leads to the mistake, it boils down to unrealized expectations, says Wenzel. And environment comes into play. “If the ground is wet and it’s raining, it doesn’t matter what roller you use, it’s never going to work,” he says. “Sometimes people think they just need a bigger roller that hits a little harder.”

And such misapplication can lead to over-compaction, where the material is compacted so much it actually starts to segregate and loose density.

But in reality, Conrardy says he sees fewer mistakes with ride-on compactors than with other machines. “Renters usually know what they’re doing when they rent these machines,” Conrardy says. “Paving contractors especially know what they need.”

Need more productivity? Consider your options
High-end rollers have a variety of features that you may want to consider, especially if you’re dealing with a job that’s larger than your normal project. Of course, more bells and whistles translates into a higher rental rate.

These options include pressurized water spray systems – instead of gravity-fed, interval water spray – that allow the operator to select predetermined times of spray, and auto vibration, which determines at what machine speed the vibration will turn on and off. “With auto vibration, it avoids the issue of a less skilled operator approaching an obstacle at a low speed and damaging the material,” Wilson says. “He can focus on positioning and steering. And more experienced operators can use the feature to set their own preferences.”

High-end machines may also feature GPS systems to aid in rolling patterns; high-density discharge lighting, which gives off a bright white light as an alternative to halogen lights; and on-the-fly density meters and infrared temperature gauges.

While smaller rollers tend to be more basic in the rental arena, some smaller ride-on tandem rollers now have their big brother’s ability to offset the center hitch. This allows the front drum to be positioned a few inches left or right of the rear drum, thus preventing the rear drum from using the same track as the front drum, a factor that can help you work around concrete curbs or against a wall.

And even basic machines have upped the ante with rear sloping for increased visibility and operator amenities. “Operator comfort has come a long way,” Ballard says. “This is important to us because if the operator complains to his boss, he won’t want to rent our machines.”

Finally, be aware these workhorses are in demand, Farmer says. “The more notice we get you need to rent one, the better,” he urges. “If you called up today, I’m afraid you couldn’t get one for tomorrow.”