There are few reasons why your brush chipper might not last past the retirement of its first crew. But whether it does or not really depends on how you use it and care for it.
According to Jason Morey, marketing manager for Bandit Industries, there are several original machines from the early 1980s still in service. The question then becomes, how can that be when many buyers, especially some of the bigger, national tree care companies, view chippers more as expendable machines versus strategic capital investments? Morey boils it down to “treating the chipper as a piece of equipment you want to last a long time.”
Begins with maintenance
“To start, a lot comes down to maintenance, meaning the customer must do regular maintenance, starting with knives.” He says the important thing is to keep them sharpened or to replace them. “That alone will help the machine last longer,” he explains, noting that as knives dull, vibration occurs and the machine has to work harder. “Never run a machine with worn replacement parts (such as knives or belts). People who still run older machines have had a great maintenance program, keeping up on regular service and replacement of worn parts.
“We actually see this (aggressive in-house maintenance programs) a lot,” Morey explains. Conversely, he also sees a lot of the opposite, “where people go a long time running the chipper with worn or damaged parts, causing other major components, like the disc or drum, to prematurely wear. As long as you take care of your chipper, you’ll get many years of service.”
Eventually, even the best-cared-for machine will need a rehab or rebuild. “It is usually best to start off by evaluating the engine on your machine. If it is approaching 8,000 hours or more and has experienced some slight issues, it may be time to consider rebuilding it or replacing it with a new diesel or gasoline engine,” Morey says. He warns, though, that installing a Tier 4 engine on an older machine can be pricey. “You may have to redesign the machine some to accommodate a new diesel engine, as most of the Tier 4 engines are larger in size compared to prior tier engines,” he says, and the cost can then exceed the cost of a new unit. Instead, Morey reports, many owners of an otherwise good machine will opt to rebuild the original engine if possible.
Another reason it makes sense to keep an old-timer in service and make updates is that the values of used units are way up. Morey’s assessment is that the cost of good used machines is “unprecedented.” That alone should be a strong economic reason to stay up on service, maintenance and repair. “As long as you plan ahead to ensure the machine is in good shape, you’ll get top resale dollar,” he predicts.
Time to restore/rebuild?
“If it were me, I would not necessarily invest in a new engine unless I had the entire machine redone,” Morey says, adding, “If you are going to spend the amount of money to rebuild or replace an engine, it would definitely be worthwhile to rebuild the entire machine, which would include sandblasting and repainting, replacement of all of major wear items, electrical updates plus much more.”
Noting current supply-chain issues and a drastic increase in demand for Bandit products, Morey says, “It can be difficult to get a new machine, since inventories are limited across the dealer network.” As for Bandit, he maintains, “We are doing our best to get machines out the door and into our dealers’ and customers’ hands as quick as possible, but there are instances when a customer cannot get equipment right away,” offering yet another reason for chipper rehab.
As far as costs go, Morey says, “The cost of a typical new, 12-inch gas chipper (depending on options) can run from the mid-$30,000 to mid-$40,000 range. To fully recondition a comparable unit, you’d be looking at approximately half the cost of a new machine for a generic rebuild, and then would need to add more if other major-component repairs are needed.” He adds that there are so many market circumstances in flux right now that those values are likely to change.
Nonetheless, he says, for some, putting “old reliable” back into service represents an opportunity to get another four or five years out of the machine, and puts the owner in a better position to put the rehabbed machine on the secondary market with, potentially, a better resale price.
Why not 30 years?
“Your timing is impeccable,” says Jeremy Beatty, manager of Michigan direct sales for Morbark, citing at least a pair of vintage chippers undergoing rehab at the time this article was being researched in early October.
He says they were Model 290s dating from the late 1980s to early ’90s. “One still has its Hercules engine and one its Ford in-line, 300 CID, 6-cylinder engine,” he reports. “Mid-1980s is about as old as we see. Sometimes they come in for bearings, and hydraulic-motor repair or replacement is pretty common. When the feed-wheel motor seals go, it can be cheaper to replace the motors,” he adds. Other times, it can be an engine or a carburetor. “Some owners do not want to mess with those,” Beatty says. “Or, we can be looking at a chipper disk bearing or something to do with the feed wheels, or it could be the feed-wheel motor or dealing with how they are coupled to the shaft.
“Knives? All the time,” he says. “Usually, knives are an add-on when the machine is here for other work. We have a knife sharpener here in the repair shop, or we can replace with new. We do the whole service – knives, oil, lube. Simple stuff like that is easy to add on because the machine is here.”
Beatty is adamant that there is “no reason a machine should not go 30 years or more. At Morbark, we have a full supply of components for anything we have built. In about 90% of cases, the part is a direct replacement of the original. Some machines that come in here have engines with 10,000 hours on them, and we can do any replacement or upgrade.
“We have a department dedicated to parts manufacturing. Say you bring in a 1990 Morbark chipper. There probably is not a big demand for parts for that machine. We’ll build whatever is needed, even a new feed wheel, for example, just as it was in 1990. We have the original blueprints all the way back to hand drawings.” Apart from the engine, Beatty says with pride, “We have the capability to build a chipper from 30 years ago. If the part is not already in the warehouse, we can make it in the parts factory and be ready to go – install it here or ship the part to you.”
He echoes the sentiments of other manufacturers. “With engines, restoration has gotten more difficult as emissions standards come into play. We are asked a lot if we can build a chipper with no engine. It’s called a glider. A lot of diesel-engine manufacturers do not make the old engines,” Beatty says, adding that an owner may opt to source an engine someplace else. “Today, virtually all diesel engines have to be built to Tier 4 emissions standards, even to get a crate replacement engine.”
A crate engine is a new one that is not original to an OEM machine. It is a new factory engine, not a rebuild. The manufacturer ships the engine in a crate.
“It is possible, but very difficult, to find a new, (old-style) diesel engine,” Beatty says. “Kubota was building some. Often, if you have to get a new diesel engine for a chipper that’s 20 years old, it could possibly cost more than the chipper is worth,” he adds, supporting what Bandit’s Morey reports.
“There are some companies refurbishing engines,” he says, adding, “As an option, you might find a good used one on the internet that was used for another purpose – common applications would have been generator sets or pumps used in oil fields – potentially with low hours due to infrequent use.”
Beatty says one reason to keep the old stuff like Morbark chippers running is that his company “tended to overbuild” its machines for heavy-duty use, making them good candidates for rehab or restoration.
End of life for your chipper
Sometimes, as much as you’d like to keep your chipper, it’s time to let go.
Vermeer recently compiled a list of things to consider when deciding whether to eke a bit more operational life out of a machine or declare an end-of-life situation. While offered for this article on long-haul chippers, much of what’s advised by Vermeer applies to most tree care power equipment.
“The more attentive you’ve been to regular upkeep, the more likely you’ll be able to run a machine beyond its recommended serviceable life,” says Josh Evans, service manager for Vermeer Environmental Solutions, noting that this is especially true for chippers. “That attention includes everything from replacing knives and teeth to servicing hydraulic and drive systems at the intervals recommended in the machine’s operator’s manuals. So much depends on how you’ve worked and maintained a machine. Those are two things that drive a lot of end-of-life and replacement decisions.
“Reactive maintenance – performing upkeep and replacing components only when a broader service issue arises – can contribute to a shorter equipment lifespan, especially as it reaches higher hours of operation,” Evans states.
Any equipment owner has heard it before, but the following admonition remains true. “Being more proactive with maintenance often is more cost efficient in the long run and can prevent the likelihood of a forced end-of-life decision for a tool like a brush chipper or stump cutter,” says Evans.
“In some cases, a machine will be close to the end of its operating life and there may be a catastrophic failure. At that point, it may not be cost effective to rebuild an engine,” Evans says. “But, if you have been more proactive with maintenance and you don’t have a major component or frame failure on your hands, you need to determine whether it’s worth it to invest more into it or replace it altogether. It’s a good conversation to have with your dealer, especially if they are familiar with the machine’s maintenance history.”
Manufacturer and dealer service count, he says. “Even if something like a brush chipper outperforms its normal operational life, the ability to perform service – on the job site or at the dealership – can sometimes be a major influence in deciding whether to retire and replace the machine. In introducing new components and equipment, a manufacturer takes on added responsibilities for supporting additional machines. Commonality in parts and components across multiple machines is huge for our dealers, because it’s more efficient to work on them and find and stock parts,” Evans declares.
“It can be a tough call to part ways with a brush chipper, stump cutter or other tree care equipment – especially if it’s a machine that’s been a cornerstone of your job sites for years – and there’s no simple answer to the question of whether or not it’s time to make a change. The decision depends on how many hours you’ve operated the equipment and how you’ve maintained it,” concludes Evans.
So, in the end, as with any lasting relationship, the number of years you get out of your chipper is directly related to the care you put into it.