With so many mixers on the market, what's the right one for you and your business?
"The mixer is one of the most important pieces of equipment on the job site, yet so little attention is focused on getting the right mixer to do the job," Lang said. "It has been reported that only 30 percent of the cost of a machine is incurred when the machine is purchased; the other 70 percent is incurred while the machine is in operation. When a mason contractor considers buying a mixer, he should consider what benefits that mixer will offer his people day in and day out instead of just looking at the sticker price. A quality mixer can save big bucks due to efficiencies and eliminating downtime on the job site."
Drum capacity is obviously one of the first options that needs to be considered. Faler offered this advice: "Look at the mixer's capacity, which in large part depends on the size of the job. The general rule of thumb is larger is better because you can always grow into the job."
Lang agreed with this logic and added, "Our biggest secret is to select a higher capacity mixer for your project. Since over half the mortar mixed in a day is mixed in only two hours that day the first hour in the morning and the first hour after lunch. A bigger mixer allows the laborer to mix more mortar or grout per batch; this eliminates masons standing around waiting on mortar when the mortarboards need to be loaded all at once. With larger mixers, three mud pans can be filled from one load of mortar.
In addition, Faler suggests picking a mixer that has the right configuration of paddles to provide a uniform mix and reduce splash, a drum made out of fairly thick material to resist abrasions, and a wide dump lip for easy pouring.
He also added that the most important thing to look for in a mixer is the seal system for the paddle shaft. "Regardless of who manufactures the mixer, it's the most critical area and it requires continuous attention," he said. "Most suppliers make a greasable-type mixer that should be greased periodically. Multiquip's Essick line, which has been on the market since 1923, is basically a maintenance-free system."
Buddy Equipment's Swisher said that consistent mixing by the paddles within the drum is also an important aspect. "Most of the mortar mixer drum shapes that are available in our country are what I'd refer to as 'flat-backed,'" Swisher said. "Inside the drum, where the paddles rotate, is an area along the back of the drum where the rotating paddles cannot make contact with the mortar. I refer to it as the 'Dead Zone.'
"In my patented design, the 'Dead Zone' is eliminated by having a symmetrically shaped drum, where the curve along the front side of the drum matches the curve along the drum's backside, therefore reducing the required mixing time by as much as 30 percent."
Another feature to look for is the load and dump height of the machine. "We designed the Mud Hog mixers so they can be loaded at a low level, below a laborer's waist in most cases, while still dumping right into a high mud pan or wheelbarrow," Lang said.
Also, EZ Grout mixers come standard with an electric start and hydraulic dump. "Any mixer that doesn't have an electric start will sooner or later be shutting the job down due to a broken pull cord," Lang stated. "With an electric start on a mixer, the only time you pull the cord to start it is if the electric start fails; then after a couple pulls, the engine starts and the battery will recharge itself.
"The hydraulic dump feature is another way of reducing the laborer's workload by letting the machine do the work of dumping the material instead of the laborer having to have to walk to the other end of the mixer and fighting to dump it.
"Being a mason contractor and a manufacturer, we don't like to build and sell anything that our own people don't want to use on our job sites."
Tips and Tricks
In addition to getting a mixer with all the right options, there are certain advantageous ways of using the mixer that will help in the long run. The first tip is: location, location, location.
"Contractors should consider how far the mixing station is located from the walls that are to be built," Lang suggested. "The closer the mixer is to the wall, the less travel time one will have on the forklifts. In some cases, such as on large buildings, the mixer and sand pile can be located right inside the building where all walls are easily accessible and as close as possible."
Another way to speed up mixing is to make sure the machine is prepped and ready for the next day. While cleaning with water is the best way to go, it's not always an option. In this case, Lang suggested "throwing a five gallon bucket of gravel and some sand or empty mortar bags in the mixer while it is running." Multiquip's Faler also suggested spraying form oil into the mixer to prevent mortar from sticking to the sides.
No matter which method is utilized, the one thing crews should try to avoid is "dry cleaning" a mixer, where hammers are used to hit the outside of the drum to shake loose dried material inside.
"A lot of mixers have been hit so hard the drum looks like a shriveled up prune," Faler said. "For contractors worried about clean up, choose a mixer with a plastic or polyethylene tub. They are much easier to clean and, if you hit them, the polyethylene will flex a little to knock the material right out."
Finally, maintenance of the machine is also vital.
"It's very, very important that you check the oil in the engine, keep the air filter clean, and grease the mixer," Faler said.
He stressed that contractors and their crews should apply grease both at the beginning and end of the day. If crews grease just at the beginning of the day and several days pass between uses, the slurry has the potential of getting into the system and hardening.
"If you grease the mixer after the pour, or when your job is over, the material is still fluid," he said. "You are adding grease and it's purging any contaminants from the system. So the next time you use the mixer, it's easy to grease."
Most of all, contractors should be sure that crews follow the manufacturer's maintenance guidelines to keep their mixers running smoothly, day after day.
"All machines will operate more efficiently if they are maintained properly," Lang said. "A few extra minutes at the end of each day will go a long way toward more production tomorrow."