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Gear? Belt? Hydraulic? Warren Faler, masonry mixer guru at Multiquip Inc., Carson, Calif., has a wide perspective on which drive works best. He thinks they all do. "The V-belt driven mixer appeals to the small contractor, one that is worried about cost and doesn't want to spend a lot of money on a mixer. If you don't do large production mixes, they can be a cost-effective choice. Maintenance can be high: You get wear in the V-belts, in the pulleys, and the large gears — they are exposed and you do get a lot of concrete dust in there and that dust enhances the wear on gears.

  Masonry Magazine - August 2003
Masonry Magazine - August 2003
Top: This picture shows a totally enclosed transmission; Bottom: This photo shows the double V-belt/gear drive utilized by the Essick and Whiteman mixers.
"The transmission mixer is gear driven," he continues, "but the gears are submersed in oil so it's very reliable. Still, it has some high maintenance aspects. The transmission-driven mixer has gears that wear and it does have a clutch that you are constantly engaging and disengaging and that causes wear, too. At the high end, people buy the hydraulic mixer because they are looking for reliability, low maintenance, the ability to dump hydraulically to ease fatigue on the part of the worker. And, of course, because they can clear jams much easier."

Faler acknowledges that Multiquip, in its various divisions, makes all three types and markets them under three brands: Whiteman, Stow and Essick, each with its own unique features to set them apart from each other and the rest of the market.

A recent press announcement from Putzmeister America, Sturtevant, Wis., points out the movement to the hydraulic approach. They have taken their A3 Tommy Gun series of high volume mixers and replaced the gear-driven unit with a hydraulic Hydra-Flow mixer they are buying from Macalite Equipment, Phoenix, Ariz. Dave Rudin, national sales manager for Putzmeister mortar machines is quoted saying, "Being hydraulic-driven, this new design eliminates many of the wear components associated with gearbox machines." The new unit also increases the capacity from 12 to 13 cubic feet and comes with either gasoline or diesel engines.

Dave Birmingham Sr. of Macalite is credited with designing and building the first hydraulic mixer, back in the early 1970s. His son, Dave Jr., notes that Putzmeister looked at several mixers to incorporate into their Tommy Gun line and settled on the Hydra-Flow. "When you compare it to a gear-driven unit, there is no clutch to wear and be replaced — that can cost as much as $400. Also, when workers find the paddles stopped, they disengage the clutch, rev the engine and pop the clutch. That tends to break the sheer pin and doesn't usually clear the jam. Then they get tired of replacing the pins so they find a piece of rebar and use that. Now rebar is actually stronger than a Grade 8 bolt so that puts the strain on other parts and the next thing to break is the shaft coupler or the output shaft from the gearbox — and that piece is over $200."

Masonry Magazine - August 2003
The first hydraulic mixer
Mixer vendors aren't the only ones making the change. A contractor who has moved from belt drive to hydraulic, Donnie Stroud of H & S Masonry in Advance, N.C., comments, "All I used to use was a belt-driven mixer. Then I got a hydraulic mixer and I think it is the next best thing since sliced bread. It mixes the mud so much better that you get longer life out of your mortar. The hydraulic unit provides a steady roll — it's not beating so much air into the mix."

He goes on, "We use it to mix both mortar and grout, something you can't do with other types of drives. The hydraulic is much more tolerant of aggregates. I hate to say it but my guys jammed the mixer up the other day and I saw they were starting to pull stuff out of it, just like they always do on a mechanical mixer, so I went over and asked, ‘What are you doing? The hydraulic drive has reverse on it so you can clear jams without messing up the mixer.' They couldn't believe it."

Stroud's new hydraulic mixer is from Dickson Machine & Tool, Dickson, Tenn. Phil Woodcock, the general manager of Dickson explains, "The advantages of the hydraulic drive over the other two is that if you overload the mixer or you should get a foreign body such as a big rock or a two-by-four in it and it jams the paddles, than you don't do any mechanical damage. The way we have designed that bypass valve, it is internal to the directional valve and so the excess pressure never gets a chance to get to the motor."

The ease of clearing jams is a factor that is repeated over and over as a major benefit of the hydraulic mixer. Damian Lang, president of Lang Masonry Contractors and EZ Grout Corp., Waterford, Ohio, one of the most familiar faces around MCAA shows, introduced his first mixer, the Mud Hog, last year. Not surprisingly, it's hydraulic. "Mechanical mixers will become a thing of the past for any mixer that is over ten cubic feet," Lang trumpets. "In time almost all mixers will be hydraulic. Here's why: If a mechanical mixer plugs up on your job site, you are shut down. Masons on scaffolding must wait while laborers dig the dry mortar out of the drum and mix another batch. This is very costly, happens often, and is almost impossible to avoid with a mechanical mixer, especially when you have a new laborer learning how to use the mixer. "If a hydraulic mixer plugs up you can unplug it by simply pulling on a lever. The mixer paddles will reverse and the mixer will unplug itself. There is no down-time with the hydraulic compared to the mechanical."

Lang continues, "In addition, most mechanical mixers use belts to drive the paddles. When the laborer mixes the mortar too stiff, these belts slip and burn themselves up. It's not long until they need to be replaced. A well-designed hydraulic mixer should give years of dependable service to any mason contractor."

On the other hand Lang admits, "Hydraulic mixers do cost more up-front than mechanical mixers. However, the contractor can choose to pay more for the mixer up front or wait and occur the cost later due to plugs and breakdowns. The cost later is much greater. A lot of mason contractors don't look at it that way. They are only concerned about the purchase price."

Masonry Magazine - August 2003
A diagram of a mixer's hydraulic drive.

One of the things mason contractors often overlook is what they can save by using mixers that are electric start. According to Lang, "Every time a laborer pulls on the pull rope of a mixer motor, the pull rope gets weaker. Sooner or later the rope is going to break and they will be shut down until they get another rope coiled on the mixer. Again, the masons are standing and waiting on mortar while the mixer is being repaired. With an electric start mixer, the only time the laborer pulls on the rope is if the battery would go dead. Then he can still pull-start the mixer, and the charging system will recharge the battery like it does on a car."

Unfortunately for cost-conscious contractors, the hydraulic machines do require considerably more front expenditure. "That makes sense, really," claims Woodcock. "They cost more because the components cost more. We feel that we have designed this machine so ruggedly that the life expediency is ten years plus. That means the per year cost to run it should actually be far less than if you end up going through several mechanical mixers. We offer a lifetime warranty on all bearings, which are the main components that will normally wear out. The only draw back is that if the operators don't grease them, they are going to fail; if you don't do the preventive maintenance for these machines, no matter what brand they are — and unfortunately they are very prone to not getting any maintenance — you are going to get premature failure. The manufacture can't control that. But if the machines are taken care of, there no is reason that these machines won't last just as long as anybody wants them to last."

Need Speed?

"Our nine cubic foot mixer is the fastest mixer made, period." Fighting words? Jim Swisher of Buddy Equipment, Jacksonville, Fla., doesn't care. There are three reasons he says that: "The design of the drum, the number of paddles, and the ratio of the gears. Every mixer made has a dead zone except ours, and they all make their drums the same way except us. I don't mean to sound egotistical; it's just a fact. Right now, we use a bull gear with a pinion and a Honda engine."

Swisher boasts, "We offer what we like to think of as the Dodge Viper of mixers — a bit more expensive but it's pure performance. It's an ‘eight-year mixer' not a two-year mixer. For a professional mason, one who mixes five or six days a week, with proper maintenance and proper greasing of the seals, this mixer will last eight years."

Why does he think that? "The drum is a quarter inch thick — you can take a sledgehammer and beat this thing to death and it won't even ding. We have a lot of nice things: hidden security numbers in the unit in case someone steals it. We have a lifting eye as standard equipment; the lifting eye enables men to put it up on the roof or store it in the air. There is a little cover over the fittings to protect them from the mud."

He quickly adds, "We're a small company; we don't make twenty thousand mixers a year. We have the ability to make 1,300, that's it. We are just now getting to a position where we can supply the mixer coast-to-coast. The reason we put these features on the machine is because we feel it's what is right. We don't worry about what it's going to cost, we just build the mixer the way we think is right."



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