Think about the last motor trip you made that wound through numerous towns and cities throughout our nation. Had those country lanes, suburban roads and city interstates been littered with unsightly debris, you would remember. More likely, they were as spotless as your brick walkway leading to your sparkling front door. Who to thank?
It is Athey Products Corporation of Wake Forest, N.C. Athey’s strength rests on a foundation firmly established by inventor Isaac Athey, who developed a truss wheel to help transport supplies and equipment to drain a marsh back in 1917. This truss wheel would revolutionize many 20th century endeavors in logging and oil fields, and in the expansion of the nation’s road-building activities. Soon the company began manufacturing loaders for the coal industry and for other materials-handling industries.
In 1975, Athey purchased a highway sweeper product line, the Mobil Sweeper, and the Athey name found its fame taken in a new direction. The Mobil Sweeper line continues to be Athey’s mainstay.
The New Broom
The Athey four-wheel mechanical sweeper consists of a series of brooms used to sweep debris into a collecting area. From that point, an elevator system moves the debris into a hopper. Once the hopper is filled, it is dumped in a designated dumping site. “Today we are recognized as the premier manufacturer of these four-wheel mechanical Mobil Sweepers,” says Tom Nelson, president.
Athey leaves nothing to chance. Recognizing the importance of integrating its sweeper with its own chassis, Athey designs and manufactures a chassis that enhances the productivity, reliability and maneuverability of the Mobil Sweeper. “This unit affords very tight turning radiuses for sweeping areas such as cul-de-sacs and for tight areas around parked cars,” says Nelson.
One of Athey’s exclusive products is its four-wheel, single-engine Mobil Sweeper, which has been available for several years. “This is our best-selling sweeper,” says Nelson. “Most of our competitors manufacture their sweepers with two engines, one to run the vehicle and the other to provide power for the hydraulics. Our single-engine design provides both the propulsion power for the sweeper, as well as the power for the hydraulics system.”
Single-engine sweepers offer numerous benefits including lower cost, less fuel consumption, less pollution generated and fewer maintenance worries for the owner. For those customers who require both a propulsion and auxiliary engine, Athey offers a dual-engine sweeper that provides optimum power.
Sweeping roads might not precisely describe the sweeper’s task. “When you are cleaning streets, you don’t really sweep the crown of the road. You are really cleaning the gutters because that’s where all the debris accumulates,” explains Nelson. “Our purpose-built chassis make us distinct from most of our competitors. Sweeping is a very grimy and dirty operation which is hard on the equipment because of the abrasive materials the sweepers must handle.” Athey’s Mobil Sweepers have a reputation in the industry for durability, reliability and longevity. These assets are due to the Athey purpose-built chassis, developed exclusively to handle the application challenges facing this sweeper.
For those of its customers who prefer a commercial Freightliner chassis, Athey has been offering the Mobil Sweeper single-engine design on these chassis for the past two years. These chassis are purpose-built for Athey’s sweeping application.
The Athey belt loader is a self-propelled product used to load and unload materials in the construction industry. “These belt loaders can handle snow and salt, taking material from a horizontal position up a belt and then dumping the material onto a conveyor,” says Nelson.
Athey enjoys the distinction in the industry of being the only company to have manufactured such a unit uninterruptedly for about 65 years. “Every county in many states uses these belt loaders as loading tools,” says Nelson. Used in snow belts to load snow out of the streets, the loader also has application in more temperate regions, where it is used to maintain cleared drainage ditches.
The three-wheel mechanical sweeper Athey manufactures is used by many smaller cities and towns throughout the country. “It has similar characteristics to our four-wheel sweeper, but it is less expensive,” says Nelson. On the market for about 12 years, this unit has undergone extensive redesign within the past four years. “We’ve introduced some refinements, redesigning the hydraulics to provide a more reliable system. This vehicle is hydrostatically driven and the hydraulic motors drive a planetary operating the front wheels.” With increased cab dimensions, operators have more ergonomically friendly environments in which to work. The steering systems were also refined, and this unit now includes a belted elevator system. Nelson says, “This is a system that’s favored for picking up leaves, and it’s been a very popular product for us.”
Athey regenerative air sweepers come equipped with Freightliner purpose-built chassis. “These sweepers are a close-loop system (no exhaust air) that use suction and blast air rather than brooms to clean up debris,” says Nelson.
Athey’s airport runway sweepers are used widely by military and civilian airports throughout the world. “They are high-speed runway sweepers designed exclusively for removing FOD (foreign object debris). The safety factor is obvious in using these vehicles,” says Nelson, referring to a recent aircraft tragedy possibly caused by runway debris.
Watching the Environment
Generations ago, when the air and water were cleaner, people just wanted their streets clean and tidy mostly out of a sense of community pride. Today, however, dirty streets can mean more than just an uncaring town populace. The debris can affect the general health of the citizenry.
“The debris in gutters contains minute particles,” says Nelson. “You could also have various fluids and other pollutants that get mixed in with that debris. If that is washed into the storm sewer system, it will eventually find its way into the ground water, affecting our drinking water. In this regard, street sweeping has now become more a part of environmental regulations.”
Another concern facing municipalities at all levels is dust generated by debris. “It can be about 10 microns in size, and just small enough to be ingested into our lungs,” says Nelson. So as we become more environmentally aware of how these materials can affect our health, the government’s regulations are contributing to Athey’s success. On the flip side of the environmental issue are concerns facing Athey as a manufacturer. “Because we are manufacturing on-road vehicles, the government keeps us very much on our toes to ensure that our products are conforming to EPA and Clean Air and Water Act regulations pertaining to dust and exhaust systems,” says Nelson. The company recently installed ABS brake systems to its vehicles.
“We are a true manufacturing operation and we manufacture a large percentage of the componentry of our sweepers and our loaders,” says Nelson. “When customers visit our plant for the first time, they are surprised to see just how extensive our manufacturing capabilities are because nowadays it’s common to be merely an assembly operation.”
Customers have come to rely on the superior in-house quality built into each Athey product manufactured in the company’s 240,000 square-foot facility. Athey products are built and assembled by the company’s 200 employees working in departments such as layout fabrication, machining and welding shops.
The company’s marketing network is vital to the relationships that Athey develops among its distributors and its end users. “We strive to maintain our reputation for taking care of any problems that affect customer satisfaction,” says Nelson. “We are small enough to be able to know our customers and what their problems might be so that we can help solve them. Over the years, Athey has used countless customer ideas in the design of new products. We like to think we pay attention to our customers by being responsive to their needs.”
Athey sells primarily to independent distributors, which then sell to cities, towns, states, counties and airports. The distributors are responsible for servicing the products. Another important business segment, accounting for about 15 percent of Athey’s sales, is primary contractors, who might contract with a city to maintain road sweeping. “In these cases, the city does not have to own the sweepers,” says Nelson.
Athey works closely with key suppliers that provide axles, engines, cabs, electrical and hydraulic components, to ensure that products meet high standards of quality. Using a combination of forecasting techniques, Athey’s Materials Group plans for peak production in the company’s 240,000 square-foot facility. On-time deliveries are ensured by Athey’s strong partnerships with major suppliers.
What does the future hold for Athey Products Corporation? “We are involved in technology that will continue to improve the quality of sweeping performance for our customers. Areas such as alternative fuel sources, improved sweeping efficiency and reduction of fine particle contaminants are a few of the issues we continue to address,” says Nelson. “Athey will continue to be on the leading edge of sweeper technology.”