IF you ask any arboriculturist to choose a piece of kit they could own if money was no object, then a Merlo would come close to the top of many wish lists.
The Italian-designed vehicle may not be the most agile, but it boasts a phenomenal reach, and has the ability to dismantle a tree without the need for any climbers to put themselves at risk.
But when you see that its price tag is around £250K when you include all the bells and whistles, you’ll understand why there are only around nine operating in this country.
One firm that has taken the plunge into the Merlo pool is EJM Tree Services, and owner Eddy Mant has seen it effectively change his working life in the nine months he’s owned it. While some may baulk at the price, Eddy sees the benefits in terms of safety for him and his staff.
- Ejm Merlo
“Some people look at just the cost but I looked at what it would save in terms of safety,” said Eddy, who set up EJM with his wife Jo back in 2003. “We’ve removed the person that would have been in the tree from the dangers the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) would love us to remove them from: the vibration, the noise, the dust. Effectively everything has been removed with one piece of kit.
“It has dramatically improved the safety aspect of our work – guys aren’t having to work as physically hard as the Merlo has taken the strain; they don’t have to climb it, rig it, drag it. When I cut (with the Merlo) I can take the section off and put it next to the chipper. They don’t have to do the colossal drags or the awkward drags. It’s now a whole different ball game.”
When firms can see just what the Merlo can achieve and the time it takes to do the work they need done, the attraction to ‘send for Eddy’ is clear.
“The contract work has definitely increased, so I find myself doing a lot more work for other companies – people hiring me and the Merlo for jobs,” said Eddy, who is based in Berkshire. “I think, at present in the UK, there are nine Merlos with grapple saw heads on.
“Along with the Westtech grapple saw we’ve got the Box Winch which turns into a small mobile crane and the Space Arm which is a cherry picker attachment which will go up to 41 metres – around 134ft.
“Most of the time I’ll go out with the grapple saw but as a business we thought we should have the other attachments so we can use the Merlo for more than just one operation. I find now I’m using the cherry picker quite often because the range it has is phenomenal. Instead of having a base unit that can do just one job, we have a base unit that has three different functions: a cherry picker, a small crane and a grapple saw.
“With the height we can get with the cherry picker we cover a lot of the work with that, then with the grapple saw we can safely bring down the tree, when necessary, with no risk of having a climber in the tree. It is very much a safer way of carrying out our work.
“Even when we’re working on the roadside then we’re reducing the risk element massively: traditionally, with a cherry picker, you’d be parked in the road and the guys would be on the floor around the cherry picker. Now you only need one person who can be on the pavement just waiting for the traffic to clear then you can take the branch off. The risk element is massively reduced to everyone on the highways and to people doing the work on the trees.”
The Merlo has a top speed of around 25mph and Eddy limits the distance he’ll drive the 20-tonne vehicle to jobs, instead opting to take it on a low-loader to work further afield.
And while he’s found his £250K investment has opened a lot more opportunities for EJM, it has also increased the costs involved with running the business.
“The cost of the Westech head alone was the equivalent to one person’s wages for a year,” added Eddy. “But it can do so much more in a tree than a climber can – it never gets fatigued, it can lift off a four-metre lump that’s 18inches round in one go. A climber would have to bring that down in sections with issues of fatigue and the rigging involved.
“But it has opened up a whole different element which is the clear-up side of the job. Because we’re bringing down bigger lumps, we need to deal with those differently. So, we’ve bought a bigger chipper, a bigger grain trailer because we’re producing much bigger volumes of material and the fact that we need to deal with it quicker.”
While you can explain to a potential client exactly what a Merlo can do, its effectiveness is best seen visually, and EJM have gained from the social media presence of their big investment.
Eddy added: “I managed to do a time-lapse recording while I was taking down a few trees by the side of a river. Before we got the Merlo, we never really got any work out of Instagram – it was more of like ‘this is who we are, this is what we’ve got’.
“But since we’ve got the Merlo, we’ve definitely picked up work through Instagram; by word of mouth, people talking about the fact that we’ve got a Merlo. That’s what I find with Instagram, it’s a good way of people discovering what kit we’ve got. They go ‘I’ve seen this guy on Instagram who’s got a Merlo which will probably be good for this job’. Then you get a call from someone who’ll say a friend has seen your Merlo on Instagram and can you come and look at this job for us, or can we book you for a day?
“I’ve definitely found Instagram has been good for the contracting side of our business.”