The introduction of polyethylene (poly) spreaders to the market in the early 1990s generated mixed reactions among snow and ice control professionals. On one side were thrilled contractors who had been waiting for a solution that would eliminate corrosion concerns and greatly reduce required spreader maintenance tasks. On the other end of the spectrum, skeptics wondered if a poly box could withstand the rigors and abuse of material spreading during a long winter season.
Manufacturers also had divided philosophies. While almost all acknowledged that the corrosion plaque on steel boxes was a problem, many manufacturers were reluctant to make drastic changes to meet the market demand. Rather than spending money to add the appropriate resources to produce poly equipment, several manufacturers instead set their sights on stainless steel alternatives.
The winter maintenance landscape has changed. While once only a handful of manufacturers produced a poly product, virtually every manufacturer now offers a bulk spreader with a hopper constructed of poly.
More and more poly plow blades are also being introduced. The popularity and acceptance of the material can be seen in other markets as well. Manufacturers of air compressors, light compaction units, and other machines have integrated poly into their products, often for the purpose of making the equipment more durable. Ironically, even contractors still using steel V-boxes in their pickups may be reaping the material's benefits through the use of poly bed liners in their truck beds.
Many manufacturers originally dismissed the notion of adding poly options to their product offering, given the large financial investment required to hire engineers and set up new machining processes to produce the equipment. That initial reluctance to spend has given way to customer demands, as most manufacturers have begun producing poly spreaders in some form.
Most poly spreaders are made through a rotational molding process, where heated liquid poly is rotated or spun, eliminating any air pockets that could leave behind weak spots. Because the constant rotation allows the material to be distributed evenly as it hardens throughout the mold, the result is a spreader with consistent wall thicknesses and a one-piece product with no weak points when properly manufactured.
The primary reason for the introduction of poly-built, winter maintenance products was to greatly reduce or eliminate the problem of corrosion.
While poly's introduction to the market had solved most equipment maintenance issues, even manufacturers originally neglected the corrosion concern with regard to the spreader's motor, which remained exposed to the elements. Since that time, a number of poly manufacturers have taken the extra step of enclosing and sealing the motor, thus protecting the battery and terminal contacts, and making the poly spreader a truly corrosion-resistant unit.
Another advantage provided by poly-constructed equipment is the non-stick characteristics of the material itself. Since poly is an oil-based product, it naturally keeps the inside of the hopper slick, which promotes a free flow of materials
While poly may have begun as an upstart idea for a better winter maintenance product, it has developed into a major force in the industry. Manufacturers that want to stay in business must listen to their customers — and customers have had plenty of good things to say about poly.