As most of us know all too well, the concrete polishing industry changes often and rather quickly. If you don’t stay up-to-date within every six months or so, you’re likely to lose touch with trends and developments that can affect your ability to stay competitive, or even worse, miss an opportunity to even compete in an entirely new market.
World of Concrete 2019 had an outstanding turnout and good weather to boot, which made for a great showcase to highlight these ever-changing opportunities. One of the most prominent new additions to the polishing industry was polishing using a power trowel.
To be fair, polishing concrete floors utilizing a ride-on or walk-behind power trowel outfitted with diamond tooling or abrasives isn’t a “new” method. The concept has been around for almost a decade. However, there has been a shift in the industry utilizing these processes and more and more contractors are realizing the appeal of saving time and creating a source of income that has otherwise been unavailable in the past. As competition continues to grow fiercely for concrete polished floors in the 10,000-50,000 square foot market, contractors look for advantages and growth opportunities. Ride-on power trowel polishing can offer solutions in both of these categories.
The largest advantage of power trowel polishing is time savings. This is crucial to most contractors, as labor burdens can affect the bottom line quickly with unforeseen project delays. Most power trowel systems are estimated to provide as much as 10,000 square feet per day for a turn-key five- or six-step polishing process. This is massive compared to traditional grinder methods providing approximately 1,000-2,000 square feet per machine per day. For example, one skilled operator on an eight to ten-foot riding power trowel can produce 10 times the finished floor compared to an equally skilled operator equipped with a 32-inch grinder. Even if four large 32-inch grinders are on the same project, the skilled operator with the power trowel machine still has a 50 percent advantage to produce more work.
The other major advantage of power trowel polishing systems is that it appears to have opened up an entirely new market for the polishing industry; very large-format projects that are in the 100,000 to 1,000,000 square foot range. These types of floors would normally receive a light scrub and densification at best, or possibly a low-cost sealer. With the speed and lower labor cost advantages of power trowel polishing, polishing contractors are able to offer economical floors with a low-gloss appearance, better long-term performance and a lower cost of ownership to owners of large warehouses than “sealed” floors.
In fairness, we must acknowledge the limitations of power trowel polishing systems. Currently, they are all wet grinding systems with some restrictions on aggregate exposure and high “gloss” finishes. Most power trowel systems lack the weight and/or tooling pressure to expose aggregate on a consistent basis like traditional grinders. Also, the final results of a power trowel polished floor often can’t compare with the aesthetics of a traditional high-quality ground, honed and polished floor. But then again, these types of polished floors aren’t utilized in an average industrial/manufacturing sector for concrete polishing market on a day-to-day basis.
Appealing to Contractors
When thinking about who could use and benefit from this technology, of course the first group that comes to mind would be polishing contractors. They already understand how polishing a floor works, they know the steps involved and time required. Power trowel polishing would definitely open up a new area of revenue for this contractor. But who else could benefit?
Polishing contractors that are used to providing higher-end floors with better aesthetics such as high-gloss and high DOI (distinctness of image) can integrate power trowel systems into their process and still realize some of the labor and time savings. For instance, one could utilize traditional grinders for the initial grinding steps to flatten the floor surface and/or expose large aggregate. Then, they could send that crew ahead to another project while they bring in a one to two power trowel system to hone and prep for the final polishing, and then complete the process with traditional grinders to provide the high-gloss and DOI specified for the project. This so-called hybrid process would still save considerable time and money for the project while freeing up crews/grinders for additional projects – all while keeping the schedule flowing smoothly.
In addition to traditional and specialty polishing contractors, contractors specializing in placing and finishing concrete for large square foot projects can now offer their clientele an additional service while generating additional revenue utilizing equipment that they (probably) already own. What more could a contractor ask for?
Most of the power trowel systems available today seem to be similar in concept, attaching bonded abrasive diamond tools to the power trowels in lieu of finishing blades. There are some advantages, or disadvantages depending on your perspective/opinion, to fixed or quickly interchangeable tooling drivers, passive or active planetary actions and flexibility of the diamond tooling drivers. It appears the main sought-after feature is ease and speed of tooling changes, as well as high performance of the lower grit or hybrid diamond tooling.
The systems that appear to offer contractors the best results utilize quick tooling changes and flexible tool holders. Quick tooling changes are enabled through the use of strong magnets, which are fitted on the back of the tooling pad and on the driver. This makes it very easy to switch out the tooling. In addition to quick tooling changes, flexible tool holders are also beneficial as they allow the diamond tooling to flow with the floor’s surface. Due to the span of a typical riding trowel (eight to ten foot diameters), they do not reach low spots in the floor as easily as traditional grinders. Therefore, having the flexible tooling holders is certainly an advantage when polishing floors with low floor-flatness values.
One thing is certain, if power trowel polishing was previously thought of as a fad or temporary phase, it has proven itself to be a vital part of the economics of concrete polishing. Power trowel polishing systems will continue to be a focus for years to come as manufacturers continue to perfect their diamond tooling and processes.