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Having the right equipment is a must for being able to efficiently and safely tackle jobs. However, since new equipment is a big investment, contractors need to be able to vet a piece of machinery before purchase.

State of the Industry survey respondents ranked the most important factors that influence their decisions when purchasing new equipment. Respondents noted that knowing and trusting the brand from previous experience was the most important factor influencing purchasing decisions, followed by being able to test the equipment and feel comfortable with it, new technology advancements that promise to make work easier, whether or not the equipment promises a high return on investment and having the equipment recommended by a trusted dealer or peer.

Graham said return on investment is a big factor in his company’s purchasing decisions, and that the company takes extra precautions to do its homework on the front end to help bring clarity to its purchasing process.

“We're not heavy into the yellow iron, but in some of the smaller equipment that we use, it's all about doing our research,” he said. “We want to go out and get the biggest bang for our buck, but that doesn't mean we just look for what’s the cheapest.”

Knightly said his company likes to see equipment up close and personal before investing. He favors going to trade shows and conventions when he has a big purchase to make, which affords him the opportunity to get some one-on-one time with different vendors and learn the intricacies of various pieces.

“I go to conventions and trade shows and talk with the manufacturers,” he said. “The reason that is typically my company’s strategy is because when you're back home, you don't have the time, you're working, you're out on the road, you're bidding, you're estimating, you're doing all the other things to keep the business running. When you get to an industry trade show, you have the equipment right there, and you have the most knowledgeable people in the industry to talk to—the reps.”

According to Marcus Barnes, excavator product specialist at Bulle, Switzerland-based Liebherr, contractors should feel comfortable seeking out equipment vendors at tradeshows and for in-person visits to become better acquainted with equipment.

“From our side, regardless of who the customer is and what the job is, we'll send somebody out on-site to show them how to use the equipment or tell them what to know about it,” Barnes said. “It’s not about showing contractors how to do their work, but we show them all the safety principles, all the bells and whistles and all the features that make them better at what they do.”

To help increase ease of operation, manufacturers are working to develop equipment that is more user friendly. Today, things like remote-controlled technologies, intuitive controls and safety features such as more advanced onboard cameras and sensors are standard issue on a number of new machines.

Besides allowing contractors to be more efficient, these advanced technologies could also help play a role in attracting younger workers to demolition in the coming years, according to Barnes.

“We're trying to make the machines friendlier for a new generation of operators coming up who grew up playing video games and working with computers, so all the controls are designed with this in mind,” he said.

While there is no magic fix to remedy all the issues affecting the industry, Knightly said new equipment design could present a way to mitigate worker shortages while simultaneously keeping workers safer on the job.

“If I can keep my guy out of harm's way, for instance taking down a building remotely with an excavator, that's what I want to do,” he said. “It might not be practical for every application, but it is the biggest thing that I would like to see.”

Walter Reeves, project manager in the excavators division at Gothenburg, Sweden-based Volvo Construction Equipment, said that beyond relying on new technologies, contractors should take advantage of equipment representatives and trainers to continuously refine on-the-job training programs to promote workplace safety.

“You have to help protect the workforce as best you can because it can be dangerous,” he said. “We have train the trainer programs all the time. It's all about helping those guys who are out in the field as much as you can.”