Economies of Scale

June 1, 2001
Cut-off machines are indispensable tools on most construction, demolition and repair jobsites because of their unique functions and versatility. Not only

Cut-off machines are indispensable tools on most construction, demolition and repair jobsites because of their unique functions and versatility. Not only can they make cuts through concrete, asphalt, plastic and steel, but they are also effective for more labor-intensive jobs, such as cutting wall openings, squaring patch perimeters and cutting rebar and post-tensioning cables.

Due to the versatility of these products, many contractors opt to rent a cut-off machine that will meet the requirements of a particular job, rather than committing to the purchase of a single machine for their hard surface cutting needs. Furthermore, with the current state of the economy, owners and dealers can expect an increase in product rentals as consumers shy away from equipment expenditures. So what factors do you consider when choosing a cut-off machine for your fleet?

User-friendly features

When choosing which cut-off machines to stock in your rental fleet, think about the needs of your customers. Ease of operation will be high on your customers' list of important features. After all, these users are normally performing grueling jobs on demolition or construction sites; the last thing they want to think about is a complicated machine. For that reason, there are several user-friendly features you should look for in a cut-off machine.

First consider weight. Just because cut-off machines are used to cut through tough materials like concrete and stone doesn't mean they must be unwieldy as well. Many cut-off machines these days are lightweight and durable, with some coming in just under 20 lbs. Look for a machine with a superior power-to-weight ratio, which will ensure good performance at a lighter weight.

Many cut-off machines offer features that are designed to reduce operator fatigue and increase comfort. A machine that includes several anti-vibration elements will be easier to use and could increase productivity. In addition, several manufacturers also offer carts that will convert the hand-held machine to a walk behind. This ability is particularly useful for jobs that require long straight cuts, such as cutting expansion joints in road surfaces and squaring off edges in asphalt.

Keeping in mind that all operators should be outfitted in the proper protective wear, some manufacturers have designed their products to be easily operated while wearing protective gloves. For that reason, they have positioned some of the more important switches on or near the handle, such as the decompression valve, the choke and the on/off switch. Operators will find this configuration very convenient.

Dust is an enemy of all gas-powered cut-off machines; if it gets into the engine, it will wear down the piston, cylinder and bearings. Some companies offer attachments that prevent complications caused by dust.

A note on safety. Always hand out the proper owner's manual, or at least a safety manual with each rental, and explain the correct operation of the power tool to your customers. In addition, offer protective gear to each operator, including goggles, gloves, respirator and leather chaps/vest for metal grinding operations.


While premium quality products tend to require a larger initial investment, they reduce your costs in the long run with less maintenance and repair costs. Quality products allow you to command higher rental rates and protect the reputation of your store.

With quality comes superior durability; knowing what features are important to the life of a cut-off machine is beneficial. For example, any cut-off machine you consider should have an unobstructed air intake area to allow for maximum engine cooling. Several machines come with the starter assembly over this area, which could prevent the machine from functioning at maximum capacity. Another important feature is the air filtration system. Most cut-off machines have multiple filters that can provide protection from dirty air by filtering dust and other harmful particles before reaching the carburetor.

Your best bet is to stick with a quality manufacturer that has a broad product line. Not only will you benefit from the reduced transaction costs of using the same parts source, but you will also be able to reap the benefits of the manufacturer's economies of scale. For example, some outdoor power equipment manufacturers use the same accessories in their entire line of products (i.e. one cart that fits all machines) or you could reduce your costs by purchasing a cut-off machine from a company that uses the same oil-to-gas mixture and spark plugs on all of its products.

Easy field maintenance

In order to realize more profit from your equipment, stock your fleet with products that are easy to maintain, allowing for quick turnaround time between rentals. With that in mind, rental dealers should stock cut-off machines whose parts can be consistently and rapidly accessed. Tools should not be needed to clean an outer air filter or access the spark plug. Furthermore, products that need only one tool for regular field maintenance will prove to be the most convenient and efficient products to have in your rental fleet.

Even the best machines sometimes require replacement parts. It is important to choose a brand that is backed by adequate parts distribution services. This distribution must provide prompt delivery and at a high fill rate in order to reduce unproductive down time.

The availability of the proper machine for the application can extend the effectiveness of the rental fleet with a minimum investment. With this in mind, it is important that the rental dealer consider the numerous projects that require the use of a cut-off machine, as well as the key product features, quality, support and field maintenance to keep their customers coming back again and again.

Thompson is the industrial and accessories product manager for Stihl in Virginia Beach, Va.