SUAMICO – Driving on steep slopes, rough terrain, dangerous landscapes, weeds and tall grass with a lawn mower can be difficult and dangerous.
But a Suamico business doesn’t just provide a solution, it creates jobs and supports other businesses in northeast Wisconsin.
RC Mowers says its machines can make work easy and safe. The company builds remote-controlled lawnmowers that can roam any terrain, all day, without a driver. They are also all made in the USA, headquartered at 2146 E. Deerfield Ave. E.
Michael Brandt, CEO of RC Mowers, is an aerospace engineer who worked for Lockheed Martin for eight years as director of technical development. He is an expert in interior collision dynamics and has worked on numerous safety certifications and aircraft interior approvals.
“Airplanes are very, very strict on safety, it was kind of the bridge that got me to this side,” Brandt said. “I’ve applied a lot of those lessons to our products.”
Brandt thought of two major problems to solve with his design. First, separate the operator from the lawnmower – the heavy machine could seriously injure or kill someone if it were to run over. In 2021, 71,293 people in the United States were injured by lawn mowers. Of these, 9,954 needed hospital care; according to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission through its National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The report collects data from 96 hospitals across the country and indicates that common injuries result from blade lacerations and blunt impacts.
Second, Brandt wanted to build a machine with technology to help the operator make decisions while climbing steep grades and dangerous terrain. He designed the machine himself in his garage.
Today, the company has 40 employees, the vast majority of whom are from the region, Brandt said. He also made the strategic decision to partner with other companies in the state, and specifically in northeastern Wisconsin, to purchase the parts. They assemble the machines at their headquarters in Suamico.
“All of our manufacturing is outsourced,” he explained. “We specifically decided not to invest in lasers, press breaks, paint reinforcement and welders. We decided there were enough people and companies here who are well qualified to do that. “
Only a few items are outsourced, such as electrical components and wheel rubber. Everything else, “the metal, the fuel tank and the plastic parts,” he said, is made in the United States.
The company offers three models:
- The TK-44E, a compact design that mows up to a 45 degree slope, cuts bush up to half an inch in diameter, has a 63 inch working width and weighs 1,220 pounds.
- The TK-52XP, a mid-size machine and considered the best seller, can work on a 50 degree slope and handle bushes up to 1½ inches in diameter, has a working width of 78 inches and weighs 1,790 books.
- And the “most versatile” TK-60XP, which is a bit taller, can also handle a 50-degree slope and 1½-inch-diameter bushes, has an 86-inch working width, and weighs 1,855 pounds.
All models have a camera which can be viewed on an LCD screen in the remote control. The control is water resistant, has a 20 hour run time, a 900 megahertz system and a signal range of 1,000 feet.
The smallest model costs $37,950, the medium $57,950 and the largest $62,950.
“It’s not a hobby machine,” Brandt said. “It’s intended for commercial and heavy-duty work.”
The smaller model can be used for golf course maintenance and roadside mowing.
The size of these machines and the price are some of the reasons why most RC Mowers customers are large commercial contractors, municipalities and transportation departments.
The company sold 400 units through authorized dealers throughout the United States and other countries including Australia and Canada.
Timothy Cowder, owner of Mighty Mouse Services in North Carolina – a construction company specializing in vegetation management and state-certified for stormwater inspection and maintenance – uses a TX-52XP. He does a lot of brush clearing, land clearing, site preparation, drainage and storm water retention work.
“Basically, we’re going where no one else can go,” he said.
The TX-52XP can be used in most places it works, and it’s also very easy to use, he explained.
“Everyone knows how to use a joystick, with all these games,” he said.
If something serious were to happen on a job site – perhaps the grass is too high to see ahead and the machine falls into a ravine or a hole – “no one gets hurt”, he said.
Along with being easy to handle, there’s also an attractive cost element, Cowder said. For projects where he could use bigger equipment, like an excavator or brushcutter, he could also use the remote control mower – and the latter is a third of the cost.
“The biggest downside to this machine is having to stop and talk to people for an hour and a half,” he joked. “Because (the lawnmower) seems to work on its own, you know, like a UFO or something.”
Over the past three years, Brandt and his team have been working on adding some level of autonomy to the mowers to help in certain situations, while leaving full control to the operator. He also said that technology adjacent to the battery is coming.
“It’s a reality, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But what we didn’t want to do was burden our technology with too much new stuff.”
He explained that when you introduce too many things at once, you end up introducing too many failure points.
“So we got really good at remote control, really good at autonomy; now we’re ready to get into another technology,” Brandt said.
Two years ago, RC Mowers was still a startup, but it’s grown noticeably and they’ve doubled their revenue every year, Brandt said.
The company also recently opened a new $4.8 million office and production facility adjacent to the original headquarters. Brandt said this new building will allow them to expand their operations, have more storage and continue to improve their products.
Ariel Perez is a business reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. You can reach him at [email protected] or check out his Twitter profile at @Ariel_Perez85