26 November 1999

HEDGE CUTTERS A HOME-GROWN SUCCESS STORY

Much of the UK machinery

market is dominated by

imports, and in some

sectors – including

combines, balers and

self-propelled forage

harvesters – the option to

buy British no longer exists,

but we still have some

success stories, and hedge

cutters is one of them

OFFICIAL statistics for tractor-mounted hedge cutter sales in Britain are not available, but the estimate from the top companies in the market puts the annual sales total at nearly 900 machines.

The total includes reach mowers used for cutting grass on banks and roadside verges, as these use the same design technology as hedge cutters and are often the same machines, but with special grass flails fitted.

British manufacturers hold the lions share of their home market. The figure for imports is probably about 10% of the UK sales total – or as little as 5% according to one estimate – and British built machines have also generated a healthy export business.

Plenty to cut

One of the reasons for the strength of hedge cutter manufacturing in Britain is that we have plenty of hedges to cut – in fact we probably have more than any other country – providing a strong home market for the five makers based in the UK.

The importance of farm hedges also explains why much of the development work which produced the modern flail type hedge cutter started here, giving the British companies a head start against their rivals.

McConnel has been making hedge cutters for 65 years, starting with a circular saw type cutting head, and claims to have pioneered the development of parallel arm geometry for this type of machine more than 30 years ago.

"We would certainly claim to be the world leader in hedge cutter development and production," says McConnel sales executive, Christian Davies. "We are also the market leader in Britain, and McConnel machines are well established in overseas markets. About 35% of our production is exported, selling in 47 countries worldwide, and France is easily our biggest export market."

McConnel was taken over in 1991 by the Alamo company of America, and in 1994 Alamo also bought Bomford & Evershed, now called Bomford Turner. The first Bomford hedge cutters were built 35 years ago, and since then the company claims to have made important contributions to the development of improved control systems.

This started in about 1980 in a collaborative project with engineers at Aston University, Birmingham, to investigate the use of micro-processors for controlling the main hedge cutter functions. This was followed by their first joystick type multi-function control lever and more recently by the EPP electronic systems giving a proportional or gradual response for more precise positioning of the flail head.

Although Bomford and McConnel as well as most of the other UK manufacturers including Econ and Twose have been making hedge cutters for many years, it seems there are still opportunities for new arrivals to muscle into the market.

Spearhead Machinery started making hedge cutters and reach mowers as recently as four years ago, and they are already claiming almost one-third of UK sales, while about 33% of their production total is exported.

Cables plus hydraulics

The Spearhead Excel and Orbital series machines are unusual in using cable plus hydraulic proportional control systems instead of the more usual cable-electric operation.

Econ Engineerings speciality is a mid-mounted design, using a subframe to attach the loader to the tractor. This is claimed to give increased stability when the arm is fully extended, and it also positions the cutting head further forward to give the operator a better view without turning to the rear.

Another method of bringing the cutting action forward for easier visibility from the tractor seat is to add a forward extension or a cranked section to the arm of the hedge cutter, and this is available from most manufacturers including Twose. The Twose S series hedge cutters announced at the end of last year also feature a new slim section hydraulic tank design to bring the machine closer to the back of the tractor, reducing the minimum lift capacity and bringing the cutting head forward. &#42