Sapphire proving a
Simon Newberrys likes and dislikes
Likes Power, suspension, cab layout, boom design and build, attention to detail, overall build quality.
Dislikes Lack of boom greasing points, inlet plumbing (self-modified), rear view mirrors (changed on current models), wheel hop when climbing or descending steep slopes (wheelslip control option now available).
When Gem Sprayers pitched into the highly competitive self-propelled sprayer market at the 1994 Royal Smithfield Show the company expected its Sapphire to make its mark – but not quite to the extent that it has. Peter Hill reports
BASED on a bare specification sheet, the Gem Sapphire self-propelled sprayer is not that different from a number of other, longer-established such machines. Yet the new blue and red contender from Lincs-based Gem Sprayers has sold better than expected, says managing director Mike Would.
"We planned to build a dozen last year but between January and the end of October, we sold 40 examples and we are now completing our 65th Sapphire," he says.
Some of this can be put down to a big increase in demand for self-propelled sprayers and what might be described as competitive pricing to encourage early buyers. But the use of proven power and transmission components must also have given early buyers confidence to invest in a machine without a proven track record.
Among them was Hants spraying contractor Simon Newberry. "I was very impressed with the prototypes standard of build and finish," he says. "I have run a Gem demount sprayer on a couple of Fastracs for some years so I knew the spraying equipment and boom would be OK. And I trusted Gem would get the other bits right, too."
The "other bits" of the Sapphire amount to a liquid cooled Deutz diesel engine – a six-cylinder turbo delivering 124hp and 500-hour service intervals – and a Poclain hydro-static drive system with engine-mounted pump and individual dual displacement wheel motors.
"We learned a lot from Poclain and did everything they suggested in terms of the oil grade, cooling and filtration," says Mike Would. "We also offer laboratory analysis of the oil at every service to help reliability."
Hydraulic power to the front and rear wheels can be divided unequally to help the machine climb and descend steep banks, and an electronically-controlled anti-wheelslip system is a new option.
Simon Newberrys 2500-litre Sapphire has performed reliably over the 700 hours it has completed since arriving at his workshop and machinery store near Basingstoke.
"There really have been very few problems and none of a major nature, both in terms of reliability and design," he says. "We have changed one or two things but I suppose that is inevitable on a machine of this type."
His custom modifications include fitting the larger and more substantially mounted rear-view mirrors from the JCB Fastrac and adding boom controls to the hydrostatic drive control lever – both ideas that have since been adopted by Gem. Modified inlet pipework with a flowmeter simplifies filling and enables an accurate check to be kept on tank contents.
Mr Newberry, and regular operator during the year Andrew Tucker, highlight the quality of finish and attention to detail, such as the storage box in the front bumper moulding, being able to use the screen wash reservoir as a hand-wash and the layout of the electrical junction box, which is lit when its door is opened.
Instrumentation is comprehensive, though some functions are duplicated across the RDS vehicle and sprayer control boxes set into two pods either side of the steering column. There, they are in the drivers line of sight but visibility and touch-pad access are hampered by the steering wheel to some extent.
"The cable controlled hydrosta-tic drive is very progressive, though I miss the reassurance of a foot brake when travelling on the road, and there is plenty of power from the engine and hydrostatic drive for climbing banks or maintaining a good road speed," he says.
"I am also impressed with the suspension, which softens the bumps you get with rigid axles. It makes driving on the road and in the field more comfortable." Self-damping, progressive rate Aeon rubber suspension units on a simple swinging arm axle arrangement get the credit for these characteristics. Similar units are used to dampen boom yaw movement.
The vehicles selectable two-wheel, four-wheel and crab-steer options give easy straight line travel down tramlines and tight turns on headlands, and a neat safety feature is the way the parking brake has to be applied for the powered cab access steps to be lowered.
The boom design incorporates some of Simon Newberrys own ideas to cope with different tramline spacings. "It folds out sideways then has two flip-over sections, giving working widths of 12m, 18m and 24m, with a 1m fold-out section on each side to take the 18m configuration to 20m, plus 0.5m bolt-on extensions for 21m," he explains.
On past experience, the boom should be strong enough, though he sees the lack of pivot grease nipples as a retrograde step, particularly since the sprayer is frequently power washed to keep it clean and tidy. *
The Sapphires spray system valves are positioned down one side of the machine, with pipes housed neatly behind a one-piece cover.
Setting vehicle and spray instruments into two pods is neat and in the drivers line of sight – but steering wheel and hands mask the readings. Current models have spray buttons incorporated on a hydrostatic control lever.
Simon Newberrys Gem Sapphire 2500L has proved a reliable investment in its first year, impressing with good build quality and design detail.