Six years ago we visited biosolids and compost spreading contractor FGS Agri to learn about the fleet of five-wheeled, self-propelled Terragator muckspreaders the company had invested in.
Things have changed a bit since then, with the arrival of two very different machines.
“We had been running Terragators for 15 years – three-wheelers, four-wheelers and five-wheelers – but the service had slipped and so in 2012 we tried the Vredo,” explains contracts manager Bert Essink.
“It suited us well – and, being Dutch, I spoke the language. We got on well so the following year we took delivery of a 400hp Trac 3936 kitted out with a 17cu m Tebbe body. It has proved to be an excellent machine, although its capacity doesn’t quite match our five big 20cu m Terragators.”
So when the time came to look for a replacement for the five-wheelers last year, Vredo was a strong contender – especially with Challenger having pulled out of building Terragators.
It just so happened that at the time the Dutch firm was looking for operators to test its new 544hp model fitted with a home-built CVT transmission. FGS agreed to take a prototype machine, fitted with a 20cu m Tebbe body, on evaluation.
The high-capacity tractor unit’s vital statistics look pretty impressive on paper. A 16-litre Deutz V8 motor provides the muscle driving Vredo’s own in-house developed stepless gearbox. Omsi axles with big disc brakes allow four-wheel steering and provide plenty of stopping power.
They are hung on hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension, which means the machine can travel faster across rough ground but also that weight is distributed more evenly across all four wheels.
Similarly, the Claas-sourced cab is suspended on air-bags via a clever parallelogram set-up that means it travels up and down in a vertical plane only, rather than rocking forwards and back, left-to-right.
“Solids spreading is all about maintaining forward speed. The new Vredo is so much better for climbing the long, slow banks on the downland where we spend a lot of our time,” says Mr Essink.
“The new gearbox doesn’t seem to sap power like the old hydrostatic set-up and it will easily out-run the powershift Terragators. Because you’re always in the right gear, the machine always pulls at the lowest possible revs, which means there’s heaps of torque. That has a big impact on fuel use.”
Generally, through the course of a working day the Terragators will guzzle 33-35 litres/hour, while the four-year-old hydrostatic Vredo will get through 26-28 litres/hour. The CVT-equipped prototype runs closer to 21-23 litres/hour.
“The first Vredo was brilliant for its simplicity – you can fix just about anything electrical so long as you’ve got have a multimeter,” says Mr Essink.
“If a wheel motor goes, you’re back up and running within a day – unlike the Terragators’ powershift box, which takes weeks to repair.
“The hydrostat is simple and a lot cheaper than the CVT – that’s my biggest reservation about the new machine.”
What about reliability?
Being such a new pre-production machine, the Vredo prototype has inevitably had teething troubles, mostly in its connection with the Tebbe spreader.
- Rated power 544hp
- Engine 15.98-litre Deutz V8
- Transmission Vredo stepless CVT, 50kph
- Axles Omsi 4WS with locking diffs front and rear
- Suspension Hydro-pneumatic self-levelling axles with cab air suspension
- Tyres Mitas 1250/50 R32s
- Hydraulics2 x 190 litres/min, 200bar Sauer Danfoss load-sensing pumps
- Turning circle 14.3m
- Unladen weight 19.5t
With 400hp going directly through the pto, the standard overrun clutch lasted only one month. FGS quickly identified the issue and replaced it with a much beefier cam-clutch.
While the Vredo uses Keverneland’s touchscreen Tellus terminal to handle all the tractor unit’s functions, the Tebbe has an RDS control box.
Initially there were issues with communications, but they were sorted fairly quickly. That said, it is still not possible to use the Trimble GPS system to steer the machine and vary spread rates – something Vredo is working on.
As regards other changes to the prototype, the RDS rate controller needs to be able to run the spreader at higher rates to cater for the Vredo’s faster pace in the field. It is also due a hydraulic pump upgrade to generate more oilflow to run the bed faster, as well as all the machine’s other functions.
The Tebbe spreader has been purpose-designed for the new Vredo and has a clever headboard arrangement that increases capacity by 2t.
Mounted on hydraulic rams, the pivoting headboard tips from a forward-raked position to near vertical as the bed empties. This makes use of the space over the bulky AdBlue exhaust system behind the cab, and improves weight distribution as the spreader empties.
From an operator’s point of view, the Dutch machine is a massive step forward. “I have driven a Terragator for a number of years, and the Vredo is luxury,” explains driver Brian Charlton.
“The biggest thing is noise – I can actually hear to talk on the phone and at the end of the day you don’t get out of the cab with your ears ringing. The controls are really simple too – the Kverneland touchscreen, RDS rate controller and Trimble EZ Guide all work brilliantly – it’s just a shame they don’t talk to each other properly.
“Servicing is easy – there are just four grease nipples on the prop-shafts, everything else is looked after by autolube. Really the key difference is manoeuvrability. My headlands are a quarter of the size of the guys’ on the Terragators and without that long bonnet, pulling out on to the road is so much safer.”
What about comfort?
The on-the-move tyre inflation system is good for improving comfort on the road and maintaining traction in the field, but on side-slopes it has a tendency to redistribute air from the downhill side to the opposite wheels. Consequently the taps are kept closed at all times unless changing pressure.
Slightly counter-intuitively, the 1,250mm-wide Mitas tyres are run at lower pressure on the road than in the field.
That’s to stop bounce and ensure the machine gets from site to site as quickly as possible – important for FGS, which covers a patch that spreads from Dover to Salisbury plain.
Comfort is so good that one operator would rather travel in the Vredo than the gang’s pick-up.
Would you buy another Vredo?
“I’m completely sold on this new CVT but I would also like to see a simpler hydrostatic machine that is cheaper to buy and run,” says Mr Essink.
“The most noticeable advantage both Vredos have is manoeuvrability. Unlike the five-wheelers, any gateway a pick-up can get in through, they’ll follow. With smaller headlands and less shunting at the heap, that has a big impact on output.
“We have a good relationship with Vredo and get better service and parts back-up from Holland than we did from Challenger, so I would have no hesitation in having another.”