9 March 2001


Keeping a fleet of 16 self-propelled forage harvesters and

32 tractors in tip-top condition dictates that extensive

workshop facilities are a must. Geoff Ashcroft looked at

how one Lancashire contractor manages its fleet

WITH workshop facilities that would put many an agricultural dealership to shame, Wilsons Contractors of Samlesbury near Preston, Lancashire, is suitably well-equipped to deal with all manner of maintenance, repair or breakdown situations that could arise from running an extensive machinery fleet.

The Wilson operation, run by Harry Wilson, extends to about 4047ha (10,000 acres) of grass and maize silaging, nationwide forager hire, plus an 800ha (2000 acres) farming operation which is split between farms in Lincolnshire and Shropshire.

Such a business requires a significant investment in machinery. The firms mostly John Deere tractor fleet – there are four New Holland tractors in a 32-strong line-up – ranges from 100hp 6310s up to 175hp 7810s. Wilsons 16 self-propelled Claas Jaguar foragers are a mix of 320hp 840s (x8), 380hp 860s (x6) a 438hp 870 and a 605hp 900 model. Twelve are for hire, with four used on the firms own silage making operation.

Then theres 16, 12-tonne capacity silage trailers, eight John Deere trailed mower conditioners, six Claas Liner rakes, six Claas Volto tedders, plus round and square balers, wrapping equipment, cultivation equipment and a Lexion combine. The list is endless, and it all needs to be maintained.

"Forager maintenance is our most labour intensive task and at the end of each season, we need to spend about a week going through each machine in preparation for the next season," explains Gary Cothliff, workshop foreman at Wilsons. "Its no good stripping a forager down at the back of a windy damp barn – good facilities are essential."

Mr Cothliff reckons the firms tractors and machinery are much less demanding to maintain, but service intervals soon come round when equipment is busy.

At Church House Farm, Samlesbury, Mr Cothliff and his colleagues rely on two large workshop buildings, nicknamed Claas Country – each has the space to accommodate up to three foragers. At the far end of one workshop is steel racking, built to store headers from the forager fleet, then theres a collection of chopping cylinders, feed roller assemblies and corn crackers neatly arranged on the other side of the workshop floor.

"It all comes apart for inspection and lubrication – but you need to keep track of all the parts so they go back in to the machine they came out of," says Mr Cothliff. "And its essential to store these parts undercover."

Workshop equipment extends to lathes, milling machines, press brake, sheet metal guillotine, metal folding equipment, pedestal drills and hydraulic presses, plus the more usual array of different welding sets, specialist tools and a comprehensive assortment of spanners and sockets. Theres even the facility to respray equipment on-site.

"If we need to make alterations to a machine or modify a piece of equipment, we can do it," he says.

One workshop has an inspection pit thats rarely used, and Mr Cothliff would like to install an hydraulic inspection ramp capable of raising a forager to a height of about 1.5m off the ground, instead of having to crawl under equipment.

"We need to make a few subtle alterations to the existing workshop facilities to make machine maintenance that little bit simpler," he says.

For the statistically minded, the Wilsons workshop operation has the ability to consume the occasional litre of oil and a few engine and hydraulic filters; for the record, its about 13,600 litres (3000 gall) of oil each year, and in excess of 1000 filters.

"We buy a lot of consumables, but bulk buying helps to keep our costs down," he says. "We buy the best quality at the right price, and if manufacturers can supply consumables at a competitive price, then well buy them. A five pence per litre saving from buying oil in bulk soon adds up."

Mr Cothliff cites the firms stock of grease as an example of successful bulk buying. "About eight years ago, we bought 30 tonnes of grease at the right price – in 28kg and 56kg containers – were still using it now, and its proving to be cheap lubrication," he says.

The firms stores is a similarly equipped example.

"Our stock of spares amounts to about £80,000 worth of parts at any one time. "We cannot afford to be without parts when people rely on our machines and our service backup in the event of a crisis," he says. "If a forager breaks down and the weather is about to change, waiting for parts to be delivered from Germany is no longer a good enough excuse for our customers."

"We can travel 25 miles in any direction before we find a machinery dealer, so a good stock of spares is essential," he says. "And were quite accessible for a lot of local farmers, too."

"When foragers are out on hire, the onus is on the hirer to carry out daily maintenance on the machine, with any serious problems or warranty issues being dealt with by the nearest available dealer," he says. "Even if we had vans kitted out as mobile workshops, we could not service the fleet entirely by ourselves when its all out working. It would be a geographical nightmare."

When the workshop facilities are not kept busy maintaining machinery – and Mr Cothliff reckons its not very often – the firm also embarks on fabrication work, which includes the production of steel-framed farm buildings and the manufacture of farm gates. &#42

Workshop foreman Gary Cothliff: "We stock over £80,000 worth of spare parts."

About 13,600 litres (3000gals) of oil and more than 1000 filters used each year. The company has also purchased 30t of grease.

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