FACING UP TO DOWNTURN
There is no pretending that 1998 has been a good year on the agricultural machinery front. A strong £ and low prices have combined to take the heart out of the market to the extent that tractor sales – the yardstick of the machinery industry – currently run at some 40% less volume than last year.
This year has also seen a number of changes at dealer level as the big four tractor
manufacturers continue to gain full-line status and strive to insist on brand loyalty throughout. Latest trends in tractor design include
the introduction of front suspension and
computer-based fault finding systems – both of which were virtually unheard of only a few years ago. Front suspension, now offered by the majority of tractor manufacturers – at least as an option – claims to improve
operator comfort and help with traction.
Self-diagnosis of problems within a tractor clearly offers some advantages – early
awareness of failures which could lead to more
dramatic and expensive problems, constant monitoring of tractor systems, and, in most cases, a sustained record of tractor
performance throughout its life.
Of course, the decision to purchase a new
tractor is not for most a decision taken lightly. What power it should be, what breed it should be and what costs are involved are important considerations as, indeed are its running costs and whether the purchase can be justified.
Those currently bandying these ideas about could find the thoughts of FARMERS WEEKLY farms manager John Lambkin a helpful read as he discusses his tractor purchasing policy.
TELEPORTERS GEARUP FORSMOOTHCHANGE
Telehandler manufacturers continue to improve
specifications – particularly in the transmissions
department. Peter Hill reviews recent newcomers
THE telehandler drivers lot is getting easier as more manufacturers offer powershift transmissions on their machines.
Offered, to some extent, as a foil to the seamless acceleration provided by hydrostatic drive machines, powershift gives the driver greater flexibility in the way the handler is operated than when limited to conventional lever gear selection.
With hands already occupied operating steering wheel and hydraulic controls, and gear levers usually tucked away out of easy reach, drivers of manual gearbox telehandlers rarely take the trouble to select different gears.
That tends to force a compromise; selecting a low gear to provide good digging ability when manure loading, for example, produces a lack of speed when travelling from heap to spreader. Not much of a problem when the two are close together, but a time waster when further apart.
At the same time, economy suffers thanks to much revving of the engine as the driver aims to crank up a decent turn of speed.
With powershift, gears can be changed more easily and quickly to suit contrasting needs – and with auto shifting engaged, the process can be left to the machine, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering and boom/implement operation.
Powershift was first offered mainly on articulated steer handlers, perhaps because of their "loading shovel" characteristics. But Sanderson was quick to adopt the technology for its four-wheel steer Teleporters and other companies have since followed suit.
On the latest Teleporter line-up, now turned out in Claas colours, the top two models offer a choice of conventional or powershift transmissions. The 975 tops the range, in terms of reach, lifting 3t to 7m (23ft), while the newcomer 974 is the biggest lifter in the range, carrying a 3.2t load to 6.2m.
The purpose of the new model is not so much to extend the lift capacity of the range but to produce a model that is a little more compact than the 975 – achieved by the simple expedient of shortening the telescopic boom to reduce overall length.
There are now nine variants in the Claas Teleporter range, with lift capacities from 2.5t to 3.2t and lift heights from 5.3m to 7m (17ft 5in to 23ft). Buyers can opt for conventional four-lever hydraulic controls or the Solo single-lever system. The latter has push buttons for third-service accessories and a spring-loaded switch for boom telescope set into the top.
High torque-rise versions of the Perkins 106hp four-cylinder power units are now used on rigid chassis models to deliver extra performance.
Four-speed powershift is offered across the range on New Hollands four-model LM400 Series telehandler range, as well as servo joystick and standard multi-lever controls.
There are six LM400 variants in all; the LM410 2.8t/6m telehandler has a choice of power outputs (75hp and 106hp) and, with the more powerful motor, can be equipped with powershift. The LM420, lifting 3.2t to 6m (19ft 9in), has the more powerful engine and slicker gearbox as standard, while the LM430 – 3t to 7m (23ft) – packs the 106hp motor and can be had with either gearbox.
A high-lift variant, the LM640, which takes its 3t payload to 9m (29ft 6in), is aimed at construction users but will suit large-scale bale handling and stacking operations.
The New Holland handlers differ from their Manitou counterparts principally in terms of engines – while the French concern continues to favour Perkins, the newcomers have diesels from Iveco, New Hollands Fiat group compatriot.
Attachment designs and mountings are also unique to New Holland, though, and axles are reckoned to be a grade up. Differences in the powershift set-up suggest sprightlier acceleration at the expense of a few mph in top speed.
Neat design touches include an additional counterweight for heavier lift models shaped to form a guard for the engine cover.
JCB Landpowers latest addition, the 525-50, is the same size as its diminutive 2t lift counterpart but has bigger hydraulic cylinders and a heavier balance weight enabling it to take a 2.5t load to 5.09m (16ft 8in).
Heavier duty axles, stronger four-wheel steering components and mountings for bigger attachments are also part of the package, but the engine remains a 71hp Perkins diesel driving through a four-speed conventional gearbox and torque converter.
At only 1.8m (6ft) wide and less than 2.1m (7ft) high, the 520-50 and 525-50 are designed for regular handling duties in confined situations.
The machines share a wrap-around arm design, allowing a central cab mounted well forward on the chassis for best visibility. At full forward reach – 2.82m (9ft 3in) – the 525-50 will still lift 1t and there is sufficient performance to place a 1.5t pallet or big bag on the far side of a trailer.
Manufacturers of hydrostatic drive telehandlers have also been working on transmission developments, as evidenced by the choice of operating modes with Agcos expanded Massey Ferguson range and equivalent FDI-Sambron machines.
Two-speed hydrostatic drive gives progressive and infinitely variable speed control within "work" and "travel" ranges but there are also two response modes. In "fast response", the pump reacts quickly to changes in engine revs to give maximum acceleration. Thats ideal, says Agco, for shuttle work such as manure or grain handling.
With "slow response" selected, the pump reacts more slowly so there is a steadier build up of speed. That should be better for more delicate handling tasks and loads, such as pallets.
More compact dimensions and bigger lifting heights characterise new models in the Massey Ferguson line-up. All have side mounted engines and a low boom mounting for good all-round visibility.
Joining the existing 3t/7.11m MF8937 is a higher lifting version, mainly for construction and specialist agricultural use such as stacking big bales. The MF8939 takes its 3t maximum load to just under 7m (23ft) or 2t to 9m (29ft 6in). It will then go on to lift 1.9t to a heady 9.46m (30ft).
Of more appeal to stock farmers is the 2.5t/5.56m (18ft 3in) MF8925, and its higher lift counterpart, the MF8926. The latter model will also raise a 2.5t load but goes on to take 1.8t to 6.45m (21ft 2in) at full stretch.
All four machines share the same mechanical layout and power unit – a 106hp Perkins four-cylinder turbo powering hydrostatic drive – with only overall dimensions and performance distinguishing one model from another.
In the cab, a pod attached to the steering column carries instruments, vehicle control switches and stalks for lights (on the right side) and drive mode plus forward/reverse selection. A joystick control for the boom is standard with neat membrane switches for selecting third-service valves for attachment grabs and the like.
Criticism of its current smart but tall wheeled loaders has prompted German manufacturer Kramer to develop a range with agriculture more firmly in mind. And a factory-engineered telescopic version of the 60hp Kramer 418 is part of the line-up for the first time.
The new machines are narrower and lower than predecessors, with a slightly longer wheelbase for added stability. Revised bodywork allows dual wheels to be fitted for extra flotation on silage clamps.
Power units have switched from Deutz to Perkins 700-series and, like the MF/FDI-Sambron telehandlers, the hydrostatic transmission has selectable operating modes that extract different performance characteristics to suit different tasks.
In "power" mode, for example, the loader calls up extra digging force, says Kramer, while in "speed" mode, the machines have quicker acceleration.
Control changes include replacing the steering column mounted forward/reverse selector with a switch on the joystick loader control. That way, Kramer points out, the driver can keep one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the boom control at all times. *