Technology evolution over the last 10 years
Richard Comely is the director of international product development at Ransomes Jacobsen, with responsibility for the concept and design of new machinery across the Jacobsen business. He has teams of product managers based in Ipswich in the UK and Charlotte in North Carolina. Mr Comely looks at how turf maintenance equipment has developed over the past 10 years and where it could be heading in the next decade.
As with most other products we use on daily basis, the technology integrated into professional turf care products has changed significantly in the last decade. Digital technology is now the norm rather than the exception.
Nearly all professional mowers have had some sort of computer on board for the last ten years. Used mostly to provide and control safety systems and monitor performance, they also offer the opportunity to remove mechanical switches and move more towards digital switching. This reduces moving parts and eliminates devices such as relays and mechanical proximity sensors. Many electrical failures are caused by mechanical faults in the circuit and by removing moving parts reliability is improved; however, the challenge facing machinery manufacturers is how to protect these components from the harsh environments in which they function.
Digital control can also have the benefit of reducing the number of components in a machine, which has some benefit in saving weight, which has recently come into sharp focus as Tier IV legislation in North America has driven manufacturers to use smaller diesel engines. A further challenge for manufacturers is to maintain performance levels from these smaller engines.
A typical example of this evolution is the Jacobsen Eclipse 322. It was the first all diesel-electric hybrid greens mower. The key benefits from this hybrid technology are improved mechanical efficiency using electricity rather than hydraulic oil to power all of the systems; a significant reduction in fuel consumption and infinite control over the key operating functions of the machine. The benefits to the customer of this technology are features such as individual cutting unit lift and lower, adjustable clip rate, maximum cutting and transport speed control, digital fault diagnosis and speed sensitive steering. A key benefit is that there is no risk of a hydraulic leak on pristine grass surfaces.
Lighter weight can also be beneficially applied to hydraulically driven machines and this is also driven by the engine emission legislation and the demand for more fuel efficient machines. The new Ransomes MP series of wide area mowers uses high tensile lightweight steel. This technology, in addition to digital control and improved hydraulics, ensures the most efficient use of the available power. For example the 49hp Ransomes MP493’s wide area batwing rotary has the same capability of its predecessor, the Ransomes HR6010, which had a 60hp engine.
Safety features have also improved in the last 10 years with the integration of new technology. Slope mowing has always been a health and safety risk for machinery operators. Digital signals controlling various aspects of a mower’s function can be generated from different sources within the machine. Operator input is still maintained as it was 10 years ago; however, inputs from other devices mounted on the machine can also influence its operation.
For example the Ransomes TST (Tilt Stability Technology) senses the operating angle of the mower on a slope. Once the safe working angle is exceeded, signals are generated at various trigger points, which do everything from simply warning the operator to shutting down and lifting the cutting units to rebalance the machine.
In an even greater drive to improve safety, technology has allowed the industry to think about cutting grass in a new way. Ransomes was the first company to introduce a new technology when it became a distributor of the Spider mower in 2004. This innovative Czech-manufactured machine uses digital radio control removing the operator from the unit, thus distancing him/her from noise, vibration and the dangers of working on slopes. Since then, a whole range of machinery has been introduced into the market featuring this kind of technology.
Looking towards the future, digital inputs will continue to increase the efficient management of machinery. Spray vehicles already use GPS signals to ensure the most efficient spray patterns across a given area. The new Jacobsen Spraytek will utilise GPS to turn nozzles on and off individually, preventing overspray and expensive chemical wastage. In future, this will be enhanced with the addition of a ground-based station correction signal (RTK), which will allow sub 25 mm repeatable accuracy of applications.
Telemetric communication with turf care products is already with us as many users have tracking devices on their equipment. E-Z-GO golf cars have for some time had the option of a GPS and telemetry system to help golfers understand where they are on the golf course and for the golf pro to manage his golf car fleet efficiently. This technology has now migrated to mowing machines and tractors, helping fleet managers to locate their equipment and receive performance and service information. As fleets of machines become consolidated, inevitably this type of technology will become more common, as has been seen in other sectors, such as transport.
One thing we can predict with certainty is that all manufacturers will continue to innovate, just as we have done since we manufactured the first Budding lawnmower back in 1832. Long may it continue!