Local authorities are looking for efficiency savings in their grounds care operations and manufacturers are responding with a swathe of developments designed to increase productivity and reduce costs in a variety of ways. Tony Richards reports.

Local authorities are looking for efficiency savings in their grounds care operations and manufacturers are responding with a swathe of developments designed to increase productivity and reduce costs in a variety of ways. Tony Richards reports.

From robotics to electric vehicles, manufacturers of grounds care equipment are stepping up their efforts to provide innovative solutions to the ongoing problem of shrinking municipal budgets and rising public expectations. One area of increasing focus is fuel efficiency. From making maximum use of existing and developing diesel technology to new and alternative fuels, better fuel efficiency can save money and help councils meet their environmental targets.

One company experimenting with more environmentally-friendly fuels is Multevo, formerly Multihog UK. The multi-purpose vehicle manufacturer is using Shell's GTL fuel in some of its products, including the Multihog and its hot water weed control system, in an effort to tackle the issue of environmental performance head on. GTL can be a direct replacement for diesel, but it is derived from methane gas. Shell claims that it has a better combustion efficiency than diesel, a high flash point for storage and handling safety, a higher calorific value, and is virtually sulphur-free. Plus, it is biodegradable, produces lower emissions, and can reduce engine noise.

'The power industry needs to consider fuel efficiency as a whole. It isn't simply using less fuel or making the most of what you have, it is the complete package,' says Multevo's Nick Carter. 'Change can be cost prohibitive. Operators of municipal equipment ' councils and contractors ' will move towards greater sustainability and environmental performance, but only if any increased costs can be held back'

Using one machine like the Multihog to accomplish a range of tasks is another way to help keep those costs down by eliminating the need for different power units for different roles. 'The cost of sending several vehicles to site, each with a specific task and the dedicated implements to complete it, is not just prohibitive but actually wasteful when there is an alternative solution,' points out Nick Carter.

At Saltex 2018 it was obvious that both manufacturers and local authorities are taking the issue of efficiency seriously, in all its forms. The event saw the launch of a number of new products focusing on emissions reduction, both noise and exhaust.  

Allet Mowers is offering an electric solution with the launch of is C34 Evolution, a large-area, walk-behind cylinder mower. This uses the latest lithium-ion battery technology to power the 86cm mower, without reducing performance, for more than 6,000m2 (1.5 acres) per charge. Changing the batteries takes less than thirty seconds. The cost of a complete charge is only £0.40, and the batteries can be used to power other equipment such as brush cutters, chainsaws, blowers, and long-reach hedge cutters.

The C34 Evolution is also compatible with Allett's existing turf maintenance system for scarifying, raking, aerating, brushing, and verti-cutting using interchangeable cartridges. Batteries can be recharged in under an hour.

Electric power means no noise and no emissions at the point of use, no fuel management and storage requirements, no pull starts, reduced maintenance and easier controls, and lower lifetime cost of ownership. Hand-arm vibration is also reduced, meaning the machine can be used for longer periods. Variable speed control and touch-button control enable half-speed reduction for turning and manoeuvring. Built-in back-lapping also keeps blades sharp for cleaner cutting and quieter operation.

Another new product from Allet is the Uplift 86 stadium rotary mower. This has a stainless-steel fabricated cutter deck and three-piece, full-width steel roller. The Uplift 86's twin, 18-inch contra-rotating blades, cutting an 86cm swathe, produce a high-lift cut and vacuum for increased efficiency. The 90-litre grass bag capacity means fewer trips to empty cuttings.

The cutting height is micro-adjustable between 1.5cm and 7.5cm. A new feature is a HOC front-locking kit and lower handle stiffening. The Uplift 86 has a five-speed, heavy-duty gearbox, and higher speed selection increases efficiency. There is a separate bail bar for the roller drive and blades, enabling roller drive only, blades only, or roller drive and blades. The blades are driven by the belt drive and there is a safety blade brake. The handlebars are adjustable for operator comfort. Power is generated through a 223cc Briggs and Stratton 950E vertical crankshaft OHV engine featuring ready/start.

Ransomes Jacobsen is another example of a company committed to developing products to maximise productivity, lower costs, and enhance fuel efficiency. According to Richard Comely, product management director, Ransomes remains the only turf equipment manufacturer to be accredited with ISO 14001 certification, the international standard for environmental management.

Richard says that Ransome Jacobsen was the first manufacturer to accurately control clip rate (the number of cuts per metre) with its Eclipse series of mowers, and fuel savings in the region of 30% are achievable as a result. It also removed the hydraulic system completely from the Eclipse ride-on, using a small engine to power the generator to run all the systems on the mower.

He points out that a simpler type of engine is significantly more economical to buy and to run. When coupled with hybrid technology, the combined output is similar to the horsepower of a larger traditional diesel engine driving a hydraulic system. The need to carry large quantities of hydraulic oil is removed, potential leak points are significantly reduced, and lower overall noise levels can be achieved. As electric drives are usually more efficient than hydraulic, fuel savings are possible. Most of these advantages benefit the end user, environmentally and economically and, in the case of mowers, also offer greater control.

'Hybrid vehicle technology is here to stay in one form or another,' says Richard. 'Increasingly stringent emissions legislation will probably accelerate hybrid technology in the industrial plant and machinery sector as it has in the car industry. Hybrid power is no longer considered a gimmick. It is the future'

McConnel is taking a slightly different approach to efficiency. The business makes a comprehensive range of power arms, rotary and flail mowers, and cultivation machinery, and has more than 100 different models and thousands of different build options. Its latest series of innovations are all focused on increasing productivity. These include the Versi range for highway mowing that allows operators to safely cut both the nearside verge and the central reservation while travelling in the direction of traffic, and the labour-saving barrier mower, which saves contractors time and money by speeding up mowing operations that normally must be carried out by hand, reducing disruption to motorists.

Most recently, however, McConnel showcased the Robocut remote-controlled slope mowers with GPS autosteer at Saltex last year. 'Robotics takes the element of operator risk out of the verge maintenance equation,' says marketing manager Wayne Brown. 'There are simply no operators working by the highway'

McConnel has introduced its next-generation Robocut with all-terrain ability. The RC56 and RC75 models both have increased power, an advanced feature set, and a new control system for greater output, safety, and control. 

The new Robocut robotic mowers come with 56hp or 75hp engines, developed in a partnership with Hatz GmbH for working on steep gradients of 55 degrees, which provide a power increase of up to 75%. Fuel efficiency has increased by 20% and fuel capacity has doubled to enable continuous operation for up to eight hours.

A new, common chassis design provides a lower centre of gravity and 50/50 weight distribution for maximum stability and control in challenging terrain. Fully integrated, dual roll-over protection bars, quick-access lifting points, and dedicated accessory mounting points also come as standard.

The new feature set includes a programmable attachment flotation system; a Staysafe flail head hood control for mowing; on-machine activation digital display for customisation of machine settings; keyless start technology for improved safety; daytime running lighting to aid visual orientation at a distance; high-intensity LED work lights; and four integrated LED strobe lights with pre-set ECE-compliant sequences.

The control unit has a high-visibility digital display providing performance feedback to the operator, including power generation, engine temperature, and signal strength. The battery dock stores and charges one of the two remote control battery. Enclosed body panels protect the power unit and gull-wing-style side panels provide engine access.

GPS Autosteer, developed in conjunction with Trimble, enables precise cutting control to an accuracy of 25mm from up to 150 metres away. Wider 1.6m and 1.9m flail heads are available, and 1.3m grass, forestry, and mulcher flail heads can be fitted.

Groundsman Industries is another manufacturer focusing on increased efficiency through improved productivity. 'Performance and reliability are key factors for Groundsman machines, which are known for their ability to get the job done first time, especially in difficult conditions,' says MD Billy Warke. 'This saves time with fewer repeat operations and maximises efficiency'

Groundsman has specialised in the development of turf aerators and turf cutters since 1990 and has produced many generations of machines. The portable, two-wheel-drive TMC26 is used by landscapers, contractors, and hire outlets. It has a range of interchangeable sod-cutting blades available in widths of 30cm to 60cm that are adjustable down to 7cm in depth, and blades for mole draining, de-compacting, trenching, and cable and pipe insertion down to 15cm in depth.

The Groundsman range of pedestrian and tractor-mounting turf aerators come in a choice of working widths from 45cm up to 180cm. The 345HD provides narrow access for aerating all types of grass including gardens, parklands, and fine lawns as well as sports greens. For larger areas, the tractor-mounting models are available for tractors from 18hp upwards. The range has a crank-driven elliptical plunge action mechanism that drives the tines into the most compacted surfaces to a depth of 15cm with very little surface disruption. Quick-change hollow core, solid and slitting tines are available together with tine heads for thatch removal or surface preparation for over-seeding.

The patented Flexblade Core Collector attaches to any aerator, pedestrian or tractor-mounted, with swathe width from 60cm up to 210cm for core and collects in one pass. It is available for compact tractors and turf vehicles for follow-up collection of cores and linear aeration soil.

The system was developed by Groundsman Industries. It catches more than half the cores before they touch the ground. The remainders are scooped cleanly from the surface by the Flexblade that follows undulations like shovels for the cleanest possible collection.

Also at Saltex, GKB was displaying its range of natural, synthetic, and hybrid turf machinery, from brushing and cleaning artificial turf to tackling surface drainage and aeration, infill removal, and sand spreading.

These included the Combinator for fraise mowing and verti-cutting grass areas, typically sports turf, while removing and loading the complete upper layer of unwanted turf. Among the new products from GKB was a hybrid blade option for the Combinator, for use on stitched, carpeted, and hybrid grass.

Other products included the quick clean, three-point CAT I/II PTO operated machine for cleaning artificial turf, sweeping up leaves, branches and dirt; the Rotobrush RB120 to rejuvenate and maintain sports field artificial turf; the Ecodresser for the maintenance of sports pitches or golf courses; the five rotating brushes of the Renovator for compacted synthetic turf pitch; and the Combiseeder for seeding and surface aerating.

Demand from end users is driving the development of more efficient solutions for grounds maintenance, whether that's an increase in productivity or greener, cheaper ways of running machines. And, while new fuels and robotics solutions remain in their infancy, it is clear that both manufacturers and their customers are committed to pursuing innovative solutions to financial and environmental challenges.