Watch: Italian crusher is perfect for reinstating laneways
For most agricultural equipment, stones and rocks are the sworn enemy. They cause untold damage and downtime every year and contractors can often be found lamenting their very existence as they survey the damage to a harvester drum or mower bed.
However, the machine we feature this week suffers from no such anxieties when faced with a field full of mountain rocks or an old farm laneway that has seen better days.
Celtic Soil Solutions, a Wexford company run and owned by brothers Aidan and Jarlath Furlong, have an impressive tractor-mounted crusher, manufactured by Italian firm FAE.
The vital statistics of this machine are simply astounding. It weighs in at 6,430kg, thanks to complete Hardox plating throughout the entire machine and 116 tungsten tips mounted on a 2.25 metre-wide drum.
You can forget about any tractor with less than 280hp running wild under the bonnet to operate this beast.
Continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also a necessity, as forward speeds can often be as low as 300m per hour.
Many would consider the applications of such a machine quite limited, but really the opposite is the case.
This kit is equally at home crushing rock in a tired old laneway or in a field reclaimed from the mountain as it is munching through trees and tree stumps to create a seedbed from harvested forestry sites.
To power such an implement, Aidan and Jarlath employ the services of a 2007 plated Fendt 930. A tractor of this size and spec is required for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Fendt has a tried and tested CVT.
Secondly, a tractor as bulky as the Fendt 930 is required to handle the FAE machine.
Even with an 1,800kg weight hanging on the front linkage, the 10t tractor is inclined to lift when turning at the headland or working on a slope.
A 2,500kg weight block is one of the items on the Furlong brothers' wish list. Celtic Soil Solutions offer a wide range of services, from soil stabilisation, roadway recycling, forestry works, spreading farmyard manure, granular lime, fertiliser, compost, ploughing, along with sowing and swathing oilseed rape.
However, the majority of the work completed falls under the category of crushing and road recycling, with both of these heavy hitting tasks undertaken by the FAE.
As most contractors know, efficiency is the key to making a business profitable.
An increase in efficiency and a reduction in running costs were the main driving forces behind Aidan and Jarlath's investment in the FAE.
For much of their work, they have replaced two machines with one and in some applications, even three with one.
Road recycling is one of the main applications undertaken by the new FAE. The aim is to take an old, uneven and badly potholed roadway and recycle it into a well compacted and smooth surface, which is cambered to aid in the removal of water from its own surface.
Many dairy farmers are realising the importance of such a step in the long-term health and wellbeing of the herd, as their cows travel these roadways four times per day for much of the year.
When you think about it, it can be difficult even for a human wearing good boots to travel such rough and uneven ground.
A twisted or badly sprained ankle may only be one step away. The situation is no different for a cow. So it stands to reason that a trip made in excess of one thousand times per year should be on a laneway as even and smooth as possible.
The process of roadway recycling is simple. The roadway gets a pass of the FAE, at a depth of around 100mm.
The drum of the machine, which is 2.25 metres wide and 60cm in diameter, is home to 108 tungsten tips and eight tungsten side scrapers. These scrapers perform the same function of crushing as the standard tips, but they also prevent the build up of damp clay on the sides of the machine when crushing in the field or undertaking soil stabilisation duties.
The drum rotates at 350rpm against the tractor's forward motion, meaning the material is brought up against a breaker plate in front of the drum.
The position of the plate can be varied manually and its position determines the size of the material coming out of the machine. The closer the breaker plate is to the drum, the finer the material will be crushed.
Stones and rocks as big as 50cm (20 inches) in diameter will be crushed without problem. Essentially, once the tractor can drive over the stone, the crusher will handle it. Generally, though, being able to drive over the stone is only a problem in the field as there won't be a stone protruding 50cm from a laneway.
Once the first pass is complete, there is a 10cm deep layer of crushed loose material on the roadway. If needed or desired, the machine will make a second, much shallower pass to create a thin layer of fine material to cap off the surface of the roadway.
The second stage of the process involves the use of a hydraulically-controlled grader blade, powered by a John Deere 7920 to level the surface, and create a camber to throw off surface water.
The Furlongs stress that this is one of the most important steps in the process and is key to the longevity of the finished laneway.
Finally, once the surface has been graded and the desired camber has been created, a tractor-mounted compaction plate is used to compact the material.
The model used consists of three independent compaction plates, meaning the camber created by the grading blade will not be affected.
The exclusion of air pockets is an important step as air is replaced with water during wet spells, which softens the material.
In addition, cyclic expansion and contraction of this water during times of frost will upheave any laneway in a very short space of time were it not for careful compaction.
For roadways and yards expecting higher rates of traffic, especially from heavy machinery and trucks, a binding agent can be added during the process.
Generally, the binding agent used is cement. Loose cement is applied to the surface of the laneway prior to the first pass of the crusher.
During its first pass, the FAE crushes the material as before, but it also mixes the cement evenly and consistently through the material.
Previously, a separate machine would have been required for mixing the cement through the crushings before the Furlongs purchased this new machine.
Celtic Soil Solutions opted for the optional water application system on their machine.
This feeds water from an external source into the mixing chamber of the crusher and rate of application is fully controlled from the tractor cab. Obviously, application of water is an important step when cement is the binding agent of choice.
The amount of water needed depends on the length of the lane being recycled, but it is not uncommon to use as much as 30,000 litres of water per day.
A converted tank from an old milk lorry is used to provide clean water to the FAE.
However, water is normally only required where a binding agent is being introduced into the mix.
Because the FAE has replaced two machines with one for the Furlongs, the efficiency of the system has increased considerably.
As many as 530m of laneway have been recycled from start to finish in one day, but the norm is generally around 400m per day.
The operation provides a very quick turnaround and the lane is generally ready for use that evening. However, if cement is being applied, it is advised to keep heavy traffic off the laneway for one week.
This is by no means a cheap operation to run. The machine itself, including the water distribution system, cost €85,000 plus VAT.
The Furlong brothers estimate that the Fendt guzzles around 60 litres of fuel per hour while driving the FAE.
The 650 litre fuel tank is as good as empty at the end of the working day and will require topping up if work is to continue into the night.
Because the machine is only two months old, the lifetime of the tips has not yet been determined, but the brothers estimate they will last about eight months.
A new set of tips will cost €12,400 (108 tips at €100 each and eight side scrapers at €200 each).
For field crushing, the machine can tackle a number of jobs. It will mulch and integrate gorse and trees as big as Christmas trees into the soil in a single pass.
It generally works to a depth of 30cm in soil and it will leave a field in such a condition that it will be ready for setting after a pass of a leveller.
It is also at home in land reclaimed from the mountain, or land where there are very large amounts of stones and rocks.
Interestingly, the rates of wear on the tips are higher when working in soil than when they are crushing roadways. Jarlath Furlong explained why this happens with a simple analogy.
"If you strike a stone with a hammer, it will break, but if you strike a ball of damp clay with a hammer, the clay will mould up around the head," he said.
Celtic Soil Solutions are based in Adamstown, Co Wexford, but work nationwide. Aidan can be contacted on 087-6494127, while his brother Jarlath can be telephoned on 087-7479911.
To view some examples of work undertaken by the company, visit www.celticsoil.com.
Article originally published in the Farming Independent in 2014.
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