Sportsturf drainage expert, Mick Claxton, Director at Shelton Sportsturf Drainage talks about his favourite part of the job - new machine development and how Shelton keep coming up with new ideas to bring to market.
Over the years, we have brought new machines to market and made improvements to existing products so that our range bears little resemblance to how it looked 15 years ago.
Our improvements are often the result of customer feedback which is extremely valuable to us as we get a real insight as to how our machines are used in different soil conditions all over the world.
Our Supertrencher+ 625 was designed and built as a result of our customers telling us that they wanted a trenching machine with improved performance in wetter conditions. It is better to carry out drainage in drier conditions, as there is less damage to the ground, but it is not always possible, customers want to be able to carry out work in the wetter months when they have more time and labour available.
Most of our development work is born out of a desire to improve, to ensure that the machines are not just fit for purpose but do the job required in the very best possible way. Improvements often come from listening to our customer's feedback after they have used the machinery. Or it may be that new technology has been designed and become available so that we can improve even further.
Our innovation projects always start in the same way: research! Our first port of call is to look at the whole process of sportsturf drainage; there is no point in increasing the speed at which a trencher can operate if the backfilling equipment which is used in conjunction is unable to keep up! Once we are happy that we have conducted enough research we start the exciting bit - development! This begins with a brainstorming session where we carry out a machine performance review with our engineers, we consider everything at this stage - no idea is too outlandish!
It is usually either myself or Richard Clark (Shelton Director and Co-Owner) who come up with the initial idea, but we are careful not to impose too many of our ideas onto our engineers, they are the experts in their field and often will come up with much better ways of engineering a machine to solve a problem. We then distil the ideas into a realistic plan before embarking on the technical drawings. We have tried to design using CAD (Computer Aided Design) at this stage, but we find it too restrictive so we don't bring this in until we want to build the prototype. Using CAD becomes vital at this later stage as it checks that all the mechanical elements of the machine will work in practice, avoiding problems where one component might interfere with another.
The next stage is to build the prototype; functionality and performance is key for us, we don't focus on how the machine looks until we are completely happy with its performance. The prototype machine is then subject to months of rigorous testing, we trial it out on as many soil types as we can, to make sure it is fit for purpose. We will re-design and re-build until we are confident that we have got the machine exactly right!
Finalising the aesthetics of the machine is the very last step in the process before we bring it to market. It's important that our machines look good as well as perform well. We will think about everything from creating clean lines and edges to where we can reduce the weight of different components without compromising strength and functionality.
One of our biggest R & D successes has got to be the Supertrencher +760. This machine was developed on from the Supertrencher +625 due to drainage specifications in some countries calling for deeper and wider trenches for the pipe work. We used CAD to enlarge the design of the 625.
The success of the Supertrencher+ 760 is largely down to its versatility, it is ideal for installing both primary and secondary drainage systems on any amenity grass. The machine has digging capabilities of up to 760mm deep and 155mm wide, so a chain trencher may not even be required for the primary system, and it can also dig a trench as narrow as 50mm.
The trencher incorporates many features never seen before on a wheel trencher: the swinging main conveyor enables easy access to the exit port for cleaning and maintenance, and can be moved alongside the body of the trencher for transport. The transverse conveyor in the bottom of the exit port quickly moves the excavated soil onto the main conveyor to be elevated into trailers running alongside, rather than the soil building up and blocking the exit port in wet conditions.
The 2 speed gearbox driving the digging wheel enables the operator to better match the digging speed of the wheel to the soil conditions, slow for wet soils and fast for hard, dry soils. The offset of this gearbox enables the digging wheel to run down the centre of the tractor whilst still maintaining minimum PTO operating angles, so reducing the wear on the universal joints.
A removable section of the hood at the back of the machine enables the cutters to be changed from a standing position, which is a benefit to the operator for both ease and safety. It took many months of trials and improvements to get this 760 to where it is now. Without continuous research and development, we would have missed out on a massive sales opportunity, it has given our customers great results in many different countries. We are now we are working on ways to make it and our other trenching machines even better!