The customer is an agricultural OEM supplying machines to farms, orchards, vineyards. They also create commercial and residential products including riding mowers, tractors and forklifts.
Spencer Fluid Power worked with the customer to make an apple-picking machine, also known as a narrow harvester platform (NHP). This machine has two long, parallel platforms running the length of the machine to lift workers to an adjustable height. The intent is to drive the machine between rows of fruit trees while workers on each platform pick fruit from the trees on their side of the NHP. Once the fruit is harvested, it is deposited in a collection bin located on a scissor lift between the platforms. Once this bin is full, the machine sends it to the back of the machine and lowers it gently to the ground. Meanwhile, another bin is lifted by front forks guided to the scissor lift to start the process again.
Drive controls located on the platforms allow the operators to drive the NHP up and down the rows of the orchard without dismounting the machine. The hydrostatic drive even has an autonomous drive feature that allows it to constantly move forward at a variable speed set by the operator. Without the need for a dedicated driver, every worker on the machine can be actively picking. 4-wheel steering allows for more precise control, allowing for better positioning of the platforms in relation to the trees.
This platform eliminates the need for ladders, which will increase safety in the orchard and will speed up the process of harvesting. Workers no longer need to constantly move their ladders and go up and down to pick the fruit. They can simply drive from tree to tree, comfortably picking apples from the safety of the platforms. Given the similarity of work when pruning orchard trees, the NHP can be used in this operation as well.
The controls for the NHP can also be programmed in a different language, which has allowed the sale of this machine to grow past the borders of the United States into foreign markets. It can also be fitted with lights so that picking can easily be done at night, which can help workers avoid the heat of the day in certain markets. Picking at night can even be easier and better for the tree as it is less stressed by the heat.
Spencer provided the hydraulic and electronic components of the NHP. The Spencer Solutions team created a wiring harness and control boxes, and programed all electronic control elements. The Spencer team used a Poclain electronic hydrostat, 2000 series, two-speed Char Lynn motor, and two Comer axles to drive the machine. This solution provides 4-wheel drive as well as 4-wheel steering.
To lift the platforms, an Eaton VFX40 controls Monarch cylinders and a Daman manifold with Eaton D03 valves. These valves are activated by using Eaton E31 keypads mounted on the worker platforms. These same keypads also control the Eaton motors on the chain drive and the scissor lift. The machine utilizes an OEM joystick, Eaton display, and Novotech sensor. Inside the electronic control box is an Eaton HFX32 controller and MVEC 12 relay controller.
According to the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, in Washington state there are more compensation claims by orchard workers than in any other agricultural industry. Each year, there are more than 200 injuries associated with ladders alone. Looking at agricultural industries as a whole, falls account for 29% of all injuries, and rises by 7% when looking at fruit trees only. Since the NHP eliminates the need for ladders, all of these injuries can be eliminated in any orchard that utilizes it.
Hydraulic and Electronic Content
Poclain hydrostat with auxiliary pump
Eaton Char-Lynn H motors
Eaton Char-Lynn 2000 series Two-Speed motor
Eaton control valves
Eaton & Sun cartridge valves & sandwich blocks
Custom machined hydraulic manifolds
Aeroquip hose assemblies (made by Spencer)
Donaldson & Schroeder filtration
Stauff sight gauges
Custom wiring harness, control box & programing (Spencer Solutions Group)