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VFRT

12th November 2014

Source: Profi by James de Havilland

The high-density foam covering the armrest mount for the HD700 proportional digital controller may not seem to be that 

DSC_0111critical. But it is one of the first points to note when initially taking control of the VFRT HD775. Within a few minutes, the combination of the compliant rest and the stubby, solid feeling joystick enhances the operating experience of the Shelbourne Reynolds machine. From the off, the operator feels in control. The head can be easily positioned to suit the task, a push of a button to bring it back or forwards easing the sight line to suit running along the top of the hedge, down its sides or drop and level it to ground level. An experienced operator will take very little time to feel right at home with this machine. Of equal importance is the manner in which the joystick and the pair of buttons on its top can be fine-tuned to suit individual preference. The joystick has familiar proportional control, but the key is how this is altered. Those with a delicate touch can dial up the sensitivity to translate a hint of joystick movement into action on the machine. Prefer something more forgiving? No problem. Select from the function buttons on the face of the controller and adjust the appropriate setting.

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So what about the machine itself? Starting at how it mounts on the tractor, the HD775 VFRT has a nominal weight of 2,000kg. So in theory it can be linkage-mounted and operate behind a tractor of around 120hp. In practice, Shelbourne Reynolds suggests the unit is attached using its axle brackets and that the tractor’s weight is also critical. Fully extended, the HD775 will need a tractor in the nominal 7-8t category to keep things stable, wheel weights and a bit of front ballast adding security when straying off level going. The axle bracket kit is a pretty simple affair, essentially attaching in place of the tractor’s lower links to provide a ‘four-point’ mount. Once in place, the bracket should allow the HD775 to be fitted in 20mins. The pto driven 100-litre/min gear pump that powers the flail is cooled via a hydraulically powered cooling fan, Shelbourne Reynolds offering a debris blower as either a factory or retro-fit option. Service access to the related 150-litre capacity hydraulic tank and filters is straightforward, with a sight gauge showing the tanks fill level. The belt driven flail head, which is 1.20m wide as standard with the option of 1.50m,  is driven via a motor rated at around 85hp. Shelbourne uses V-belts to drive the flail. The driveline is extremely compact and, of equal importance, reduces the chance of any hose runs getting caught whilst in work.

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Moving on to the boom and dipper, the most noticeable feature is their slim construction. Add the clever routing of the hoses and positioning of the rams, and the HD775 has the look of a compact machine with far less reach than it actually delivers. The flail head mount is the most striking element of the whole machine. It’s a simple system — an extra pivot point with a rotating mount on the end — that endows the VFRT with its variable forward reach capability. The dipper telescopes to increase reach from a retracted 6.20m to an extended 7.50m. Shelbourne Reynolds also offers the essentially similar telescopic VFRT HD765 as a lesser reach alternative, though it shares the same design as its larger brother.

In work it is easy to just use the machine as a hedge cutter, initially overlooking its telescopic functions. It is only when it is necessary to extend the dipper that the value of a telescopic machine is brought into focus. On hedges of varied width, the ability to reach across and trim from one side can make a big difference to productivity. Those mowing steeps banks will also make good use of the extra reach. Being able to tuck the dipper back in when the reach is not required also helps when working in tight corners and down a narrow lane. The way in which the machine folds up is also noteworthy. With some hedge cutters, bringing the flail head close to the tractor to allow it to tuck in parallel to the side can see the top of the boom and dipper canted over to the offside. This can lead to the top catching in overhanging vegetation. With the VFRT HD775, the boom and dipper are vertical when the flail head is run upright to the rear of the tractor. This provides the extra clearance that can make all the difference when trimming a hedge down a narrow lane fringed by overhanging branches. Another point we noted was the machine’s low operating noise. Hedge cutting legislation is ‘enjoying’ another change, with a Sept start date putting yet more pressure on those operators charged with keeping our hedgerows in good order. Now the hedge-trimming window has effectively shortened by a month, it follows that demands on hedge cutting equipment will also increase.

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So does the VFRT HD775 deliver? It is impossible to say from a quick drive, but what is clear is that having a machine that can reach a bit farther and allow the flail head to be positioned for optimum visibility is a great help. Flail head design has advanced to the point where heavier growth can now be tackled with less risk of damage to the equipment too, the 1.50m head on the machine we drove coping well with growth of up to around 50mm in diameter. That is a considerable mass of material and about as meaty as most would want to tackle before adopting a saw head type cutter. In work, the flail head does a good job of both containing and mulching material — front and rear rubber flaps are standard — the key as always being to ‘bite off as much as you can chew’. Shelbourne Reynolds also fits head and arm float as standard on these machines, a useful feature if a clearing or mulch pass along the base of the hedge is needed. A hydraulically lowered head roller is available as an option and it is one most users will tend to specify.

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Summary: Variable forward reach isn’t new and telescopic dippers have been offered on power arms for several years now. Combining the two on one machine is a more recent trend, and with its VFRT models Shelbourne Reynolds appears to have managed to do the job without over-complicating either the control or design of the machine. As to pricing, an entry-level HD775 lists at £31,900. Add on axle mounting brackets, a 1.50m flail head with hydraulic roller and a debris blower, and that sticker price will stray north of £35K. The fact that the company fits its HD700 digital and proportional controller, integral hydraulic cooling pack — with auto reverse — and dipper and head auto float as standard helps explain where some of that money goes. But what you also get is a machine that is far more compact than you would expect and much easier to operate than all its features would lead you to believe.

From the seat, What owners have to say about the VFRT 

Royston Blake and his uncle Richard Wise run a general contracting and plant hire business from their base at Fringford, nr Bicester, Oxfordshire. Royston has undertaken the bulk of the outfit’s hedge cutting work in recent years, a Shelbourne Reynolds VFRT HD775 taking over from a smaller machine from the end of 2014. The VFRT had completed just shy of 350 hours when profi saw it in action. “I think it took me all of 10 minutes to get the hang of the HD700 controls,” explains Royston. “Now I’ve used the machine for an extended period I have started to appreciate the control’s ease of set-up and operation more. I like the long armrest, and the foam doesn’t get hot and sweaty like plastic does.” Fitted to a John Deere 6930 tractor on axle mount brackets, the combination has proven stable on level ground but needs care on sidling land. Royston suggests rear wheel weights would help in these more challenging conditions but feels that careful operation and a limited area of steep ground locally makes these unnecessary for him. “I would suggest a tractor smaller than a 6930 would struggle weight wise,” adds Royston. “It is tempting to opt for as small and light a tractor as possible for hedge work, but larger tyres and a little extra power always come in handy when conditions are less than favourable.” In its first few hours the hedge cutter developed a weep from a filter and the main boom ram seal is also due for replacement. Local dealers Farol sorted the filter with a new design from the factory, Shelbourne Reynolds also saying the ram seal is also going to be upgraded to a different design. “We are really pleased with the machine,” says Royston. “I have just got on and used it. Some of the work we have undertaken this year includes hedges that have not been cut properly for several years, but as the material is around a couple of inches I am happy tackling it with this machine. It has done a good job. I really like the ability to fold up the machine and work it close to the tractor. Our old hedger, in contrast, was awkward when working in narrow lanes and between trees.”

 

 


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