Used examples of Lely’s Astronaut robotic milking machine are now readily available.
Lely Center Midlands engineer Andy Brough guides Geoff Ashcroft through some of the key considerations to make when looking at used equipment.
Over the last 27 years, Lely has defined the robotic milking scene with its Astronaut. In that time, more than 30,000 units have been sold worldwide and more than 2,000 of them made it onto farms in the UK and Ireland.
Lely Center Midlands engineer Andy Brough says: “The Astronaut has been created to be fully customisable to suit a farm’s individual needs. That could include a weighing floor, integral cake feeding, steamers for cluster cleaning and somatic cell count analysis, for example, so it is important to be aware of the various spec levels.”
Now on the fifth generation A5 version, its development has been focused on improved laser scanning and control of the milking arm to make better contact with a wide variety of udder shapes.
Introduced in 2017, the A5 has moved away from a pneumatically controlled milking arm to one that uses electric motors to deliver smoother, quieter operation and simultaneous movements.
There are said to be very few A2 (up to 2005) models now working in the UK, with many having been upgraded to the more common A3 (2005-2009) and A3 Next Generation (2009-2010) units.
“Many of the revisions have been behind the scenes, with improved packaging too,” says Mr Brough.
The A4 arrived in 2010 and brought a 3D camera and electronic cleaning brushes, plus a smaller footprint. Its size is mirrored by the current A5 version, simplifying installation for those seeking to upgrade.
“When looking into buying used machines, if possible see the unit working on-farm and consider the many different modular elements required to create a robot milking system,” he says.
To find out more we take a look at a recently installed example and run through several key areas to consider when buying a used milking robot.
Lely is also about to launch an Astronaut trading platform called Lely Used, with units sold through the scheme carrying a 12-month warranty to reflect the updates and reconditioning which have been carried out.
MUCH like service history on a car, each Astronaut comes with its own logbook, offering full traceability on maintenance, repairs and upgrades throughout its working life.
“Regular maintenance is the key to long-term reliability,” says Mr Brough.
“An A4, for example, should be serviced four times per year, while the newer A5 needs slightly less frequent attention. But all reports should be readily available over the life of each machine.”
He says it is also important to understand the machine’s working environment too, and the number of milkings carried out.
“Those units handling cows bedded on sand will be subjected to greater wear, so a more thorough approach is required to any inspection,” he adds.
WITH Lely taking a blanket approach to product amendments, any changes that are needed – for example stronger brackets to prevent cracking – are rolled-out to all machines in service and noted in the logbook.
Key elements of the robot design have changed little. Later A4 and A5 units operate with a separate central unit for water heating and vacuum delivery, where earlier A3 versions had their components integrated within the design of the Astronaut.
Check beneath the cluster’s cover for a change in pipe colour, to identify a milk delivery modification – earlier black pipes were swapped for white items, halving the time needed to replace twin-tubes.
EACH Astronaut needs to be linked up to a central unit. And this is where hot water, vacuum creation and main control processes take place.
This essential link can be used to provide enough power and capability to operate two Astronauts, and it also carries out the automated cleaning process.
“The A4 needs a plentiful supply of vacuum, and the installation of the central unit is essential,” he says.
“The A5 needs much less vacuum.”
Vacuum pumps operate on-demand, and will speed up and slow down to create only enough power to operate the milking unit in use.
“The central unit is a selfcontained box, as part of the modular automated milking system,” he says.
“And in combination with two milking units, it can span a distance of up to 30 metres.
"Time for Cows management is used to connect all modular Lely equipment that gathers or uses information to simplify cow management through a smart phone, tablet or office computer, creating traceability.
MR Brough says: “Planning the transition from a conventional milking system to an automatic milking system can be a complex and challenging journey, that extends way beyond the seemingly straightforward purchase of a second-hand milking unit
“And farm management support is essential.
“As the Astronaut can be equipped with a wide range of options, thought needs to be given to the level of data capture needed, as part of the herd management process,” he says.
“And it is much more than just cow recognition and milk recording.”
Data can include live weight recording, cake feeding, glycol intake for ketosis prevention, milk conductivity, milk temperature, milking speed, fat and protein indication and changes in cow weight.
The Astronaut’s integral touch-screen controller also provides a target milk weight, based on lactation history, and measures individual output from each quarter.
LELY’S robots are left or right handed specific – inserting the milking arm from either the leftor the right-hand side of a cow.
This simplifies installation to suit a wide variety of building designs and layout.
“The number of robots needed can be influenced by many factors: cow breed, drop-down time and milking time, for example,” says Mr Brough.
“Having spare capacity also prevents cows having to wait for a machine to become available, when they walk in to give milk.
“Buildings often need adapting to make them suitable for robots, and installation should consider the exit points from the unit,” he adds.
“So as cows exit the robot, they are facing the feed-fence, and continue to eat.”
He advises the creation of generous space for loafing and easy access to water.
“As cows prepare to give milk, they want easy access and plenty of space to manoeuvre, without having to push their way through the herd to be milked.”
Battery-powered transponders are worn by each cow to provide immediate identification in the milking unit and assist with data collection and herd management.
AS part of gearing up towards an automated milking process, one area to consider is the bulk milk tank.
“To work successfully with an automated milking system, the bulk tank needs to be computer-controlled,” says Mr Brough.
“This is to ensure milk is moved from the robot through the cooler and into the tank, as each individual milking is completed. Though it is a system that also needs to include a buffer tank.”
The buffer tank is where milk is automatically diverted to when the tanker arrives to empty the bulk tank. It needs to provide sufficient capacity to hold milk from any number of robots in the system for a period of time that includes emptying and cleaning the bulk tank.
“It is all designed with reduced downtime in mind,” he says.
“And the same applies to milk cooling. You will need to replace an existing high-flow plate cooler with one that can accommodate the stop-start flow of milk through the system.”