Representing a re-entry into the self propelled sprayer market, we were keen to get under the skin of the new Vicon iXdrive and find out more. James Rickard reports.
Aiming at the premium end of the market, Vicon’s new iXdrive faces some stiff competition.
It has been 10 years since Vicon offered a self propelled sprayer in the UK, the last being its Rau Ibis.
However, with an ambition to complete its sprayer range and to get into new markets, the firm is back with an all new model, the iXdrive.
But rather than start from scratch, Vicon recognised the potential in a concept originally developed by a Dutch sprayer dealer, famed for building specials. As a result, a collaboration was set up and the iXdrive was born.
Based on a skid unit from Italian manufacturer Mazzotti, the rest of the machine is made up of well known, tried and tested components including Vicon’s own spray pack.
Three models currently make up the iXdrive range with 4, 5 and 6,000 litre tank capacities, all with 240hp. A 180hp, 4,000l machine is also still to come, sharing the same chassis as the more powerful machines, but fitted with smaller wheels.
To get better acquainted with the iXdrive, we test drove the 5240.
At the heart of the iXdrive is Vicon’s own top-spec filling station. Controlled from the cab or externally, it should be familiar to any Vicon sprayer user, but is intuitive enough to soon fathom and features all filling points in one convenient spot, automatic filling and cleaning systems, turbo agitation and filter cleaning.
Cleverly, rather than flow meters, tank level indicators are used to control filling, which also take into account the amount of chemical which has been inducted into the main tank, preventing over filling. A smart touch is a clear bowl on the suction filter, letting you see what is going on.
For cleaning, the firm’s iXclean Pro system takes about eight minutes to complete its three cycles, activated by the touch of a button, resulting in less than 1 per cent chemical residuals, claims the manufacturer.
A brace of hydraulically driven Altek piston pumps provide 520l/min of capacity, affording a 10 minute filling time for the iXdrive 5240. Pleasingly, access to both sides of the pumps is good thanks to swing out valves.
In addition, with all the valves and pumps placed in close proximity on one side of the machine, pipe work is kept relatively short.
Boom widths available include aluminium versions from 24-30m folding in two sections, or triple-fold steel booms up to 40m.
Our test machine was adorned with a 36m steel variant. Building on the suspension effect of the rear axle, further boom suspension comes from a parallelogram linkage. Lateral and yaw stability is then maintained using shock absorbers and buffers.
In addition, the firm’s new Boom Guide Active Roll system uses sensors positioned on the outer wings and centre section to automatically control boom height. Each wing will also independently adjust working height to follow contours.
Boom Guide’s hybrid sensors can also recognise laid crop, and rather than the boom automatically lowering at this point, it will maintain height.
During our stint, boom response was good and remained composed at all times, although, perhaps some more taxing topography may prove otherwise.
Pentajet five-way nozzles are standard fitment. As yet there is no automatic nozzle selection, but the firm is working on this with its GeoSpray system.
Application rates are up to 400l/ha at 16kph or 600l/ha at 11 kph, for example.
With a full spray tank and booms folded out, it is said weight distribution is 50:50 between the two axles, changing to 51:49 when empty.
Positioned just behind the cab is a Stage 4-compliant Perkins engine. While its position affords good access and a clean air flow to the motor, fan noise through the rear of the cab is noticeable. It is not so much the volume, which is actually relatively quiet, but the harshness of noise which gets to you. Thicker rear glass and about 200 operating rpm less would go a long way to alleviate the problem.
Working revs are about 2,000rpm. The machine could work at lower revs, but systems such as boom guidance need recalibrating to match the lower revs.
During work, a manual cruise control speed can be set via a dial. Essentially it provides a top speed limit which the machine cannot exceed, no matter how far you push the drive lever.
Poclain wheel motors (pictured) take care of drive. Using direct drive instead of reduction hubs, speed change is responsive and torque transfer is said to be more efficient. It also means wheel motors are relatively compact – leg covers are an option.
For 99 per cent of the time, hydraulic braking provided by the transmission will suffice. Should the situation require, dustbin lid-sized disc brakes can be used. Based on the number of face prints on the front windscreen, they do work very well.
Catering to the fast spraying market, a rigid front axle, which pivots in the middle, uses swing arm suspension dampened by hydraulic accumulators.
To reduce vertical movements at the rear, the rear axle is mounted on a trailing A-frame (pictured) which pivots around a forward-mounted centre pivot point.
The overall result is a front-end which is firmly planted to allow high cornering speeds with minimal roll, and a rear which is fluid enough to absorb lumps and bumps and reduce shock load transfer to the boom.
On this machine, track width is adjustable from 1.8m to 2m, controlled from in the cab. In addition, track widths can be independently offset between the front and rear axles to reduce compaction.
With a 1.3m ground clearance and clean underside, crop snagging should be kept to a minimum. The only thing dangling is the induction pipe.
With climate control, electric wing mirrors, full leather seat and intuitive controls, the Claas-derived Vista cab leaves you wanting for nothing.
Vicon’s touch screen Tellus terminal takes care of all sprayer functions including section control, variable rate application, documentation and manual guidance using a light bar.
However, for automatic steering, a replacement or additional Trimble screen needs specifying to work with the sprayer’s steering system.
Manual control over sprayer functions can be done using Vicon’s switchbox, which also takes care of boom folding and steering modes.
As well as controlling drive, the joystick’s eight buttons can be assigned with various functions through the Tellus Terminal. It is easier than you think to do and provides a high degree of customisation to suit operator needs.
At the headlands, the machine’s ErgoDrive headland management system can be used to automate functions such as spray on/off, four wheel steer and boom raise/lower, for example. A full sequence can be programmed which is played out via a single press of a button, or sequences can be stepped through by multiple presses of a button.
While GPS can be used to automatically turn spray on/off, it cannot be used to trigger ErgoDrive functions, which would be a smart touch if Vicon could make it happen.
Particularly at the premium end, the iXdrive has some fairly stiff competition such as the Agrifac Condor, Amazone Pantera, Challenger Rogator, Horsch PT280, etc.
However, Vicon has done its homework before bringing its efforts to this sprayer class, leaving us pleasantly surprised. Simplicity is one of the iXdrives’ biggest attributes, with the ability to quickly set up and configure the sprayer, particularly the controls, to your liking.
A few refinements would not go a miss such as reduced in-cab noise and neater cabling in the cab.
Tech-wise, automatic engine/transmission management, auto-steering and automatic nozzle switching would be good additions. We are told all these are being worked on, with solutions to be revealed sooner rather than later.
If nothing else, tried and tested components should go a long way towards alleviating a lot of concerns over the new machine.