Safely going where no machines have gone before – and harvesting avocados previously left unpicked is – what All Terrain Platforms, designed and produced in Katikati, are doing in orchards in New Zealand and Australia.
It’s now four years since Don Rust and the team at Mural Town Engineering produced and demonstrated the first ATP able to operate on slopes of up to 25 degrees, while keeping the operator on the level at all times.
Since then the safety and versatility of the machines has seen them bought by contractors and orchardists on both sides of the Tasman.
Construction and painting companies are using ATPs to access to buildings without the need of scaffolding.
There is a growing interest from other industries including construction and painting companies, which are finding the ATPs can give access to buildings without the need of scaffolding, or in areas where ground conditions are uneven, or obstructions such as tall hedges impede easy access.
Safety of operators and the ability to harvest previously out-of-reach fruit from trees on steeper terrain is what led Don to design the ATP, which has a unique Dual Oscillating Axle Suspension system which reduces the ‘bump’ effect of obstacles by up to 80 per cent.
DOAS also continuously auto-stabilises the machine both on-the-run, and when static, and side-levels the main chassis up to 20 degrees.
The ATPs have all-direction maximum operating safe slope limits of 25 degrees and 22 degrees, dependent on the set width, and have a warning system to alert the operator if that range is exceeded. All slopes are displayed on-screen and also cage load, so there is no guesswork on this important real-time information.
“When we designed the ATP we knew safety legislations were getting tougher so we built in safety features which in most cases exceed those required,” says Don.
“We test to the extreme each machine before it leaves our premises, and we provide training in operation of the ATPs no matter who they are sold to.”
Recent accidents with serious injury, and a fatality of an operator using another kind of elevated picking platform on Australian orchards, resulted in an increase in demand from that country.
“Some of our machines were in the same area, and were the only machines that Work Safe Australia permitted to stay in operation while it investigated the accident. That resulted in growers and contractors contacting us with enquiries, and ordering ATPs.”
ATP workshop manager Steve Welten carries out most of the training in not only the safe operation of ATPs, but also their best use.
Picking more fruit
“Because ATP operation doesn’t require that the base gets moved very often there was some talk that ATPs were slower at harvesting. So for several weeks harvesting output was monitored using conventional machines and ATPs in same orchards,” says Steve.
“The results showed the ATP was not only as quick at harvesting fruit on flat ground, but as slope increased was picking significantly faster, to the extent they could also pick fruit that operators on other platforms could not.”
Steve enjoys the machines so much he’s now bought one and operates the contracting business All Terrain Avos Ltd during the harvest season.
“I work with Warren Clark, of Specialised Work Platforms Ltd, who has four ATPs and between us we can offer a picking service which is efficient at safely harvesting all that valuable fruit.”
The ATPs are joystick-controlled rather than foot-controlled – and, Steve says the operator is able to safely multi-function the controls and is also free to move around in the picking cage.
The 360 degree continuous rotational slew of the ATP is a feature that, when used with the articulated boom, provides a massive ‘work envelope’ which includes up to 6.2m away from the base machine.
The outreach means the base machine does not need to enter the tree for fruit harvest or pruning, so doesn’t cause root structure damage. The drive system is 4×4 with high torque drives; and each drive includes braking, and counterbalance to stop run-away on hills.
The engine throttle is load-controlled, which means the engine will automatically throttle to match only the load required. As a normal day brings many varied load cycles, this translates to significant fuel savings
The ATP Super series has a Safe Working Load of 220kg. And the ATP Lite series has a SWL of 200kg.
All Terrain Platforms is about to launch a fifth version of the ATP, the Ultra-Lite, which will be two-wheel drive and rated to 15 degrees safe slope operation.