REVIEW: Flatrac wheel track renovator

By: Tom Dickson, Photography by: Andrew Britten, Video by: Andrew Britten

Presented by

The Flatrac wheel track renovator by TPOS Fabrications was awarded Machine of the Year at last year’s Henty Field Days. It uses a completely new design to restore wheel ruts without cultivation. TOM DICKSON takes a closer look.

If you practice controlled-traffic farming on your property, you’ll be familiar with the wheel ruts that inevitably form as a consequence.

The TPOS Flatrac is a six-metre-wide machine used for repairing such ruts. It consists of a centrally located hydraulic pump operating a horizontal twin-auger system.

Two large wheels trail at the rear to leave a smooth and compacted wheel track.

Currently there are two models available. The larger works in three-metre wheel spacings, while the smaller machine is suited to two-metre-wide wheel tracks.

The three-point-linkage-mounted machine impressed the judges so much at the Henty Field Days that it was named 2015 Machine of the Year.

RELATED: Innovative wheel track renovator takes out Henty top gong

 

How it works

Flatrac Auger
The horizontal auger system with replaceable Bisalloy wear plates sets the Flatrac apart from any other wheel rut renovator on the market. 

It is quite unique because unlike other wheel track rehabilitation machines on the market it doesn’t use cultivation-style discs to dig up the soil to be dumped back into the wheel rut.

This traditional technique does smooth out the track, but on the negative side it weakens the structure of the surrounding soil, which then tends to spew back out if driven on when wet.

In extreme conditions the tractor or implement can actually slip off the track.

With the Flatrac, only soil above natural ground level on the shoulders of the wheel track (along with a small amount of stubble residue) is touched.

Maintaining the compacted foundation of the wheel rut helps to prevent repeat damage the next time the track is used.

Maintaining the structure of the base and side wall of the track helps lock the wheels in and prevents side slip.

Flatrac’s new design is the brainchild of Trevor Postlethwaite of TPOS Fabrications. He says it suddenly dawned on him that if an auger system was the most effective way of moving grain, it would be the most effective way of moving soil as well.

It requires less horsepower to operate because it is not digging into the surface, and where conventional methods disturb the soil regardless of wheel rut depth, the Flatrac only moves enough soil to fill the rut.

 

About TPOS Fabrications

Neale _Trevor Postlethwaite
(L-R) Neale Postlethwaite, Trevor Postlethwaite and Tom Dickson. Neale and Trevor were not satisfied with the machines that were on the market, so they built their own.

TPOS is a family-owned and operated engineering and construction enterprise situated about 15 minutes north of St Arnaud in central Victoria.

It manufactures new equipment and also undertakes a lot of insurance repair work on damaged harvesting equipment.

TPOS Fabrications is part of the Postlethwaite family business, which includes a 6000-acre cropping property and contracting business.

It’s the cropping business that inspires the family to develop new and improved equipment as a strategy for increasing productivity.

Every component on the Flatrac is fabricated in the TPOS workshop, with the exception of some of the laser cutting. Even the central gearbox is made onsite.

Brothers Neale and Trevor, along with their parents Allen and Yvonne, adopted no-till controlled-traffic farming practices about 30 years ago, with the aim of improving soil structure while lifting yields and financial returns.

Back then the belief was that controlled-traffic and no-till farming was the way to go, but there was no machinery on the market built to a standard row spacing.

They began constructing their own equipment and adjusting existing machines to all fit into 12-metre rows using three-metre wheel spacings.

The Postlethwaites say the soil structure on their property has improved dramatically through retained stubble and less compaction.

 

The test

Flatrac Wheel Track Renovator Test

Using a Category III three-point linkage, the Flatrac is attached to a JCB 8250 set-up on three-metre wheel spacings as well.

The only real requirement for the tractor is that it needs to produce around 160 litres per minute of oil flow to run the rotor.

There isn’t a huge demand on the tractor to pull the Flatrac during work, because it’s only moving soil above ground level with no cultivation.

The wheel ruts are between 10 and 15cm deep. At about 12km/h we do one pass. GPS and auto-steer do the driving, so our only job is to keep an eye on the front of the machine.

If there is any sign of dirt building up it means the rotor is collecting more soil than the wheel rut needs. Increasing our speed fixes the problem. Likewise, to fill in deep wheel ruts it’s worth driving a little slower.

The height of the rotor is pre-set so that it just skims the surface of the ground. A tandem self-levelling rocker wheel assembly on either end of the machine maintains the height setting, regardless of undulations in the paddock.

It can be adjusted, but once it’s set that’s generally not necessary.

The flight on the outer end of each rotor augers the soil in towards the wheel track, while the flight on the inner end of the rotor augers it out.

About halfway up the first run I can see a scattering of stones spread across a ridge in the paddock. The Flatrac handles them without a problem.

In fact it collects the stones and dumps them in the wheel rut, which can only strengthen the foundation of the wheel track.

Ten to 12 kilometres per hour seems to be a comfortable speed to work at. The only time driver intervention is needed is for lifting and turning the machine around at the end of each run.

The Flatrac would be a perfect implement to put on an autonomous, driverless tractor because it’s always following a predetermined mapped path and requires little management to do the job it’s designed for.

 

Result

Inspecting the renovated rut at the end of the run reveals what a great job the Flatrac has done.

I do what all farmers do to measure the depth of cultivation, dragging my toe along the ground to check the depth. I discover one pass has not only filled the rut but hasn’t disturbed any surrounding soil.

Flatrac Result

If our eyes don’t deceive us, that’s dead level. In one pass the wheel rut is completely restored to a level surface.

The rut has been filled with a mixture of soil and some straw stubble. The straw will help bind the soil together, like making a mud brick.

Basic science would suggest the wheel track will increase structural strength with each pass.

An interesting benefit is that the weed seeds from either side of the track are collected and then deposited into the wheel tracks.

Generally they shoot with the early rain, but quickly die off again because the compacted wheel track produces such an unfriendly growing environment.

 

Maintenance

I estimate the daily maintenance would take somewhere in the vicinity of one minute.

The heavy-duty galvanised bolts with Nylex locking nuts should never really work loose, but a quick inspection never hurts.

Hydraulic drive comes from the tractor to the centrally mounted gearbox on the machine. Inside the gearbox the hydraulic drive is converted to chain drive, which then propels the rotors on either side of the gearbox.

The sealed gearbox shouldn’t need any attention. There are only two grease nipples located on the rotor shaft either side of the gearbox.

Flatrac Grease Nipple

At the outer end of the rotor shaft I see two more grease nipples, but apparently this is a sealed bearing and the nipples are there for appearances only – purely peace of mind for sceptical farmers.

The outer edge of the auger, or rotor, has replaceable Bisalloy wear plates bolted to it. Like everything on the machine, they are made onsite by TPOS and probably require the occasional inspection for wear and tear.

The bolt heads are not recessed into the wear plates, so I reckon they would be worn away very quickly by the abrasive effects of the soil.

 

Last words

Postlethwaite says that from the moment he came up with the idea he knew he was onto a winner.

They quickly built a prototype and found the design did exactly what they hoped it would.

"We even put an inexperienced overseas backpacker behind the wheel to test it out, because we knew he was more interested in his mobile phone than keeping an eye on the machine and looking out for breakages," he says.

"If it could survive that sort of treatment then we would know we had built it tough enough to go the distance. It passed the test and we actually made very few changes from the original design.

"Our motto is we build them stronger than they need to be, because we don’t want to see them back in our workshop for repairs."

My gut feeling is that the Flatrac is a machine that will do the job without the risk of breakdown.

I think the judges at the Henty Machinery Field Days were spot-on in naming it Machine of the Year.

Hits:

  • Twin-auger system
  • Minimum soil disturbance
  • Hydraulic drive
  • Treaded packer wheels
  • Replaceable wear plates
  • Maintenance free

Misses:

  • Wear plate bolt heads

 

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