Top of the list of essential machines for most farms is the materials handler. Rigid body telescopic handlers dominate the market but the number of articulated versions is growing. David Williams has been trying out the latest entrant.
Manitou displayed its new MLA-T533-145V+ at Lamma in 2017 as a prototype and launched it officially a year later, also displaying it at the Doe Show this year. There are three specification levels; entry-level Classic, Premium and Elite all with the same engine and transmission set-up.
By late summer first deliveries had started to customers and a test drive was arranged for Farmers Guide at a large mixed farm in North Yorkshire.
The new model isn’t Manitou’s first articulated handler. The company offered its MLA627-T from the late 1990s, later upgrading it to the MLA628 and then offering the MLA630 until 2013.
“Our new articulated telescopic handler is ideally suited to the needs of livestock farmers including beef, dairy, arable and mixed farms,” explained Manitou UK area sales manager David Clark. “It’s designed for intensive use and its performance and capabilities mean it is likely to work more frequently and for more hours than a rigid telescopic, but will appeal to the same types of user.”
Whereas rigid telescopics usually have the boom pivot at the extreme rear, the MLA’s articulated chassis requires the pivot further forward on the front section. This provides less space for a long boom or a large number of boom sections so maximum lift height is lower. However, the forward mounting point means reach is as good as or better than similar-rated rigid models, more important to many farm users than maximum lift height.
A good view
With the cab at the rear and central, visibility is far superior to rigid machines where the engine and cab are squeezed in on either side of the boom. The elevated seat position provides a view straight down the boom to the attachment and almost equally good to the rear and either side.
Manoeuvrability is excellent and the articulated steering means obstructions such as gateposts and barn stanchions are easily negotiated without the need to shunt.
Additional advantages include ease of cab entry, from either side and the ability to side shift the attachment while stationary, just by steering.
The centre pivot is used only for the steering action and has no oscillation. This ensures maximum stability as there is no free movement between the loaded boom and the heavy chassis. It also helps the operator make sound judgements regarding safe operation as the cab is always at the same degree of tilt as the boom.
The main pivot pins are wide spaced to spread the load and the prop shaft runs between them, protected from damage.
The steering cylinders are protected within the rear section.
Engine and transmission
The engine is by Deutz, with 4 cylinders and 4,038cc. There is only the one power option, with 143hp and 550Nm of torque.
Manitou’s top transmission from its rigid handlers is fitted. This is a hydrostatic CVT unit with two independent drive motors. At low speeds both motors combine for maximum torque, providing similar tractive power to a torque converter, but above approximately 19kph, one motor clutch pack disengages, saving fuel. Unless high torque is required the second motor remains disengaged even if the handler slows to a standstill, and won’t re-engage until high torque is demanded. The process is entirely automatic with electro-hydraulic clutch activation and the operator has no need or ability to override the system.
There are two selectable driving modes; handling and roading, and an inching function makes it easy to hitch up to implements and trailers. In standard mode performance is aggressive, with high power and torque always available and in handling mode the engine revs are prioritised over travel speed. However full power and maximum speed are available whichever mode is selected with only the operating characteristics affected.
Cruise control and engine speed memory functions are standard and a speed limiter can be set.
A vari-drive function separates engine and transmission control for tasks such as yard sweeping or straw bedding. Engine revs are set on a hand throttle for constant hydraulic flow and travel speed is controlled independently by the foot pedal.
An inching mode is provided by partially depressing the foot brake pedal.
Eco mode optimises engine speed for reduced fuel use. In standard mode 40kph is achieved at 2,300rpm whereas, with eco mode selected, the engine speed drops to 1,900rpm, reducing fuel consumption by approximately 12 per cent. Manitou estimates that for a typical user working over 1,000 hours annually this could save £440.
Cab and controls
The cab is light, spacious and comfortable and handy grips just inside the door provide a firm handhold when getting in and out.
Controls are well laid out, including the main JSM joystick borrowed from Manitou’s other handlers.
A clever digital display in front of the driver provides essential working information including speed, fuel level and temperature, but alternative graphics can be selected to provide handling data such as working angles and hydraulic pump flow settings.
The right hand control panel includes three rotary dials; one to limit maximum travel speed and two hydraulic flow limiters; one for oil flow in each direction. This allows the user to set separate out and return speeds for implements, such as opening a grab quickly and closing it slowly.
Switches for Intelligent Hydraulic modes (standard on top Elite but optional on lower specification variants) are on the right hand panel and include;
Quick Lift – automatically combines two movements such as raising/lowering with extension/retraction – ideal for pallet stacking for example.
Bucket Shaker – this allows rapid bucket shaking to loosen stubborn materials such as mud without needing to operate controls manually.
Automatic Return to Load – this allows a boom and attachment position to be set and memorised, particularly useful for repetitive loading operations.
Other panel-mounted controls include hydraulic pressure release for attaching implements, also activated by a button outside, and boom suspension activation.
Load monitoring is by a traffic light system, deactivated when the boom is fully retracted and if the travel speed exceeds 3kph. There are 3 modes; Forks, Bucket and Suspended. Suspended mode de-rates the machine by 5 per cent to accommodate swinging loads.
The safe load indicator displays the boom angle and percentage of load allowing the user to see how much reserve is available.
Tyre sizes are 460/70R24 or 500/70R24 and brakes are oil-immersed multi-discs on front and rear axles.
Advantages over traditional telescopic handlers include much improved visibility, the larger, more comfortable cab and better manoeuvrability. For load handling and bucket work the ability to side-shift the attachment just by turning the steering wheel and articulating the chassis saves time shunting to reposition.
Disadvantages include the cab height, which restricts use in low buildings and reduced lift height; mainly an issue for arable farmers stacking bales.
Farmers Guide tried the MLA on a North Yorkshire farm, carrying out tasks including bale handling, muck loading and transport.
The cab offers greater comfort than most rigid telehandlers, mainly because of the extra space available on either side of the operator. Although there are two doors the left is preferred, as the control arm has to be folded upward to use the right side.
Controls are logically arranged and the main joystick fits naturally into the palm of the right hand and built-in control buttons can all be easily reached. Boom and attachment control is progressive, providing fine adjustment for tasks such as hitching up a new implement.
The electronic display is clever and being able to switch the screen to display different function views is handy, but its small size makes it fiddly and the digits difficult to read in a working situation.
On the road it was quiet and comfortable up to 40kph and acceleration was brisk enough to make pulling away from junctions safe and easy. The change from two drive motors to one at higher speeds was almost seamless, with just a slight change to the acceleration and an accompanying change in the operating sound. Comfort Ride boom suspension was impressive, soaking up the bounce over speed bumps caused by the heavy grab.
Testing handling and roading drive modes on a steep slope demonstrated the different levels of response. In handling mode the drive felt very positive and engine braking when the foot pedal was released was very effective as the machine remained almost stationary on the slope, whereas in road mode more revs were used to climb the gradient and engine braking performance was reduced, but still impressive.
Steering performance was good and the ratio of steering wheel turns to steering angle proved ideal both on and off road.
Setting the hand throttle to maintain constant revs allowed the foot pedal to provide ground speed control from standstill up to the travel speed matching the selected engine revs. Pushing the foot pedal past this point then increased engine revs and travel speed.
Loading large square bales onto a trailer using a clamp, the high cab position was a significant advantage. Accurate bale positioning was helped by the ability to nudge them sideways to pack them in tightly. The articulated steering meant only a short reverse was needed from the trailer before pulling forward on full lock with the clamp already lined up for the next bale. Even for an inexperienced operator the articulated steering significantly reduced loading time.
Handling manure from a field heap, the MLA had excellent traction and plenty of power to achieve full buckets each time. Cycle times were quick, and the regenerative hydraulics allowed the boom to fall rapidly under gravity rather than needing oil pumped through the system. Again the articulated steering was ideal, not only because excellent manoeuvrability shortened the shunting distance needed for each grab full, but also as there was far less rutting and ground damage than would have been the case with a rigid handler.
Noise levels during handling were low, even with the engine revving high for fastest boom lifting and extension, and the cab was comfortable. With better visibility and less reliance on mirrors than a rigid handler, full concentration could be given to the task.
Unless reduced cab height or maximum lift height are priorities, the MLA makes a lot of sense. In the field it makes less mess of wet ground than a rigid handler or tractor and loader, and in the yard the excellent visibility improves safety while the manoeuvrability and ability to pivot the attachment just by steering improves efficiency in tight spaces.
The test didn’t allow an opportunity to assess fuel consumption but this should be good, and with tyre wear reduced by the articulated steering, overall cost of ownership will be low.
Pricing has been confirmed and the Classic costs £85,247; the Premium is £89,341 which gains regenerative hydraulics, and the Elite is £91,751, which also adds boom suspension and Intelligent Hydraulics as standard.
Manitou has a network of excellent dealers ensuring good back-up is available and if your current handler is due for replacement the new MLA could be well worth a look.