The latest addition to the number of rubber-tracked tractors available to users in the UK is the Canadian-built Versatile DeltaTrack
The latest addition to the number of rubber-tracked tractors available to users in the UK is the Canadian-built Versatile DeltaTrack, boasting power outputs from 450550hp. An exclusive press demonstration in late March on a large Lincolnshire farm provided an opportunity to try out the impressive machine. David Williams was there. The Versatile DeltaTrack range provides another large-tractor option for UK farmers. Rubber-tracked crawlers have become a common sight on large arable farms in the UK, the large surface area provided by the tracks reducing ground pressure and maximising grip, while providing a narrower transport width than an equivalent-powered wheeled tractor on duals. Official importer for the new Versatile crawlers is JPM Agricultural, an east Lincolnshire-based dealer representing brands including McCormick and Pottinger, and providing a tractor hire service. The dealer has considerable experience of rubber-tracked crawlers and offers a specialist repair and maintenance service to farmers in the region. At the Lincolnshire demonstration organised by UK importer JPM Agricultural, the new tractor handled the 6m cultivator with ease. Three Versatile DeltaTrack models are available, sharing the same articulated chassis and four sets of tracks, and all powered by the same Cummins 15-litre, 6-cylinder power unit, the torque from which is fed through a massive powershift transmission to huge reduction hubs which form part of each track assembly. A rear hitch, made from enough steel to make up the counter weight for a conventional tractor, is standard, with three point linkage an option. Engine Cummins is a long-established and well-respected name in the engine industry and the QSX15 power unit used in all three DeltaTrack models has been well-proven over many years in various applications. The latest version, which includes high-pressure common-rail fuel injection and variable geometry turbocharging, meets Tier 4i emissions standards courtesy of cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and a diesel particulate filter without the need for Adblue. The track assemblies have been developed by Versatile in conjunction with Camoplast and are said to offer a long working life. The massive 15-litre Cummins engine offers tremendous torque, and is designed to work 6,000hrs without any attention except routine servicing. A feature of the engine is the massive torque available, particularly at low revs, and in the mid-power 500 model, while 500hp is available at 2,100rpm, an additional 10 per cent or 50hp and 11 per cent more torque is available at 1,800rpm. A maximum 51 per cent extra torque is achieved when the engine is pulled back to 1,400rpm, at which point 1,850lb-ft or 2,508Nm of peak torque is available. Cooling is by a 6-blade fixed fan but an option, available from May this year, is a hydraulic-driven viscous fan with a reverse function to remove radiator debris. Transmission and tracks The powershift transmission is manufactured by Caterpillar and weighs 2.5t which, to put it into perspective, is the same weight as a short wheelbase Land Rover. It has 16 forward and 2 reverse gears, controlled electrically through push-buttons on the main joystick in the cab. Maximum travel speed is 22mph (35kph) at rated engine speed.
From the gearbox, axle shafts transfer power to four track assemblies, each of which has its own built-in reduction hub. A large 960mm diameter drive gear grips the rubber drive lugs inside the tracks, seven extrawide (216mm) lugs in mesh all the time which ensures a very long working life, according to the manufacturer. At the base of the drive assembly two large idler pulleys with two smaller midrollers between spread the load along the track. The rollers are all made in two parts, enabling the outer section to be separated from the hubs, a feature designed to reduce costs when replacement rollers are needed.
Tracks are 30- or 36-inches wide, and have been designed specially for the DeltaTrack by Versatile in conjunction with Camoplast. With the larger tracks, the all-up tractor weight of 27.8t is spread across an impressive 5.8m2 ground contact area, while retaining an overall tractor width under 3.5m. The main track assemblies pivot +/- 10 degrees, and the two midrollers are mounted on a separate pivoting bogey within the main assembly. The midrollers are fore and aft of the track assembly centres and the bogeys pivot side-to-side as well as front and rear, reducing the movement transferred to the tractor as obstructions are encountered. Ground clearance is a massive 711mm (28 inches), which JPM Agricultural managing director, James Hunt says has already generated interest from carrot growers considering the tractor for discing straw after carrots have been harvested, where adequate ground clearance is essential. Cab An advantage of such a large tractor is plenty of room for a decent-sized cab and the Versatile doesnt disappoint, retaining its spacious feel even with two large adults occupying the seats. The demonstration tractor had the higher specification deluxe cab with an armchair-sized leather seat for the operator, and alongside a comfortable, full-sized passenger seat. The large cab frame and use of narrow corner pillars means visibility is excellent, and a full-sweep rear wiper maintains the rear view when working in dusty or wet conditions. The cab is huge and a large leather operator seat offers plenty of comfort. The door provides excellent access, opening the full length of the cab. There are few electronic driver aids at present but a Trimble guidance and steering system is due to be available later this year. The main cab door is unusual, opening the full width of the cab and making access easy, although the operator has to remember to open it before climbing too high up the steps otherwise there isnt room for it to open. For a modern large tractor the Versatile isnt loaded with electronic driver aids, and is refreshingly simple to operate. The small dashboard in front of the steering wheel displays essential information, while an information screen to the right on the main control panel is used to programme functions such as spool valve flow rates and timings, providing a degree of automation for headland turns. During the demonstration the most important instrument was the rev counter, allowing the operator to select a suitable gear to keep the engine operating within its optimum torque range, but missing is a fuel consumption indicator. A tractor this size will guzzle fuel when working hard and minor changes to operation settings could result in considerable cost savings over a season, so accurate information rather than driver judgement would be welcomed by many owners. Versatile said upgrades due in the next few months will include this feature, and many more. Under development at Versatile is a Trimble-based guidance and automatic steering system, due to be available as a factory-fit option later in 2014. The tractor will also be available guidance-ready, giving users of existing guidance systems a plug-and-play option. For those purchasing tractors this season, the automatic steering will be available for retro-fitting. Hydraulics Four rear spools are standard with an option to add two more. Maximum flow rate is 150 litres/min but those needing more can opt for a 400litre/min upgrade. Flow rates and timings are programmable from the cab. The rear linkage option will be available from August. Servicing Daily checks can all be carried out from the ground, and access to the engine and cooling system can be gained without tools. Almost all the oil levels are checked by sight glass, reducing the likelihood of contamination due to removing caps or level plugs.
The engine service interval is 500hrs for oil and filter changes and the top end is designed to operate for 6,000hrs without being touched. Fuel capacity is 1,800 litres, between two tanks, one each side of the cab and linked to provide filling from either side. As the tank empties weight reduces quite considerably, explains James. The weight distribution is 55 per cent front and 45 per cent at the rear, so when the tractor is pulling hard the weight distribution becomes evenly split. The central fuel tank means optimal weight distribution is maintained regardless of fuel level. Test drive The demonstration provided the opportunity for a brief test drive of the DeltaTrack 500. Little automation meant operating the tractor was straightforward and moving away required depressing the clutch, selecting forward, then selecting the desired gear ratio using the +/- buttons on the main control joystick.
The engine speed was increased slightly from idle using the electronic engine speed control lever and the clutch pedal released. The huge amount of torque available meant the tractor pulled away easily and smoothly, even with the heavy cultivator in the ground. As the engine speed control was pushed forward speed increased, either to the maximum or to a limit pre-set by the operator. Pressing the powershift plus button repeatedly resulted in a gentle shift up through the gears, and within seconds the engine revs recovered to the set 1,600rpm speed each time. The torque available made the tractor easy to drive, and very forgiving, so slowing for the headland turn, for an inexperienced operator, could be carried out with the engine just above tick-over. Again there was no rush to increase engine revs when the cultivator was dropped back into the ground as the massive grunt meant there was little danger of stalling.
At working speeds on the field the ride was good, with no noticeable vibration from the tracks, and the steering was light and responsive.
Visibility all around through the 86 square feet (8m2) of glass is very good, the bonnet with a narrow waist at the rear close to the cab providing a good view down to either side at the front, and there is a clear view to the sides and rear as the seat is well forward of the back of the cab. Noise levels are reasonable for such a large tractor . Outside, the sound, which many had expected to be a throaty rasp, was more akin to the sound of a distant aircraft, such is the restrictive effect of the EGR and DPF emissions control system and within the cab noise levels were sufficiently quiet to allow easy conversation without the need to raise voices, but loud enough to quickly gain an idea of the amount of effort required from the power unit as gear changes were made.
With many tractors now loaded with automatic control systems which make operation remote from the drivers, it was refreshing to feel familiarity with every aspect of operation of such a large tractor. Backup One problem in gearing a farm system to a big tractor like the DeltaTrack is that, in the event of a breakdown, a conventional tractor will often be incapable of handling the large implements, so repairs have to be carried out quickly. JPM has received enquiries from several dealers keen to represent the brand in the UK and will, itself, stock a wide selection of parts. The simple design means most servicing can be easily carried out on the farm, but if more complex engine repairs are needed a network of seven Cummins service centres stock most parts and are ready to provide back-up, while Caterpillar also has plenty of back-up available in the UK, for the transmission. The standard warranty is two years parts and labour, with an extra year for the transmission and four years total, or 2,500hrs, for the tracks. Price and availability Prices start at 250,000 for the DeltaTrack 450 and the most powerful 550 model is 280,000, in base specification.
We are considering importing the wheeled versions too, as the range would be well-suited to the UK, but want to establish the brand and a specialist back-up service here first, explains James. James Hunt says the simple design and proven components will be attractive to UK farms. The main attraction for many is the tractors simplicity. They provide everything farmers need but are simple and reliable and the enquiries we have received so far have shown that potential buyers feel that is a benefit. The optional rear three-point linkage will allow more existing implements to be used, and will make travel between work sites easier too. During the coming months a wider range of precision farming products will be available, which means we can offer whatever specification is required, including integration with existing systems, he adds. James plans to supply five DeltaTracks during the first full year of importing the brand and he says that while most of those who have expressed interest so far are currently running other brands, the option of another make in the market has proved popular.