The introduction of Manitou’s NewAg telescopic handlers has generated significant interest from current brand users as well as those operating other makes, and so Farmers Guide borrowed a 9m, 4t version for an extended test to see if it lives up to the hype. David Williams reports.
Pre-series NewAg handlers were shown to the agricultural press late in 2016, but while samples arrived for display at agricultural events, the first machines for retail sale didn’t arrive until last year. Manitou MLT telescopic handlers enjoy a loyal following among UK farmers and a highly respected dealer network ensures high standards of after sales service for users.
The NewAg 9-model line-up starts with the MLT 630-105 with 6.1m lift height, up to 3.0t lift capacity and a 101hp engine. At the top of the range is the MLT 940-140V+ with 9m lift height, 4t lift capacity and a 136hp engine and it was this model which was supplied for the Farmers Guide on-farm test.
The farm chosen for the two-week test drive was Euston Estate near the Suffolk/Norfolk border. The 4,300ha estate includes woodland, stewardship grassland, arable crops and a vegetable enterprise run in conjunction with RG Abrey Farms. Livestock includes cattle, horses, pigs, sheep and free-range poultry and diversification in recent years includes solar and biogas plants. Materials handling is carried out by two telescopic handlers including a Manitou 735 120LSU plus another brand. Both are 7m 3.5t models and within the farm’s team of regular staff opinion is split over which is the best machine. Most suggest combining the better features of each would provide something near ideal.
During the two-week test drive the main operator was Jon Bedford who is also the farm’s mechanic and his view is usually sought before new machines are purchased. “I like our Manitou,” he stressed, “but there are many areas for improvement and if we were looking at updating it now I would suggest considering alternatives. However, the latest Manitou NewAg models look much better so I have been keen to try one to find out whether these improvements make a significant difference.”
Resulting from three years’ development and testing, the main differences between previous and NewAg models include a completely new cab, a choice of four transmissions, engine updates including longer service intervals, and hydraulic system upgrades such as ‘Intelligent hydraulics’.
The new cab is claimed to be significantly quieter, and at only 73db the noise level is almost halved from the previous version. Improved insulation and sound-absorbing rubber cab mounts are credited with the improvement.
Controls are updated but the previous and popular JSM joystick is retained, and relocated to a floating armrest which moves with the suspension seat. The control layout is new and the MLT940-140V+ Elite is fitted with Manitou’s new Vision display. The large, clear screen has simple menus and is used to monitor performance and adjust work settings. During adjustment the display switches to the relevant performance area, returning to standard operating mode when adjustments are complete.
A clever feature is swappable control buttons. Using Canbus-type wiring, each switch is electronically coded and ‘recognised’ by the system so it doesn’t matter where it is attached along the harness. Each is colour-coded and clearly labelled and if the operator prefers to move a particular button elsewhere on the dashboard or control panel for convenience, it can be prised out and swapped.
Visibility is greatly improved in all directions and a large sweeping single-piece windscreen gives an uninterrupted view from the ground to maximum height. For protection from falling objects a large grid covers the upper screen section and the variable rake angle of its cross bars makes it almost invisible from the driver’s seat for a clear view of the attachment when handling loads at maximum height.
One of the most noticeable and practical improvements is the cab floor design which has a curved cutout above the steps. This allows users to enter and exit without catching their ankles on the floor edge, improving safety and convenience. Access is further improved by new twin grab-handles.
On delivery initial training was provided by Manitou product specialist James Hulme, including explanation of the three automatic intelligent hydraulic functions; Quicklift – which enables the operator to extend or retract and lift or lower the boom simultaneously which speeds stacking operations; Bucket shaker provides automatic shaking of the bucket to dislodge sticky materials and ‘Return to load’ allows the operator to memorise an attachment position and angle with automatic return to that position with a single touch, ideal for repetitive handling tasks.
Impressive hydraulic performance includes 170-litres/min flow rate on V+ models, and regenerative hydraulics which allow boom lowering by gravity is an option. Active CRC boom suspension is an upgrade option on Classic and Premium spec machines, but standard on Elite, providing speed-sensitive operation.
The MLT 940 comes with Manitou’s top M-Vario Plus transmission standard. This offers step-less speed control from 0-40kph and uninterrupted torque across the speed range using one pump driving two radial motors. No selection of operating mode is needed as the system is fully automatic. The radial motors offer exceptional low-speed performance operating to 2,500rpm maximum whereas standard axial motors operate up to 4,000rpm. They require less oil flow resulting in fuel savings up to 5 per cent and are much quieter too, claims Manitou which developed the system with ZF.
Tasks during the test period included pallet handling – mainly loading and unloading lorries; groundwork including back-filling trenches; forestry handling large tree sections and timber and heaping-up, loading and spreading digestate from the on-site AD plant.
“My first impression was very positive,” explained Jon. “It’s a good looking machine and for its lift and height capability it’s very compact with little overhang beyond the wheels to restrict operation in tight areas. This is something Manitou has always been good at – if the wheels clear an obstruction during tight turns then the rest of the machine will clear it too.
“The new cab looks excellent and the floor cutout to improve access is very good. I like the idea of swapping the control button positions to suit operator preference and the situation. For many tasks just a few selector buttons are needed and being able to move these to the most convenient position on the control panel is a benefit,” he added.
All controls including the Vision display appeared easy to use, he added and the ability to re-calibrate the Safe Load Indicator (SLI) from inside the cab without requiring the dealer was considered an advantage.
“Main criticisms of our current Manitou include heavy steering, a rough ride and an unreliable SLI and the extended test of the latest model will help us decide whether we opt for another of the same brand when it’s due for updating,” he added.
The MLT940 demonstrator was supplied on Michelin 500/60R24 Bibload Industrial tyres whereas the farm’s own handlers have always been bought with conventional agricultural cleated tyres. After only a short time in the seat Jon said he could feel the benefit. “Ride quality on the road is very good and in muddy field conditions they grip far better than I had expected. It was also interesting that where the conventional cleated tyres of our own handler carry a lot of mud out onto the road, the Bibload tread remains clean which is an advantage.”
Jon commented that after just a few hours worked, he found the cab quiet and comfortable and the controls well positioned. Visibility was described as ‘excellent’, particularly down to the front attachment, and significantly better than either of the farm’s current telehandlers. “My first impression of the new cab roof guard design was that it is quite clever, but in practice the improved vision is significant. From the seat, when working at height, you look right through it without really noticing it’s there, and because it lets more light in the cab feels more spacious. There is a handy sun blind too,” he said.
For yard work the view all-around was good although the top-mounted external ram for the three-stage boom restricted vision over the operator’s right shoulder. “There are two cameras which both offer a great view through the in-cab display but only one can be selected at a time. It would make far more sense to have a split view, allowing the right side and rear to be monitored simultaneously,” he explained.
On the road the good visibility was also praised, although the nearside mirror view was described as ‘poor’.
“What impressed me most was how much quieter it is than any other handler I’ve driven – even at transport speeds there is little engine or transmission noise. The new MLT940 is almost as comfortable as one of our premium-brand tractors so I have to give it 10/10 for roadwork,” he stressed.
“It’s also very quiet in the yard although when pushing hard there is slightly more transmission noise, but never enough to be an issue. The Michelin tyres give a good ride on all surfaces although being a little larger than standard tyres means a slightly reduced steering angle, but manoeuvrability is still excellent. Even with the larger tyres, the steering is very light.”
The cab layout was described as significantly better than the farm’s current Manitou. “Everything is to hand and it’s hard to beat the JSM joystick for ease and comfort of use. The trailer hitch release has been repositioned from behind the seat where it is very awkward to get at, to the right hand side in front of the seat which is a big improvement,” he said.
Experimenting with the engine and transmission set-up proved worthwhile. “With several operating modes and set-up options, finding the best for each task took a while,” he explained. “But the system is quite user-friendly so after a couple of days it became easier to start new tasks and immediately optimise the system for performance and economy.
“Pushing up the muck heap required a lot of power and traction as well as fast loading cycle times so I set the engine speed on the hand throttle at 1,600rpm, then controlled the travel speed using the foot pedal. That made a big difference to the operation improving productivity considerably.
I also used the ‘Return to load’ hydraulic function more than I had expected. It seemed a bit of a gimmick at first simply allowing me to set the bucket at an angle and height above the ground and memorise it for immediate return to that position just by pushing the joystick fully forward. Once I was used to it I found it a big help, and because it relies on adequate oil flow to work effectively this was another situation where setting the engine revs on the hand throttle and driving on the foot pedal worked well.”
After two weeks with the machine Jon said it had continued to impress and so he scored it at 9/10 overall.
“Fuel use is minimal and I almost worried at times that the gauge was faulty as so little was used for the hours worked. Adblue consumption was negligible with no top-ups needed.
“The transmission is a highlight for me. So much power available for pushing up the muckheap and for ground work, but it’s so flexible and responsive at high travel speeds too. I love it; it’s a clever design, it’s quiet and it helps users get the best from the machine.
The engine has plenty of power although with one of our larger trailers on the back we could have done with a little more at times.”
The cab also continued to impress, with the new control layout proving practical and optimising the space available. The large front windscreen offered excellent visibility and made the cab feel light and airy. Jon also complimented the climate control which proved more effective than the farm’s current Manitou.
“The new cab remains comfortable even after long working days and in almost every area the NewAg handler is improved over our four-year-old model.
“My only real criticism is the boom suspension. It’s very effective but for tasks such as unloading pallets from a flat-bed trailer the suspension disengages while additional functions such as tilt or crowd are used, bur re-engages when only raising or lowering allowing the boom to drop slightly while the suspension adapts to the new load weight. This can take the operator by surprise.
Ease of maintenance was also improved over the farm’s own handler and daily checks are carried out in just a few minutes. Central greasing looks after almost all the lubrication with only a few grease points needing separate attention and all with easy access.
“All in all the Manitou NewAg exceeded my expectations in almost every way and I think it would be very hard to beat now as a versatile farm handler,” concluded Jon.
Farm manager Matthew Hawthorne also tried the machine and was impressed. “I like our current Manitou,” he said. “But the latest version has many improvements. What impressed me immediately was how compact it is for the lift height and capacity. In the past I have never considered 9m machines because the additional boom length usually creates an overhang, making them appear cumbersome and better suited to industrial use. However, against our current 7m the new Manitou is of similar length so, with the additional reach helpful in some situations such as pushing up the manure heaps, it might be that in future we consider the larger model.”