Hydraulics, Diagnostics Lead Trencher Innovations

Ditch Witch’s HT275

Four leading manufacturers of ride-on trenchers sum up new trends in ride-on trencher machine design, so you can find the right machine for your next jobsite.

By Construction Equipment Magazine

Key Insights for Buyers

  • Labor shortages are driving ride-on trencher design evolution to focus more on operator-centric features, minimizing operator learning curves, maximizing operator productivity, and increasing operator safety.
  • Advanced electronics and improved telematics help operators increase production and reduce downtime.
  • The incorporation of reel carriers and various attachments help contractors do more with a single machine.

Views from the front

Ed Savage, product manager, Vermeer:

“The overall ride-on trencher market is strong, and the ability to quickly swap out attachments helps improve the versatility of these machines. As with most sectors of the construction industry, however, there is a shortage of skilled operators, which is why onboard technology that improves on-the-job-efficiency is so important moving forward. This trend is sure to continue across the industry. Currently, many manufacturers are focused on making their machines smarter through the use of proprietary technology and using telematics to communicate vital machine information to fleet managers, equipment owners, and project managers.”

The Vermeer RTX1250i2 (“i2” for “intelligence and interchangeability”), uses self-identifying i2 attachments that are recognized by the tractor, simplifying control adjustments and reducing the time needed for switching attachments.

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Steve Seabolt, Ditch Witch:

“Ride-on trenchers are leveraging technology in a variety of ways to deliver more return on investment for owners. Examples include remote diagnostics and fleet-management systems, such as the Ditch Witch Orange Intel solutions. We also continue to see increasing focus on operator-centric features, with the goal of minimizing learning curves, maximizing each operator’s productivity, and last, but not least, working to increase the odds that he or she ends their shift each day as healthy as they arrived.

“The market drivers behind underground construction activity remain strong, but contractors attempting to meet that demand do face challenges, including the shortage of skilled labor, challenging project schedules, and overall workloads. It’s important that contractors select equipment that can help minimize those challenges, maximize their asset utilization, and ultimately, put pipe and cable into the ground as efficiently and profitably as possible.”

Ditch Witch’s HT275 incorporates a patent-pending boom-plunge feature that monitors engine load and manages the rate at which the digging chain is lowered into the ground, reducing the chances of chain stall, says the company. Wireless remote control allows operators to perform daily maintenance tasks without climbing in and out of the cab.

Jared Bird, project manager, Trencor:

“I think the biggest trend coming for ride-on trenchers will be continuing to move toward advanced electronics to improve maintenance, trouble shooting, and productivity. Telematics, advanced load control, on-board diagnostics, and GPS control are all items that can help owners and operators increase production and reduce downtime. Trencor’s PinPoint telematics, for example, allows the equipment manager greater machine visibility as it operates in the field to ensure maximum productivity.

“The trencher market is very strong right now and looks to remain strong for the next year or more. Finding good operators and mechanics may be one of the biggest challenges facing our customers. The combination of a durable mechanical trencher and advanced on-board diagnostics enables newer or less-experienced operators to quickly become effective and efficient.”

New Trencor models feature refined hydraulic systems, onboard diagnostics, advanced load-control systems, GPS capability, and on-board touch-screen display that provides a range of information about the machine’s operating condition.

Kevin Conry, senior marketing manager, Toro:

“Recent advances in ride-on trenching technology can help contractors do their job faster, easier, safer, and more efficiently. Specifically, the incorporation of reel carriers and backhoe attachments help contractors do more with a single machine. This not only minimizes capital expenditures, but also creates a more productive job site, ultimately adding to a contractor’s bottom line.

“Ride-on trenchers have experienced some impressive changes in recent years, due to increased demand in the marketplace. There are a number of existing features that have been enhanced, as well as many brand new features for ride-on trenchers that make them an attractive option for mid- to long-range trenching applications. For example, a heavy-duty, six-way adjustable backfill blade that can be operated in float position allows the blade to smoothly follow the contours of the terrain.”

Toro RT1200 uses a 121-horsepower, Cummins 4.5-liter engine. Standard frame-tilt allows positioning unit to maintain trench angle. Optional load-control feature allows selecting percentage of engine power used for ground drive, ensuring, says Toro, that performance of the digging implement is maintained. Optional cab has integrated HVAC system.

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Design advancements

To illustrate the advances being made in trencher design, Trencor has recently updated many of the models in its range with advanced hydraulic systems, onboard diagnostics, advanced load-control systems, and GPS capability. The Trencor T13, for example, now uses a 509-horsepower, Tier 4, MTU engine, says Bird, providing the power to make 48-inch cuts.

“These improvements were all made while reducing overall machine weight, so this is a machine that can cut a wide, deep trench in hard rock while still being easy to transport,” he says.

All new Trencor models, says Bird, are fitted with an on-board touch-screen display that provides a range of information about the machine’s operating condition.

“Rather than include simple error codes or warning lights,” says Bird, “the screen provides detailed information about machine condition and warnings in clear, plain text, such as ‘Left Track Filter—70 Percent Clogged‘ or ’Crumb-Shoe Raise—Short Circuit.’ This allows operators and mechanics to make informed decisions about scheduling maintenance and making repairs.”

Ditch Witch has enhanced the versatility of the new HT275 with a centerline-trencher attachment, sliding-trencher attachment, and an optional truck-loading conveyor.

“The HT275’s patent-pending, modular, rapid-change attachment design is unique in the industry for products in this size class, and the design adds the versatility to take on more jobs,” says Seabolt. “Ditch Witch plans to continue this trend for expanded versatility with a rock-saw attachment prior to CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020.”

According to Seabolt, the HT275 incorporates a number of innovative features, including a patent-pending boom-plunge feature that monitors engine load and manages the rate at which the digging chain is lowered into the ground.

“This feature lessens the dependence on operator reaction times and the chances of chain stall,” he says. “The HT275 also features a wireless remote control that allows operators to perform daily maintenance tasks, such as chain and bit maintenance, without climbing in and out of the cab.”

“At Vermeer,” says Savage, “we’re focused on machine advancements that help improve operating efficiencies. We want to make sure that when we develop a new machine, it is intuitive to operate and efficient on the job. The new Vermeer RTX1250i2 ride-on utility tractor, for example, is a recent example of this. The ‘i2’ represents ‘intelligence and interchangeability.’ The tractor’s self-identifying i2 attachments are recognized by the tractor, which simplifies control adjustments and reduces the time for switching attachments.

“Using intelligent on-board systems, the RTX1250i2 can optimize its performance, based on which i2 attachment it’s using, monitoring and making adjustments while it’s working,” says Savage. “The system also automatically lowers engine speed when machine controls have been inactive for a pre-set amount of time.”

According to Toro’s Conry, the company’s RT1200 is built on a tool carrier chassis and allows buyers to select from tracks or tires and a variety of attachments: including a combo mount (trencher and plow), sliding offset (allows attachments to slide, versus repositioning the tractor), backhoe, six-way backfill blade, vibratory plow, reel carrier, rock saw, and a heavy-duty trencher drive.

Toro’s heavy-duty trencher drive (HD PowerTrench) uses a flywheel, torsion shaft, and planetary gear set. The flywheel keeps the chain line from stalling in difficult soil conditions, says Toro, and minimizes pressure spikes in the hydraulic system. Between the flywheel and the planetary gear set, the torsion shaft serves as a spring to absorb shock loads from the trencher drive line. The planetary gear set multiplies hydrostatic-motor torque.

“The RT600 [a smaller model in the Toro lineup] also incorporates a number of new features and attachments,” says Conry, “including the direct-drive trencher system, combo-mount system, and the sliding-offset feature—all contributing to the overall versatility of the machine. Given the availability of various attachments for machines in general, it’s important for contractors to first define their scope of work, and then configure trenchers accordingly for the best results.”

Another recent enhancement for Toro models, says Conry, is the addition of an optional all-season cab. The cab features doors on both sides and provides a number of safety and operator-comfort features, including front and rear windshield wipers, pressurization, and reduced sound levels. The RT1200 cab, he says, also uses an integrated heating/air-conditioning system, but both the rear window and cab doors can be opened to provide optimum ventilation.

“The development of the trencher cab was centered on keeping operators safe and comfortable,” he says, “while at the same time increasing productivity throughout the year regardless of conditions.”

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