Utilizing their unique know-how, the German company mera Rabeler GmbH & Co. KG has innovated a new vehicle specifically for wetland and nature, meaning work in summer conditions on soft ground. The drive system of a new track vehicle called muR was developed together with Th. Niehues GmbH and Black Bruin supplied the motors. The innovation could literally pave the way for the growth of a new sustainable business, ‘climate farming’.
mera Rabeler has 30 years’ experience in modifying and developing track vehicles. They started by modifying old and new snow groomers for use in summertime work. In winter conditions, the machines work at low temperatures and mild dust conditions. The summer working environment is just the opposite, requiring technical adaptation, for example cooling units and dust protection. However, the payload of the snow groomers is limited (2,500-3,000 kg), and the cost of modifying them has risen with tightening technical standards. mera Rabeler therefore decided to build its very own vehicle for summertime use.
The machine was originally intended for grass cutting on wet ground, but it can do far more. The main innovation is that the design is intended specifically for wetland and nature work in summer conditions on soft ground. Some other solutions employ a technology based on excavators – with a clumsy respond and inclined to sink deep into the ground. The mera innovation has articulated steering, making it easier to operate and causing less damage to the terrain.
We are talking about track vehicles with ground pressure below 135 g/cm2. To give you an idea of what that means, the ground pressure of an adult is around 200-350 g/cm2, depending on shoe size and body weight. So, this big machine that weighs 20 tons exerts less ground pressure than most people. This means that when riding in wetland areas, you cannot dismount from the machine without snowshoes or other protective equipment; you would sink into the mud. Nature work includes bog and moorland restorations, entailing working for the next 20-30 years to take care of the area and reverse the damage done to it, eventually restoring it to its original natural condition. In all bog fields in Northern Europe this is a big issue. They need to raise the water level of drained marshes and areas previously used for peat extraction and conventional farming.
We got really fast feedback and answers. Black Bruin gave us quick redesign when we noticed that the original choice did not perform as well as we had hoped. The way they delved into customers’ problems and managed to find a solution together with us was really positive and impressive.Christian Wentzien, CEO, mera Rabeler
Black Bruin is known to be able to offer fully hydrostatic solutions for tracked and amphibious vehicles. The name of mera Rabeler’s new vehicle is muR, for a universal track vehicle. 4TD, in other words, 4-track drive, means that this vehicle has a good weight balance, a pushing and pulling machine at the front and a trailer on which to load material. The payload at 6,000 to 12,000 kg is significantly bigger than with the older solution, (2,500 – 3,000 kg) and depends on customer requirements.
Whether working in agriculture or forestry, with the use of Black Bruin motors, this solution needs no planetary drives requiring oil-level maintenance, so the user saves oil and service time. Most of the few service needs can in fact be taken care of remotely – a great asset to customers often working in almost inaccessible locations.
Compared to a solution with a planetary gearbox, the direct drive motor offers higher efficiency in more compact size. The pulling machine and the trailer have a freewheeling option and can be driven without hydraulic power, which facilitates the transition between trailer devices. The drive system has a hydraulic pump and Black Bruin motors: the basic set has in total 4 Black Bruin C231 motors per machine, 2 in the front part, 2 in the rear part (trailer) as the primary transmission driving the tracks. The vehicle can be adjusted to have different rear machine options – for example two trailers, with each trailer having 2 Black Bruin motors.
With a modified snow groomer, you could harvest green material from wetlands at a rate of about 3 hectares per 8-hour working day. With muR you can achieve double that amount, 6-8 hectares per day in the same time. One of the greatest benefits from the point of view of cost efficiency and environmental protection is that the muR has a diesel engine also suitable for HVO diesel. This is an important feature requirement in all nature care applications. The cost of the machine is comparable to that of modifying a new snow groomer for summer work, but there’s the additional benefit of low service cost and high capacity. So, from the customer’s point of view, it is a win-win solution.
The relationship between mera, Niehues and Black Bruin as three specialists combining their expertise for innovation is truly unique. mera is a small company with 25 employees, and with their 5-person design department they can use additional resources for their R&D work. A system integrator like Niehues is therefore a much-appreciated partner to help put the big ideas and projects into practice. The cooperation between the companies is long, starting in 2016. This development project started 8 years ago in 2014. mera had used Black Bruin motors on some other products, so they already knew the quality and power of the motors.
In fact, mera’s cooperation with Black Bruin started when the latter company was still known as Sampo-Hydraulics, but for this new machine the cooperation went through Niehues as the intermediary. “We got really fast feedback and answers,” says Christian Wentzien. “Black Bruin gave us quick redesign when we noticed that the original choice did not perform as well as we had hoped,” Christian Wentzien continues “The way they delved into customers’ problems and managed to find a solution together with us was really positive and impressive.” Marc Daniels of Niehues was also really happy with the cooperation, calling it outstanding: “Even though Niehues has a long history with Black Bruin, we were still pleasantly surprised at how well the innovation process and finding the solution and prototyping worked. Black Bruin and their technology experts were always accessible in the background.” Christian Wentzien sums it up: “We three have such a connection and cooperation that it is like a family.”
There are two types of customers for muR: first governmental organizations and then private contractors. One potential future segment might be farmers on wetland areas. In Germany climate farmers are a promising customer group, meaning those farmers who aim to regenerate agriculture and change the way it operates. “We gave the climate farmer a machine for challenging areas and that machine can be driven on sustainable fuel.”
In the next 3 to 4 years, some 5-10 machines will likely be delivered annually in the EU area. The demand may actually be bigger because of climate change and changes in legislation. The countries with large areas of dried peat bogs constitute a huge potential market, as they need to be restored to tie-up the CO2 from the atmosphere.
Another possible application for the machine is wetland transportation, bringing people or materials into these areas, such as on the coastlines in Northern Europe, the Netherlands, the Benelux countries, the northwest of France, the UK, Scandinavia and the Wadden Sea area in Germany. As already mentioned, the vehicle would be useful in bog restorations, but also in old pit heaps, waterlogged forestry areas and so on – in all areas inaccessible with tyres and tractors.
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