Front-mounted snow blowers | Front three-point hitch and p.t.o. equipment are more efficient than hydraulic systems
Front three-point hitches, front power take-off and big snow blowers have finally come into their own.
This combination lets the operator use a large mechanical front-wheel drive tractor up to 400 horsepower, which helps prevent large snowbanks from building up.
The added bonus is the health of the driver’s neck and back, which can take a beating with rear-mounted blowers.
Farmers who are recent immigrants from Europe, as well as Canadian vegetable farmers, are already aware of the multitude of implements for p.t.o. and three-point-hitches at the front of a tractor.
European tractors often have the benefit of a factory built p.t.o. at both ends of the machine. The option is now available on several mid-sized North American tractor lines.
Representatives from two of Canada’s biggest aftermarket p.t.o. and three-point hitch suppliers agree that front-mount snow blowers have become hot items.
The demand continues to escalate, to a large degree because of oil industry demands for clear roads.
Hydraulic front p.t.o. has been tried by people who like the simplicity of using hydraulic lines to move power up to the front.
However, they found that hydraulics robbed too much power, except when blowing powdery light snow.
Power generated by hydraulic systems at the back of a tractor doesn’t cut it at the front in hard-packed snow.
Some mechanical drive front p.t.o. systems have a drop box at the back and a long drive shaft to bring power to the implement up front.
This overcomes the power loss of running hydraulics to the front, but the long drive shaft running under the belly of the tractor is susceptible to damage.
For this reason, most farmers go through the inconvenience of removing the kit in the spring and installing it again in the fall.
It isn’t a significant factor, but it means the tractor can’t make better use of itself from April through October when it could be fitted with other front-mount implements.
Aftermarket companies began selling front p.t.o. kits and three-point front hitch kits for mechanical front- wheel drive (MFWD) tractors.
The two major players selling front hitch and p.t.o. equipment on the Canadian Prairies are Zuidberg Frontlink of Germany, and Laforge FrontPower of France.
Frontlink has front p.t.o. kits for virtually any tractor from small compact utility tractors to the largest 400 h.p. MFWD. However, it does not make a front p.t.o. for centre-articulating tractors, said Frontlink manager Jared Scholten.
He said all Frontlink front p.t.o. systems are designed to run off the front of the crankshaft. It does not run a drive shaft from the rear p.t.o. to the front.
“Our research says you lose 10 to 15 percent of your horsepower when you run your front p.t.o. with a drive shaft from the rear,” said Scholten.
“Our power lost, when we run the p.t.o. directly off the crankshaft, is only two to three percent. We replace the crank pulley with one we’ve designed specifically for that engine. It has a short shaft running forward to the input side of the box.”
Power is regulated by a wet clutch, similar to ones used in conventional p.t.o. boxes at the back of tractors. Scholten said front p.t.o. gearboxes are far smaller than those at the back, but they have no trouble doing heavy work such as blowing snow or cutting hay.
Frontlink uses a 540 r.p.m. gearbox for tractors under 100 h.p. and a 1,000 r.p.m. gearbox for larger tractors.
When buying a factory option or an aftermarket front p.t.o. for a compact tractor he said to remember most use either a drive shaft from the rear or a hydraulic system.
Scholten said sales of 1,000 r.p.m. front p.t.o. kits are particularly popular in parts of the Prairies where the oil industry is active, with many of those sales going to farmers.
“We’re also getting a lot of business from (rural municipalities). They find they can clear snow more efficiently in the winter, and do a better job of it. Then in the summer they install mowers and sweepers,” he said.
“Nearly all our customers buy the front p.t.o. and front three-point-hitch together as a package. Frontlink is available from any implement dealer who sells new tractors.”
Prices start at about $4,000 for a three point hitch only, while $15,000 buys a hitch, front p.t.o., accumulator, weight carrier, block weight, chain hangers, plate cooler and other minor parts.
Half of all tractors sold in Europe are built with front three point hitches and p.t.o.s. The other half come equipped with their torsion dampener connection already installed at the front end of the crank.
All European diesel manufacturers, as well as some in North America, now build true symmetrical engines, said Lars Paulsson of Laforge FrontPower.
“A symmetrical engine is designed to pull as much power off the front pulley as off the flywheel. It’s designed to supply large hydraulic power at the front of a tractor,” Paulsson said.
“But some manufacturers try to cut costs. They install a cheapy pulley that won’t handle a heavy hydraulic load. When we deal with one of those engines, we simply replace their cheap pulley with our good one. For example, John Deere builds symmetrical engines, and the front pulleys already have threaded holes for the torsion dampener or rubber flange. It’s ready to go.”
Paulsson said the space available for front p.t.o. boxes constantly shrinks for both factory and aftermarket units. Tier 4 criteria place greater demands on cooling systems, with bigger heat exchangers and more shrouding.
“The front p.t.o. unit now weighs only about 100 kilo,” he said.
“And we also want it as close as possible to the crankshaft so we have a shorter driveshaft from the coupler to the implement.”
He said the standards call for specific distances from the p.t.o. output shaft to the balls on a three point hitch. A big p.t.o. box makes the implement stick out further, which creates balance and handling problems and may push the unit beyond the established criteria. Although a small front p.t.o. box is a necessity, it doesn’t have to be weak.
“Our front p.t.o. boxes can be installed on mechanical front wheel drive tractors up to 500 h.p. and still be covered by warranty. Our warranty is based on 180 h.p. continuous operation.
“Some companies state a maximum horsepower in their warranty, but that’s only for short periods of time, not continuous operation,” he said.
“Our warranty is two years or 2,000 hours. Actual life expectancy is a lot longer, even if you run it up to 110 or 120 percent once in a while.”
Paulsson said snow blowing is the biggest test on front p.t.o. systems, especially in parking lots and city streets.
Snow removal crews typically create massive mountains of snow and then come back days later when it’s solidified into a glacier, wanting to truck it away in semi trailers. Instead of using bucket loaders to load the semis, they charge into the frozen piles with snow blowers because they load quicker.
However, they also put bricks, rocks, manhole covers and stop signs through the blower.
“And they keep that up at a full 1,000 r.p.m. solid, day and night. Not many systems live through that,” he said
“We’re the exclusive OEM (original equipment manufacturer) supplier of front p.t.o. and front hitch systems to John Deere, so that gives us a pretty good market share and exposure in a lot of dealerships. We sell through Deere and all the other major tractor dealerships in Canada. Everything comes out of our warehouse in Iowa, so there’s good delivery times.”
Laforge three point hitches start at about $4,000 for tractors under 100 h.p., while the p.t.o. lists for $7,000 to $8,000.
Paulsson said his most commonly sold system in Western Canada is a front p.t.o. and three point hitch combination designed for snow blowing, which sells for $14,000 to $16,000, depending on the tractor and options.
For more information, contact Jared Scholten at 519-582-3200 or visit www.frontlinkinc.com, and Paulsson at 925-827-2010 or visit www.fronthitch.com.