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Jeff Drake

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Inside Battery Power

The Toro Company’s Jeff Drake gives an insight into the journey including the break-throughs and benefits

For some time now battery-powered equipment has been heralded the future of the turfcare industry and while the benefits of this power source have been available in smaller, hand-held equipment for years, it took a little longer for it to be a realistic, affordable option for ride-on mowers and utility vehicles. But that all changed in 2020.

Here we talk to Jeff Drake, Global Product Marketing Manager for the Commercial Division at The Toro Company, who gives us an insight into the journey toward electric. 

Toro’s research and development teams have been working towards making battery powered machinery a reality for the turfcare industry for over 20 years. There have been some major product successes along the way in the form of impressive hybrid machines that have earned their place in some of the most exclusive and high-profile clubs around the world, but 100 percent battery-power remained elusive until last year. Jeff, why was that?

“The foundation for the new eTriFlex products started over 20 years ago and has evolved along the way as technology and the availability of the core components have evolved, become more readily available, and become more durable to meet the expectations of our customers.”

What were the major breakthroughs? For example, solving the issue of power-to-weight ratio?

“Technology has been the largest breakthrough for the team. The biggest influence has been the availability of proven lithium-ion batteries to provide the superb run-time and match our expectations for producing reliable machines.”

What were the biggest challenges/obstacles?

“Throughout the development process there have been challenges and overcoming them along the way has led to the success of the finished product. Designing and qualifying the individual electronic components to replace the hydraulic components has been a significant challenge. Hydraulics are inherently very compact and powerful and replacing the individual hydraulic elements posed unique challenges for the team.”

Toro is renowned for its innovation and research with new product development. How did it start and evolve for this technology? 

“Toro has always built widely sought-after triplex greens mowers, so anything we did needed to be an improvement and only build on our already strong reputation. The basis for the product started with our research and development group experimenting with first a hybrid drive machine and then taking it to the next level by eliminating all the hydraulics replacing them with electric power components. The team understood the need to evolve and build on the previous success of the product and looked to only take steps forward. 

“Along the way, not everything worked as planned, but important lessons were learned.  During the journey, the TriFlex line of mowers was released introducing our patented suspension system and introducing hybrid technology as well on a couple of the models. The TriFlex product line provided a great platform to evolve by replacing the traditional engine and hydraulic pumps with a pack of lithium-ion batteries, electric motors, actuators, sensors and controllers to keep everything communicating and working together.” 

Getting the cost right – how do you balance the technology and innovation process with getting the end cost right for the customer, plus keeping the Total Cost of Ownership reasonable? 

“As a new product, and one that introduces new technology to the market, it often comes with an increased cost. The team was conscious of the need to provide a product that performed, but also did it at a level of value to the customer. Customer input was used to provide features that added value and benefits. The increased product cost is quickly offset by the significant reduction in operating cost and minimal machine maintenance required.

“Elimination of the engine and the regular maintenance it requires, along with operating on about 70p a day for the electricity to mow all the greens for an entire course, really start to show in the saving for an average course. Being able to start earlier and complying with low noise requirements while not disturbing local residents and golfers is an added benefit customers can’t put a price on.”

What determines the next research and development towards a new battery-powered machine?

“Much like we experience in our daily lives, technology, and the development of faster smarter, and more efficient components, this will evolve the products we use on a regular basis. As the industry evolves and customers are striving to ‘do more with less’ so too will our product evolve to meet customers ever-changing needs. Delivering on performance while reducing the Total Cost of Ownership over the life of a product is an ongoing goal. With battery technology constantly improving, we are always looking for the next application for battery powered products while not sacrificing performance.”

The arrival of the all-electric Greensmaster eTriFlex 3370 ride-on triple mower last year was a break-through in the world of battery power for the turfcare industry. This machine represented the next big technological advancement to the market. Using this revolutionary machine as an example could you please tell us how your customers were involved in the process.

“Getting input from our customers is vital to the success of any project. Without their input along the way, I don’t know how you can ensure you are on the right path and making the right decisions to deliver a product that meets the needs of the customer. Many times, the customer isn’t always sure what they want, but they are good at telling you what isn’t working. Interpreting what the customer is struggling with and turning that into a solution to address their problems and challenges, is what we do. Frequently checking in with them along the development process is important to ensure you are on the right path.”

How has the market responded to the Greensmaster eTriFlex 3370? What has been the feedback so far?

“Market response for the new eTriFlex products has been great. Our customers fall into one of two categories: those that thrive on new technology and those that are content with what they currently have. Fortunately, the society is a close-knit bunch and they communicate regularly and rely on the opinions and feedback of one another. That being said, the product has exceeded the expectations of those customers that were ‘early adopters’ and word is spreading. 

“With the increase in regulations on emissions, both engine and noise, on a global level, the product was an easy choice to help customers address the new requirements they were up against. Even those customers that were content with what they had are making the switch to help comply with emissions and noise restrictions while reducing their operating and maintenance costs as well.” 

What can we expect in the future, where do you see the technology going for turfcare machinery?

“With growing sentiment among customers and increasing pressure at various levels of government to provide equipment that lessens the carbon footprint of our customer’s operations, hybrid, electric, and alternative energy offerings will continue to increase. As with many emerging technologies, capabilities will continue to improve, costs will become more affordable, and we’ll be able to introduce these technologies where our customers desire.

“Hybrid and electric technology gives us, as equipment designers and manufacturers, the ability to introduce features that provide greater control for our customers. Radius dependent speeds that govern our cylinder and wheel drive speeds when making turns with our eTriFlex units are an example of this. Radius dependent speeds were not possible with hydraulic cylinder and wheel drives due to the difference in operation as temperature of hydraulic oil increases.”

The timeline of Toro battery-power

In a relatively short period of time, Toro has created a hybrid range with an environmentally-focussed machine for the greens, tees, fairways and maintenance duties. Here we look at the break-through products that prove it’s the journey as much as the destination that’s important. 

2010

Toro Greensmaster eFlex 21, the first lithium-ion battery-driven greensmower

2015

Toro Reelmaster 5010-H, the first fairway mower with a true hybrid drive system

2016

Toro Workman GTXe utility vehicle 

2019

Toro Greensmaster eTriFlex 3360, utilising all-electric components for traction, steering, lift and cutting units to deliver a much quieter performance than traditional engine-powered models

2020

Toro Greenmaster all-electric eTriFlex 3370, with the charge capacity and performance to make this important technology a practical solution at last

and

Toro Workman GTX Lifted Lithium – the largest capacity lithium-ion vehicle in the class 

2021

Toro Greensmaster e1021 and eFlex1021 – Lithium Ion powered versions of the popular 1021 fixed head, and flex1021 mowers.

To talk to your Toro dealer or representative about electric turfcare machinery, contact Reesink Turfcare, the exclusive distributor for Toro golf and fine turf machinery in the UK and Ireland. Reesink is available to help you decide which machines will work best for your specific requirements and budget. There are always flexible finance deals available with deferred start dates, subsidised rates or that can be aligned to peak income months to help manage cashflow, too. It only takes a conversation. Make contact online via reesinkturfcare, by phone on 01480 226800 or by email at info@reesinkturfcare.co.uk.

June 2021