Automower Part 5: Road to success…

This is part 5 of the series “Automower”, click here to read the “Part 1: Introduction to the Automower”.

Now that your robots are installed and running, we will look at what to expect on a daily basis, using the automowers.

To answer everyone’s question, YES, the romba can offer top notch quality and crisp edges but this takes some time. Unlike a conventional mower offering perfect conditions right after the first cut, there is a learning curve with the robot.

First of all, the robots are really bad at cutting down, if your current height of cut isn’t matching the fairway kit, it is recommended to bring down your fairway to the desired HOC with your conventional fairway mower first.
Second, the robots do not have a clean-up pass mode, the way they maintain the edge is by constantly hitting it while mowing from side to side. During the first few weeks the edges will have a saw-tooth appearance, this will disappear once the robots enter a routine.
And here is the strength of the robot, routinely keeping a perfectly cut and consistent surface 24/7.  

As we saw in the previous part, the robot is constantly mapping the area to detect growth differences. This different rate of growth can be explained by many factors such as shade, different grass populations or fungi, such as fairy rings type 2. It is amazing to see how consistent the robots are at maintaining the grass.

It is also possible that the robots leave clumps of clippings, either while mowing, but most of the time when they have accumulated too much grass underneath, especially during moist conditions

 There are multiple solutions available to resolve these aesthetic problems.

  • Adapting your fertiliser applications to the current rate of growth.
  • Equipping the robot with home-made brushes and scrappers.

While it takes some time to fine tune your fertiliser applications, installing brushes is a quick, cheap, and effective way to control clipping on your turf. It took us multiple prototypes to find the right brush design (and we won’t show it yet) but I can recommend you install:

  • Front brush: To dry and stand the grass up.
  • Back brush: To knock down potential clipping clumps.
  • In and Out back wheel brushes: To minimise clipping build up on the back wheels.
  • Front wheels scrapers: To minimise clipping build up on the front wheels.

We have been able to reduce clipping by more than 90% using combinations of brushes and scrapers.

Left side: A perfectly crisp fairway edge, which was previously part of the semi-rough.
Right side: The Mk 1 of the front and back brushes.

Now that the robot is up and running, let’s investigate the maintenance…
As the robots are constantly mowing it is very important to keep a consistent quality of cut (QOC) or they will start to damage the grass tips, and as the robots do not return to the shed at the end of the day, controlling the quality of cut is a little more difficult. Everything happens in the field.
Checking the quality of cut is as easy as lifting the machine and checking the blade edges for any obstructions or roundness. You really want to be pro-active on the quality of cut, the mower only cuts millimetres each day, damaged grass tips would take several days to return to normal.

The blade life expectancy is 2 to 3 weeks, depending on multiples factors such as grass growth, solid fertiliser applications, top dressing, wormcast activity or even drought!
Yes, drought can make your blades useless within a day! It is not scientifically explained yet, but I believe high concentration of sugars can create a build-up on the cutting blades. Luckily, it has happened only once to us!

Left side: A typical tip damage from dull blades.
Middle: Comparison between rounded blades and a new one.
Right side: A potential accumulation of sugar on the blade. Happened once only.

Each robot is equipped with 3 razor blades. It is not possible nor is it worth the effort trying to sharpen them. When bought in bulk of 300, a new set of blades will cost you around €3 per machine. Changing the blades is as easy as removing the screws and blades and replacing them with new ones. I highly recommend changing the screws every time you change the blades, for two reasons:

  • The friction of the turf will cause the head of the screw to become rounded.
  • The core of the screw will wear out with the constant rotation of the blade around it.

By not changing the screw, you are taking the risk of it breaking off on your turf surface and losing the blade, causing a risk of injuries. Also, the head of the screw could snap off the next time you are trying to change the blade.

Another point that requires constant attention, is the clipping collection of the automower.

There are two main areas of concern:

1. Clipping build up on the wheels:

If a large amount of clippings start to build up on the back wheel it can impact the height of cut by tilting the cutting head which will result in a horrendous scalped stripe. And, more importantly, will cause drag on the cutting disk and trigger the alarm, stopping the robot until you manually restart it on site.
The same can happen with the front wheels and they seem to be the main reason of clipping drop off behind the mower.
Our custom-made kit of brushes has in some cases completely eliminated the clippings from building up.

2. Clipping collection under the hood:

The robots are in two parts, the bottom part, where all the mechanics and electronics are, and a free-moving hood that supports the ultra-wave sensors and pressure sensors in case of contact, there is a real potential for clippings to stay trapped in these areas. This is more than an aesthetic problem, if several kilos of grass build up, it can dramatically increase the weight of the robot, reducing the battery life, but also wearing down the wheel motors quicker. It is recommended to clean these areas once a month, by separating the hood from the main frame (this can be done simply by pulling the parts apart, no tools are required) and to manually remove the excess grass.

And that’s it for the maintenance… because you are limited as to what you can do.

One of the biggest drawbacks with the Automower is you CANNOT change any internal parts yourself because every procedure requires you to connect the robot to a computer and to use the AutoCheck software… software that is only available to the Husqvarna official dealers…
Want to update the firmware to a newer version? Same, it can only be done by your dealer.
Very frustrating! Which is why I highly recommend having at least one, or two, of each robot in stock, so you can swap them while waiting for your dealer intervention.

Now that you can take care of the robot, let’s look at how the automower functions in the field…

Click here to read the “Part 6: Automower in action”.

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