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Versatile Avant garde

The range of machinery available to the small plant customer has never been better. Dan Gilkes runs the rule over the Avant MultiPlus, which could be the Holy Grail for small contractors - a compact machine that meets all their plant requirements

VERSATILITY. How many manufacturers have claimed over the years that their backhoe, skid steer, telehandler or mini excavator has this elusive quality?

Certainly it is one of the most mentioned qualities in plant marketing and it is easy to see why versatility is so sought-after - why buy two or three different machines when one base model with a variety of attachments can handle a wide range of tasks?

Butler Equipment Sales, based in Oswestry, believes it has the ideal machine for the smaller end of the plant and tool hire market with its Avant Tecno range of compact tool carriers. The Avant line-up, designed and built in Ylojarvi, Finland, comprises two Multi articulated wheeled loader chassis, available with petrol or diesel engines, at operating weights of 650 kg to 880 kg, and two Profi skid steer-based machines with operating weights of 530 kg to 720 kg.

The most popular model is the top-of-the-range MultiPlus, which can take an impressive array of attachments, and, because the machine is fitted with a telescopic arm, can operate a number of implements more normally associated with minis or skid steers.

It can accommodate hydraulic breakers, a backhoe attachment, augers, trenchers, pallet forks, rotary sweepers, an angle blade, a lawn mower or flail and even an asphalt profiler.

Powered by a 20 HP water-cooled Kubota diesel engine, the MultiPlus has hydrostatic four-wheel drive with two additional hydraulic pumps for the attachments and telescopic front lift arm.

It can be supplied with a range of four-in-one, general purpose and high- lift buckets which, since Butler builds the buckets and a number of attachments itself, can be made to suit individual customer's needs.

The MultiPlus is fitted with a quick attach system, so changing buckets and implements is a one-person operation.

The machine's variable displacement pump provides up to 68 litres/min of flow for the transmission, with two gear pumps each providing 20 litres/min of flow for attachments. The operator can select one or both gear pumps, depending on the requirements of the attachment, from a switch on the control console.

With a length of just 2.2 m and a width of 0.92 m to 1.06 m, depending on tyre choice, the MultiPlus is compact and

manoeuvrable. It is supplied with a choice of grass tyres, which limit ground damage, or a heavier lug earthmoving tyre for maximum traction.

There is a manual differential lock, which locks the drive from side to side, rather than front to rear, providing good traction when entering a stockpile or on bad ground.

However there is no automatic levelling capability, so when the bucket is lifted high in the air, operators must remember to roll it forward at the same time, or part of the load will come back over the rear lip.

The backhoe attachment, which in fact bolts on to the front of the machine, is also built by Avant. Weighing 250 kg, it offers a 180 deg operating radius and a digging depth of 2,050 mm. The attachment includes a front stabiliser, mounted on the end of the machine's telescopic arm. The MultiPlus has a rear stabiliser, which is also hydraulically operated.

Butler offers a hydraulic breaker, an Australian-built Digga auger, and Digga's trenching attachment, which has a digging depth of 900 mm to 1,200 mm with chain widths of up to 200 mm.

The MultiPlus has a seat lifting block which raises the operator for improved visibility into the trench or digging area.

With the cable or pipe laid, the MultiPlus can be fitted with an angle blade and it will doze the material back into place, levelling off the site at the same time.

Butler Equipment Sales has been marketing the Avant Tecno range for two years, but has only concentrated its business on the compact machines since August last year. The company sells direct across the UK and Ireland, rather than using dealers.

Such a versatile machine appeals to a wide customer base, ranging from hire companies to utilities, from agricultural engineers to demolition contractors.

Butler is not interested in hiring the machines itself, though.

Managing director Mark Butler says: 'Probably our best customers of the future will be rental customers, and we see no reason to compete with them.'

Certain sectors of the rental industry have already noticed the Avant line-up. A Plant has 12 of the machines in its fleet and Mr Butler reports that the MultiPlus has achieved excellent hire rates.

Senior sales manager Peter Harrison says: 'With the right attachments, it's a machine that can work every day of the year. For other customers, it's a one-machine fleet.'

The firm has realistic ambitions for the Avant range. Mr Harrison says: 'I would hope in 1999 to sell in excess of 50 units.'