Nozzling an Airblast Sprayer Step by Step

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About Jason Deveau (Spray_Guy)

Dr. Jason Deveau (@spray_guy) has been the OMAFRA Application Technology Specialist since '08. He researches and teaches methods to improve the safe, effective and efficient application of agricultural sprays in specialty crops, field crops and controlled environments. He is the co-administrator of Sprayers101, co-author of the Airblast101 Textbook, a slow cyclist and a slower runner.

See all posts by Jason Deveau (Spray_Guy).

“Which nozzles do I need”?

Operators expect a simple answer, but this is not a simple question. Establishing an airblast nozzling solution is an involved process. We must first define the working parameters and flush out any special circumstances. Then we use an iterative approach to identify suitable nozzle combinations that require minimal changes to the sprayer.

This article outlines my process step-by-step and then applies it to a hypothetical orchard scenario. If readers wish to delve deeper into the variables or the reasoning, several links to supporting articles are provided. Be aware that nozzling the sprayer is the penultimate step in establishing optimal sprayer settings. Operators should first adjust air settings, which includes identifying a suitable travel speed. The last step in setting up any sprayer is to verify you are achieving threshold spray coverage.

Step One: Establish sprayer parameters

  1. Is there more than one sprayer available? In diverse plantings, it may be more efficient to assign a sprayer to blocks that require the same nozzling solution.
  2. How many nozzle positions are there on one side of the sprayer? If the nozzle bodies are roll-over style the operator can alternate between two different nozzles in each position. Some designs have twice as many nozzle bodies as needed. The intent is to assign two unique nozzle solutions in an alternating A-B set-up. This additional capacity gives us some flexibility if needed.
  3. Is this a tower or a low-profile axial sprayer? Generally, we distribute nozzle flow evenly over a tower boom but distribute ½ the flow in the top 1/3 of the boom on a low-profile axial sprayer (depending on canopy shape and density). Air-shear and one-sided sprayers are special cases that are not addressed in this article.
  4. What is the average travel speed, and can the operator easily change it? This process assumes the selected speed achieves a reasonable work rate while optimizing the interaction between sprayer air and the canopy.
  5. What is the average operating pressure, and can the operator easily change it? For sprayers with positive displacement pumps, pressure is easily changed via the regulator. Not so for sprayers with centrifugal pumps. Pressure-based rate controllers empower an operator to dial in their desired volume and are easiest of all .

Step Two: Establish target parameters

  1. What is the row spacing (or spacings)? Some operations include a variety of canopy morphologies and planting architectures.
  2. What is the target volume (or volumes)? Operators often use a range of volumes to reflect the product being applied and the canopy area-density. This process assumes the volume will provide threshold, uniform coverage without misses or excess.

Step Three: Are there any environmental, geographical or adjacency concerns?

Each operation is unique, including conditions that may influence nozzling. For example, open water, sensitive crops, or residential areas adjacent and downwind of the planting may warrant drift-reducing nozzles or require the operator to only spray inward from one side of the sprayer. In another example, dry and windy conditions may require nozzles that produce a coarser spray quality will improve their survivability. Rolling hills and uneven alleys may cause sway that prevents the upper-most nozzles from consistently reaching the target.

Step Four: Find out why the operator is re-nozzling

The answer may reveal the operator’s willingness and ability to make changes to sprayer settings. For example, if their objective is to improve the match between sprayer and canopy it implies a willingness to take a more active role in spraying. Conversely, a less experienced operator might be satisfied with a more robust (i.e., wasteful) set up that does not require many changes between blocks.

Step Five: Determine the highest and lowest boom flow requirements

The following formulae relate travel speed, row spacing, and the desired volume sprayed per planted area to the output from a single boom. I recommend downloading this Excel-based calculator to make the process easier.

US Imperial Formula
Output from single boom (gpm) = [(Sprayer Output (gpa) × Travel Speed (mph)) ÷ 990] × Row Spacing (ft)

Metric Formula
Output from single boom (L/min) = [(Sprayer Output (L/ha) × Travel Speed (km/h)) ÷ 1,220] × Row Spacing (m)

Using the formula with the appropriate units, enter the highest desired volume, the fastest travel speed and the longest row spacing. This will give the highest rate of flow the boom must satisfy.

Repeat this process using the lowest desired volume, the slowest travel speed and the shortest row spacing. This will give the lowest rate of flow the boom must satisfy.

The ultimate objective is to select a combination of nozzles that can produce these two flows, distributed sensibly along the boom, with no gaps or excessive flow relative to the target. Ideally, the operator should be able to alternate between these two flows with as few changes as possible.

Step Six: Satisfy the highest flow

This step requires a nozzle manufacturer’s catalogue and a calculator (or the downloaded Excel spreadsheet). We must assume the range of available nozzle positions are oriented to span the target canopy with no over- or under-spray.

Divide the highest flow requirement by the number of available nozzles. Hypothetically, a nozzle that produces this flow would satisfy the highest flow requirement while providing an even distribution along the boom.

Using the nozzle manufacturer’s catalog, find the flow table for the nozzle you want. Generally, a molded hollow cone nozzle is the preferred choice (e.g., TeeJet’s TXR ConeJet or Albuz’s ATR). If drift is a concern, there are also air induction (AI) hollow cones available. AI nozzles are most effective in the top two or three nozzle positions where drift potential is highest. However, they may require higher flow than calculated to compensate for a reduced droplet count.

Find the operating pressure (it may be in either the column or row heading) and find a flow rate in the body of the table that is as close as possible to your calculated ideal. It’s almost never an exact match, so choose the option that is less than the target rate – not higher.

Imagine placing that nozzle in every available position. Add up all the rates to determine how close you are to the ideal flow. It will likely be less. To compensate, replace the top nozzle on the boom with a higher rate and re-calculate the total flow. Repeat this process, substituting for nozzles with a higher rate, moving top-down along the boom until the flows match.

You have now satisfied the demand for the highest flow.

Step Seven: Satisfy the lowest flow

This is the art-and-compromise part of the nozzling process.

Confirm that the range of available nozzle positions still corresponds to the target. Quite often, the lowest flow is intended for shorter trees. If so, we may no longer have as many nozzle positions to work with. .

Imagine the sprayer is still nozzled for the highest flow per the last step. Leaving the highest effective nozzle on, imagine turning off every second nozzle. Add up the flows and determine how close you are to the lowest rate of flow. It is often still too much. Do not turn off any more nozzles or you may create gaps in the swath.

Instead, return to the nozzle catalogue and re-calculate the flows for the same nozzles, but using a lower operating pressure. Can you make that work? If not, you may have to go back further in the calculation (Step five) and recalculate the lowest flow required using a faster travel speed. This will reduce the demand for flow.

If none of those options are viable you will have to consider re-nozzling. Perhaps that’s swapping a few nozzles to lower rates. Hopefully this only requires the operator to flip a roll-over position, but it may mean using a wrench to remove caps and swap nozzles.

Once you’ve satisfied the lowest flow, the hardest part of the process is complete.

Step Eight: Satisfy the other permutations

The last step is no different than what we’ve already done. Go back to Step Five and calculate the flow for each spraying situation. That is, each unique combination of row spacing, travel speed and target volume. Using the nozzles already on the sprayer, adjust the pattern of nozzles in use (and pressure and/or travel speed if required) until each unique flow requirement is satisfied.

Step Nine: Record the setups, nozzle the sprayer and test the coverage

Be sure to clearly record the sprayer settings required to achieve each flow. Purchase the nozzles and take the time to test each set up using water sensitive paper to ensure coverage is achieved.

A working example

Let’s apply this process in a hypothetical orchard. I’ve included a screenshot of the spreadsheet I use to record the final nozzling solution (below) but feel free to design your own. It includes the nozzling solution for this example.

Our orchard is a 50 acre operation with both 11 and 15 foot row spacings. They have one tower sprayer with 15 nozzle positions on one side and they are not roll-over bodies. The operator wants to apply a 40 gpa volume (concentrated) and a 100 gpa volume (dilute). Their preferred travel speed is 4.5 mph and preferred operating pressure is 140 psi, but they are willing to change them if required.

We use the Excel calculator to work out the ideal highest and lowest demands for flow:

Highest boom flow (gpm) = [(100 gpa × 4.5 mph) ÷ 990] × 15 ft
Highest boom flow = 6.8 gpm

We’ll call this “Situation A”

Lowest boom flow (gpm) = [(40 gpa × 4.5 mph) ÷ 990] × 11 ft
Lowest boom flow = 2.0 gpm

We’ll call this “Situation D”

I usually shut off the lowest nozzle position because it almost never aims at the target. Let’s divide the high flow of 6.8 gpm by 14 available positions to give us an average output of 0.48 gpm per nozzle. This operator wants to use TeeJet TXRs, so using their table (below) we see that at 140 psi the Orange ’02 is too low and the Red ‘028 is too large. If we drop the operating pressure to 120 psi, the Red ‘028 is much closer at 0.465 gpm, so let’s do that.

A quick check gives us our current boom flow: 14 positions × 0.465 gpm per nozzle is 6.51 gpm of boom flow. We wanted 6.8 gpm, so let’s go up to the Grey ’03 in the top three positions. Now it’s 4 × 0.517 gpm + 10 × 0.465 gpm = 6.72 gpm. That’s close to our ideal 6.8 gpm, so let’s lock that down. If you want to see what this is in gpa, you can plug the value into the Excel calculator to discover it’s 99.6 gpa. Pretty darn close to our target 100 gpa.

Now using that nozzling arrangement, let’s see if we can satisfy the lowest flow requirement by shutting off every second nozzle position, leaving the highest position on. Doing so reduces us to two Greys and five Reds, totaling 3.36 gpm. That boom flow is much too high compared to the 2.0 gpm we need. However, in our hypothetical orchard, this block has shorter trees so we don’t need the highest nozzle. That drops us to only one Grey and a new total of 2.84 gpm. Good try, but it’s still too much.

Let’s reduce the operating pressure from 120 psi to 100 psi, which is as low as I like to go. According to TeeJet’s table, the Grey produces 0.473 gpm and the Red produces 0.426 gpm at this pressure. This gives us a new total of 2.60 gpm. Still too high! Well, let’s raise our travel speed from 4.5 mph to 5.0 mph and recalculate the lowest flow for Situation D:

Lowest boom flow (gpm) = [(40 gpa × 5.0 mph) ÷ 990] × 11 ft
Lowest boom flow = 2.2 gpm

This still won’t do it, and driving that fast (even if it’s possible) would change our air settings too drastically. Having exhausted all the easy options we have no choice but to re-nozzle the sprayer for the original lowest flow requirement.

Returning to the TeeJet table we see the best fit is to spray at 100 psi using one Red TXR80028 and five Orange TXR8002s. It’s a lucky break that our 1.98 gpm has come so close to the 2.0 gpm of flow we wanted.

Now let’s work out the best arrangement for the other permutations, Situation B and C. We need 5.0 gpm and 2.7 gpm, respectively. For Situation B, let’s use the nozzling solution from Situation A. We see that shutting off four nozzles gets us very close at 4.81 gpm or 97.3 gpa where we wanted 100 gpa. As for Situation C, let’s work from the nozzling for situation D. By adding a few more nozzles from that set, we can manage 2.71 gpm or 40.2 gpa.

Finally, we record all the settings (refer back to the spreadsheet image). We will need four Grey TXR8003s, ten Red TXR80028s and six Orange TX8002s per side, so 40 nozzles in total (plus a few spares for each rate). We will need to spray at 120 psi for Situation A and be prepared to shut off a few nozzles for Situation B. Situation C will require 100 psi and an entirely different nozzling and we will have to shut a few of them off for Situation D. Not only have we determined a nozzling solution, but we have revealed an efficient order for spraying the blocks that will require as little manual change to the sprayer as possible.

Summary

There is no one right answer to the question “which nozzles do I need” but there are certainly wrong answers. Bear this in mind when you buy a sprayer and the dealer offers you a factory-standard nozzle setup. Apply this process to your operation and be sure to use water sensitive paper to confirm the coverage and to make informed changes where required.