A lot of people are intimidated by sprayer plumbing. One look at the spaghetti bowl of spray mix and hydraulic hoses and valves, and they walk away. It hasn’t helped that much of it is concealed under the frame and all of it is in the same black colour, so figuring it out on your own is almost impossible.
Let’s quickly review the basics. In all sprayers, the liquid in the tank is drawn out from the bottom and pressurized by a pump. The pressurized liquid is split into two main paths. One goes to the spray boom to hydraulic atomizers (nozzles). The other goes back to the tank to agitate the liquid and act as a pressure bypass when the booms are off. Bypass throttling changes pressure. That’s it.
By the way, has anyone ever thought of some colour-coding or labelling the hoses and valves on a sprayer? We’d definitely appreciate that.
Conventional boom sections
Most North-American sprayers feed the pressurized liquid to the boom, where the flow is subdivided into physical sections that define the various portions of the boom that can spray at any one time. Older sprayers might only have two sections, the left and the right boom. Wide booms now have anywhere from 5 to 13 sections, each about two to four metres wide. Each section has a pressure feed to its middle, and each section terminates at two dead ends, at which we place caps or valves for flushing.
Any liquid that enters this type of boom must exit at the nozzle or the boom end. It must be sprayed out or drained. This poses three distinct problems.
- If the boom contains water or a previous spray mix, the boom needs to be primed with the new product before spraying. We need to spray or drain the existing product out.
- If we want to clean the boom or flush it with water, again we need to push the existing liquid out.
- If we have dead spots in the boom section, such as a boom end, we need to take special care to flush those out as well.
These characteristics complicate cleaning, create waste or contamination, and take time.
In a recirculating boom, the spray mixture enters the boom at one end and exits at the other, returning to the spray tank. In most cases, the left and right wing each has its own feed and return. Sectional control is achieved via individual valves (air or electric) placed on the nozzle bodies.
There are two main types of recirculating booms on the market.
The first system routes the pressurized mixture into the boom and shuts off the return line during spraying. When the nozzles are shut off for a turn, the return line opens automatically and the boom flow is pushed past the nozzles back to the tank. When the nozzles spray again, the return line closes to pressurize the boom.
This is the system used by Pommier, the French aluminum boom manufacturer who first introduced recirculating booms to North America.
The second type of system contains a 3-way valve, connected to the return line and the pressure side of the pump. This valve provides the option of either allowing the return line to go back to the tank, as above, or to also allow pumped flow to the return side so that the boom is pressurized at both ends.
This feature may be useful with long booms along which pressure drop is more likely to occur, or when very high flows are required, and was introduced to North America by the Dutch manufacturer Agrifac, about which we wrote here and reprinted Mick Robert’s article from Pro Operator here. A similar system is available from Rogator (starting in 2018) via their C-Series featuring LiquidLogic. It has also been used on the Connect sprayer, developed by Pattison Liquid Systems, for the D.O.T. autonomous platform.
The main advantages of this design are that it provides the option of additional pressure to the spray boom to avoid pressure drop, and to allow any spray mix in the return line to be pushed and sprayed out to the boom for rinsing in the field. This lowers the remaining volume that needs to be diluted.
Recirculating booms offer advantages in terms of preventing soil and water contamination and also in terms of simplifying the boom cleaning process. The design provides an opportunity to graduate to a better resolved sectional control as well due to the requirement for individual nozzle shutoff valves.
Due to shorter and less complex lengths of plumbing needed, stainless steel can be used for the return lines which decreases the potential for pesticide residue being adsorbed.
To rinse a boom with product mix still in the tank, simply draw water from the on-board clean water tank and push it to the boom without activating any nozzle bodies. The mix in the boom is returned to the tank and replaced with water, nothing is sprayed or drained. The tank contents may become slightly diluted depending on the duration of the rinse.
To rinse the tank as part of the sprayer cleanout, first spray the tank empty. Then introduce clean water into the product tank via the wash-down nozzles and spray that out. As always, either use several batches of small clean water volumes, or a continuous rinse system, to dilute the remainder most effectively. There may be additional volume to dilute from the return lines compared to a conventional system, depending on the type of recirculating system is used. However, boom ends no longer exist and this saves effort and ensures a more thorough rinsing.
To prime a boom that contains water, simply open the return lines back to the tank and allow the new mix to flow through the boom. Again, some dilution of the tank will occur due to the water in the boom.
The value of spray-free rinsing and priming adds up. Each prime, for example, consumes about 30 US gallons before the spray reaches the last nozzle of the longest section. Much of that product ends up on the ground, probably while the sprayer is stationary, and probably in a similar place on the field year after year.
Since a recirculating boom requires a powered individual nozzle shutoff, this adds some cost. However, the opportunity of improved sectional control via virtual sections is significant (most monitors offer 16 virtual sections that can be configured). Well-configured virtual sections can save several percent from overlaps.
Recirculating booms remove many of the contamination problems associated with conventional plumbed sections. They save time, money, and reduce environmental impact. We think they should be offered on sprayers.