Review: Agrison ME850 mini-excavator

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  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

Charlie Dangerfield’s new Agrison ME850 tracked mini-excavator mightn’t be the biggest machine on the market – in fact, it’s the smallest – but that suits him just fine, he tells Steve Kealy

Agrison -ME850-mini -excavator
Charlie has opted for an AugerTorque drive, a $1,200 cost addition that really makes a difference to how the machine operates

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Often, when we get to see a new machine in action, it’s the biggest, the best, the freshest and the newest thing on the market. Which is all well and good – in our industry, new technology, new methods, new systems are often key to productivity and profitability. As a bonus, we often get to meet some of the folk involved with new machines – the engineers who build ‘em, the techs who maintain ‘em and perhaps most importantly, the operators who use them – often well outside the scope of what the engineers and the techs would like!

So, the chance to chat to Charlie Dangerfield about his new Agrison tracked mini-excavator was refreshing, because Charlie is the first to admit his machine isn’t the biggest one there is – in fact, it’s the smallest – and despite being just under two metres tall, that suits him just fine.

Charlie and his wife Katherine own and run Central Victoria Fencing in the Romsey-Bendigo area. Earlier in the year, he bought one of Agrison’s smallest excavators to use primarily as a post-hole digger. And a couple of months on, it’s fair to say that he’s well-pleased that he did.

Following some research, he opted for the Agrison ME850; he makes no bones about his decision – it was based mostly on price, having used a one-man post-hole auger, or hiring equipment like Dingoes for specific jobs. He was essentially looking for "a power shovel" but since much of his work involves small domestic sites, he needed something that he could get into tight spots. Here the Agrison’s width – a smidge under 900mm – is a major bonus; he can literally get it through garden gates. There, the machine’s light 850kg operating weight and its rubber tracks means it does client-pleasingly little damage to established areas, paths and driveways.

Agrison -ME850-mini -excavator
The machine’s light 850kg operating weight and its rubber tracks means it does client-pleasingly little damage to established areas, paths and driveways

That it’s light enough to be towed by a modest one-tonne ute that’s also hauling a cement mixer, fencing wire and often a day’s worth of gum-poles, is an added bonus: Charlie didn’t need to get a bigger vehicle to get his tools to job-sites. He does use a couple of loading ramps to get the little machine on and off the trailer – with such short tracks (1,230mm), just riding off wasn’t really feasible.

Powered by a single-cylinder air-cooled diesel rated at 8.6kW, the ME850 actually has more hydraulic oil on board than diesel fuel – 20 litres of hydraulics and 15 litres of fuel – yet that will see the machine running for most of a week! Charlie’s careful about not pushing the machine too hard – being two metres tall means he can lean forward and check the hoses for heat!

Which isn’t to say that the machine gets an easy life – he’s already sheared off the standard one-inch auger drive and he reckons it’s a bit light-on and really needs a two-inch upgrade. In fact, he’s opted for an AugerTorque drive, a $1,200 cost addition that really makes a difference to how the machine operates. He may have lost a few rpm, but he’s happy knowing that there’s more torque at the bit now, and a snagged augur won’t damage the drive either.

Mini excavators

In his region, he faces everything from sandy soil to clay or shale-rock; he usually goes down less than a metre, but can extend the shaft and he often runs into tree roots. Sometimes the little Agrison will lift a little, but careful use of the machine’s blade as a back-stop and lifting off the drilling load keeps things stable. He’ll often sink a pilot hole, but he never uses an auger over 300mm diameter.

Charlie does use the mini blade for levelling a site or perhaps shaping a small spoon-drain occasionally, but thinks he’ll soon extend it up "a bit" – as it is, it’s a bit too small for his use and fills up, chokes and spills quickly.

Besides upping the auger drive and making the blade bigger, Charlie’s looking at swapping some of the arm’s control levers too, so he can control it with just one of his generously large hands. Despite his size, he doesn’t find the machine cramped – there’s enough space for his steel-toe Blunnies and so far the seat has proven comfortable enough.

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In his region, Charlie faces everything from sandy soil to clay or shale-rock; he usually goes down less than a metre, but can extend the shaft and he often runs into tree roots

The ME850 is supplied with a ripper, some buckets of 200mm, 360mm and 460mm width which he almost never uses, and a log grabber. The ripper he uses fairly often for short runs or a bit of a trench, but if he were needing to lay a cable-run to an electric fence over any distance, a pipeline or something deeper, he’d probably get hold of a proper trencher: "Horses for course," he says. "Use the right tool for the job."

The cab will pivot right round and while the ROPS looks light, Charlie points out that if an operator did get really clumsy and tip the machine over, the ROPS only has to stop it rolling right over; the roof is decently thick steel, not crack-prone plastic or fibreglass and is typical of an impressive build quality visible everywhere. It’s not so much a machine built to a price, as a small machine built to big machine standards.

Charlie says he’s yet to meet the older fence post that his new machine can’t simply lift out the ground – concrete footing or not. Some need a bit of push and pull before being lifted up, but it seems that old posts in his area know that resistance is futile.

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His previous one-man post-hole digger was causing some vibration-related issues for his hands – swelling and tingling mostly; switching to the ME850 has put all that in the past. "The old machine is just lying in the shed now," he said. "I might need it one day, but it’s not my first choice."

Maintenance-wise – well, with only 60 hours on the dial, the new machine’s barely run in. So far, it’s only really seen hot, dry and dusty jobs, so Charlie expects he’ll need to be keeping dust off the operating parts and out of the engine bay, but in reality, the designers seem to have done it for him.  He greases the nipples at every pivot and linkage every week and each time he’s checked the air-filter, it’s been spotless; the oil and fuel filters will get regular changes and the tracks haven’t needed any tensioning yet.

So far, Charlie’s been more than impressed by his little machine – it does exactly what he wants it to do and at the price, he reckons he got precisely the right tool for the job. It’s nice to meet a man for whom less is exactly enough!

 

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