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#1092332 - 19/03/2012 10:52 The Push Button Combine
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
Just to try and stir a bit of interest in this Agricultural forum I am going to do some plagiarizing.
Relax, it's my own postings that I will be plagiarizing from the american "Combine Forum"

"Combines" are to us here in Australia, the "Headers" or harvesting machines although "combine" is becoming a wider used term.
I posted the following articles on the Combine Forum starting in March 2007.
I got some two and half thousand hits in the few weeks I was posting on this particular thread.
Some of the posts may no longer be completely up to date but for those interested, particularly any city folk, I hope it gives a small glimpse into the world of the modern farmer, the guys and gals who grow that food you put on your table and eat every day.

After all EVERYTHING starts by being mined or grown.

The Push Button Combine [ Header ] part one

[ A long, long post so I hope it arouses your interest.]

"The Push Button Combine" or in my home country of Australia, "The push button Header".

A term I first heard used over 30 years ago in the latter half of the 1970's when we took an Allis Chalmers Gleaner L2 contract harvesting up into central New South Wales on the then fringes of the Outback.
The locals of that area were some very phlegmatic and very tough guys. They had to be to make a go of it in that area and they did their farming and grain growing in some very harsh country.

Completely different now with a lot of money and a lot of very sophisticated irrigation from underground water which was only just starting to be exploited when we first went up there.
In those days of old, they were still driving 711 Inters and MF 585's when we arrived with the L2 which blew everybody away and promptly got dubbed the The Push Button Header.
In fact they claimed that the old Inter 711's and MF 585's lasted about 4 or 5 years out there in that abrasive red soil and then they drove them into the nearest creek.
After a couple of decades they claimed they could use the stack of old combines as a bridge when it got wet and the creeks flooded.

[ We drove the L2 some 600 kms up there with a the front [ header ] on it's trailer hitched on the back and a fuel tank trailing along at the tail end.
Some 17 and half hours of near non stop driving in one day usually on one's own.
One polizia moved us right along out of his town.
We discovered later that he owned two combines for contract harvesting and no contractor was going to get a foothold on his patch!]

The generations of Gleaners that followed all used the same type of "electronics" or more accurately they used automotive industry based electrical monitoring systems which had been long sorted out by the automotive and heavy vechile industry over many decades.
As a result the Gleaner electrical control and monitoring systems are quite trouble free, ie; these systems have proven to be very robust and trouble free right through the life of the combine.

I have touched on [ and gone completely off topic ] the current trend towards electronically controlled combine operating systems in the Two Rotors thread.
So to bring this subject on the future electronic operating and control systems that will be a critical component of every machine that we will purchase and operate within the next decade, I have started this thread to allow discussion on this fundamental change in the way that our machines of the future will be operated.

Perhaps my age is showing but I am deeply sceptical about the long term reliability and the survivability in the dusty and vibration ridden conditions, typical of agriculture, of the consumer type electronics that the manufacturers are using in their newest range of combines and tractors.
There is no doubt that electronics can be made very reliable and can be made to stand up to some very tough conditions.
To have this type of electronic systems the manufacturers would have to move to the specialised military hardened electronic systems and that would make combines and tractors equipped with these hardened systems just about unaffordable to all except to the the most avaricious big bank CEO's and their incompetent minions.
The other options for the manufacturers are to provide fan and AC cooled, filtered air in sealed, pressurised, vibration isolated boxes or units with all the electronic control boards combined to just one easily accessible location.
A couple of manufacturers are moving in this direction but as anybody who has messed with the now rather primitive automotive based alarm and monitoring systems in a combine or tractor will know, even the best sealing still seems to allow a buildup of dust, fluff, moisture and general detritus on the circuit boards.
This buildup is a function of the electric fields that surround any circuit board and IC's and is usually he cause of or leads to faulty operation.

Electronics can be a truly marvelous means of creating great flexibility and extremely good performance from engines and complex machines such as the modern tractors and combines and the ability of the electronic systems to contribute to even better performance in the future is almost unlimited.
But the achilles heel of all current combine and tractor electronic systems is that just one single, tiny component on that circuit board needs to fail or even only partially or intermittently fail, the worst scenario, and the entire operations of that machine will grind to a stuttering halt.

Software from the manufacturers are another real problem which will get a lot worse as more and more electronically controlled systems are incorporated into the new combines and tractors.
By electronic standards the production run of a particular circuit board and the IC components that are specific to one make and even more likely, one model with variations of that model, are absolutely miniscule and wouldn't even match the preproduction, verification run numbers in consumer electronics.
Every time a board configuration is changed or the engineers change the specifications for some obscure reason, the software writers, the coders have to revamp the soft ware program for that board and the operation/s it controls.
There simply is not enough time or experience to thoroughly debug each and every circuit board operating program each time the circuit is reconfigured or the operation it controls is changed in some way, all due to the very low production numbers of that circuit and that soft ware program so bugs and some big bugs at that will happen on a very regular basis.
So now we have a consumer based , somewhat brittle in operation circuit board, an extremely low production run of circuit boards, a very small and generally short production run software /program which may be full of bugs and in all probability a growing shortage of competent software engineers who are familiar with the needs and nuances of the agricultural industries.
Now toss in some dozen or so models of combines plus an equal number of tractor models from each manufacturer and multiply this lot by the number of major agricultural machinery manufacturers and then the number of circuit boards and the necessary software in each combine / tractor [ 14 such circuit boards in one model of one make of tractor. Make shall remain nameless except it is painted green and yellow! ]
In this case, the number of circuit boards AND the accompanying entrails of the loom were changed three times in the one model and the only way of identifying the changes was by the serial numbers.

There is much, much more to discuss on the good and bad points of the electronic revolution that is just now starting to hit the actual operating regimes of the ag machinery.

I have mentioned the wrecking of a mechanically sound European combine as it's $30,000 critical circuit board blew up twice in quick succession.
Today I was told of a combine where it took ten days to just get it out of the shed to start this year's harvest.
The owner drove it into the shed at he end of last harvest and it was a late model in excellent mechanical condition when he did so.
Nothing he or the agents did or could find out could get that combine engine started when it was required for this year's harvest.
Ten days and a new circuit board [ none available in Australia. Availability of the huge multiples of circuit boards and even more software programs being one of main points I am making when looking into the future a decade or two ahead.] ] flown in from the USA and they got it out of the shed.
Now this can and will happen to any combine or tractor make so no names but the colour was that grassy green colour with the ripe grass colour to accompany it.

I have posted comments in the Two Rotor thread and judging from the number of views , many of you must have read some of that thread but at the risk of boring you, I will take the liberty of reposting my comments from that thread into here as the comments are more appropriate here in this thread.

Reposted from the Two Rotor Thread ;

One of the what I believe will be the really big problems downstream for the present and future generations of combines and will impact on their long term reliability, usability and resale value is that the current generation of games kiddy designers are incorporating more and more computer controlled functions into the combines, tractors and other complex machinery.
Without these boards, the machine or some part of it becomes inoperable and everything grinds to halt.
Nor have these computers and boards shown themselves to be particularly robust or reliable in Ag use plus software issues often arise as well.
Changes in electronics and software are moving at a continuing and quite phenomenal rate and the games kiddy designers are constantly changing both the computers boards, the number of computer boards in a machine and the software, always claiming to be supposedly "improving" the performance of the machine.

In say 15 years time a lot of computers and boards in the current generation combines and tractors will simply no longer be available and the electronics in 15 years may be unrecognisable in any case compared to the current generation of electronics.

For the most popular brands and some of the most popular models in those brands, the small companies and backyarders will still possibly make up custom boards to keep the machines running but for most of the late generation, small production run models of computer reliant combines and tractors when a vital computer board, just one of a number in the machine, blows up, the only real alternative will be the wrecker's yard.
The cost of this will be horrendous to the farming community but we won't see this cost until years down the track and by then it will be far too late.
The machinery manufacturers are getting their money now.
We will pay much later as machines still in excellent mechanical condition will be regarded as scrap as the boards and software are obsolescent and if a critical board blows up, cannot be replaced and is no longer available and without those all essential computers the machines simply won't operate.

As an example, I believe that in one particular late generation model of a very popular brand of tractor there are three different versions using different computers and a different number of computer boards but the only way you can tell which version is which is from the serial numbers.

In combines, my info comes from one of the best Gleaner hotrodders here in Oz,
He was in a wrecker's yard and there was a very late model and very large capacity european manufactured combine still in very good mechanical condition being wrecked, to his astonishment.
The wrecker told him that a computer board had blown up in the combine and a replacement was some $30,000 AUD [ US $28,000 ].
The board was replaced and blew up again in a couple of weeks so the combine owner said thats it and the combine went to the wreckers.

Those are the sort of problems we are facing in the long term with the current and future generations of combines and tractors as they start to accumulate hours and time and as the games kiddy designers put more and more computer type controllers into Ag machinery.

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#1092528 - 19/03/2012 18:32 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
i will try and put up a post a day from now on although this is the second article / post in the series which I only started today.
And a correction ; the posts started in the Combine Forum in Jan 2010, not in 2007 as I originally posted.

Comments from others who go to the trouble of reading all of this are welcome

Part Two;

As in most things, my thinking on the future of electronic and computer controlled combines [ & tractors ] is still evolving and the many facets of this new phase in agricultural machinery will be explored by others as well.

So far in computer controlled combines we have;
1 / The increasing use of dedicated circuit board and IC controlled critical functions in the new generation of combines and tractors.
2 / The use of consumer standard components and circuit boards for the controlling functions and the consequent low reliability due to the harsh conditions, ie; vibration, dust, moisture and heat under which the circuit boards operate and for which the consumer type electronics were never designed.
3 / The miniscule, by consumer electronic standards, numbers of any one configuration of a board and therefore the very real problems of ensuring that replacement circuit boards will be available some years and decades into the future.
Without these replacement critical function controlling circuits and boards the machines will become just so much scrap iron.
4 / Due to the constant, frequent changes in the circuit board designs, the software designers and coders are not able to provide fully verified, quality operating programs nor has a fully developed debugging of the operating software been able to be performed due to the constant changes and the time constraints created by the constant changes.
5 / A shortage of competent software designers and coders with an understanding of the nuances of agriculture will probably become a serious problem as function controlling electronics are increasingly incorporated into new ag machinery.

There are other points as well but let me try and take another small look at the future of computer board controlled ag machinery.

The cost of the circuits and particularly the software will no doubt rise considerably as the software becomes ever more complex and the cost of the limited number of software designers and coders who are at all competent in this field will rise very substantially.

If we look at the consumer computer industry and the psychology that operates in that industry we will in all probability be looking at some company somewhere trying on a licensing system for the software in your combine or tractor.
You will be required to pay a license fee of a few dollars to a few hundred dollars annually to get the code to enable you to start and operate your combine or tractor for a given time until the software again times out.
Somebody, somewhere will inevitably try that one or in other words like all the current consumer computer software you won't own the software but will just be licensed to use it.
The companies will of course claim that this enables them to update and improve your combine's / tractor performance but at what cost to your personal freedoms and privacy.
Furthermore this licensing system really starts to break down when the combine / tractor changes ownership.
And what happens when a company decides, as do all consumer computer companies, decides it will no longer support a particular software program due to the age of the program, money problems or they are bought out by a competitor who just wants less competition for it's own products.

To take the future a step further; With the communications revolution well under way and an almost universal telecommunication coverage of a lot of the well settled regions in the western world, the combine's / tractor's computer controlled functions will be directly linked to the company's system allowing them to make changes to the software when you switch on or to report back and correct bugs, maybe.
This of course will enable the company to also build up a very comprehensive profile on both the overall and full operating regimes of that model of combine or tractor and in particular, an individual's profile of the way in which he / she uses that combine and the service profile and levels of service that owner actually gives to that machine.
A poor service record by you may just mean that the company jacks the costs up for your service requirements or in extreme cases, refuses to provide any extra service as the cost of what they will maintain is a poorly maintained combine / tractor will be too high in the companies consideration.

Of course this also means that you will get reminders almost constantly to service the various machines like an oil drain is overdue and we will shut you down in ten hours unless that service is completed.
Perhaps this will never happen but it is a fact of life in some of the computer industry and that is where the electronics and soft ware designers come from and that is the psychology they have been indoctrinated with.

Bears some thinking about and the trucking industry already has indications of that scenario arising.

The engine companies act as though the engine is still theirs and refuse to release the codes and programs for the engines and kick up an almighty stink when an engine operating profile is altered and they find that during a servicing.
I know of a case and the individual truck owner where exactly this happened until some very strong words from the truck owner to the engine company's senior service tech along the lines of just who in the **** owns this truck and it is none of your [ unprintable ] bloody business with what I do with my bloody truck so just get to work and shut up!

The above may some indicator on what is to come in electronically controlled ag machinery in the future as well.

One of the major problems with the swing to the electronically controlled ag machinery is the fact that nearly all of the senior decision making company staff and executives will have very little knowledge of the way in which the electronics industry works and in particular, thinks.
The electronic engineers and software designers are indoctrinated right through their training with the psychology of expecting constant change and much fiddling and the need to be different to make an impact with the public so the electronic engineers that move into the ag electronic industry just keep right on with that constant change psychology to our detriment.

Unfortunately I suspect that as yet, due to the relative newness of the ag electronic / computer controlled machinery, there are not yet senior electronic engineers in positions of influence in most companies that have the knowledge to both call a halt to the constant change by their electronics' engineering departments and to force a consolidation of the circuitry and software to provide reliability and long term continuity to a company's computer and electronic controllers in that company's ag machinery.

The electronic engineers just bluff the senior staff and convince them that all these changes are "advancements" and "performance improvers".
Besides it gives the electronic engineers lots of kudos and elevates their standing and income levels in the company if they convince, through ignorance, the senior management that their contribution is vital to the company's future in the ag machinery manufacturing business.

There is a lot of pain for both the companies and in particular their customers to go through before this whole new electronically controlled ag machinery development is fully sorted out and many may fall by the wayside before it is all settled.


Edited by ROM (19/03/2012 18:36)
Edit Reason: correction

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#1092532 - 19/03/2012 18:38 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
FNQ Bunyip Offline
Weatherzone Addict

Registered: 31/12/2004
Posts: 1459
Loc: North bank river Daintree
Great post ROM ..

I remember the first time I saw a Gleaner L2 working , I was in fact in a MF 585 ...having been upgraded from the IH 726 PTO ,,lol

Can't agree enough with the (where are we going too end up ?) sentiments of your story ..

The new V8 Toyota has the starter motor under the valley cover ,Toyota only allow 14hrs to swap one under warranty,, Lol 14hrs , change mine in my old ute in about 20mins ..

Cheers
_________________________
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2016 3112mm
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#1093057 - 20/03/2012 06:35 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: FNQ Bunyip]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
Please remember these articles were written for a primarily American audience. There will also be some editing and changes / corrections to the originals in some posts;

From; The Combine Forum;

The Push Button Combine ; Part 3;
25 / 1 / 2010

An opinion expressed on this thread and no doubt shared in some [ many!! ]quarters is that [ my ] 2000 word epistles are not to some reader's liking.
And I can relate to that!
When I come across a boring or too long winded post that I am not really interested in I just move on and let them be without commenting.

Unfortunately there has also been some unnecessarily strong dissension on here about which of the older models of combines were mechanically operated or had the early electronically controlled push button systems in them.
Those developments are now all interesting but past history which both customers and manufacturers alike should try and learn from.

Let me also make it quite clear that I am all in favour of maximising the electronics and computer control of our modern combine harvesters and tractors.
I just simply and totally disagree with the manner and the way that the ag combine and tractor manufacturers are going about this.
They are increasing the complexity of the machines whereas computers used correctly are quite capable of greatly simplifying machines and their operating characteristics and significantly increasing the performance of those same machines.

One of the puzzles is the current trend to having multiples of circuit boards and on board computers in the new generation of combines and tractors.
Why can't and why don't the manufacturers just install one common standardised, interchangeable, volume production, reinforced and hardened circuit board / computer that suits agricultural conditions and that can be set up to run all the functions on the combines and tractors produced by a particular manufacturer?

Why the complication in the number of circuit boards, software, looms and sensors required to run multiple boards and computers?

After all, way back in the 1960's the American's had the most advanced computer technology in the world.
With it they did something that will one day be looked on with awe by future generations as a first, something that can never be repeated by mankind again.
For the very first time, the American nation, using the technology it had developed, blasted men into space to land on another world, the moon.
That technology was so good that it put men on the Moon 6 times and brought all of them home again to the safety of Mother Earth.
And those vital computers in the Apollo space craft had all the computing power of a standard cell phone of today!
[edit; That was back in 2010. Today's "2012" mobile phones probably have maybe twice the computing power of the Apollo Mission Capsules that landed man on the Moon ]

Even the Space Shuttle still uses computers with all the power of the IBM 5150 of the 1980's and with only one meg of RAM.
The Russians had even less computer power in their Soyuz space craft but they still came close to beating the Americans to the Moon.

They made up for the lack of computer power by very efficiently machine coding their computers directly with the binary format programs instead of using a compiler to do the translation from the standard program formats we are used to looking at which are then translated into the machine language binary code that the actual computers need to operate.
Only a handful of gifted coders can do complex binary coding direct.

Now combines and tractors don't move very fast.
They don't have immense amounts of power that have to be very accurately controlled down to milliseconds.
The lives of their operators does not depend entirely on the correct functioning of those computers and etc.
So why are the combine and tractor manufacturers installing so computers in any one machine and which appear to be so apparently complex in operation and of so doubtful reliability and so costly?

A part of the answer to this question possibly lays in the componetisation of most combines and tractors.

The various major components in most combines and tractors, such as engines, variable speed gearboxes, clutch packs and PTO packs, Air cons, steering and guidance systems, hydraulic systems, some electronic monitoring and computing systems and software and many other and etc's, are often sourced from specialist companies that concentrate on the production of one type of component or a family of similar components.
Even within the major ag machinery production companies, there are divisions which specialise in a particular line of components.
And if a company does not have access to a particular required technology they will buy a license to use that technology on their particular product line.

To use engine manufacturers as an example;
The recent development of the fully electronicly controlled diesel engine using millisecond and variable timing control of the common rail type injection system needs very sophisticated computer control of it's functions plus of course the input of numerous other sensor inputs from the likes of turbine charger boost pressures, exhaust gas temps, numerous controls of the combustion process to meet the ever more stringent pollution requirements and etc.
The resulting program to control all of this is very closely held by the company who has put a lot of money into the research and experimentation to get the maximum out of their engine and they are not likely to give anything away on the engine computer control system if they can possibly help it.

So a dedicated engine control computer board and software is obviously an individual item and the engine company will not allow it's secret software to be put in jeopardy by allowing it to be loaded onto a common to all computer.

Now repeat this attitude and the company's requirements for maintaining the propriety rights over the software [ or even a company's own internal divisions ] that run so many systems in the modern combines and tractors such as the computer controlled variable speed gearboxes, steering and guidance systems, PTO clutch packs, some sophisticated hydraulic systems and three point linkage systems and etc and you can soon see how the number of discrete, dedicated software / computer systems and closed propriety computer systems can multiply in a combine and tractor.

We are still at an early stage in the development of the fully computer controlled combine and tractors and sooner or later a system like the international ISOBUS standards system will come up with protocols that will allow the loading of the various software needs of a machine onto a common heavy duty computer board but still provide discrete and very tight isolation of the propriety owned parts of those individual programs.

If common sense eventually prevails and the ag machinery manufacturers recognise the current problems and start to move towards such a single common circuit board and software system then we will really see just how much electronics can do to make farming much easier again and to increase productivity significantly in even small machines.


Edited by ROM (20/03/2012 06:41)
Edit Reason: update

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#1094077 - 21/03/2012 07:49 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum; part 4

7 / 01 / 2010

You have a good point about the life of a combine being measured in tonnes throughput, doorknob, or for Americans, tons!

The problem is that exactly the same argument can be mounted that separator hours plus some allowance for engine hours are the critical numbers to measure the economical life of a combine.
Both of these arguments break down when we start to take into account the types of crops harvested by the machines, the conditions under which they operated as well as the abrasiveness of both the soil types and even the crop type.
NDDan made a very interesting comment in the Two Rotors thread which i think you also commented on about the differences in cage wear in combines that are operating only a few miles apart.
By Australian standards the soils where Rolf farms are regarded as reasonably "soft" soils and not very abrasive so harvesting the likes of lentils with a flex front right on the ground and I mean right hard on the ground if you look at Rolf's R62 photos, still wears a combine quite significantly but not like it does doing the same job in some much more abrasive soils found in most other parts of Australia.
America from what I have seen of it also has a wide range of soils from the very soft soils in some of the corn belt to some pretty harsh soils way up in places like northern Montana.

The crops also harvested also have a very big influence on the wear rates of combines and their life.
Even varieties of the cereals and no doubt corn if you want to do some real research, has a significant effect on combine wear rates with the likes of rice being notorious for wear on the combines and with stainless steel being used in a lot of OEM components for rice combines to reduce wear to an acceptable level.

All grasses such as cereals and corn and etc and most tree species have what are called micron sized "Phytoliths" or "Plant Stones" incorporated the cell walls of the plant.
These Phytoliths are composed of silica, the same mineral that sand is composed of.
Sugarcane has a very high content of Phytoliths and a few wheat varieties have anything up to at least 4 times the Phytoliths / Plant stones of other varieties of wheat.
There are suggestions that a very small number if wheat varieties have even higher levels of these micron sized silica bodies in the cell walls of their stems.
And I think we grew one of those high silica straw varieties many years ago but did not at that time know about Plantstones / phytoliths.
The ripe straw on that variety was extremely hard and brittle and bright and you got straw splinters from it just like that as well.
It was well known for that straw characteristic but was a good yielder for the times.

There was never much interest in Phytoliths except in paleo-archaeology where the phytoliths which are very stable and are still around after some 30,000 years were being used as date markers.
Then it was discovered that phytoliths incorporate significant amounts of carbon in their molecular structure which of course was also locked up for many thousands of years and suddenly there was great interest in some quarters as anything to do with locking up carbon attracted absolute truckloads of money and you didn't even have to prove anything and often couldn't so you made it up or just claimed to be experimenting in reducing atmospheric carbon by using plants and stopping global warming or some similar BS to get that dollar largesse poured out upon you in large quantities. [ /sarc ]

If interested check the above Phytoliths / Plant stones with Bing or google

OK back to topic!
Those silica Plant Stones are very abrasive hence the reason for tossing this info into here as it is probably not known to many that crop varieties can also be another factor in hours and tonnages throughput that put a limit on a combine's economical life.

All that was very well for the older fully mechanical or the heavy duty and large gauge wire automotive type electro hydraulic / mechanical systems in the likes of the L's and all the way up to the R62's and R72 series.
But as anybody who has delved around in behind the console and monitors of even the above generation of combines will know, those wires got a heck of lot smaller in gauge or cross section and multiplied into fat bundles as the model years went by.

Wildcat above in a post noted that the number of circuits and electronic gadgetry that festooned the latest model he was driving caused him some misgivings as well.
The current design of the electronics in the current models of combines and tractors seem to have stagnated in some very critical design sections of the electronics in the new production combines and tractors.
All of them rely on wire and increasingly fine gauge wire with minimal abrasion and insulation cover protection to transmit the signals from the sensors to the computer board.
As the electronics have taken over more and more functions, the number and complexity of the sensors in the machine has risen creating another vulnerability in some critical areas and the number of wires in the looms have multiplied like a plague.
To keep the bulk of the loom at a level that still allows for weaving across the machine structure, the sensor signal and function control wires are constantly being reduced in cross section and in insulation and abrasive covering and protection.

The wiring and loom technology in ag equipment has stagnated although there might already be some suitable digital systems where all signals can be sent down one wire or bus or even some similar technology to the common consumer Bluetooth type radio signal could be used for sensor signaling to the central computer board from across the machine thus doing away with most of the wiring loom except the alternator, lights and some other major pure electrical systems.

We have already had some very hard to find problems in the loom on one of our tractors that merely has a computerised console read out with a few odd sensors scattered around the tractor.
In the end we just bypassed the bad section without finding the actual fault but this may not be possible with sensors that use the wire as a part of a capacitance or resistance type sensor circuit.

I have been told the number of kiometres of wiring in one make and model of a computerised tractor but don't have the exact figures to hand and yes, that was "kilometres" of wiring!

The circuit boards can be replaced at some serious cost when they blow up or just fail but a wiring loom consisting of possibly dozens of fine wires with minimum covering for protection and tightly wrapped and bound so that a loom wire fault is almost impossible to find, spread and woven across the entire structure of a combine or tractor and nesting in amongst hot, vibrating and shaking, abrasive dust loaded parts of the working combine or tractor will be almost impossible to replace let alone being able to get that same exact replacement loom layout to suit that model's sensors and the computer architecture in decade or two into the future.

There is an awful lot to be said and not much more to prove about the reliability of some fencing wire sized electrical wiring and the continuing and judicious use of a few push, pull levers in the harsh machine working conditions of Agriculture

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#1094532 - 22/03/2012 00:07 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum
15 / 2 / 2010

A very long and boring post
You have been warned!

In the latter half of last year, 2009, a farming friend of mine, being a good customer of the green line, unexpectedly found himself [ plus wife ] invited to go to Europe in an expenses paid trip to assess and pass judgement on a new cab design.
Which got me thinking about the "human engineering" aspect of combine and tractor design.
I first heard the term "Human Engineering" some 45 years ago when soon after taking up gliding or soaring as a sport and with some power flying experience in Tiger Moths under my belt I was tapped as an instructor for our newly formed local gliding club.
At the gliding instructors course we had a lecturer who was amongst the early post WW2 pioneers in researching the way in which the human mind and human body react to various stimuli and inputs.
At that time the second generation of advanced jet fighters were becoming operational in the various airforces around the world and there was a desperate need to find out just how the pilots interacted with the increasingly complex systems in the new jets so my lecturer was one of those at the forefront of this research.
[ The original "Human Engineering" term is now called "Human Factors" or where it refers to the human / machine interface, "Human Factors Integration" which is a whole field in itself and very, very relevant to the way in which we, as farmers and operators integrate and work with and operate farm machinery.
Both the above disciplines can be found by googling and / or in Wkipedia under those headings ]

Now I have no doubt that most of the readers here have seen the manufacturer's fancy brochures showing the incredibly sophisticated layout of the seating and the controls and the instruments of the latest and most advanced combine or tractor.
At least that is what the brochure claims.
Those claims have about the same veracity as my grandmother's story when I was very small boy, that if I put a bit of salt on a small bird's tail feathers, I could then catch that bird!

Some of those fancy publications show the photos of the manufacturer's research departments with all sorts of dummies sitting in all sorts of seats which are supposed to show just how much emphasis they put on comfort.
They rarely show or indicate if their cab design engineers ever assessed just how the operators interacted from a Human Engineering aspect with both the controls and the instrumentation.
As you may have gathered by now, I am somewhat sceptical of many claims and advances as claimed by the combine and tractor manufacturers.
In the Two Rotors thread below, I referred to a conversation with a CAT engineer at our local machinery field days.
To repeat that part of the previous post with a bit of extra info that I excluded due to space and length of the original post.

"I will give an example of the later generation designer's lack of knowledge of farmer psychology from my experience with the Cat tracked tractors from a few years ago.
Cat's small second generation tracked machines had a very large number of very small warning icons in an arc around the instrument console.
Good idea ?
I walked up to an American Cat guy, a designer it turned out, at our local machinery field days here in SE Australia.
I asked him straight out; How old are your designers? He was taken aback to say the least and thought I was a nut case [ maybe he was right!!]
He eventually said that they were in their thirties and one or two were over forty.
I then asked him; How many of those designers wear glasses?
More confusion until I assured him the question was genuine.
He thought for a bit and then, I think there are two or three that wear glasses.
In my mid fifties at that stage, I pulled out my reading glasses and said, See these, I am one of the older generation of farmers and I have to put these on to read what your tiny bloody icons are saying when one comes on and by then it may be too late and damage may have been done.
He just stood there with his mouth open and then "We never ever thought of that!"
And then as I walked away, "What do you prefer, digital or analogue instruments?"
"Analogue! If its in the green, lets go!"

And that conversation really convinced me that even the largest manufacturer of heavy earth moving machinery really had given very little thought to the actual psychological interactions, the Human Engineering aspect of the interaction between the human operator and the instruments and controls in a combine or tractor.

Just to look at a couple of aspects of this human / machine interface.
Why do we have flashing lights to attract attention and why do those same flashing lights actually attract attention.
The human eye is geared to see very small movements right out near the periphery of our vision.
This is a very ancient, million's of years old automatic survival reflex from way back in mankind's past when our ancestors were often more likely to be hunted rather than to be the hunters.
The ability to see and instantly react to that tiny movement in the corner of the eye often meant that the hunter's family and clan could eat that day or it meant a better chance of survival if he met something bigger, uglier and nastier than himself.

Today the engineers still use that reflex reaction via flashing lights as a warning to the human mind and that is one interaction that works but can be corrupted and negated by bad design as in the Cat example above.

Or take swinging a cricket bat or for Americans, a baseball bat.
First the eye has to pick up the ball which is travelling at high speed so the distances are changing extremely rapidly and the brain has to almost instantaneously compute the path and speed of that ball.
The brain then has to process this eye information and then send a signal to a very specific group of muscles.
And that is a really marvelous and complicated computation for if that ball is going to say hit the batter then muscles all over the body are fired into action to duck under that ball.
But if the ball is arriving at another spot the brain calculates that only the muscles required to swing the bat will be used.
So the appropriate muscles are fired and the swing begins.
But often the swing is changed a little as the brain does new computations on the path and speed of the ball.
The changes are not smooth and continuous.
The brain instructs the muscles to move in a certain way, speed and distance and this takes time.
During this movement, the actual specifics of the movement cannot be changed until a new lot of instructions from the brain arrive to alter the muscle settings again to continue the swing but maybe in a slightly altered form to compensate for the new computed path of the ball and so the swing goes in the form of fixed steps which are changed by the stream of new instructions from the brain to the muscles giving the image and feeling of a smooth swing at the ball.
Apply the above to an emergency situation such as a PTO mishap in a tractor.
PTO's are a bit like pregnancy, they are either off or on and there is no half way situation so the emergency button that you have to hit which takes advantage of that reflex muscle action must be both in a place where you can hit it immediately without looking and it must react in the expected manner to any amount of hit force applied to it.
How does most of your tractor's emergency stop switches measure up to this requirement.
Combines are much worse than tractors as how many combines have a very prominent emergency button that almost instantaneously stops the header or platform from operating to prevent an obstruction being fed into the machine or much worse, an animal appearing out of the crop and being fed up into the machine.

Engineers should also take account of reaction times of the human mind and those reaction times are a lot slower than most of us realise particularly if you are tired, distracted or just plain bored.
The party trick to demonstrate reaction times is to take a bank note, hold it vertically by the end and get somebody to catch that banknote between their thumb and forefinger held midway down the note and without moving their hand when you drop the note.
Very few people can react in time to catch that note when it is dropped and that is an excellent example of how long it takes to react to something, for the eye to recognise the first movement of that banknote, of the brain to compute that action needed to bring those fingers together, for the chemical and electrical signals to move along the nerve channels to the finger muscles and for those muscles to fire and bring the thumb and forefinger together and that is even when you are in the most favourable situation of expecting some instant action and being fully primed to take that action.

Now take analog and digital readouts.
Again we are conditioned by very ancient reflexes to react to objects in the length and even the angles they are at.
A long branch leaning across a path means ducking under that branch and we do it without really thinking about it.
A branch or plant standing vertically alongside the path as does a branch leaning away from the path does not create any reaction in us.
Translate this into the angles of the needles on a analog scale and you can see the small number of brain computation steps needed to make a decision on the current state of the indicators and what they show.
The angle and direction those needles point at are a direct indicator on what they represent.

Now examine the way in which the digital readouts have to be processed by the brain.
The modern use of our now almost universal numbers system only goes back perhaps some 3 or 4 thousand years ago and the modern digital numbers that we all use are really foreign to the human mind having only been invented in India and Arabia some 1500 years ago.
So when we see a digital readout we must first recall and recognise just what these numbers are supposed to represent.
Then we must recall the numbers that are the benchmark for that particular sensor.
Then we must figure out if that first set of numbers is higher or lower than the benchmark number and then we must compute whether those readout numbers are a good or bad result compared to the bench mark numbers.
A long and difficult computation process and in a new and unknown machine, a process that is fraught with all sorts of possible misreadings.
And the analysis takes time that may well chew into the reaction times to an emergency situation.

There are many, many other aspects to human engineering of combine and tractor designs but perhaps these examples will give enough background for any readers, if they ever read this far, to actually think about.

Now start to combine the effects of all of the above human characteristics plus many, many more into a cab design and particularly into a large display with possible small multiple numbers of small push button switches and even touch screens.
Bouncing along, watching the crop feeding into the machine, trying to read the multiple digital numbers displayed on the screen and translate them into something meaningful or trying to remember which way you have to scroll to get the needed info and trying to hit the right button or very small switch to change a setting and then the instantaneous emergency happens.

I would suggest that there would be a much larger delay in reaction times as the operator tries to figure out what to do next compared to the wild grab at a lever that I think nearly all of us have done sometime in our harvesting experiences.

I really wonder if the combine and tractor engineers have ever employed or even done a considerable human engineering and human psychological study on the design characteristics of their cabs and machines.
Cabs that their publicity departments spend so much money on in fancy advertising.
In most cases, I seriously doubt it!
They might be very surprised and even shocked if they ever do such a research project but the rewards might be very considerable indeed.

And if any combine and / or tractor designers ever read this I would be very interested in their reactions.

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#1094733 - 22/03/2012 17:55 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
Arnost Offline
Weatherzone Addict

Registered: 10/02/2007
Posts: 3909
Not at all boring! A great and insightful asessment easily applicable across other industries and business endeavours.
_________________________
“No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise” ...

And this of course applies to scientific principles. Never compromise these. Never! [Follow the science and you will be shown correct in the end...]

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#1094780 - 22/03/2012 19:17 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: Arnost]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
Thanks Arnost.
On those Cat gauges and warning Icons.
The next model and subsequent models of CAT's big agricultural tracked machines had analogue gauges with the red / yellow / green coloured operating segments and large lighted easy to read alarm icons.

We had great service from CAT as my brother and self, privately imported the third rubber tracked machine into Australia and the first one in south eastern Australia because Cats weren't prepared to supply us until they had trained techs here in Australia.
I think we forced their hand.

The system now used to alter the track width on CATs and other makes of Ag rubber tracked machines using a module type track unit on each side which can be adjusted in and out as a unit to alter track widths I drew up in about a minute in the evening following the 1990 [ I think ] Wimmera Machinery Field days when we were having dinner here in Horsham with the American head of CAT's then quite new international Agricultural division.
This was in response to a comment from the head honcho that they weren't going to build the next model until they had figured out how to alter track widths to fit the different track widths required for row crop work and they hadn't figured out how to do that.
So I asked for a bit of paper and a pen and just drew this idea up that popped into my head.
The head honcho watched me as i drew it as I explained it to him and his mouth sort of just hung open. It went straight into his pocket and I know it finished up in Cats Ag design division.

That got me eventually mixed up in a international legal dogfight between Cats and John Deere over patents on that unitised track system which JD had blatantly pinched from Cats.
There were three court actions underway in the US, The UK and Oz all at the Supreme Court level which impressed the local legal eagles no end.
I was one of two Australian witnesses for the Australian court action but Cat's and JD settled their differences before any court action after Cats decided that the Ag market was too fragmented and too hard to get into against the established players so they settled for producing all the components which they are bloody good at and leaving the assembly and marketing to AGCO.

A very interesting and educational look at how the big boys operate.

And yes we did get paid but not in a direct way for my idea I sketched out that evening.
After our Cat had made a trip to Cat's main maintenance facility in eastern Australia we got the most expensively updated Cat Challenger tracked machine in Australia all at near to no charge.

We sold that Cat at our farm clearing sale in Feb last year.
It was the best tractor i had ever owned and it was sad to see it go.

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#1094988 - 23/03/2012 08:14 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum
24 / 2 / 2010

The Push Button Combine Part;6

Part story and part practical so your choice if you want to read this!

The evenings and nights were quiet and pleasant after the long hot summer days as the two of us sat on the grass alongside of the Swedish gliding team's caravan at the 1973 world gliding competitions at Waikerie in the state of South Australia.
During those long warm pleasant evenings Pentii, the Swedish Team Manager told me a little of his life story.
He was a Finn by birth but when Stalin's USSR invaded the independent Finland in the Winter War of November 1939, Pentii's parents took their small son to the border right up at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia and passed him over to their Swedish cousins to bring him up as a Swedish citizen.

[ Long after I found out that Pentii was also a Colonel in the Swedish army reserve and he was also the head of the entire very large Volvo European truck operations and maintenance division. ]

With extraordinary courage and skill the small Finnish nation of just a couple of million people defeated and destroyed Stalin's massive soviet invasion force.
The Germans then tried to use the reluctant Finns to open another front against the Russians and to envelope and over run Leningrad.
The Finns refused and Germans failed to overrun Leningrad.
The result was the longest at 872 days and most deadly siege in history with over 4.5 million [ known ] dead in the siege and battles surrounding Leningrad.

Finland signed a firm peace treaty with Stalin in late 1944 but the cost of preventing Russian domination was very high.
Finland lost over 10% of her territory and over 30% of her industrial capacity as the Russians took over Vipurii, the main Finnish industrial centre.

As Pentii told me on those warm summer nights long ago, a part of the reparations the Finns had to pay to the Russians was to build and provide the hundreds of thousands of rail cars to rebuild the rolling stock on the decrepit and nearly totally destroyed and worn out Russian rail system and they had to do it in about 5 years.
Now this was from a country with only a couple of million population and no steel or heavy manufacturing industry, their major industrial complex now in Russian hands and an economy crippled by a long disastrous and costly war.
Failure meant a Russian invasion and communist rule over all of the Finnish people.

So why am I quoting this bit of history?

Well the Finns sort of won in the end!

As Pentii proudly told me, on the last day in the last hour the last rail wagon rolled onto the Russian rail network and Stalin stood his invasion armies down.
His excuse for the invasion of Finland was gone and the Americans had nuclear armed B36 Super Fortress bombers patrolling along the Russian borders.
Not a good time to start another war.
And then the Russians found out just what sort of bargain they had got.
Nothing on those rail wagons was Russian standard.
The wheel bearings, bearing housings and axles were odd sizes,
The doors were non standard.
The door pivots were an odd size and configuration and so it went on right through all those hundreds of thousands of Finnish built rail wagons and the only place the Russians could get spares from, were the Finns!
The Russians paid and paid and paid for those rail wagon spares over the many years following and the Finns made a nice tidy profit that paid for those rail wagons and helped with the rebuilding of their industrial base.

The Russians learnt from this and when Mao Tse Tung had to have some tens of thousands of trucks after the communist victory in China in 1948 the Russians supplied their fraternal Chinese brothers with the trucks at a good price per truck.
Then the Chinese found that every bolt, nut and screw in those trucks was a left hand thread!
And who was the only supplier of expensive left handed spares, the Russians of course!

So what has all this to do with Push Button Combines?

Take a look around you and probably nearly every single item you can see, feel, hear, touch, eat, drink and use will have a set of standards or a number of sets of standards that carefully details how those items are made, the materials and quality standards that must be met to sell those items and so on.

Standards, the criteria that any and everything we use in our modern society must or should meet are fundamental to our society continuing to operate.
Without formal standards that create the interchangeability of bolts and nuts and steel and wood and paint and trust that we place in something that meets a standard and the knowledge that we can trust a building, a bridge or an airliner or food because it is made or built to a standard using materials that are made to meet a standard and financed using money and financial instruments that must meet strict standards then without all those myriad of standards influencing and controlling every aspects of our everyday lives, our modern civilisation collapses.

Samuel Colt was about the first industrialist to standardise using standard, interchangeable parts on his revolvers so the parts could be made in batches and were then all interchangeable.
So the production of Colt revolvers jumped dramatically and the costs were reduced.

The British when their great rail expansion began, very quickly learn't that unless you could run your trains on other's lines and vice versa, then you were out of business very quickly so the British standard gauge of 4ft 8 1/2 inches was agreed on and the British and British colonial rail systems were then built and expanded at a phenomenal rate.

The problems that are created when something does not meet a standard are illustrated by the Russian / Finnish and Chinese experiences only in this rare case the Finns pulled a very fast one to their great advantage by not sticking to the Russian standards for their rail system as did the Russians later with the trucks supplied to the Chinese.

Combines and tractors have innumerable standards to meet such as PTO sizes, tyres, bearings, shafts, steel qualities, non toxic paint standards, sheet steel quality standards, electrical wiring and voltage and switch standards, belts, pulleys, chains, sprockets, uni joints, splines and so on.
They all have specifications and standards that must be met usually by law and that is society's protection from bad, dangerous and shoddy products and workmanship and the guarantee of intechangeability of so many items we use in our modern society.

Consumer electronics and electronics of all types, telecommunications, radio, TV, computer boards and racks, IC's pins , capacitors, transistors, plugs, wiring and etc and etc all have standards and tight specifications that must be met for our electronics to operate but standards which in some electronic sectors are constantly and rapidly changing as the electronics industry constantly continues to evolve.

There are numerous and evolving standards for data communication and transfer in the electronics / computer industry and one of the basic Ag data transmission standards is the german based ISOBUS system.
More info here on the Ag oriented International Standards Organisation's ; ISOBUS ; http://www.isobus.com/isobus_E/

And for a listing of the ISOBUS goals

ISOBUS standardizes hardware (plugs and cables) and software (the kind of data exchange) under system aspects.
ISOBUS generates universal tractors and terminals.
ISOBUS allows machinery and implements to be used, combined, and coordinated beyond the level of individual manufacturers such that optimal function is guaranteed.
ISOBUS automates machinery- and implement settings for different operations and thus combines the tractor, the mounted implements, and the terminal into a system with the qualities of a self-propelled machine.
ISOBUS extends the possibilities of precision farming through 'more intelligent' functions and GPS data integration.
ISOBUS standardizes order processing by agricultural service providers.
ISOBUS simplifies and standardizes operator prompting on the terminal for all jobs.
ISOBUS ergonomically combines the operation of all mounted implements.
ISOBUS also supports the control of the lighting systems and allows an additional plug to be dispensed with.
ISOBUS makes double information collection and -storage unnecessary.
Thanks to ISOBUS, farmers must support only one system in production.
Thanks to ISOBUS, implement manufacturers are compatible with all tractors.

You will notice that this is a data transfer standards system only and not a computer hardware system standard so we are still stuck with a whole variety of ever changing computer boards, and hardware and software configurations and programming languages both within manufacturer's product ranges and across manufacturers.

The situation we have with the current electronics in combines and tractors is not that different from the situation the Russians found themselves in with their only supplier being the Finns and the required article was not a "standard" product and there were no other options for the Russians to acquire alternative replacements.

We can only get those short production run boards from the one supplier, the combine or tractor manufacturer who consequently can set his own price if the farmer / operator wants to keep his nice high capacity combine operating or as we say in Australia, they "have us by the short and curlies" and that is something nobody gets particularly enamoured with.

As I have posted previously, we need a large capacity mother board or boards with a very large redundant capacity, ie; lots of spare computing and data storage capacity that is hardened against vibration and shock and well protected from dirt, moisture, extraneous electrical pulses and spikes and that is completely standardised so that it can be purchased from a number of sources and uses a standardised down load capability using a DVD or BluRay fully encrypted disc or a card or cube from the manufacturer to down load the necessary combine operating program onto the standardised board if it blows up or causes trouble and has to be replaced by purchasing another replacement board at the local machinery agency for no more than a couple of hundred dollars.

And that is no more than the expectation that the PTO will be a certain size and turn the right way or the machine will use a common type of fuel or the tyres can be brought down at the local tyre joint.
It only needs the manufacturers to get their heads out of the sand, get together and come up with a standard that gives all these necessary criteria for such a universal electronic computer control system to be implemented across all combine and tractor manufacturers.

Without such a universal system, so many of the new electronically controlled combines and tractors will be just so much junk in another decade or two and that has the capabilities of bankrupting some manufacturers as the farmers stop buying their products just because nobody can afford to pay for such a short life span due to electronic failures that lead to no available replacement boards or just too expensive replacements to justify keeping the machine operating.

But then, manufacturers have never been particularly smart at forecasting just what the farming community will do next mostly because they think they always know from their "surveys" a lot more than the farmer.

In some circles it's called hubris or arrogance and it has broken a lot of big companies

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#1095260 - 24/03/2012 08:16 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
From; The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine Part 7

1 / 3 / 2010

When I started this thread I had no idea that it would exceed 2600 views.
As much as anything it was to sort out my own views on the future of combine and tractor technology by formally writing my ideas down in a public forum, always a very good way to discipline one's thinking.

I think the number of views really indicates that a lot of farmers and operators are both curious and questioning as to where the manufacturers are taking farm machine technology when it comes to a couple of the most expensive and critical pieces of mobile farm equipment, ie; tractors and combines, that most of us will ever own.

My thanks to the other contributors to this thread and to all those who have dropped in to take a look even if they only bounced in and left again but in particular my thanks to those who stayed and took the time to read through my monographs.
I hope some of the material has been of interest and given you food for thought.

And "doorknob", I think you are prescient or a mind reader as sometime soon I am going to let the old mind roam a bit and post on my ideas on the modulisation of combines.
Modular design was already a reality some 40 years ago with the advent of the Steiger and Versatile tractors but never done with the combines and we did that same modulisation on the specialised medic seed harvester that we built back in the 1980's and which I touched on in the Two Rotors thread.

Back on topic and further to my previous post on standardising the computer hardware boards.

A day or so ago I got onto this subject with an old friend now retired who worked for us when he was a budding agricultural researcher and who then went onto barley breeding at our large locally based grain and oilseed research institute which employs some 200 staff.
Selwyn before he retired, eventually finished up as the network supervisor for the Institute's entire extensive computer network so has a very good background experience and knowledge of all the foibles, problems and solutions involved with computer and computer network operation plus a lot of hard practical experience with the actual operation of farm machinery plus some consultancy work in a number of international plant breeding organisations.

He was scathing about the way that the combine and tractor manufacturers are going about computerising their products with very small production runs of specialised computer hardware and boards.
And somewhat to my surprise, like my own thoughts, he also stressed that the manufacturers should be developing a single large capability, multiple use board that can be brought off the company's parts shelf [ preferably common across companies like most belts and etc] for a couple of hundred dollars and which would then be loaded with the appropriate program via a disc or which ever download system is currently being used for the purpose to run the machine the board is installed in.
Even if that was achieved it still leaves the question of the standardisation of the critical to operation sensors and the even more doubtful part of the computerisation of combines and tractors, finding a standard type and configuration for data transmission of some type around the machine, be it radio or wire, from the sensors to the computer and then to the various operating modules.

Another interesting and constant refrain is how we can or must become more "efficient"!
It is an almost universal quote in all sorts of farmer oriented publications and used extensively by machinery manufacturers in their propaganda to try and sell their newest, latest and most "efficient" machines.

Now just what is meant by being more "efficient"?

This question has puzzled me for most of my past farming life and seeing I am well past my alloted three score and ten years, that for some of the younger types puts me back somewhere around the time of the demise of the dinosaurs.

Is it "efficiency" as in less time used whether machine or manhours for the job, less fuel per acre or was that less fuel per hour or was it most tonnes off or most acres covered per time or alternatively, per litre or was it related to dollar spent or earned and etc and etc.???
Or is it more production per man or per manhour, two different things in real life?
Efficiency is in the eye of the beholder and unless what that claimed better efficiency is exactly related too and spelt out, any claims about "greater efficiency" are just so much hot air and useless propaganda.

Can there be such a thing as being too "efficient??

Well strangely enough, Yes!

Another good friend of mine who has I think about 4 PhD's to his credit, was a member of the board of CYMMT, the world centre for maize and grain breeding in Mexico and at one time was in the running to head the CYMMT board.
I sat with him until a few days ago on a Blue Sky advisory committee for the largest farmer run grains research group in Australia, the Birchip Cropping Group in western Victoria.
As well Tony runs his own grain farm with only casual help a few kilometres from our place and that consists of a few thousand acres and he is constantly on the move around the world attending number of very high powered ag research groups and committees.
Tony recently gave a very good presentation to the BCG main advisory committee on how we can become just too "efficient".

Becoming too "efficient" means that the maximum of use is being extracted from something and that leaves no flexibility or slack in the system or the machine to handle situations where something does not go according to plan or some small item causes a minor disruption to the system or operations.
In that sort of situation there is no slack left in that system to allow the system to continue to operate albeit at a possibly reduced rate.
Instead the system just crashes totally.

The example of a too efficient system used by Tony was the 1998 Longford Gas explosion at the gas processing plant at Longford in eastern Victoria.

The state of Victoria in south eastern Australia in late 1998 relied entirely on just one highly automated and very efficient gas processing plant to process Victoria's entire gas needs from the off shore gas fields in the rugged waters of Bass Strait.
This plant was at an automated and efficiency level where it needed only a couple of persons per shift to operate it.
In September 25th 1998 around midday, the plant blew up killing two staff and seriously injuring another eight persons.
The senior staff of the gas company in Melbourne some three hundred kilometres away did not have a clue as to what to do next or any idea on how the plant actually ran as it was so automated and so efficient and so far away from the flesh pots of the city with just the one plant supplying the entire state that the executives of the large gas company did not bother their tiny brains about it.
The result was 1.3 million households without gas for heating, cooking and hot water for over two weeks.
89,000 businesses basically at a standstill and 150, 000 workers stood down or looking for other employment.
The total cost and losses overall were estimated at $ 13 billion AUD in 1998.

When Longford blew up the whole gas processing system was at it's maximum level of efficiency with no other alternative supply systems anywhere around and no other alternative gas sources.
It used only a miniscule number of essential staff to monitor and run the entire plant.
It was extraordinarily efficient and a real dollar earner for the company but there was no give, no flexibility, no alternative gas supplier in the system to allow for the unexpected when Longford for some reason could not supply all the gas required.

Translate that Longford scenario to some very efficient farms and farmers.
A one man show with big equipment, lots of acres to cover, very well organised and everything carefully calculated out with a tight time table due to both size as in acres to cover, crop type, logistics and weather and land limitations.

Efficient, Yes!
At risk? Yes, at a very high risk for when something goes wrong, ie; the operator gets sick for a few days, as often there is no slack in that system to allow for the possible delay to operations.
Or the purchase or the acquisition of more acres where the combine's operations will be stretched to the limit to cover the acres in the time allowed by weather and seasons.
Getting more production out of the one machine so more efficient by the propagandist's theories.
A breakdown or a weather hold up and time lost which due to the tightness of the time constraints and the maximising of the combine's output leaves no room for possible delays in the operations and no alternate like another combine is available to continue operations and take up any slack.
Again very "efficient " as in most results for the least cost but fraught with all sorts of potential problems.

So when a machinery salesman tries to sell you a newer and more "efficient" machine, make him spell out exactly what he means when he says it is more "efficient" and don't be afraid to call his bluff.

The more you push the efficiency to the limit in some field, the more you are in all probability running closer to the knife edge.
We must aim for a high level of efficiency in farm operations and in our machinery useage and our farm results but it must be tempered with the knowledge that we must always have the ability to fall back a little and still continue without the trauma of having a complete collapse of the system when even a minor thing goes wrong.

Here ends today's epistle!

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#1095492 - 24/03/2012 23:12 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine; Part 8

4 / 3 / 2010

Bundybear and other interested posters here; Please don't think for one moment that I own this thread.
It is here for everybody to have a say if they wish too.

If the thread wanders off electronic technology somewhat but still deals with the future of combine and tractor technology and particularly in how that affects the operations and attitudes of the operators and owners, well that's good as it opens up everybody's thinking and perspectives and if some engineers or company executives happen to drop in for a look it just may make them sit back and think a bit about where their company is going in it's headlong rush into the future.
Sometimes this is appears to be without any real thought by the companies as to just what the customers may actually want both here and now and in a decade or two into the future when that combine or tractor has quite a lot of time on but but is still a mechanically sound machine and will be still be in operation if the design is good.
A machine that has stood the test of time with flying colors ultimately leads to return business for companies that intend to still be around in a couple of decades.

Wishful thinking about latter day company executives, most of whom seem to suffer from an excess of hubris but stranger things have happened!

You might also see that I have deliberately refrained from singling out any particular make or color as this subject and the problems are universal to all colors.
It just happens that we are Gleaner operators and so this Gleaner forum is where I gravitated to to start the thread.

This subject in many ways touches on the future directions that the possibly two of the biggest financial outlays you will ever make in your lifetime career as a farmer on just two major disposable items ie; tractors and combines.
Both of which, unlike farming land, wear out, have a limited lifetime and are disposable but are also critical operational items influencing your farming operations and your financial fortunes during all of your farming lifetime.

What I tried to do when starting this thread was to try and look into the future from a farmers and buyers perspective on combine and tractor technology and the feelings that I have about the direction the technology is heading.
At this stage I feel it is quite possibly in the right direction but the manner in which the companies are going about implementing and using this mostly electronic technology advances are just unbelievably bad in the way they are implementing the electronic technology.
In the mechanical realm, they have now become just as unbelievably bad in the totally unnecessary mechanical complication that is the hall mark of at least three of the major combine and tractor manufacturers.
An impression that has just been reinforced when I wandered around our local large regional Wimmera Machinery Field days this week and took a long look at the latest and greatest in combines and tractors.
For an old guy who started harvesting in his mid teens in the mid 1950's and who along with his brother, has modified farm machinery all his life and designed and built a large and very successful pasture harvesting machine, [ Two Rotors Thread & Rolf's R62 photos ] the complication of the modern combines is quite astounding and reflects more than anything the increasing ignorance or "couldn't care less attitude as we don't have to maintain it" attitude of the combine designers of the actual field and maintenance and operating conditions that those combines will experience over their operating lives.

Modern combine and tractor designers seem just plain confused as to the meanings of "sophistication" and "complication".
They seem to assume that a "complicated" machine is a "sophisticated" machine.
To myself and others may differ, a sophisticated machine is also a simple machine but it does everything that the complicated machine will do.
And that simplicity and yet sophistication is something that is extraordinarily difficult to achieve by a designer but is the true hallmark of a very intelligent and clever design and a very good high class design team.
From the operator's perspective a sophisticated but relatively simple machine with a comparable performance to competing and complicated machines has huge benefits in costs of operation, maintenance , repairability [ Regardless of color, claims or anything else, if it shakes, rattles and rolls it will eventually break! ] and simplified requirements to derive the best performance and etc.

It is relatively easy to design a complicated machine today using the three dimensional computer powered draughting programs as everything can be checked on the screen as to whether it will fit into the machine design parameters.
That makes for very lazy designers as adding bits and pieces here and there to achieve another object becomes very easy but results in a difficult to service and maintain and complicated machine.

There is a constant refrain running through this thread and other threads here and I also struck it at our Field Days over this last week and that is the cry for smaller and simpler machines to fill the needs of the smaller farmer and operator.
Only a limited percentage of farms can now afford the newest combines.
I strongly suspect that even less farms can utilise the full production capacity of the latest and large class combines as field size, unloading, more time transporting and numerous other factors strongly influence a single very large machine's productivity as that" theoretical" productivity continues to increase.
Somewhere there is a cutoff or cross over point where the productivity and the increasing limitations imposed by outside factors on the productivity of the large machine crosses over with the productivity of say two smaller machines.
Two smaller machines then have the flexibility that enables operations to continue if one machine has a breakdown or some other factor intervenes and this then comes back to the limits of efficiency I posted on in the above post.

However I would not despair as the big combine manufacturers are just leaving a huge hole in the market at the lower end that somebody is probably already looking at filling by manufacturing a smaller combine.
It could even be that a Chinese, Korean or Taiwanese company has designed a suitable combine and as the Chinese are rapidly mechanising their agriculture and are starting with the small combines, something may just turn up much sooner than most expect.
Or just maybe a small company has brought the rights to something similar to say the L3 Gleaner and will again start production with a number of improvements.

I have observed over my lifetime that when a company or corporation, an organisation or even a unbelievably successful farming enterprise seems to be on an ever ascending trajectory where there is no end in sight to their size, power, success and influence, go looking in the basement for termites.
You will always find those termites in such a company and those termites mean that the limits to that company's success are already in place and may even mean that company is already on the down hill skids.
[ Typical and very obvious examples are Enron and Bernie Madoff but nobody was looking for the termites and very few actually want to or do look when everything seems to be so very successful but that is human nature.]

And I think those termites are already there in a couple of the big combine and tractor manufacturers and they may not be the companies that most of you immediately think of.

And all this post was supposed to be short and at the start was intended to assure other posters that all posts and alternative ideas are welcome here!!!

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#1095494 - 24/03/2012 23:18 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine; Part 9

10 / 3 / 2010

It is just another small country hall built from galvanised iron so typical of the hundreds of similar halls that were scattered every few kiometres across the back blocks of the Australian rural countryside.
It was built nearly a 100 years ago now by volunteer labour and subscriptions raised from the numerous large farm families in the surrounding locality.
Like nearly all of those old rural halls, it sits way out on it's own in the wide flat brown Australian countryside, many kilometres from the nearest settlement or town.

[ The old country hall in the following yarn is a little different.
Most of those old rural halls were just named for the locality in which they were located but this old hall is called the "Sailors Home Hall" even though it is situated some 200 kilometres from the nearest open ocean.
The legend is that two sailors jumped ship in Adelaide in South Australia in the mid 1800's and decided to walk the nearly unsettled and uninhabited 700 kilometres to Melbourne in Victoria.
They died lonely deaths from illness or thirst alongside of a swamp where their grave site is still known to a few of the old locals.
The hall built some decades later is only a half kilometre or so from where the they died hence the unusual name for a rural country hall, the "Sailor's Home Hall".]

In it's heyday it was the local community centre with well patronised and often crowded dances on many saturday nights and numerous local celebrations nearly every week of the year.
It was a vital and essential part of the local community that contributed so much to the community spirit of those days when travel over any distance outside of your immediate area was an adventure to be planned days in advance.
Unlike so many of it's contemporary halls which are now long gone or derelict and have been long abandoned as the rural population steadily declines, it is still used but only on increasingly rare occasions as even more farming families slowly drift away from the area.
The farm land around it is slowly being amalgamated into ever larger farms owned by fewer and fewer farming families or the newly arrived city financed mercenary "investors" who don't give a d**n for the community, the local people or the land as long as they can cream a large profit out of it before they leave again to despoil the next object of their mercenary interest.
The heritage left by these city based mercenary "investors" is a long list of new and resistant and nasty weeds and a whole host of new problems for the few surrounding local farmers to try and deal with.

It was an evening around 1960 and the old hall had a large crowd of invited local farmers seated on the hard pews listening to the senior Australian executives of what was then one of the world's largest agricultural machinery companies.
Those executives and reps were adamant that the farmers seated out in front of them would have no option but to accept the direction that their company was taking farm machinery into the future.
They would not accept any of the numerous doubts that the audience expressed and were condescending to the local farmer's stuck in the mud, less than modern attitudes to the changes that their company was introducing to the modern agricultural machinery world.

We walked out that meeting that evening in 1960 and just shook our heads in disbelief.
None of us could quite comprehend how a three point linkage mounted 10 foot wide cultivator could work just as many acres as the new locally produced conventional tow behind 24 and 27 foot wide cultivators.
Nor could we see how a towed 12 and 14 foot wide small grains seeder with a ton or more of seed and fertilizer and with two large tractor tires carrying it across the often boggy paddocks from the heavy winter rainfall would be replaced by a 80 Hp tractor mounted three point linkage seeder supposedly carrying similar amounts of seed and fertilizer.
We shook our collective heads again at this as the company executives did not seem to have much of an idea on what we were talking about when we expressed our doubts.

That north American ag machinery company had by then, a strangle hold on the district machinery needs for a decade past due to a number of it's small but very good agents right across the region.
They dominated the tractor, combine, seeder and cultivator markets in the region.
Now the company just seemed to assume that what they intended for their customers would simply have to be accepted as their customers really had no other options than to rely on the company's products.

Five years later there was hardly a single item of Massey Harris or Massey Ferguson equipment to be found on any farms in our entire region.
They were gone, finished!
We had options.
We used those options and in those five following years, IH, from a small base, became the dominant ag machinery supplier with JD rapidly establishing itself in the region as a new and growing force.
Allis Chalmers moved into the tractor market and then very successfully a few years later, into the combine market.
All of these companies filled the hole left by MF's self inflicted immolation and it's arrogance and the resulting collapse of it's market.

[ The MF owned Australian Sunshine Harvester Company continued to design and build small combines and 20 and 24 row small grain seeders which were sold under the MF brand into the late 1970's until they were closed down by the remnants of the decaying MF empire. ]

It is only now after some 40 years have passed that the MF logo is again seen in this region and only as another brand name under AGCO's banner.

What does this have to do with Push Button combines?

It seems that corporations reach a stage in their lives where one of the measures of their success and particularly the success of their senior executive's stewardship is measured by the number of changes they can bring about in the corporation whether those changes are for the good or otherwise of their shareholders and customers
Like the MF corporation of old, those changes can involve significant changes in the corporation's technological base and sometimes that is to the corporation's long term benefit.
But often those changes are more cosmetic than substantial and are used more as an illusional ego trip for the executives and designers than any real advance.

Often these changes are made without any real consultation with their customers as to just how the changes in the corporation's product line will fit into the customer's requirements and program.
They do not even considering asking the customers if they actually want that particular type of change to the product they use unless it is in show piece "consultation" sessions with pre-ordained outcomes.

We are now seeing this attitude on the part of some corporations in the way in which their combines are becoming increasingly complicated and simplicity and ease of servicing and maintenance and field repairability are apparently no longer a significant design requirement.
We are seeing it with the almost random installations of new electronic components and unverified, unproven and bug laden software that is thrust upon customers as the latest and greatest advances.
The smaller operator is no longer in the race to acquire a new combine suited to his smaller acreage as the corporations have seemingly written the small operator off as not worthy of any further investment that would produce a suitable smaller sized combine.

Changes without any customer input don't matter when it is a cheap auto or some such item but when you are going to spend perhaps close to half a million dollars on just one single item such as a a combine or tractor you most surely will want to and should have some say in the way that machine is configured before you accept delivery of the corporation's product.
It seems that most farmers have not yet got the gonads to say to these corporations, this is what I want before I spend any of my hard earned on your product and it is no sale unless I get what I require.
Often the amount knocked off the price is seemingly more important to the buyer / customer than the long term performance of the machine or product.
Equally important is the knowledge and ability to know and to say this is what I do NOT want if I am going to spend this amount of money.

[ As an example of what can be done in this line, the R75 with the 45 foot Honeybee draper in "Rolf's R62 photos" thread had a large number of changes made to the helicals, rotor, and various other components on the machine, changes which were made by the company and agent before delivery was accepted.
Most of those changes have come from NDDan's Gleaner hot rodder program and all have been proven to significantly improve performance in cereals here in Australia.
The result was a class 7 combine that can at least now match the capacity of a class 8 combine in our conditions.]

Are we just starting to see the old arrogant MF syndrome of the late 1950's emerging in a couple of the major Ag machinery manufacturers?
Are we starting to see a "This is our product and you have to take it as it is! Now quit complaining and get on and adjust your attitude and farming program accordingly to fit our product" in a couple of the major combine and tractor manufacturing corporations?
My own feeling is that this attitude is just starting to appear very occasionally amongst some sales persons from a couple of corporations which in turn reflects the senior executive's attitudes in those corporations.

Some reading on the studies done on the life and structures of major corporations spell out how a corporation or company will in all likelihood go through a number of different stages during it's existence.
A good site I have found, amongst many, actually spells out some ten stages in a corporation's or company's life cycle.
The site is that of the "Adizes Institute" [ http://www.adizes.com/corporate_lifecycle.html ] and has a very good roll over illustration with a lot of further information on company / corporation life cycle stages through the various links.
Rather than unnecessarily repeating a lot of reading material I will let you do a quick read for yourself on the corporation life cycles outlined in that site.

For myself, I would consider one of the more recently formed ag machinery corporations still in the "Adolescent" stage
Another couple of corporations may be in the "Prime" stage.
One is perhaps in the "Stable "stage where the first small indicators are emerging that perhaps the senior executives and governing board have started to lose the original focus that gave the corporation it's finest successes.
Perhaps it just a few very small things such as minor design faults emerging or a drop off in quality control but if one looks hard enough the termites are deep down there in the foundations quietly working away at that massive and supposedly impregnable business structure above them.
When I look at that graph curve of a corporation's life cycles I can see the reasons for the oft repeated pattern where a lot of very well known and highly respected ag machinery companies and corporations of yester-years have over the many years of my farming life, just quietly faded from view and almost disappeared except for the odd name plate on some current big corporation's machines.

For examples of the decline of the great manufacturing corporations just look at the current situation with Toyota which has now had it's reputation for automotive engineering excellence shredded to the extent that it may never fully recover to it's former position.
And then have a look at where Toyota resides on the corporation's life cycle graph.
Or GM ; ie "Government Motors" which was once the largest manufacturing corporation in the world but which should now just be put out of it's misery with a bullet to the head and the bits sold off or closed up.
Traumatic, yes! But sometimes it is better to use the knife, bear the short term pain and get on with life instead of putting up with a steady debilitating agony that seemingly goes on forever.

Not all Corporations that appear to be on the down hill skids fail.
A declining Caterpillar was getting run over by the Japanese Komatsu company until CAT reinvented and reinvigorated itself in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
Komatsu today are nowhere to be seen around here anymore.
They have been creamed by the new CAT corporation.
And Lee Iacocca through sheer good management and a level of charisma as a leader brought Chrysler back from the dead.

And as always throughout the long history of man, waiting and working in the shelters, the garages and the offices across the world's many nations are the innumerable numbers of guys and gals who are dreaming of and perhaps starting to form those small businesses that will one day, after a traumatic winnowing out of the dreams and the flotsom and detritus, will through a very large slice of luck and good business management become the great industrial and farm machinery corporations of the future.

So watch for those termites deep in the foundations of a couple of the big farm machinery corporations of today and you will in all likelihood find those termites there if you watch closely for the little tell tale signs.

Which corporations they are I will leave to you to assess for yourselves but don't be surprised if it is not the one or two you thought would go under but other rather unexpected collapses.

Nothing changes!
Everything changes!
It always has been so and always will be so!

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#1095768 - 25/03/2012 22:49 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine

19 / 3 / 2010

[ Edit ; I have gone through and tried to redo the links as Melbourne Musuem has apparently changed their web site. GRRR!
So I hope they all work. ]

Somewhere still around in the family collection of photos is an old biscuit tin with an old brownie box camera photo of a very small ROM cradled in his father's arms.
The Old Man is standing in front of what was probably the last of the large heaps of uncleaned cocky chaff and threshed wheat.
That photo was taken in about very early 1939.
Now in those first couple of decades of the 20th century, most Australian wheat farmers had wives and families but they also usually had a stripper around as well.
The strippers got their big workout during the hottest time of the year for fairly obvious reasons as that was when the money was around for the taking and they really brought in most of the moola that helped keep the family going for the rest of the year.
Those strippers were a tough hard worked lot but by the late 1920's they were just about all stripped out.
[ OK did you believe that even for one moment? ]
They were possibly brought back into action occasionally to save the cocky chaff for horse and animal feed during drought years which would account for the 1939 date of that cocky chaff heap in the photo.

This post has been difficult to write as I have had to check many facts and dates and as is usual in historical writings, not all sources agree with one another.
There are also many threads and sources to try and make sense of and it is quite messy and may not be an easy read for those who are not very interested in the history of our modern combine's development.

This post is also different in that I will try to comment on and roughly follow the time line for the development of various Australian harvesting technology advances through the years and will not bother too much with the American harvest technology developments.

It is my intention to look at the historical scene for the mechanisation of grain harvesting up to near the present time in this post with another future post looking and guessing at the way out, blue sky future developments in grain harvesting technologies and which way those technologies may well go in the future.


Until the latter half of the 20th century Australia was right at the end of the line and near the ends of the earth as far as the Americans and European colonial powers were concerned so we had to develop our own technologies that would work in our harsh Australian environment and the immense distances that are involved when our population was no more than some 3 or 4 million inhabitants.

To give some perspective and relativity's of Australia with the US and the northern hemisphere nations.
Australia's population only reached about 10 million inhabitants by around 1950.
Even today with some 22 million inhabitants, something like one quarter of Australia's present population was born overseas. They are immigrants and not native born Australians.

Australia, including the island state of Tasmania, is almost exactly the same area and is of similar dimensions to the 48 contiguous states of continental USA.
We are also, next to Antarctica, the driest continent on earth which has had huge implications for Australian agriculture.
Australians through necessity have had to develop some quite unique technologies that suit both the harsh dry climate and the very ancient, highly eroded and poor soils of our land.

It is regularly commented by Australians who have often spent some considerable time in the USA, just how little the average American knows about the world outside of the USA borders.
[ The qualification here is that I believe that the readers of this and similar forums with an international perspective are very much better informed than the average citizens of most countries. ]
I think this can be put down to the type of USA education which although excellent and even superior to most other countries in many respects concentrates far too much on matters solely American, often at the expense of a real and balanced acknowledgment that other nations have also made just as important a contribution to civilisation and civilisation's technological advancement as America has undoubtedly done over the last century and a half.

So for American readers who have always been told and who may even believe that Americans alone have invented and developed all of the modern farm technologies and modern grain harvesting technologies here is a rough time line together with many personal and historical anecdotes from the Australian perspective.
I have included a few Australian internet references for those who might like to follow up and understand just a little more how other nations have contributed to a technological advances that has enabled the world's farmers to continue to be able to adequately feed the world's peoples even though our global population has doubled to just under 7 billions over the last 60 years or in a period of less than a single well lived farming lifetime.

And for a clarification of "combine" nomenclature as it is used by Australian grain farmer's for their equipment, the following may be of interest and will stop some confusion about terms, plus a few facts about Australia.

The American term "Combines" are the Australian "Headers" although "combine" is slowly entering our vocabulary when it comes to describing the "self propelled headers"
The American "Headers" are our "fronts" or sometimes "platforms" and with the older machines also called the "Comb" due to the long finger's comb like appearance and action.
The term "Harvesters" is now used in a general sense but some years ago was used more specifically to describe the now obsolete "stripper harvester" type machines which I will describe below.

"Combines" as they are known in some parts of the Australian grain belt are 20 to 24 row or wider direct drop, small grain seeders with full width seed and fertilizer boxes.
Examples of a couple of makes of combines ;
[ http://www.michaelsofdonald.com.au/combines.htm ]

"Combines" have been almost entirely displaced by "Air seeders" as the larger size and capacity are much better suited to the Australian large acreage grain farms which are rarely less than 1500 acres now for a one man operation and around here in western Victoria can run up to about 7000 to 10,000 acres for a two man operation in the lighter soils.

The big grain growing farms are in Western Australia and Queensland with 20,000 to 30,000 acre family owned operations not uncommon.
The biggest grain growing operation in Australia, in Queensland, plants and harvests close to a 100,000 Hectares [ 240,000 acres plus ] of grain a year.

[ The state of Western Australia, if it was a country, would rank as the tenth largest country on earth in area, just ahead of Sudan, the largest country in Africa.[edit; since Sudan has now split into two separate nations, WA moves up into 9th place in size if it was a country ]
The state of Queensland would rank as the 18th[ 17th ] largest in area, behind Libya and well ahead of Iran in area. ]

"Pickups" are "utes" for Utility, an Australian invention.
[ http://www.fastlane.com.au/Features/First_ute.htm ]


There were three different grain harvesting technologies developed in Australia starting in about 1843 and these technologies were nearly all completely home grown.
Each of these technologies as they were developed, overlapped the previous technology by a couple of decades as the older technology and methods were slowly phased out.

The first of these mechanised grain harvesting technologies was the invention of the "stripper" by either J.B. Bull or John Ridley [ still disputed ] in the state of South Australia in 1843.
South Australia, late in the 19th century, for a time, became the largest exporter of wheat in the world.

John Ridley; possibly the [ disputed ] inventor of the Stripper, the world's first mechanised grain harvester.
[ http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A020334b.htm ] and
John Bull who is also contributed significantly to the invention of the Stripper;
[ http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A010159b.htm ]

For a history of the grain strippers in Australia I suggest you just google "Australian grain strippers" or just a few of many examples on many sites.

[ http://www.austehc.unimelb.edu.au/tia/015.html ]
Necessity was the mother of invention in SA's wheat industry
[ http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/inventors.htm ]

There is also an excellent presentation from South Australia entitled "The evolution of South Australia's Cropping Industries" with some excellent photos and drawings of the early days of grain growing in Australia and the machines used.

You can see from the sites above the basic principle of the "stripper".
A set of long closely spaced fingers which held the heads of grain above the fingers as the stripper combed it's way through the crop.
A metal bladed beater running at speed and close to the fingers which belted the heads off the straw and threshed the grain out of the heads.
The whole of the threshed grain and chaff was then thrown back by the beater into a large box on back of the machine.

The uncleaned cocky chaff and threshed wheat was raked out of the back of the collection box on the stripper using large wooden rakes and wooden forks and it was then heaped into large heaps for later cleaning and bagging for sale using a winnower.
The next step was to clean and bag the grain using a winnower, often hand powered through a crank in the early days until horse treadles and then the single cylinder oil engines became more common.

And as a small boy watching my father use an old hand powered crank handled winnower for the one and only time with my mother feeding the machine, I don't think that we of the later generations really know what hard physical labour really is!

My father told me that the grain in these cocky chaff heaps was unaffected by rain as the chaff when first wetted, formed a good seal on the surface of the well made heap and provided there were no hollows that allowed water to collect, the rain then just ran off the sealed surface of the chaff.

My grand father used to tell the tale of a quite prosperous german speaking local farmer as were all those old Lutheran settlers in the very early days of the 20th century, who had just brought a brand new winnower to clean his grain.
The harvest was finished and he rolled the new and expensive winnower out to the first cocky chaff heap just before the new year so that he and his crew could start cleaning and bagging the wheat a day or so later.
The morning arrived and he headed out to the paddock to start the cleaning operation but to his total shock some b*****d [ in very excited, high pitched and expressive guttural german of course ] had stolen his brand new winnower overnight.
Now in a closely knit community such as those religion based communities were, you couldn't hide something as substantial as a winnower for long let alone spirit it out of the district without somebody knowing all the details but he had no luck at all in finding that winnower.
So with one increasingly angry and vocal german roaming the district looking for his winnower, the district's young bucks quietly slipped back into the paddock one night a week or so later and carefully dug the winnower out from under the cocky chaff heap and restored it to it's original position.
They were still guffawing about it thirty years later!

Over the years Americans have made quite a play on the invention of the "Reaper" by Cyrus McCormick in 1831.
1847 Mc Cormack Reaper

The McCormack Reaper only cut the ripe standing crop and straw which still had to be collected and threshed by the large stationary threshers requiring large teams of men and large teams of horses to power the treadles or later, steam engines to power the stationary threshing machines.
In 1844, the Ridley invented stripper of 1843 was used to harvest a record wheat crop in South Australia.
By 1860 when the McCormack reaper was in universal use across America, some thousands of the far more efficient strippers were being used across Australia's vast wheat lands.

The second major development in the mechanisation of Australian grain harvesting was the combining of the "stripper" principle of the rotary beater and the sieves and separation principles of the winnower in a "stripper harvester".
The first successful Australian "Stripper harvester" was made by a James Morrow in 1884.
A number of Australians were involved in the development of the stripper harvester.
The most important was H. V. McKay who produced a successful machine in 1884 and subsequently manufactured large numbers as the “Sunshine” Stripper Harvester.

A very early Sunshine Stripper Harvester; Sunshine Stripper Harvester Model, 1899
or google "Australian Stripper Harvesters"

I only ever worked one of these "stripper harvesters" for a few days and that was in viciously itchy oats for good measure!
The sieves were reversed in that to save space the sieve fan was at the back of the machine and the threshed material was dropped onto the sieves at the back and the chaff was blown forward off the sieves and mostly over the operator in his seat in front of the main drive wheel.
Those old guys had to be tough but that Sunshine Stripper Harvester was still way, way better and easier and much, much faster and cheaper than using the old stripper and winnower!
The downfall of the the Stripper Harvesters, called Harvesters by farmers at the time of their greatest influence so as to distinguish them from the older Stripper and the new technology "Headers", was their poor performance in lodged crops or very tough and difficult to thresh crops or heavily weed infested crops.

The wheat varieties of the first decades of grain production in Australia often were very tall and had weak straw, being derived from English varieties that were also selected for straw for animal feed.
They would lodge quite readily and in these circumstances the old Strippers and the Harvesters had great difficulty in cleanly picking up the minimum of straw and threshing the grain out of it.
Too much straw above the fingers just choked the threshing beater.

The biographies of some important Australian inventors and developers.
A good deal of history can be learnt from these biographies.
James Morrow; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A050344b.htm
Hugh Victor McKay ; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A100286b.htm

And how Massey Harris eventually got on top of H V McKay in the global combine market through the inventive genius of an Australian.
Thomas Carroll; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/AS10082b.htm

And an Australian designed and built self propelled Sunshine Stripper Harvester in Spain in 1916.
Photograph - H.V. McKay, Sunshine Auto Harvester, Spain, 1916

This photo is interesting in that I cannot find any reference to such a self propelled "stripper harvester" being manufactured by Sunshine Harvester which this machine certainly is nor have I ever heard of or come across any previous mention of such a machine.
The date attributed here seems to indicate that this self propelled machine considerably predates any other known self propelled harvesting machines, at least of Australian design and manufacture.

A good short easy read of the history of the invention and development of the Australian Stripper and the Stripper Harvester can be found here and is entitled;
The Revival of the Gallic Harvester
[ http://www.triz-journal.com/archives/2008/04/02/ ]

The following reference is for Australians reading this to follow up on our history.
The Ridley - Bull "Stripper" controversy

During the various periods of considerable farm prosperity in the early decades of the 20th century a number of American pull type combines with draper type fronts were imported into Australia.
My grandfather owned one of these for a few years, possibly a McCormick, but they proved to be unsuitable for Australian conditions and were very unreliable and were soon discarded in favour of the more suitable Australian developed machines.
The remains of one of these imported machines with it's peg drum thresher still stands in the steel scrap heap out at the farm but unfortunately not for much longer as Rolf and his wife are very reluctantly getting out of farming after a run of very low rainfall years and a near unbroken decade and half long series of financially severe weather induced setbacks nor are they alone in this as an exodus of farmers is under way in this area for these very same reasons.
There is no income insurance or government backed and financed low income and low commodity price protection for farmers in Australia!

Headley Shipard Taylor; http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A120199b.htm
The man who as much as anybody else was responsible for the invention and development of the modern header [ combine. ]

The next great advance in Australian grain harvesting technology, the same almost unchanged in it's basics technology that all of todays conventional combines are based on came about with the invention and development of a practical and affordable "header" [ combine ] by H S Taylor in 1911-12.
This Australian designed machine incorporated all the basic elements that define our modern "conventional" headers [ combines]
The Americans already had similar design machines combining all the same basic principles but their machines were very large and clumsy when compared to the much lighter and more practical and more efficient Taylor design,
H. V. McKay who had built a large industrial empire based on his invention and development of the stripper harvester in 1884 became the manufacturer of the Taylor headers.
And in fact versions of these headers were designated by models such as the Sunshine "Taylor" and the later "HST" models.

In 1924 H.V. McKay developed the first self propelled header or "Auto header" as it was known in Australia..
These machines used either a Fordson engine or a Wisconsin engine for their power.
They were exported all over the world.
The widths were up to 20 foot fronts and I think there was even a 24 foot version made, a phenomenal width for the pre WW2 days.

Sunshine Auto headers
http://www.museumvictoria.museum/sunshine/machines.asp
Sunshine Auto Header
Sunshine Auto Header Harvester, 'W' Type

My first harvest job was driving the tractor while the hired man sat on the tractor drawn, ground driven header.
The next harvest while I was still only 16 1/2 years old was to take the entire wheat harvest off driving one of the above Sunshine HST headers drawn by a Massey 55 D diesel tractor using an "extension steering" from the header seat.

My father had installed an "extension steering" from the header to the tractor with a steering wheel on the header using a long shaft and universal joints attached to the tractor steering wheel as depicted in the photos below.
The clutch was a simple lever and over centre device attached to the foot pedal of the tractor clutch and operated by a good tug on a rope from the header so the whole show could be operated by one man from the header seat.

The seating arrangements were lets say, convenient to the operations of the header.
The view around and of the machine operations was unimpeded by anything as sophisticated as even an umbrella to keep the 35 C plus summer sun off.
The comforts of the open air so beloved of our city brethren was replete with a thick pall of itchy dust, flying chaff, the grinding of rough open gears, the whine of chains that should have been replaced before last season and the howl of the threshing drum to which was added half the fly population of Australia although it even got a bit much for the flies on occasions.
One became intimately familiar with the combine's machinery as the chains whipped around a foot or so away from the old plough seat that acted as the control centre to which was added the howl of a whole bunch of open gears also close at hand like in about 2 feet away, the constant bark of the tractor ahead and the rumble and growling of that big steel drive wheel and it's drive cogs a couple of feet directly behind one's open posterior.
The piece de resistance was a bloody great lever, fortunately spring assisted, at my right hand that was used to raise and lower the 10 foot wide comb front as we crawled along at some 1, 3/4 MPH through the ripe wheat crop and the eye dazzling cereal stubble on that big steel drive wheel across the sometimes rough paddocks.
The day's drinking water arrangements were a thick dust covered canvas water bag hanging somewhere convenient in the shade on the machine.

And that is where this then sixteen year old kid was initiated into the complexities of headers and harvesting and left to get on with the harvesting while the Old Man drove the old truck back and forth delivering the harvested wheat to the concrete silos that dot the Australian grain belt.

But I had it easier than a lot of others.
The Old Man had invested in one of the first bulk handling side trailers in the district so I rarely had to manhandle the 200 lb open topped bags of wheat.
We just augered the wheat straight onto a heap on the ground to the neighbor's absolute horror for nobody had ever committed such sacrilege to a wheat crop before in the district.
They were all doing it a few years later.
A portable auger and a couple of back breaking shovels to shift the wheat to the auger to load the old truck was our bulk handling system.
That in bare feet which kept one alert to the possibility of losing some toes if you got too close to that auger.
The side trailer did have one other advantage.
While the single cylinder engine chugged away driving the unloading auger in the side trailer I used to rush around and grease half the grease nipples on the plain cast bearings that infested that old header.
At the next stop I would grease the other half.

Same type of header and extension steering set up; different tractor in the first photo.
http://mview.museum.vic.gov.au/paimages/mm/186/18671.htm
http://mview.museum.vic.gov.au/paimages/mm/169/16953.htm

Prices were good in those days and soon, in the mid 1950's, another tractor drawn Australian built DS David Shearer header arrived with, would you believe, the new fangled Fafnir sealed bearings right through it.
No more greasing and all the dirt and filth that entailed.
AND you actually sat in some comfort on the newly cabined tractor and worked the "comb" [ in the header parlance of those days ] height with the new fangled hydraulics that came with the header but there was more!
It had a PTO drive! [ PTO = Power Take Off ]

It was also around this period in 1955 that the Massey Harris purchased the McKay family interests in the Sunshine H.V.McKay works.
I have avoided mentioning makes in this whole thread but there comes a time!

What then happened is one of the most arrogant, bastardised and criminal acts that has ever been perpetrated on a friendly and welcoming host nation by a North American corporation.

Over many decades, H.V. McKay and the Sunshine Harvester works had assembled some of the earliest and most unique and completely irreplaceable examples of Australian farming inventions, innovations and technology advances.
These items were all housed in a museum building at the Sunshine works in Sunshine, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria.
Within a few weeks of taking over the American and Canadian Massey Harris executives secretly decreed and oversaw the total destruction of and the disposal of all these unique and irreplaceable examples of very early Australian agricultural machine inventions and developments, a vital and irreplaceable part of the Australia's national heritage which all went into the Sunshine tip.
The only records of those machines now are the photos in the National Museum.

I only found out the full story some years later from an old ex Sunshine Harvester employee and truck driver who actually had to take the destroyed machines down to the Sunshine tip for disposal.
And the reasons given by those executives when they were strongly challenged by the workers was there was no way that they, the Massey Harris / Ferguson executives were going to allow anything in Australia that would challenge the North American claims that they were the first to develop all of the modern grain harvesting and farming technologies.

If Americans want a comparison just try and imagine the Australian BHP company, now one of the largest mining companies in the world, moving in with bull dozers to flatten and destroy Valley Forge because they wanted to mine under it.

The mention of the Massey Ferguson name still brings a sour taste to my mouth and not much has changed with the Massey Ferguson culture here in Australia.
Their executives who have taken over the running of AGCO's business in Australia still seem to have that same arrogant attitude to Australians.

By the very early 1960's the sheer size and financial power of the big American corporations were wiping out the small but very technologically advanced Australian header manufacturers and by the very late 1970's all Australian manufacturers of harvesting machinery were out of business or taken over.

My father brought our first American built self propelled combine, a two seasons old JD 95 Roundback in 1961.
We were really big time then.
That machine was very simple, strong, well made and easy to maintain.
It was also the single worst combine for grain loss and sample quality that we have ever owned and it's lack of comparative capacity in our Australian conditions was not far behind.

There was one more purchase of an Australian designed and built Shearer XP 88 combine which after a lot of ROM and his brother's mods became a very good capacity machine but that model was the last produced by the Shearer company.

Then Allis Chalmers with the first Push Button combine, the L2 came into our world and my story ends here.

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#1095973 - 26/03/2012 22:37 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine ; Part 11

21 / 3 /2010

A couple of mostly true stories from yesteryear from down under and which I bet you have never heard before due to the very red faces arising there from.;
With some considerable literary embellishments.
And if you can't guess who the empire was, Well??


Once upon a time, many decades ago, in the land of the free and of ever lasting riches, the high priests of a great enterprise looked out upon their empire.
In the Land down under they espied a great enterprise that they in their infinite wisdom had purchased and distributed the many riches that enterprise had contained upon their most exalted minions.
But there was still many minions who had many slaves scattered about the land and who had the empire's coat of arms above their establishments.
These minions were agitated and wanted to know just what the heck the high priests were going to do now as they had about stuffed the joint and unless they came up with something pretty good, pretty darn quick all of those minions were going to have to find their beggars bowls to earn a quid or find another cult of high priests to enable them to enjoy some gainful employment!

So the high priests consulted their soothsayers who in their wisdom pointed out that the empire had many slaves in the land of rain and fog and sometimes snow and where all was grey and which was the home of the tribe called Poms on the other side of the world who could make a reaping device that would satisfy the discerning grain growing kulaks in the land down under and would enable the grain growing kulaks to reap with confidence and enthusiasm and that this would bring much riches to the high priests.
So many reaping devices from the land of fog and rain and sometimes snow which is the land of the tribe called Poms and where all is grey were loaded onto great canoes and sent to the land down under.

And number of great exhibitions were held where the reaping devices and cunning inventions of many empires were displayed and the new reaping device from the land of fog and rain and the tribe of the Poms was displayed for the first time to the discerning grain growing kulaks.
And the high priests looked upon the enterprise with hope and favor.
And the grain growing kulaks and their female companions and their mistresses and many young descendants came in great numbers and looked upon the empire's proudly displayed new reaping device with open mouths and then they would burst out laughing.
The high priests were not amused and demanded to know why the grain growing kulaks and the minions of the other empires were rolling around on the ground laughing at their reaping devices.

When suitable liquid refreshments had been supplied in liberal quantities and the tongues were loosened, the high priests of the empire were aghast at what they heard.

The supreme efforts of their slaves in the land of fog and rain and sometimes snow, the land of the tribe called Poms and where all is grey had come to nought.
"Who in the bloody hell was stupid enough to put a stinking hot bloody engine and it's bloody exhaust right down under the guts of the bloody header where you can't get at it and where it runs down in the stubble when it's 100 degrees in the shade".
"You'll burn the crap out of the country if you try and sell that thing" says the grain growing kulaks and they rode off into the sunset shaking their heads in disbelief and still laughing.

So the high priests in great dismay and after much further consultation decided that their remaining slaves in the great enterprise in the land down under could fashion their own reaping devices for the land down under's discerning grain growing kulaks.

Much thought and labour and great wealth was expended over many years to get the new reaping device just right.
With the expenditure of much more great wealth, ripe grain crops were purchased and hired slaves cut and bound and carted the bound crop to the great enterprise's secret lair where much thinking and drawing and arguing and arm waving was done and much cutting and hacking and welding was done to create the new reaping device.
A great long belt was created upon which the bound crop was unbound and then evenly distributed.
And after much calculation and head scratching it was decided that 11 seconds was long enough to see what happened to the unbound crop as it entered the about to be created new reaping device that would enable the grain growing kulaks to reap with confidence and enthusiasm.

And the new reaping device was created with great patience and much care and it sat at the end of the long belt upon which the unbound crop lay and when a slave pressed the button and electrons flowed and the belt moved at speed feeding the unbound crop into the new reaping device for 11 seconds.
The new reaping device, with great cunning, had clear panels to watch the unbound crop enter upon the reaping device and watch the contortions that the unbound crop went through while it had the daylights hammered out of it by the many whizz bang go go spinning and shaking bits inside of the reaping device.
A so that the most intelligent slaves and those who carried bits of paper saying they were intelligent could remember what had happened, seeing eyes in black boxes were placed in front of the clear panels and put everything they observed onto long strips of film so that the intelligent ones and those with bits of paper saying they were intelligent could play with the strips of film and slow it down and watch over and over again what happened to the unbound crop inside of the new reaping device.

And much further hacking and cutting and welding and arm waving went on for many months and years until the reaping device was perfect.
And then when all was perfect with the reaping device, the wide bits with many points that gathered the crop were attached to a real copy of the new reaping device and all was ready for the high priests and the intelligent ones and those with bits of paper saying they were intelligent to watch the first gathering of the crop by the new reaping device.

A suitable crop was selected and acquired by the minions of the high priests and all gathered to watch with great enthusiasm as the reaping device was perfect beyond doubt as was well proven with the great 11 second belt and much unbound crop in the secret lair.

And the signal was given to drive the new reaping device into the crop and it was perfect FOR 11 SECONDS.

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#1096180 - 27/03/2012 21:38 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine; part 12

22 / 3 / 2010

A lot of what I have posted here is personal reminiscences, ideas and thoughts I have picked up in my three score and ten plus years so a few more reminiscences probably won't make much difference.

We all go along to various farm machinery field days and exhibitions and there are very few farmers around who can resist the urge to have a look over the latest and greatest bits of gear whether it's the make we are supposedly loyal to or the opposition's offerings.
I suspect there there is often a deep down and slightly unsettling suspicion that we may not have made the best choice of a particular make of machine and we need that comforting feeling of being right by finding supposedly substantial faults as we run our eye over the opposition's offerings.

We also get more cynical as we see supposed improvements and innovations dressed up as new but which as an old hand at farm machinery, we know has been around for a long time.

But every now and then there is a significant change and perhaps once in a decade in farm machinery a real shift and change in a particular sector of agriculture as some completely new technological advance appears almost out of nowhere.
The most recent and quite spectacular jump in technology was the very rapid appearance and development of the satellite based, Auto Guidance technology and the even more staggering speed at which the agricultural industries have adopted and adapted to the technology and how these same supposedly conservative industries are rapidly changing even their long established systems and methods to fit around the auto guidance systems.
The strange thing here is that there does not seem to be an overwhelming financial case to justify the heavy financial cost of installing a full on auto guidance system.

We have to look at the social and personal psychological benefits for any justification for the purchase of the auto guidance systems, not that you will get many farmers to admit this as they will invariably point out how you can inter row sow and etc and etc and then perhaps will add how much more work they can do because they don't get as tired at the end of the day.

Two decades ago to suggest that by say the year 2000 tractors would be quite capable of steering themselves across a field would have been regarded as fantasy and more in line with some science fiction story dreamt up by some reporter to keep your attention.
Little did we dream of the speed that this satellite based Auto Steering technology would be adopted by farming of every persuasion.

Some day there will be a doctorate or two earned by looking at the factors that have driven the adoption of some technologies that few would have ever expected to be adopted so quickly whereas other supposedly advanced technologies that appeared to have every thing in their favour were tried and then quietly disappeared again.

Interesting looking back in my working life and seeing an almost identical personal response when my new MIL bought me a set of ear muffs as my new wife use to complain how grumpy I was when I got home off the tractor at night.
After some pressure from my wife who insisted I wear those ear muffs I finally succumbed and put them on for a round of the paddock on the open to the weather, no cabin tractor.
I went to take those earmuffs off and was totally shocked at the sheer volume and painfulness of the noise.
I always wore those earmuffs every time I worked the tractor after that and then rapidly found that even in the workshop in the most noisy jobs it was far more comfortable using those muffs as well.
A very small advance which we would never consider as significant to our comfort and health but one that could not be made until suitable advances had been made in materials and design that made those earmuffs a viable and comfortable noise suppression method.
Yet those earmuffs made a big difference to our relationship and I believe saved my hearing.

Well I think it did but my wife and kids differ!
And there is a strong suspicion in the family that I can turn on the domestic deafness quite rapidly when required.

And a small anecdote on this from an old guy who predates me by at least a decade.

I was leaning over a tire of the latest, greatest, shiniest, most expensive and etc combine at the local machinery field days a few weeks back when an 84 year old acquaintance drifted up to lean on the tire with me.
Together we surveyed the mass of extremely complicated and shiny metal, plastic, belts, pulleys and etc that passed for a combine.
We shook our heads and pursed our lips at the complication and the cost but then perhaps a bit of reality about the Good Old Days comparisons appeared.
You know, he said, when I started driving a Vickers Aussie tractor way back in the late 1930's there was this bloody great 6 inch diameter straight out exhaust pipe popping, banging and bellowing away only a couple of feet in front of me.
And you know, he said, that exhaust would have made me stone deaf if I could have heard it over the noise from the gearbox!
And with that and keeping a perfectly straight face, he wandered off!

When I look at those new ideas and advances I often ask myself, I wonder where or how the designers picked that idea up and being somewhat cynical I also wonder who in the heck had his bright idea swiped by some corporation which will never ever admit that they pinched it from some individual who with very limited resources has no hope of ever getting his quite valid claim ever considered by the corporation or even the courts.
I know from my reading of history and a couple of long ago personal anecdotes of a couple of major advances made by large corporations that were based on original ideas and even machines built by innovative individuals who got no recognition and were denied any recognition by the corporation.

A couple of personal anecdotes on just how some of these advances in agricultural machinery have been picked up by the designers.
I have no doubt at all that there are many, many farmers who can tell similar stories to the following about ideas that they have had which have been picked up by some manufacturer so we are not unique in these stories.

A half dozen years back Rolf and I were looking at the R62 when Rolf said , you know if they put that bin unloading auger straight through the side of the bin across to the right hand bottom of the bin and used the bottom auger to move the grain to the right to the unloading auger, you could have a straight unloader auger which would run through the bin and when it was folded out would be straight with no gearboxes, universals or anything else and it would have a lot better capacity when unloading.
And the fold would be equally as simple.

Well I wrote that idea up on the other combine forum a few weeks later.
Interestingly we can't find that post at all now although we have looked carefully for it.
And isn't it strange that MF have come out with that identical system of bin unloader auger in their latest offering, a system that I have never heard of previously to Rolf's suggestion.

My brother, Brian, a very innovative guy who owns the R75 with the 45 foot Honeybee draper in Rolf's R62 photos and who I was in partnership for many years, and I imported the second or third rubber tracked Cat Challenger 65 into Australia in January 1989.
Cat refused to supply us as they did not have the trained techs in Australia to service it so we brought it in privately.
Needless to say we had excellent service from the local Cat agency as soon as it arrived.
A consequence of this a year or two later after Cat had a lot of publicity about this tractor was that following the local machinery field days we had dinner with a small group of Cats then Ag division reps.
One of these guys, who will be called Bill for this yarn, was the American head of Cat's new Ag machinery research section when Cat was seriously looking at getting back into the farm equipment industry in it's own right.
Sitting along side of Bill, I asked him, not expecting a straight answer, what was the next step the Cats were going to make with the tracked machines after the introduction of the 65 series.
Well he said, we can't really do anything in new models until we figure out how to make the tracks adjustable for row crop work and we haven't figured out how to do that yet.
Well thats not very difficult I replied, a comment that in retrospect deservedly collected a fairly cold glance from Bill.

I asked Bill if he had a pen and paper which he duly produced and on that piece of paper I drew a rough sketch with an engine in front, the main gearbox at the rear and the big central cross beam of the Challenger 65's that supports the track system as an axle and differential.
The tracks were modular and slid in and out on the central beam / axle with a gearbox or chain drive back to the rear track drive wheel.
Bill looked at the rough sketch for a few moments and looked straight at me; You realise we don't pay for ideas like this, he said and then he repeated it.
No I did not expect payment as there really was not much I could do with the idea.
There were also some other short questions and discussions and my opinion sought on the various aspects of my idea and it was shown to my brother who took one look and said, well if you put air bags here and here you will have a fully sprung track system.
There were open mouths around the table.

You first saw this different in detail but fundamental in principle modular and adjustable in width track system in the small Genesis based Cats that followed the Challenger 65 series.
The Genesis series were a very expensive exercise for Cats and it was found that rather than modifying an existing machine it was much cheaper to build a new design from scratch.

There is a lot more to this story including how JD pinched the principle directly off Cat's design through a local custom 4 WD tractor builder [ who had built a very good 4WD for us to our specs ] who went to JD with his copy of Cat's track system.
All of which led to an international court case, a very interesting and educational episode, until Cats and JD came to an agreement when Cat decided to again get out of it's direct involvement in Agricultural machinery production.

And yes, in a way we did get paid.
We finished up with one of the most updated A series Challenger 65's around .

There are also a couple of other not that dissimilar personal episodes I could also post about but just one more and it has nothing to do with machinery.

Medic plants, a nitrogen fixing pasture legume which originates from the Mediterranean and North Africa have been one of the greatest influences on the fertility of Australian soils ever.
By the end of WW2, Australia's already poor soils were very depleted by the run down in nutrients over the previous half to century long history of cropping and yields were dropping steadily and wind caused soil erosion was a serious problem.
Following WW2 there was a tremendous program put in place by the farmers using medics to rebuild our cropping soils.
The result was rapidly rising fertility for crops and with very high prices for wool at the time, very substantial returns from sheep running on the medic pastures.

In the 1970's and 80's we made a heavy investment in the medic seed industry with the building of a large medic seed harvester and a seed cleaning plant and were exporting to South Africa and many North African and Middle East nations.
So when my brother took over the business in the 1990's, he became instrumental in getting a significant medic and clover breeding and research program off the ground in the USA initially using Australian varieties and medic and clover plant breeding technology.
He was on a first name basis with some of the most senior people and plant breeders in the pasture division of the USDA.
Unfortunately this natural soil nitrogen fixing and fertility increasing plant technology has gone nowhere as the American farmer is firmly wedded to the use of artificial nitrogen.
And in Australia in the last decade and a half we have also gone down the artificial nitrogen fertilizer track.
But the natural plant soil nitrogen fixing technology is all there ready for use with aerial seeding type clovers and medics having been selected and researched by American pasture plant breeders initially using Australian developed plant technology.

One day we will in all likely hood, for reasons that are not yet clear, need that plant soil fertility increasing technology again.

All of the above are just a very few and very small examples on how the messy, chaotic and unforecastable changes and advancements in our agricultural technologies slowly and in fits and starts advances into the future.

To be continued

Cheers.

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#1096418 - 28/03/2012 21:05 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
Kowree Offline
Weather Freak

Registered: 26/03/2012
Posts: 103
Loc: Utchee Creek via Innisfail.
Rom,for my first post, I would like to say that I have indeed read your epic "The Combine Forum" and have been fascinated,outraged,amused,tutored and in awe.Your knowledge is incredible.
Not pertaining to the technology of your report, but as an earlier advance in farming and other professions and way of life back then, and how we have advanced, is the memory of another farmer, who can still remember the sound of the horses in distress, after delivering them to the railway yard, for who knows what fate - they were no longer needed.
A 'modern' tractor had been purchased.
Will keep on reading your thoughts with interest, even though a lot of the techno goes over my head!
(Dare I say, without incurring any groups out there,I am the opposite sex to you)

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#1096437 - 28/03/2012 22:18 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: Kowree]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
Than you Kowree for your kind words. And like most people I also like my ego stroked on occassions so thanks again.

As for you being the opposite sex, my own experience there is on the whole, women are considerably smarter than men but men are more decisive in decision making and that can cover a lot of male failings.
I learn't that bit as a gliding instructor for many years.

And you only have to watch in the supermarkets where the Mums might be talking to one another, watching two or three kids, loading the shopping trolley with the appropriate item chosen from the shelf and saying hallo to the locals all at the same time.
Your average male would be gibbering wreck within minutes if he tried that.

[ I sometimes lean over a pusher and say "I was like that once but nobody believes me any more". They take one look at this 74 year old, their jaws fall open and then they lay all about the floor laughing their heads off.

One of my acquaintances drops the super market condoms into the shopping baskets of the 80 year olds. You can imagine the kerfufle at the check out when that condom turns up. ]

And yes I use to play around the horses, those magnificent Clydesdales, those great three quarters of a tonne animals and they seemed to know that i was just a little harmless kid although when the Old Man caught me I got hell.
They each had a personality and the farmers use to know and often love those horses. Although each farmer had his favorite horse or horses.
I saw my Old Man shed copious tears when one of his horses died although some of that might have been due to the financial loss as well.
Some of those horses would just work their hearts out. Some would just keep the leads tight without trying too hard. Some were plain bloody slackers. The slackers got some barb wire wound around the wooden beams that their chains were attached to behind their backsides and when they slacked off a bit too much they got some barb wire right where it made the biggest impression.
That usually gave a jolt to the cultivator behind as suddenly some work was getting done by the culprit.

And those old farmers were dead shots with a clod, right behind the ear and that sure got things moving again as far as that horse was concerned
Our horses were sent down to the Vic Western district for agistment in the very bad 1944 drought as there was no feed up in the Wimmera and Mallee during that very bad drought which also saw some astonishing dust storms, courtesy of the rabbit plagues and the lack of herbicides and consequent constant cultivation of those days.
The horses never came back.
A tractor, a "Massey Harris 102 Senior" arrived in mid 1944 complete on rubber tyres, the first rubber tyres in the district. Farmers came from 20 and 30 miles away to see the Old Man's tractor on it's rubber tyres.
This then just 6 year old kid can remember it quite well when it arrived as I was at Antwerp state school and it was playtime when it tootled past on the way to our place to the great excitement of the older kids.

It was wartime and such luxuries as rubber tyres were unheard of but 6 trips to Melbourne by train to pester the wartime controllers of the economy and the Old Man got his tractor on rubber tyres.
Everybody else could only get theirs on steel wheels. And as he kept some pretty high personal standards he refused to pay any bribes which would have got him a tractor on rubbers quick smart.

Thanks Kowree!! Just an old man reminiscing

Any way the next epistle from the Combine Forum follows.

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#1096439 - 28/03/2012 22:39 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine ; part 13

23 / 3 / 2010

Ok, I've scratched around enough at the edges here without seriously getting into some blue sky stuff on possible future developments in combines and perhaps in tractors as well.
So before I get into into this subject with it's unlimited blue sky potential there are a couple of qualifications;
Most ie; nearly all of the following ideas won't happen!
What we don't expect or have not predicted will happen!

Any opinions expressed here are worth exactly what you have paid for them.

It's fairly easy just to plunge into suggesting a whole host of new ideas about the way in which combines and tractors will evolve but behind any thinking along these lines is another much more subtle impact and that is the effects of culture, circumstances, social systems, financial power and national attitudes to technology and acceptance of advances in technology.
All of these have very significant effects and subtle pressures on the way in which designers, engineers, executives, the politicals, bureaucracy with it's regulations and the conservatism of the farming sector look upon and accept or reject new advances in technology and the types of technology that is acceptable to that particular part of that society.

To Americans it all looks pretty straight forward to just use the newest technology and if it fits into the system then it is used.
South Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Ukranians, Kazakhs and others from the newest and increasingly important grain producing areas of the world may look quite differently at new technology compared to the way that American farmers do.

Australian farmers hold views that are quite close to the American view on the adoption of new agricultural technology but even here we see the world quite a bit differently to most Americans.
Australia with it's 23 million population is only a few hundred kilometres across the Timor Sea from the fourth largest nation on Earth, Indonesia with a population of 231 millions.

Within a radius of less than 7500 kilometres from Darwin, Australia's northern most state capital to New Delhi in India and 6000 kms to Beijing in China, there are 13 nations with a combined population of 4 billion people.
For comparison New York to Honolulu is 8000kms / 4320 mls.
It does give one a somewhat different view of life when you are a small nation occupying a large land mass with this immense population sitting on your doorstep so as to speak.

For nearly a century America has been the largest grain producer and exporter on the planet.
Canada was next largest exporter as distinct from producer followed in export volume by Australia and Argentina with about the same export tonnages.
As such the USA with it's immense grain and corn production and it's immense industrial capabilities created the circumstances where a number of it's agricultural machinery corporations rose to become the dominant farm machinery corporations on the planet.
It did not necessarily have to turn out this way.

Under the old Czarist Russia before the Russian Communist revolution of 1917 and for the decade following the revolution Russia was rapidly industrialising and it's grain production from the great areas of fertile Russian and Ukrainian black soils or podzol soils were starting to produce larger tonnages of grain as the kulaks, the peasants who owned their own land and who were rich enough to hire labour started to adopt better farming technologies.
Although this increase in grain production was interrupted by the Russian famine of 1921.

The steady advance in Russian farming technology was brought to stop when Stalin started the great purges of the 1930's where some millions of Kulaks who Stalin feared because of their independence, were eliminated by the bullet or in the gulags of Siberia and the forced collectivisation of farmland was implemented by Stalin using the full weight of the Communist Party apparatus which was under his complete totalitarian control.
The result was a period known as the Great Famine of 1931 and 32 in the Ukraine and across Russia in which further millions perished.

It is only now that the immense areas of the highly fertile podzol soils of Ukraine and southern and eastern Russia are again, after nearly 80 years, starting to show their immense grain producing potential.
Even the central Asian states such as Kazakhstan are now producing millions of tonnes of grain although like all of these deep continental regions they are subject to immense swings in the year to year seasonal weather and so are likely to have a highly variable output of grain into the future.

A Ukrainian government english language agricultural site which I check regularly.
http://www.agrimarket.info/ [ edit . Link may be broken; try Black Sea Grain]

All of these newly emerging grain producing areas are moving as rapidly as possible to maximise the mechanisation of their agriculture, particularly grain growing as grain is the essential staple of so much of mankind's diet and grain production has been mechanised for over a century in the west so the technology is all there.
However, most of these countries do not, for their own national reasons which are political and the desire to build up their own industrial capacity, want to just directly buy their harvesting, planting and tractor and cultivating equipment from the west.
So they are establishing new or updating old plants to produce their own mechanised systems for their immense production potential.
Kazakhstan for instance uses mostly Russian origin combines but JD also has a foothold in there with one JD combine equal to about 4 of the Russian machines in the Kazakh's opinions.
But this also gives a benchmark for the now privatised Russian manufacturers to try and match and with a quite good cadre of highly skilled engineers they only need time before they start to match the sophisticated American origin machinery.

The same story is being repeated in all of the new grain producing regions such as a fast mechanising China.
India also is now a grain exporter but possibly not for long as they deplete the great underground water aquifers to irrigate their crops at unsustainable levels of water useage.
Russia and Ukraine are rapidly increasing production with the very poor and serious lack of infrastructure the only really serious impediment to a much faster rise in production,
The central Asian Republics, the Stans as they are nicknamed, are also rapidly increasing grain production.

So the American producers of combines and mechanised agricultural machinery may well lose their world dominance over the next couple of decades.
Also nearly all of these new producers and the accompanying combine and tractor production from these regions will be of a much simpler and cheaper designs and in a lot of cases will handle very harsh and poorer maintenance than the increasingly "sophisticated" American produced machines.
I certainly would not want to be out in the back blocks of Uzbekistan and blow a circuit board.
It takes more than a few days to get a new one in Australia let alone in some place like central Asia.

It is almost inevitable that American combine producers in their international markets and eventually within the American market will have some increasingly strong competition particularly in price and in sections of the market that want a smaller and simpler machine than the western manufacturers appear to want to supply at the moment.
A lot of these new and competitive machines will probably be simpler or stripped down or copies of older models of American combines in any case.

And forget the quality problems of past attempts to introduce theses foreign production combines into the USA market.
You only have to look at the way that the early Japanese cars were rapidly upgraded in quality or the way the Taiwanese companies and now Chinese companies are upgrading the quality of their products to meet and match western produced articles.
The same will happen with combines, tractors, planters and many similar items.
And then when that level of quality is achieved, the new innovations in advance of anything produced by the west will start to appear and then life will get real interesting for a whole host of manufacturers and farmers.
Th next couple of decades will be very interesting indeed in the farm machinery game!

To be continued.


Cheers

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#1096649 - 29/03/2012 20:48 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: ROM]
GDL Offline
Weather Freak

Registered: 17/02/2008
Posts: 630
Loc: Bowen Mountain NSW
Rom thanks for a great read iam enjoying it very much and look forward to reading more of the Combine saga in the future. GDL

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#1096665 - 29/03/2012 22:03 Re: The Push Button Combine [Re: GDL]
ROM Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 29/01/2007
Posts: 6628
Not many of ROM's posts left in that Combine Forum thread GDL, as I eventually ran out of enthusiasm although the ideas were still there but it was getting much harder to write those posts so i stopped while still ahead.
But there are still a few more left so onto the next one.

The Combine Forum

The Push Button Combine part 14

28 / 3 / 2010


When I was still just a small boy a long, long time ago, the kid's stories always started with something like "Once upon a time there were"!
So!
Once upon a time when there were no chemicals for the farmers to use to control weeds in crops, the farmers use to have to sit on their tractors and cultivators for many hundreds of hours each year to cultivate and kill those weeds each time they came up.
This was to try and reduce those weeds right down to the minimum before the crops were sown.
And the cultivation also helped keep the moisture that was deep down in the soil for the crops to draw on while they grew through the drying spring.
And every time a new lot of weeds came up in a paddock the farmers would have to cultivate that paddock all over again.

For those innocents who were born after 1960, in our patch down here in south eastern Australia, the first crop herbicide, the crystalline form of 24D was used locally in cereal crops for the first time by one of our neighbors , from memory, in about 1947.
In 1948 24D became available in the liquid form.
The application method was best described as primitive with a converted galvanised water tank, a fire pump and an incredibly wide 30 foot boom spray attached to the back of the old truck with mostly reams of fencing wire.
But in those days long before any weed resistance was even imagined, you only had to wave the label of the herbicide drum past a weed and it fell over.

Sophistication was having a pressure gauge and an adjustable relief valve for flow control and a working speedo for the right travel speed.
Calculations were done using pen and paper and what maths could be remembered from school.
[ The small electronic calculator first appeared in the very early 1970's and I remember looking longingly at one with just the four basic functions for the then unaffordable sum of $140, I think, in about 1971 or 1972.
A tradesman's wages then were a good deal less than a $100 / week.]

The advent of herbicides was a part of a complete revolution of Australian agriculture starting at the end of WW2 that in a great technological leap over the next decade took Australian agriculture into the modern era.
It is a period that is totally neglected by academic historians who write great long screeds on politics and industry and so called influential figures but totally ignore the most basic underpinnings of our society, the incredible ability of the world's farmers to provide the ever increasing food needs of the world's continually growing population and the advances made by researchers and farmers in creating these productivity increases.
Without adequate and cheap food, without adequate and cheap energy, all of mankind's so called advances would have come to a dead halt but have historians and later generations in western civilisation ever recognised this?
No!
This attitude of benign neglect of modern agricultural history on the part of historians is merely a reflection of attitudes of the western urban and academic elite who are increasingly isolated and divorced from the reality of the hard facts of nature and just assume it is their right and will always be their right to have access to any amount of cheap food and cheap energy whenever they want it.

In 1950 some of the first aerial crop spraying in our patch in western Victoria using ex WW2 converted Tiger Moth training aircraft took place from our property.
That was a hilarious two day long episode that is well remembered as the whole district turned up.
Utes were despatched to bring back loads of certain fermented beverages to entertain the potential customers while they watched the two aircraft do their take offs and landings across the paddock and the flying while they were doing their aerial spraying.
There was much juggling for positions as the assembled and potential customers got into line to get their crops sprayed.
And then when all the jobs were finally finished, the aircraft departed, darkness fell and the departing throng wended their very unsteady way out through the gate and homewards to the welcoming [ ? ] arms of their spouses and next morning's headache.
The pilots stayed sober, just!

Despite the new fangled sprays and the unbelievable weed control they now offered we still spent many, many long boring hours on tractors going around and around a patch of dirt in a tradition as old as civilisation itself, that of ploughing and cultivating the soil.
Often it smelt good and felt good to smell that wet earth and see the sun shining on the newly turned soil.
Sometimes we baked in the harsh sun of the Australian summer or miserably froze for hours on end as we sat like miserable frozen stones on those open tractors in the depths of Australia's southern winters.
To fight the overwhelming boredom we sang at the tops of our voices or dreamt dreams, some of which we would never ever tell another human being.
Or we schemed and thought about life, the universe and everything in it.

And sometimes we thought and worked at great length on problems or solutions to a perceived problem or we sat there and thought, there has to be a better way than this.

In the spring of those long ago years with their good wet winters of the early 1970's, the medics and clovers were two feet high and that dense you would walk across them.
And the mowers, all of six or seven foot wide would come out of the shed to start the mowing for the hay baling and all the hard physical work that involved in loading and stacking those round Roto bales of hay.
The delightful vision of that mass of green medics and clovers settling to the ground as the sickle mowed through under it turned to a sickening feeling when you saw some small harmless bird or animal that did not realise the deadly danger coming at them under that green mass, cut to pieces by that deadly knife.
Again the boredom set in after the first few hours of traipsing round and round a 200 acre paddock with a 6 or 7 foot mower at perhaps 8 miles per hour.
The odd stop to repair a blade or remove a blockage until you hit a bad patch or something solid and then the frustrating hour or two when you repaired the knife and the damage, all the while trying not to seriously cut yourself on those sharp knife sections while working on them.

Then I used to sit and think on that tractor while the knife chattered it's way back and forth and the tractor exhaust popped away in front of me, there has to be a better way than this to mow the medics and clovers.
And so was born the idea of using a very thin wire strung very tightly across the mower in place of the knife.
The wire would be running at speed around pulleys but a little thought and no that would not work for various reasons.
Some more thought and then a brain wave!

Ultrasonics, the application of very high frequencies to some applications was being touted in some circles in the science mags I read and in fact there was a clothes washing machine that supposedly used an ultrasonic generator to clean clothes and without any moving parts.
[ ultrasonics are still used today to clean electronic components during manufacture ]

Now a very tightly strung and very thin wire vibrating at extremely high ultrasonic frequencies would possibly destroy the cell wall structure of a plant very rapidly and could possibly act as a knife in a mower type device, or so my thinking in about the early 1970's went.
I tried to find one of those ultrasonic powered washing machines but with the limited communications of the day in rural Australia I could not find any suitable ultrasonic device to try my idea out on so as with so many ideas like this one, with the passing of time, it was also eventually put into the file on the ideas that may have worked or sounded like a good idea at the time.

Then a few years ago came the invention of the carbon nanotubes.
Tiny tubes of pure carbon that are literally only millionths of a millimetre [ nanometres ] in diameter and of truly immense strength.
As more experiments and an understanding of the features of carbon nanotubes takes place it is very likely that in the not very distant future carbon nanotubes will be assembled into almost invisible human hair diameter strings of immense strength.

Then perhaps we will see somebody somewhere experimenting by doing away with the 150 year old technology of the knife / sickle sections and replacing it with a carbon nanotube string, strung under immense tension right across the front of a combine's header in place of the knife.
The carbon nanotube string would be made to vibrate at very high ultrasonic frequencies and this would hopefully act as a extremely sharp knife that would destroy and slice through the cell walls of the plant in an instantaneous fashion and so act as an almost wear proof and indestructible knife or sickle.
The finger guards might still be necessary for both crop guidance into the string and to protect the string.
The vibration frequencies of the nanotube string would be set so that the nodes of maximum vibration would be at 3 inch spacings to fit in with the knife guard spacings or perhaps a different spacing would be more beneficial as the cutting of the crop would no longer be limited to this particular spacing which is tied into the knife section specifications.

And so something along these lines might one day appear on the front of the platforms of combine's headers in place of the present vibrating and constant high maintenance knife systems.
No moving parts.
No vibration.
No gumming up in green, sappy plant conditions.
Probably very safe compared to the knives / sickles.
And just the occasional nanotube string replacement.

And that is my "Blue Sky" thought for today!

Ps;
Now somewhere I have just read that scientists have just developed an extraordinarily slippery and water repellant steel coating treatment.
Material slicker than Teflon discovered by accident

I wonder if it can be be developed to create an extremely slippery surface on that header's platform so that we could just guide the crop in across the sheets of the platform using a bit of air blast and some ridges in the steel for crop guidance?
A minimum of moving parts again!! Hmm!

Cheers!

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